Memorandum by the Ambassador in Japan (Grew)

My conversation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs at his official residence at 6 o’clock this evening was prefaced by a word of appreciation from me with regard to the arrangements made by the Japanese authorities to avoid bombing the Hankow-Canton railway during the evacuation of Americans on September 22 and 26. The Minister inquired if I had received his note concerning the bombing of the American missionary hospital at Waichow7 to which I replied in the affirmative and expressed further appreciation of the Minister’s expressions of regret and the offer to consider indemnification.


I then turned to the announced plans of the Japanese naval forces to bomb Nanking commencing tomorrow at noon, and I made to the Minister the most emphatic and earnest representations with regard to the serious danger to which foreign diplomatic establishments and personnel, as well as other non-combatants, would inevitably be subjected if such a course is pursued. I spoke of the very serious effect which would be produced in the United States on the American Government and people if some accident should occur in connection with those operations, and I then spoke of the steadily mounting feeling which is developing in the United States and in other countries against Japan, which by her course of action is laying up for herself among the peoples of the world a liability of distrust and suspicion, popular antipathy and the possibility of Japan’s becoming ostracized from the family of nations. I said to the Minister that the goodwill between our countries which he and I had been building up during these past years was rapidly dissolving as a result of Japan’s action in China and that while the American people are patient they are nevertheless easily aroused by some serious incident involving their legitimate interests abroad and that I am constantly dreading the effects in my country which would undoubtedly be called forth if as a result of Japanese operations in China some serious incident should occur which [Page 501]the American people would feel had touched their honor. I said to the Minister that at times like these we must not forget historical fact and that he would remember what had happened in the United States when the Maine was blown up in Havana. Neither the American Government nor the American people desired war with Spain, but that incident in itself was sufficient to provoke war. I then spoke earnestly of the Minister’s own responsibility for guiding Japan’s foreign relations and for restraining the Japanese naval and military forces in China from their course of action which is rapidly causing Japan to lose the world’s goodwill and is building up abroad a practically universal sentiment of antagonism against his country. I said that the military and naval forces did not understand and appeared not to care about Japan’s foreign relations and her position in the world and it was therefore his own responsibility to guide the course of action which is now being pursued in China. The force and directness of my statements and appeal left nothing whatever to Mr. Hirota’s imagination. My effort was to bring home to the Minister with maximum effect the certain repercussion which would occur in the United States if some serious accident involving American interests were to happen in connection with the proposed bombing of Nanking.

Mr. Hirota, while making no effort to counter my observations, listened gravely and silently throughout my talk. When I had finished he observed that orders had gone out four hours ago from Tokyo to the naval command in China that every effort was to be made to avoid injury to the foreign diplomatic establishments or to non-combatants in Nanking in connection with the proposed bombing operations. I said that the afternoon press had reported that certain bombing operations in Nanking had already occurred yesterday, but the Minister said that these were unimportant and far away from the diplomatic establishments. With regard to the warning by the Japanese navy that the bombing operations would commence at noon on September 21, the Minister volunteered the opinion that the warning was “too short”.

Although I talked to the Minister today with an emphasis and directness unprecedented since my arrival in Japan, there was no indication on his part of resentment. His demeanor was naturally graver than usual and he appeared to me to receive my observations rather sadly but without any effort whatever to try to rebut my remarks. While recent developments indicate that he has made and is making efforts to avoid antagonizing the United States by cautioning the military and naval forces in individual local issues, we must reluctantly face the fact that the civil government in Tokyo has very little influence with these forces where their general objectives are concerned.

J[oseph] C. G[rew]
  1. Note dated September 20; not printed.