Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (Wilson)

Mr. Kojiro Matsukata, son of old Prince Matsukata,56 called on the telephone and asked to come and see me. I had known Mr. Matsukata in Tokyo in connection with the fact that he was a graduate of Yale.

Mr. Matsukata told me that he was not sent by his Government, that he had not, in fact, discussed with Mr. Hirota what he would say when he came to America. On the other hand, he had given Mr. Hirota opportunity to explain his, Mr. Hirota’s, views and had given the same opportunity to the Chiefs of the Army and Navy and other high officials in Japan. As a result of this, he felt able to express Japan’s general interest although it must be understood that he was speaking only for Mr. Matsukata and not for the Japanese Government. Again he emphasized, however, that the Japanese Government was fully aware of what he was about to say.

The Japanese Government want, by all means, to stop this fighting and it has already gone much further than was expected; almost accidentally the thing got underway, gained momentum and tempo; the Japanese themselves are shocked at the magnitude of the affair; it is fearfully costly to keep up this struggle; at the same time they are injuring their best customer; hence, they hope to be able to get into negotiation with China.

How to bring this about: Mr. Matsukata says that all hands are agreed that the United States is the country to bring it about; this must be done without England and in the form of “good offices”; he insisted again and again on the dislike of England which reigns in Japan at present.

Turning to the form of “good offices”, he feels that Mr. Grew and Mr. Johnson should approach the two governments offering good offices to bring representatives of the two governments together so that the talk between China and Japan can be “direct”; this does not exclude the representative of a friendly third power, notably the United States in the person of Mr. Grew, from sitting with the negotiators as observer and using friendly means to get the two parties into harmony; this, according to Mr. Matsukata, would not be “intervention” and would be “direct negotiations.”

I said that he could not expect me to give any more than a personal opinion, both because he was expressing his own opinion only and because I would have to consult my superior officers on a matter of this kind even if it came officially. Here, however, was my personal opinion. I could well understand that Japan wanted now to stop this war; it must be a frightful expense; it must be disagreeable [Page 728] to be carrying on a campaign against the moral judgment of the world; it must give anxiety to thoughtful people in Japan to see a struggle of this sort with Japan’s best customer, a struggle which will build up in China a generation of hatred, as well as destroying their purchasing power for years. Furthermore, I felt, and I thought most thoughtful people in the world would agree with me, that the time had gone by when a nation could hold in subjection alien populations; the growth of the newspapers, of the radio, of other forms of communication was such that any attempt to subjugate might well mean the destruction of the nation which attempted it; these were the thoughts that led me to think that it was natural that Japan should want to come to a halt in the proceedings.

There were further considerations—Japan had pushed back the Chinese armies around Shanghai; they had penetrated deeply in north China; there was no longer any question of “face”. Here Mr. Matsukata interrupted and said that this was just the moment when “face” could be saved for both parties; with the Japanese entering Nanking Chiang would lose face; the Japanese did not want Chiang to lose face; they wanted him to maintain a unified China; he was a reasonable man and they could deal with him. Mr. Matsukata apologized for interrupting and asked me to continue.

I said that I personally had a lot of doubts as to whether we could make an offer of good offices, we were bound by the Nine Power Treaty and it would seem to me difficult for us to suggest that China agree to an armistice for the purpose of entering into negotiations unless we were convinced that Japan was willing to negotiate a peace consistent with the Nine Power Treaty. I said it would be to assume a heavy responsibility for us to urge China to lay down its arms in a truce under conditions in which Japan could dictate an onerous peace.

Mr. Matsukata replied that in the first place he was convinced that Japan had no idea of being unreasonable, but that certainly the longer the war went on, the more chance there was of unreasonable elements getting control; second, he said what was to prevent Mr. Grew suggesting the idea of good offices to Mr. Hirota, on condition that Mr. Hirota could satisfy him that the terms to be offered China were reasonable and generous.

Mr. Matsukata then reemphasized the necessity for urgent action, if possible, before the fall of Nanking.

During the course of the conversation I asked him what his plans were. He said he was staying in Washington some days and would consider it a great honor if Mr. Hull would receive him. He made no specific request for an interview and I did not encourage him in this respect as I feel that an overture for an interview with the Secretary should be made by Saito.57

Hugh R. Wilson
  1. One of Japan’s Genro, or Elder Statesmen.
  2. Japanese Ambassador in the United States.