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

No. 1655

Sir: With the withdrawal of the Japanese delegation from the London Naval Disarmament Conference,48 the relations of the Powers, especially the United States and Great Britain, are entering upon a [Page 26]new phase the importance of which, as time goes on, will become increasingly and more insistently acute. Without discussing this matter in the present despatch it may be of interest to touch upon what, so far as the Embassy has been able to judge, has been taking place in Tokyo during the course of the Conference.

The main point seems to be the difference in views between the Naval authorities and the Foreign Office.* These differences represent in concrete form the constant struggle between the military and the civilian authorities to which the Embassy has referred frequently in despatches and telegrams. It is a struggle which forces the admission that the military group, though dominant, is not without a persistent and not wholly ineffectual opposition. The Embassy nevertheless wishes to repeat what it so often has emphasized, namely that the divergence in views which exists between these two groups is one which up to the present has been amply demonstrated to have to do with tactics and methods rather than with objectives. The liberal element, if the civilian authorities can be so described, has shown itself to be precisely as nationalistic and chauvinistic in its aims and purposes as the military element but it cannot be successfully denied that the methods differ to an appreciable degree.

Military character, induced by the very nature of its military training, tends to express itself in much the same manner in whatever country it may be. It seeks to reach its objective by the shortest possible route, to slash and cut its way through obstacles and to waste no time in dealing with the niceties of any situation. This is developed to a higher degree in those countries where the military element is subject to the least restraint and in which the country owes its position in world affairs most recently to feats of military prowess. Such is the case in Japan and it is this factor with which the non-military element, ably led by the Foreign Minister, is constantly contending.

If I have somewhat labored the foregoing point it is in order to find a possible explanation for the apparent inconsistencies with which Mr. Hirota can, from time to time, be charged. I refer especially to the statement which he made to me on January 13 to the effect that he had won out in his contest with the Navy over immediate withdrawal of the Japanese delegation from London, and that while Admiral Nagano49 might return to Tokyo he hoped and expected that Ambassador Nagai50 would remain in the Conference. In the [Page 27]face of what happened immediately thereafter it might appear that Mr. Hirota’s statement did not conform to the facts. However, during a conversation with him a few days after that date, and after the announced departure of both Nagano and Nagai from London, Mr. Hirota explained to me that his statement represented what he hoped and believed to be true at the time, namely that conditions would be favorable for Ambassador Nagai to remain.

The facts being what they have proven to be, it can only be surmised that the Foreign Minister’s statement to me on January 13 was an expression of a hope rather than a confirmation of the facts.

This does not mean, however, that the Foreign Office did not have its way over the Naval authorities in the method of Japan’s withdrawal from the Conference. There is little doubt that without the restraining hand of Mr. Hirota the Navy, left to itself, would have quit the Conference in an atmosphere of ill-feeling and acute irritation, to return to Tokyo in a spirit of truculence and bombast supported enthusiastically by the press. This has definitely been avoided. The press has clearly been subject to restraint and has been marked by an effort to comment objectively upon the departure of Japan from the Conference and to do so with the minimum recrimination and bitterness. There is also an absence of the boastful spirit§ which was so evident in the press two years ago and especially during the early days of 1935 when the question of abrogating the Washington Treaty first became the subject of general discussion.

In thus emphasizing the contribution of the so-called liberal element to Japan’s international relations, I do not wish to create the impression that the Embassy has in any way altered its opinion on this subject which was expressed on page 951 of the despatch referred to in the foregoing paragraph, an opinion to which I still subscribe. However, it cannot be denied that there are influences at work in Japan with which the military is forced to reckon.

In reviewing the conclusions drawn from Japan’s attitude toward the Conference by Japanese public opinion and Government circles, the one fact which stands out is the unanimous conviction here that the plan which Japan offered was the only one which had to do with actual naval disarmament, that the British and American plans, if adopted, would have had no practical effect whatsoever in this direction, and that nothing short of this accomplishment had any merit whatever. The British unilateral declaration formula was in no sense [Page 28]less unpalatable to the Japanese public than the American plan of a general 20% reduction (the practical reduction in armament effect of which was ignored here), but there is a tendency in the press to feel that the American policy is more antagonistic to Japan than that of Great Britain.

Another feature of the present discussions in the press is the evident apprehension of the possibility of an increasing cooperation between Great Britain and the United States against Japan. This is not yet admitted as a probability but the efforts made by some writers to prove the doubtfulness of this as a possibility reveals the existence of the thought. The Chugai of January 16, 1935, states: “Japan’s withdrawal from the parley would seem to lead to its isolation and to cooperation between Great Britain and the United States. We grant that Japan will find itself isolated but this does not necessarily mean that the bonds between Great Britain and the United States will be strengthened by stiffening their attitude against this country. On the surface, these two countries stand on common ground in matters relative to disarmament. A close study will show, however, that they do not see eye to eye in regard to the more important questions of disarmament. The policy of the United States is directed against this country. That of Great Britain is not necessarily so directed. Thus it would be almost impossible to accord the fundamental policies of the two countries …”52

As to the causes behind the attitude of Japan at the Conference and her absolute unyielding attitude upon the question of naval parity, they are many and they do not come within the scope of this despatch. However, much light on this question is thrown by the following remarks, also from the Chugai article quoted above: “Another important question to this country is the possible effect of the failure of the Conference on China. It has been customary for it to rely more on Great Britain and the United States following every international conference in which this country is represented. In the present conference this country has adopted a policy which does not give China the slightest cause to believe that Japan is subservient to Great Britain and the United States. Japan’s policy in the conference has been independence. Thus it would be hard for China to see in it any sign of weakness. …”52

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. See vol. i, pp. 22 ff.; see also Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, pp. 294297.
  2. Embassy’s telegram No. 9, January 12, 7 p.m. [Footnote in the original; for telegram, see Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 290.]
  3. Embassy’s telegram No. 11, January 13, 11 p.m. [Footnote in the original; for telegram, see vol. i, p. 32.]
  4. Japanese Chief Delegate to the London Naval Conference.
  5. Japanese Ambassador in France and member of the Naval Conference delegation.
  6. Embassy’s telegram No. 14, January 18, noon. [Footnote in the original; telegram not printed.]
  7. Embassy’s despatch No. 1102, December 27, 1934, p. 11. [Footnote in the original; for despatch, see Foreign Relations, 1935, vol. iii, p. 821.]
  8. See paragraph beginning “At this point I should like to,” ibid., p. 825.
  9. Omission indicated in the original despatch.
  10. Omission indicated in the original despatch.