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

No. 480

Sir: A review of Japanese press reaction to the American plans for naval construction is discouraging to the observer. It demonstrates completely the fallibility of logic and the perversity of human intelligence when applied to a controversial matter.

It happened that Mr. Roy Howard’s1 statement on American policy in the Far East appeared in the Japanese press about the same time that the news of American naval construction was under discussion. To the American observer Mr. Howard’s contention in regard to the American navy seemed irrefutable; dictated by the coldest realism. To the Japanese people American naval construction means a threat to Japan and the first step toward an armament race.

[Here follows report on certain Japanese press views.]

Most of the criticism in regard to the American naval construction plan seems to be based on a conception which is hardly admissible from the American viewpoint. This is that the Japanese navy is maintained only for self-defense, and that peace is threatened by the construction of any foreign navy which might challenge Japan’s position as defender of the peace in the Far East. This plea of self-defense can hardly be called original, but it seems to be a firm conviction of all classes of people. Self-defense is of course legitimate, even if to the Japanese mind it entails seizing foreign territory and bombarding distant foreign cities.

Behind all this agitation over American naval plans, and probably constituting the reason for accusing America of starting an armament race, is the determination of the Japanese to better their relative standing at the next naval conference. The 5–5–3 ratio has always been a sore spot in the Japanese consciousness, which is given to attach importance to evidence of national distinction. They realize that the year 1936 is to mark a momentous naval decision and are quick to condemn any action by a foreign nation which would tend to block [Page 381]their ambitions. They realize that an American navy built up to treaty limits, instead of the present 75 percent, would be a formidable obstacle in the way of their desire, and instinctively resent the present American construction program.

It is therefore futile to attempt a logical rebuttal to the Japanese contention. The necessity of self-defense, the conviction of the legitimacy of their action on the continent, the sting of naval inferiority, the determination to brook no outside interference in Asiatic affairs, are not susceptible to logical treatment nor to adjustment over conference tables. It remains to be seen whether considerations other than polemic will have effect on the Japanese viewpoint.

Mr. Kawakami has pointed out clearly in his latest book* how the civilian government secured ratification of the London Naval Treaty2 in the face of the most intense antagonism from the military. It should be borne in mind that in 1930 the civilian and liberal elements in the Japanese government had reached their zenith, and have since then practically vanished. Had the present military influence in the government been in power at that time the Treaty would undoubtedly have been rejected. Nor is it unreasonable to assume that no agreement which attempts in 1936 to assign an inferior ratio to the Japanese Navy will be acceptable, unless adverse circumstances make the acceptance inevitable. Such adverse circumstances might be the growth of a strong liberal sentiment, or extreme financial straits. The first of these is highly unlikely, and the latter would have to be utter bankruptcy. It may be assumed that no sacrifice would be too great to prevent loss of national prestige by Japan, in the present spirit of the people.

Other, and more likely circumstances which would persuade the Japanese to accept their present naval status, would be the existence of a preponderant foreign tonnage; the definite assurance of ability and willingness to outbuild on the part of America, and the knowledge that fortifications in the Pacific now held in abeyance under the terms of the Treaties, would be pushed to completion in the event of treaty breakdown. Without these restraining factors national pride will not permit the extension of the present ratio, nor will the inherent wealth nor the past sacrifices of a rival power be accepted as a reason for naval inferiority.

A short résumé of the efforts of the Japanese navy to build up to Treaty limits may be of interest at this point. Japan started building within the scope of the London Treaty immediately after ratification. The first three-year replenishment program is now over half completed [Page 382]and will be completed in 1936, simultaneously with the completion of the second naval replenishment program.

The existence of this latter program was first revealed by Navy Minister Osumi during the Diet session in January, but the original program has been augmented in recent weeks. Under the present plan the construction is to include: 2 aircraft carriers of 10,000 tons each, 2 cruisers of 8,500 tons each, 14 destroyers, 6 submarines, 1 mine layer, 8 torpedo boats and chasers, 8 air squadrons. This represents an increase of 1 aircraft carrier, 1 cruiser, 7 destroyers and 3 aircraft squadrons over the original program announced in the Diet in January. How far this increase has been affected by the announcement of American naval construction is problematic, and it seemly likely that the Japanese navy has used this increase as an excuse for demanding further appropriations.

The Navy is asking Yen 120,000,000 to begin work on this second replenishment program, while the Navy’s ordinary expenses for the forthcoming fiscal year are estimated at Yen 370,000,000. The naval budget for the current year amounts to Yen 372,000,000.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Roy Wilson Howard, newspaper publisher, Scripps-Howard newspapers.
  2. K. K. Kawakami, Manchoukuo Child of Conflict, Macmillan. [Footnote in the original.]
  3. Treaty for the Limitation and Reduction of Naval Armament, signed at London, April 22, 1930, Foreign Relations, 1930, vol. i, p. 107.