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Panay Incident

Panay Incident (1937).An important, if short‐lived, crisis in U.S.‐Japanese relations occurred in the 1930s as Japan launched the Second Sino‐Japanese War in July 1937. The Japanese had quickly conquered Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing, and blockaded the coastline. On 12 December 1937, Japanese warplanes sank the U.S. Navy's gunboat Panay on the Yangtze River, killing three Americans and wounding nearly thirty. In the daylight attack, many of the escaping survivors were repeatedly machine‐gunned. Three Standard Oil tankers being convoyed by the Panay were also sunk.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt's advisers believed Japanese officers in China had authorized the attack on the clearly marked ships, and the president and his cabinet considered an embargo and possible naval action. However, while condemning the attack, congressional and press opinion concluded that no vital American interests were involved.

When the foreign ministry in Tokyo soon offered a formal apology and agreed to U.S. demands for an indemnity of $2 million, the crisis subsided, but it increased anti‐Japanese sentiment in the United States and helped persuade the president to take a firmer stand toward Japan, including in 1938 imposing a “moral embargo” on the sale of aircraft to the Japanese military and increasing the U.S. Navy.
[See also China, U.S. Military Involvement in; Japan, U.S. Military Involvement in; World War II: Causes.]

Bibliography

Manny T. Koginos , The Panay Incident, 1967.
Hamilton Perry , The Panay Incident, 1969.

John Whiteclay Chambers II

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Panay Incident

PANAY INCIDENT

PANAY INCIDENT. Japanese aircraft, engaged in fighting Chinese forces, bombed and strafed the U.S. gunboat Panay and three Standard Oil supply ships in the Yangtze River near Nanking on 12 December 1937. Several crew members were killed in the attack, which sank the Panay, and a number of other Americans were wounded. Reaction in the United States was mixed. Several prominent naval officers called for war with Japan, and Secretary of State Cordell Hull demanded full re-dress. President Franklin D. Roosevelt considered economic sanctions against the Japanese, or even a blockade. Many in Congress and among the American public, however, were less interested in the attack itself than in knowing what U.S. ships were doing in China in the first place. The incident led to calls for stronger measures to maintain American neutrality, in particular a proposal to require a nationwide referendum before the country could declare war. Roosevelt could not afford to ignore public opinion, and soon backed away from any effort at retaliation. When after a few days the Japanese apologized, offered to pay all damages, and pledged to safeguard the rights of Americans in China in the future, the president let the matter drop.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Dallek, Robert. Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Koginos, Manny T. The Panay Incident: Prelude to War. Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Studies, 1967.

John E.Moser

Oscar OsburnWinther

See alsoChina, U.S. Armed Forces in ; Japan, Relations with .

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