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

No. 364

Sir: In various despatches during the past year the Embassy has reported individual cases of anti-American demonstrations. These and other similar incidents of the past six months are listed on the appended sheets2 as a significant indication of the hostility to the United States and American companies in Japan manifested by the public and certain organs of the press. There is no doubt in my mind that these incidents are due in some cases directly and in practically all cases at least indirectly to military propaganda. In order to justify the immense appropriations asked by the War Office for carrying out the campaign in Manchuria it was in the interests of the Army to create a war psychology in the country. Sometimes openly and at other times in scarcely veiled language the people have been given to believe that the United States is preparing for an eventual attack on Japan. The leaders of the Government and the Army and probably most of the intelligent public know very well that these allegations are totally unfounded. They realize that there is a far greater risk of an eventual clash with Soviet Russia than with the United States. It has nevertheless suited the purpose of the military to keep the nationalistic and patriotic ardor of the public stirred up by periodic aspersions against America and they have accomplished this purpose with marked success. The “spy mania” alone is a clear indication of this war psychology, and while this mania is in general aimed at all foreigners in Japan, it is specifically more acute where Americans and American companies are concerned.

Apart from the inconvenience caused to American firms in obtaining legitimate commercial and industrial information through the obstructions induced by this spy mania, I have not regarded the anti-American propaganda and demonstrations as dangerous. It is true that in the present national temper of the country, the occurrence [Page 701] of some serious incident would tend to inflame public opinion acutely against the United States, but the leaders of Japan are too intelligent to let Japanese-American relations get out of hand. As long as the so-called Exclusion Act3 remains in force, the Japanese will continue to regard the relations between our two countries as “strained”, but this habit of mind is a chronic one and not acute. As to the Manchurian situation, the attitude towards the United States will continue to be a passive regret that the justice of Japan’s actions and policy has been and is “misunderstood” by the American Government and people. Only if the American Government were to take some positive step in the way of sanctions would this feeling of passive regret flare up into active hostility.

With regard to the incidents and demonstrations listed I have not considered action by the Embassy desirable save in the cases of the National City Bank and the Singer Sewing Machine Company,4 and a single public denial of the allegation that the United States was supporting China with funds and by lending Army officers to fight against Japan. The charges of espionage have been so puerile that even the official authorities at one time (after the National City Bank affair) let it be known that they disapproved of the movement. In the case of most of the other charges, I have felt it undesirable to dignify them with public denials.

I have, however, taken frequent opportunities to point out to prominent Japanese that this anti-American propaganda does great harm to Japan’s reputation in the United States, because many of the vitriolic and unfounded charges against America and Americans which appear in the newspapers in Japan are cabled to the American press and inevitably cause the American public to believe that the Japanese as a whole are actively hostile to the United States. This of course creates and builds up a mutual distrust and suspicion which is ill-founded and illusory. The Japanese often aver that they are misunderstood abroad because they pay too little attention to setting forth their own cause by means of international propaganda, whereas their enemies, they say, are past-masters at that art. To these assertions I reply that Japan’s position would be very much better understood abroad if the Japanese did not go to the other extreme and damage their own case by the kind of propaganda in which they do indulge. If propaganda is to be used at all, it would far better be constructive than destructive. These observations have, I think, occasionally sunk in, and at least on one occasion—after the tornado of anti-American publicity last summer5 I am aware that efforts [Page 702] were made by the Prime Minister, with some success, to tone down the character of the attacks and to call a halt, temporarily at least, to the spy hunting. Even the usually irresponsible Mr. Shiratori was comparatively quiescent for an interval. It is too much to expect, however, that the more sensational type of newspapers in Japan will abandon their chauvinistic baiting of foreigners and foreign countries, so long as Japan remains in her present unenviable position in the eyes of the world, and that baiting will, in the nature of things, inevitably continue to concentrate upon the United States.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Not printed.
  2. Immigration Act approved May 26, 1924 (43 Stat. 153); see also Foreign Relations, 1924, vol. ii, pp. 333 ff.
  3. See pp. 716 ff.
  4. See Foreign Relations, 1932, vol. iv, pp. 672 ff.