Today 12/6 1941 FDR sent a personal telegram to Emperor Hirohito asking for face-to-face meetings to resolve the diplomatic crisis of US embargos of material to Japan and Japan’s military expansion, mainly their membership of the Axis Pact and invasion of China.
The President had been considering such a message, by-passing regular diplomatic channels and going over the heads of Japanese ministers, for some time. FDR sent his draft to Secretary of State Cordell Hull with a handwritten note: “Shoot this to Grew. [Ambassador to Japan Joseph C. Grew.] I think can go in gray code–saves time–I don’t mind if it gets picked up.”
The President’s letter began by reminding the Emperor of “the long period of unbroken peace and friendship…through the virtues of their peoples and wisdom of their rulers…substantially helped humanity.
“I address myself to Your Majesty…so that Your Majesty may, as I am doing, give thought in this definite emergency to ways of dispelling the dark clouds. I am confident that both of us, for the sake of the peoples not only of our own great countries but for the sake of humanity in neighboring territories, have a sacred duty to restore traditional amity and prevent further death and destruction in the world.”
Ambassador Grew received the message 2230 December 7, Japan time. The letter was dispatched from Washington 2100 Easter Standard Time on the sixth.
At the time, the Japanese Censorship Office of the Ministry of Communications was ordered to withhold all cables for ten hours, as policy. Incredibly, a Lieutenant Colonel and a civilian bureaucrat sat on the message from the President for 10 hours.
At about a quarter past midnight Grew asked for an audience with the Emperor to present the telegram in person. He was assured the message would be conveyed to the Emperor. At 0030 Grew left the Foreign Ministry on December 8, Japan time–1030 December 7 in Washington; 0500 in Hawaii. The first wave attacked Pearl Harbor less than three hours later. The Emperor did receive FDR’s message after the attack.