"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Few people realize that it was oil — the shortage of oil — that precipitated the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Tensions between the United States and Japan were rising throughout that fateful year. Having initiated a war with China (America’s ally) and occupied Indochina, Japan’s totalitarian government was intent on imposing its will on all of the people of East Asia.
In the summer of 1941, before leaving for Placentia Bay, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had ordered a freeze on Japanese assets. That measure required the Japanese to seek and obtain licenses to export and pay for each shipment of goods from the United States, including oil.
This move was most distressing to the Japanese because they were dependent on the United States for most of their crude oil and refined petroleum products. However, Roosevelt did not want to trigger a war with Japan. His intention was to keep the oil flowing by continuing to grant licenses.
Roosevelt had a noose around Japan’s neck, but he chose not to tighten it. He was not ready to cut off its oil lifeline for fear that such a move would be regarded as tantamount to an act of war.
That summer, while Roosevelt, his trusted adviser Harry Hopkins and U.S. Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles were attending the shipboard conference off Newfoundland and Secretary of State Cordell Hull was on vacation at the Greenbrier in West Virginia, the authority to grant licenses to export and pay for oil and other goods was in the hands of a three-person interagency committee.
It was dominated by Assistant Secretary of State Dean Acheson, whom one historian described as the “quintessential opportunist of U.S. foreign policy in 1941.”
Acheson favored a “bullet-proof freeze” on oil shipments to Japan, claiming it would not provoke war because “no rational Japanese could believe that an attack on us could result in anything but disaster for his country.”
With breathtaking confidence in his own judgment, and ignoring the objections of others in the State Department, Acheson refused to grant licenses to Japan to pay for goods in dollars. That effectively ended Japan’s ability to ship oil and all other goods from the United States.
Acheson’s actions cut off all American trade with Japan. When Roosevelt returned, he decided not to overturn the “state of affairs” initiated by Acheson, apparently because he feared he would otherwise be regarded as an appeaser.
David L. Roll, an attorney and contributor to The Globalist, where this feature first appeared, is the author of “The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler” (2013).
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)
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