File No. 861.00/1460

The Ambassador in Japan ( Morris ) to the Secretary of State

No. 84

Sir: I have the honor to attach herewith copy of the memorandum handed to me by the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the evening of March 193 and telegraphed textually to the Department on that night. This note concludes the discussions which as I learned only recently were initiated by my British colleague. On December 14, under instructions from his Government, he first informally discussed with the Japanese Government what action ought to be taken by the Allies in Siberia to protect stores and ammunition at Vladivostok and to control in case of emergency the Amur and Trans-Siberian Railways.

It would thus appear that the initiative in the Siberian situation was taken by Great Britain and that prior to December 14 the Japanese Government had not seriously considered the question of intervention. It also fully confirms the statement in the attached [Page 85] memorandum that “the intervention proposed by the Allied Governments did not originate from any desire expressed or any suggestion made by the Japanese Government.”

The result of the confidential conversations between Great Britain and Japan was the dispatch of warships to Vladivostok as reported to the Department in my telegram of January 5, 10 p.m. This action first drew extended public attention to the serious conditions which were developing in eastern Siberia and the arrival of the Brooklyn at Yokohama a few days later was also much discussed.

It was about this time and as a result of several conversations with Baron Goto that I fully realized the division existing in the present Ministry. Viscount Motono was from the very first inclined to accede to the suggestion of the British Government and undertake some military movement in Siberia. In this he was supported by the General Staff. The Premier and Baron Goto, however, were far more cautious and doubted the wisdom of acting with England under the terms of the Anglo-Japanese alliance. As a preliminary to any plan of intervention Viscount Motono requested the British Government to agree that Japan should act alone. To this request the British Government made no reply but as reported in my telegram of February 8, 10 p.m.,1 the French Ambassador received instructions to join with his British colleague in acceding to the request of the Japanese Government.

From this time alarming reports about conditions in Siberia, almost all of French origin, began to circulate in Government circles and among the diplomatic representatives. There were also persistent reports of movement of Japanese troops, and both in the Diet and the press the Government was urged to take prompt and efficient measures for the protection of Japanese interests in Siberia. Viscount Motono expressed to the French Ambassador his opinion that Japan could not hold off much longer, especially after Russia had concluded a separate peace with Germany, and deplored the lack of unity in the counsels of the Allies.

On February 282 the Japanese Government issued in the press an authorized statement, as reported in my telegram of that date, to the effect that they were not yet in a position to begin military activities in Siberia and that it would be some time before a decision was reached. I can not help but feel that this decision to go slowly was largely the result of the clearly expressed attitude of the United States. From that time on there was a distinct turn in the tide of public opinion, except in certain interested quarters, and it was at low ebb when, on March 13,3 the British Ambassador presented to [Page 86] the Japanese Government his long-deferred reply and suggested to them the military occupation of Siberia as far as the Ural Mountains. The Minister of Foreign Affairs expressed his regret that the suggestion had not come earlier when public sentiment in Japan was more favorable.

In fact, it seemed at one time as though the Cabinet could not possibly survive unless it yielded to the popular demand for immediate intervention; but sober second thoughts prevailed and the decision finally reached by the Government, after several meetings with the Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs, meets with general approval in all responsible circles.

The attitude of the press on this important question is worthy of separate consideration. While there had been a great deal of comment, opinion did not begin to crystallize in favor of intervention until February 25, which was a day or two after the withdrawal of the ambassadors from Petrograd was announced. Before this date however the Kokumin and one or two of the more irresponsible and chauvinistic journals had been urging drastic action on the part of Japan, but they were in the minority. On January 22, the day that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs were scheduled to address the Diet, the Kokumin came out with a long editorial urging that Japan take steps to protect herself from German encroachment in Siberia and advocating that the Allies treat the Maximalists as enemies. From that date this influential journal has taken the leadership in the drive for intervention. The Yorodzu, which from the very beginning of the war has urged more complete Japanese participation, demanded the occupation of Siberia to make up for Russia’s announced policy of repudiating her foreign loans. The Niroku, of February 17, suggested a similar policy.

The majority of the press however did not at first go to this extent. Quite naturally resentment was expressed at the action of the Maximalists in going back on their agreement against concluding a separate peace, and in publishing the details of Japan’s secret treaty with the Government of the Tsar. On January 19 the Asahi asked the authorities to watch the situation in Siberia, but on February 16 it went further and expressed the view that it might be a case of imperative necessity for the Allies to adopt some plan to meet the Russian situation. On February 4 the Jiji discussing the conditions under which Japan should act, said that nothing should be done until the lives and the property of Allied subjects were in actual danger.

On the evening of February 23, news reached Tokyo of the withdrawal of the Allied Ambassadors from Petrograd. Lurid reports which had been drifting in about the release and arming of German prisoners and the activity of German spies began to take effect. On [Page 87] the morning of the 25th many journals published editorials specifically urging intervention. Beginning with this date the Kokumin commenced a series of editorials with a view to rousing the nation to action. For a day or two any journals that might have been opposed to intervention said nothing.

On February 28, the Jiji made a statement of the Government’s view giving the reason why the dispatch of troops was not necessary at that time. On the same day the Nichi Nichi published the unofficial view of the Seiyukai and the Kenseikai Parties, both of which were opposed to intervention, regarding the proposal as an expedient of the Government to intrench itself in its position. The Seiyukai has consistently opposed such action, it having been opposed to Japan’s declaring war on Germany in the first place.

After this public opinion, which had been so eager for action, began to simmer down. This was reflected in the press, not so much in arguments opposing action, but in silence.

When the agitation for intervention was at its height, one or two of the more sensational journals like the Nichi Nichi, which is notoriously anti-American, raised suspicions of America’s motives in opposing Japanese action, saying that America had herself designs upon Siberia. The majority of the press, however, appreciated America’s point of view. The Kokumin, for instance, could not criticize America’s wish to sympathize with the establishment of a republican form of government, but at the same time declared that Russia needs powerful and actual assistance.

About the middle of this month anti-Government journals began to criticize the Government for making proposals to the Allies leading to intervention before sounding public opinion in Japan. The Asahi on March 15 published an editorial attacking the Foreign Minister for proposing intervention in spite of the manifest general opposition. The Asahi agreed with the American position that intervention was not necessary. Many of the journals suggested that the Foreign Minister should resign because his views were so opposed to those of the majority of the Cabinet and of the Advisory Council on Foreign Affairs. Rumors soon began to be circulated that he would resign, but within a day or two it has become generally understood that Viscount Motono had not proposed intervention to the powers, but had merely sounded their views, and that if any responsibility was to be assumed it would be by the entire Cabinet. Translations of a number of selected editorials are enclosed herewith.1

To-day excitement has almost entirely died down. The Government has announced that unless the situation changed the Government would take no action.

[Page 88]

Throughout this critical period I have had numerous interviews with representative Japanese belonging to Government, Diet, newspaper and business circles and have spared no effort to make plain the disinterested motives of the United States and our entire confidence in Japan’s good faith. I have good reason to believe that our position is clearly understood and appreciated by all whose opinion is of value, particularly in Government circles. They now look at the matter in the same light as we do, and consider that it is of first importance to weigh the evidence and measure the possible effects of any action in Siberia, before taking an irrevocable step.

The ultimate effect upon the Cabinet is still uncertain and it is quite possible that changes may yet follow; but if so, it will be for reasons other than a desire on the part of Japan for intervention in Siberia.

I have [etc.]

Roland S. Morris
  1. See the Ambassador’s telegram, Mar. 19, 12 p.m., ante, p. 81.
  2. Ante, p. 44.
  3. Ante, p. 60.
  4. See ante, p. 78.
  5. Not printed.