On September 27, 1940, Japanese representatives in Berlin signed the Tripartite Pact with the dictatorships of Germany and Italy. The affiliation of fascist Rumania and Hungary followed. By the terms of the pact, Japan recognized the leadership of Germany and Italy in “the new order in Europe” while they recognized Japan’s dominance in “Greater East Asia.” The three powers pledged “to assist one another with all political, economic, and military means” if “attacked by a power at present not involved in the European War or in the Sino-Japanese conflict.” This last article was intended to check Britain and keep the United States out of the war….
[O]n October 4, Prime Minister Konoe issued a belligerent statement at a press conference in Kyoto declaring that, “If the United States does not understand the positions of Japan, Germany, and Italy, and regards our pact as a provocative action directed against it, and if it constantly adopts a confrontational attitude, then the three countries will fight resolutely.” Few Japanese leaders at the time understood the tremendous ideological significance of the Tripartite Pact for the United States, or how the Roosevelt administration would now use it to deepen anti-Japanese feeling….
The following month the entire nation celebrated the 2,600th anniversary of the founding of the state by the mythical Emperor Jimmu. Preparations for this kigensetsu had been underway since 1935. One day before the start of the official commemorative events, on November 9, a government regulation established an “Office of Shinto Deities” within the Home Ministry to further the “spiritual mobilization” of the nation in preparation for total war. Started by the first Konoe cabinet at the beginning of the China war, the campaign sought the participation of youth about to be sent to war, exhorting them to “respect the Shinto deities,” “serve the state,” and rush forward to victory in the war against China….
Britain’s reponse to the Axis military alliance was to reopen the Burma Road, which earlier it had agreed to close, and to look for ways “to cause inconvenience to the Japanese without ceasing to be polite.” President Roosevelt’s response was to make another small loan to Chiang Kai-shek, and give assurances of further American support to keep China in the war. In November, Roosevelt assented to Adm. Harold Stark’s “Dog” plan for the recasting of America’s defense strategy on the premise that Germany was the main enemy. Henceforth the United States would follow a defeat-Germany-first strategy, focusing on the European front and aid to Britain. If war should come in the Pacific, the United States would initially wage a defensive campaign but not turn its full weight against Japan until after Germany’s downfall. In China, Chiang Kai-shek resolved to continue fighting Japan alone, without benefit of full-scale Anglo-American aid, but confident that war in the Pacific was only a matter of time.