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

No. 2631

Sir: Somewhat in amplification of the thoughts expressed in the Embassy’s recent despatch* on Italian-Japanese relations, I have the honor to observe that the question of an Italo-German-Japanese triangular rapprochement was brought into sharp relief a few days ago with the publication here of the signed article by Mussolini in Il Popolo D’Italia in which the Italian Premier came out strongly in support of Japan as defender against bolshevism in the Far East. This dramatic move, which marks a sudden termination of the policy of silent neutrality heretofore pursued by Italy in respect of the Sino-Japanese conflict, made a wide and profound impression upon this country; and great gratification was expressed when, on October 9, the Italian Ambassador, Mr. Auriti, called upon the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs32 and stated, according to the press, that Italy heartily supported Japan in her present struggle with China and considered her actions fully justified. The Italian Ambassador is further reported to have referred to the article in Il Popolo D’Italia and to have said that he hoped the attitude of the Italian people expressed therein would be conveyed to all the people of Japan. The Vice Minister is said to have replied: “At a time when the League of Nations and the United States are condemning Japan’s righteous action in China, I have no words to express the gratitude of Premier Konoye, Foreign Minister Hirota, and, in fact the whole Government and all the people for this expression of goodwill by Premier Mussolini, the Italian Government and the Italian people toward Japan. Please convey our heartfelt appreciation to II Duce.”

It is significant that this sudden declaration on behalf of Japan on the part of Italy closely followed the return of the Italian Premier [Page 613] from his visit to Germany during the course of which the existence of a strong Berlin-Rome axis was emphasized together with the anti-communist solidarity of the two chief fascist nations. As was remarked in the Asahi Shinibun some two weeks ago. Mussolini’s visit to Berlin also had the effect of deeply impressing the people of Germany with the idea that cooperation between Germany, Italy and Japan would constitute a powerful bulwark against bolshevism and thus increased Germany’s goodwill toward Japan. The article in Il Popolo d’Italia under reference also stressed Japan’s “fascist character” and its anti-bolshevist attitude.

It is therefore clear that this recent action of Italy vis-à-vis Japan virtually completes the third side of the German-Italian-Japanese anti-communist triangle, whose other two sides are reinforced by the German-Japanese anti-Comintern pact and the Italian-German anti-communist front. As stated previously in the despatch under reference, it appears doubtful whether it will be considered necessary for Italy and Japan to enter into a formal anti-communist pact in view of their well-recognized identity of views toward communism; on the other hand Mussolini’s action reveals the natural tendency of the three strongest anti-communist states to proclaim their solidarity.

This fact is of the greatest importance when considered in connection with the proposed meeting of the signatories of the Nine Power Treaty for the purpose of discussing the present Sino-Japanese situation. Although Germany is not a signatory, Italy is, and while present press comment in Italy renders it open to question whether she will accept an invitation to the meeting, it appears certain that if she does participate she will probably—in view of her recently expressed stand in favor of Japan—destroy the moral effect which might be sought in a unanimous condemnatory resolution by voting against it. Furthermore, if Italy decides not to participate in the Nine-Power meeting, she may well prevail upon Portugal to break the unanimity which is so urgently striven for at meetings of this character by casting her vote contrary to that of the other participants. For that matter Portugal would probably need little prompting from Italy to play a contrary role at Brussels, or wherever the Nine-Power parley may be held, if we rightly judge her temper as expressed by the reply made to Secretary Hull’s July 16 statement.

Japan’s present inclusion in the circle of fascist states is clear, but the question arises as to whether there is any basis for a permanent association of Japan with the fascist powers in the future. Judged by the light of the existing world political situation it would appear doubtful that there is any such basis. To begin with Japan is not essentially, or even superficially, a fascist state, if by the term “fascist state” we wish, as we should, to signify a nation which has adopted [Page 614] the totalitarian form which is to be found in Italy, and to a slightly modified degree, in Germany. The term “fascist” is, in fact, loosely employed by the press and the average political commentator, to describe those governments which oppose communism; but this is a gross misuse of the term. It would be as absurd to brand all antifascist states as “communist” states as to include all dictatorships or states where the military party is in the supremacy as “fascist” states. The latter term is descriptive of only a certain form of government under which the Government derives its authority from one, sole, political party in which are included all social classes (unlike the Soviet where the only political party is made up of one class only) and where, in point of fact, the party is the Government. There is a vast difference between this form of Government and that which exists in certain other states where there may be said to be a dictatorship, absolute or in modified form, either of an individual or of a group such as, for instance, the military.

There is no doubt but that the military group in Japan are the most powerful force in the direction of this country’s affairs, but even the most biased observer could hardly include Japan in the group of true fascist, or totalitarian, states. The fact is that Germany, Italy and Japan are all actuated in their political affiliations by a policy of simple opportunism; these three are, in short, at least in the eyes of the territorially satisfied states, the outlaw states, the treaty-breakers, the unregenerate among nations. What, then, more natural than that they should cleave together in mutual interest? Far from being merely anti-communist in character, it is perfectly clear that these three have been driven together by a common policy opposed to the so-called democratic states. As for Japan, one has only to look at the group of states which she faces at the Nine-Power conference to see how natural it is for her to be driven into the Italian camp: The United States, Belgium, Great Britain, France and the Netherlands, not to mention China itself—all these are “democratic” or at least territorially satisfied states, but not communist, not even China. There remain only Italy and Portugal and their friends to whom Japan can turn. Even the “fascist” portion of Spain has lately joined the group of Japan’s friends when the Franco34 spokesman in Tokyo, Mr. Castillo, former Spanish Consul at Kobe, broke his policy of dignified silence to express on October 3, his “government’s” deep respect and sympathy for Japan “now engaged in a holy war of just and fair defense under the present emergency situation”.

Politics make strange bedfellows, and international politics are no exception to the rule. Let any one of the “outlaw” group become territorially [Page 615] satisfied and the raison d’être for the adherence of that state to the foregoing group would be removed. After all, Italy found that even an ironclad, signed treaty of alliance was not sufficient in 1915 to tie her to Germany and Austria-Hungary. She joined the opposing camp and strove desperately to remain there following the war; and fascist state though she is, she had a strong political understanding with France as recently as 1935, and a traditional friendship with England, until her hunger for territory drove her to the Ethiopian campaign and with it, the sacrifice of her friendship with the democratic states. Desperation alone drove her to the establishment of the Berlin-Rome axis, despite the fact that Germany’s frontiers will some day threaten Italy at the Brenner if the “Anschluss” with Austria takes place. And most students of European politics are convinced that it surely will.

Thus with Japan. From the very dawn of her modern history she has naturally fallen into close and friendly relations with Great Britain and the United States, and even though momentarily those relationships have been upset, her fundamental interests are inextricably bound up with those two nations. Between them the United States and the British Empire not only control the sources of most of the raw materials so vital to Japan’s existence, but at the same time they represent Japan’s greatest markets for the manufactured products of those raw materials. However, these two natural friends of Japan, in company with the other territorially satisfied nations of the world, have been largely instrumental in pursuing a policy, consciously or not, which has resulted in continually depriving Japan of the fruits of victory, both in the military and the politico-economic field; not only at Shimonoseki, Portsmouth, and Washington, but by the adoption of such measures as the Exclusion Act, the policy of “White Australia” and “White South Africa”, and by continuous economic pressure on the Asiatic mainland, which Japan regards as absolutely vital to her very existence. Consequently the pursuit of these policies has tended to render Japan’s territorial hunger and urge for economic expansion so acute that she embarked upon the Manchurian venture in 1931 and, now, the present venture in North China, with the result that she has become an “outcast” nation and in her search for friends she has been forced to turn to Germany and to Italy in order to avoid complete isolation. But such a grouping has been brought about solely through force of circumstances and if these circumstances change, the group will have a tendency to fall apart. Even the acquisition by Japan of territory in China which would to some extent meet her needs for raw materials would probably not prevent her from returning to her natural place within the Anglo-American sphere.

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The thought expressed in the foregoing pursues a parallel course to that expressed by the British Ambassador, Sir Robert Craigie, in recent conversations with me, especially one on October 4, in which he said that moderate opinion in Japan and the substantial element of liberal thinkers in this country must stand or fall on the basis of American and British friendship; that if that friendship is lost the moderates will be equally lost for they will have no further basis on which to stand; the Japanese military will then become permanently predominant and Japan will be thrown directly into the arms of Germany, Italy, and other fascist countries.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Embassy’s despatch No. 2613, October 1, 1937. [Footnote in the original; for despatch, see vol. i, p. 606.]
  2. K. Horinouchi.
  3. Spanish insurgent leader.
  4. Despatch No. 2634, October 18, 1937, enclosure No. 7, page 2. [Footnote in the original; despatch not printed.]