“Infamous falsehoods and distortions” – Cordell Hull

Cordell Hull (1871–1955) was an American politician from the U.S. state of Tennessee. He is known as the longest-serving Secretary of State, holding the position for 11 years (1933–1944) in the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during most of World War II. Hull received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his role in establishing the United Nations, and was referred to by President Roosevelt as the “Father of the United Nations”.

Hull won election to the Senate in 1930, but resigned from the Senate in 1933 to become Secretary of State. Roosevelt and Hull pursued the Good Neighbor policy, which sought to avoid U.S. intervention in Latin American affairs. In the aftermath of Mexican agrarian reforms, he developed the Hull Doctrine as a way to compensate foreign investors in the aftermath of nationalization.

Hull was responsible for United States foreign relations before and during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Meanwhile, preliminary planning for an attack on Pearl Harbor had begun very early in 1941 under the auspices of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, then commanding Japan’s Combined Fleet.

Nomura meeting Hull
Hull brought Nomura (left) and Kurusu (right) to the White House for a meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt on 17 November 1941, 3 weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Three weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack, it appeared that Japan-US negotiations were still conducted in a normal atmosphere. On 26 Nov 1941 Hull sent his note to Japan, which was formally titled “Outline of proposed Basis for Agreement Between The United States and Japan” but had been part of the United States’ attempt to open Chinese markets to U.S. goods against Japanese interests there.


Message from Hull to Nomura dated 26 Nov 1941 reads, in part:
“It is believed that in our discussions some progress has been made in reference to the general principles which constitute the basis of a peaceful settlement covering the entire Pacific area. Recently the Japanese Ambassador has stated that the Japanese Government is desirous of continuing the conversations directed toward a comprehensive and peaceful settlement of the Pacific area; that it would be helpful toward creating an atmosphere favorable to the successful outcome of the conversations if a temporary modus vivendi could be agreed upon to be in effect while the conversations looking to peaceful settlement in the Pacific were continuing. On November 20 the Japanese Ambassador communicated to the Secretary of State proposals in regard to temporary measure to be taken respectively by the Government of Japan and by the Government of the United States, which measures are understood to have been designed to accomplish the purposes above indicated.”


In spite of all diplomatic exchanges, on the same date of the above-mentioned note, a Japanese task force of six aircraft carriers departed Hittokapu Bay on Kasatka (now Iterup) Island in the Kurile Islands, en route to a position northwest of Hawaii, intending to launch its Pearl Harbor attack.

Japan started the attack on Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, at 7:48 Hawaiian Time (12:18 EST).

On the date of the attack, Ambassador to the United States Kichisaburo Nomura and special envoy Saburo Kurusu sought a meeting with Hull. Both ambassadors delivered the “Memorandum against the United states,” which presented the Japanese government’s official intention to break off negotiations. This was virtually an ultimatum to the United States, showing that the outbreak of war between these countries was unavoidable. However, by the time the memorandum was delivered to the US, Japan had already begun the attack on Pearl Harbor one hour before.


Hull carefully read the statement presented by the Japanese ambassador and with the greatest indignation said,
I must say that in all my conversations with you during the last nine months I never uttered one work of untruth. This is borne out absolutely by the record. In all my 50 years of public service I have never seen a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions – on a scale so huge that I never imagined until today that any government on this planet was capable of uttering them.”


Another source also confirms that about one hour after the Pearl Harbor attack had begun, Hull received the news that it was taking place while outside his office the Japanese ambassador Admiral Kichisaburō Nomura and Japan’s Special Envoy Saburō Kurusu were waiting to see him with a fourteen-part message from the Japanese government officially notifying of a breakdown in negotiations.

Admiral Edwin T. Layton, at the time chief intelligence officer to the commander of the Pacific Fleet, recounts:

“Roosevelt advised him not to tell them about the raid but ‘to receive them formally and coolly bow them out’.

“After he had glanced at their copy of the fourteen-part message, Hull’s anger burst forth. He told the astonished diplomats:
 ‘In all my fifty years of public service, I have never seen such a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehood and distortion.’

Nomura and Kurusu, who had not been told of the attack, bowed themselves out in an embarrassed fluster. A department official overheard Hull muttering under his breath as the door closed, ‘Scoundrels and piss-ants.’

Layton, Edwin T. (1985). ”And I Was There”: Pearl Harbor and Midway—Breaking the Secrets. New York: William Morrow. p. 314. ISBN 0688048838.

Later, Takeo Iguchi, a professor at Tokai University and visiting professor at the International Christian University, told The Japan Times the documents suggest that the Japanese government colluded to deceive not only the U.S. but even the staff at the Japanese Embassy in Washington.


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