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

No. 2798

Sir: I have the honor to transmit herewith clipping11 from the Japan Advertiser for February 4, 1938 of an interview with General Araki, which has since been the cause of difficulties and threats.

The newspaper account, followed as it was by two explanatory statements printed on different days and by comment in an editorial of a competing paper, caused the Embassy to inquire into the matter, and the following information has been obtained.

The original interview was first granted by General Araki to Mr. Frank Hedges, an American newspaper correspondent long resident in Tokyo. Mr. Oland D. Russell, at present a member of the staff of the Japan Advertiser, asked Mr. Hedges if he could accompany him. This was arranged, and both Mr. Hedges and Mr. Russell attended. Mr. Hedges has continually upheld Mr. Russell’s report of what was said, and there has in fact been no direct questioning of its accuracy. Mr. Russell is an experienced newspaperman who was news editor of the Japan Advertiser a number of years ago, went to New York where he served until recently as cable editor of the New York World Telegram, and is now in Tokyo on leave of absence for a few months with a commission from Little, Brown and Company to write a book about the Mitsui family. While temporarily in Tokyo his services are being availed of by the Japan Advertiser in a part-time capacity.

On the part of General Araki the interview itself was arranged largely by a certain Kumasaki, who acted also as the General’s interpreter. Mr. Kumasaki is an experienced linguist, brother of a former officer of the Japanese foreign service, and is often used by government departments at Tokyo in foreign contact work.

Among other ideas General Araki put considerable emphasis on the self-sufficiency of Japanese national thought and political philosophy, [Page 592] and in reference to the Japan–Germany–Italy pact against communism made a good deal of the assertion that Japan’s participation is motivated by the anti-communist usefulness of the pact, not by a spiritual background shared with the fascist state of Europe. The Advertiser raised this to headlines in the words “Japan’s Link to Fascism Expediency, Says Araki.”

The paper immediately received a letter in General Araki’s name admitting that the General’s interpreter might have used the word expediency in the interview, and stating that he in fact had no intention of conveying the meaning of a sacrifice of moral principles to facilitate some end. The following morning, February 5, this letter was printed on the front page, as the interview had been.

Later in the day (February 5) the Advertiser office received a telephone message, purportedly from General Araki’s household, stating that the General would like to see the editor of the paper, Mr. Wilfred Fleisher. It was explained that it would be difficult for the editor to come at that time but that Mr. Russell would be glad to call upon the General. In discussing the time when a conversation could be arranged Mr. Russell suggested a meeting a few days hence, but was told in peremptory manner that it would be to the interest of the paper to comply immediately. A meeting that evening at the Tokyo Club was agreed to. When Mr. Russell appeared with his interpreter at the Tokyo Club at the agreed hour he found a message there directing him to proceed to the General’s house. Arriving at the residence Mr. Russell and his interpreter overheard a heated discussion going on in an adjacent room, at the conclusion of which the General, flanked by two men obviously ruffians, came out to the reception room where Mr. Russell and his interpreter were waiting. The General appeared plainly embarrassed and began in an apologetic manner, whereupon his escorts took matters in their own hands and coming up to Mr. Russell said that things would soon be hard for Mr. Fleisher’s Jew paper and that it might just as well close down now. These remarks were accompanied by some pushing and obvious efforts to give the impression of threatening physical violence. Mr. Russell asked what objections to the paper’s policy he could report to Mr. Fleisher, and the conference got down to its immediate purpose. The General’s two attendants referred to the interview with General Araki as reported in the Advertiser of February 4. After hearing their suggestions Mr. Russell drew up a statement (later published on the morning of February 7), and this was finally agreed to after a discussion between the General’s men, in which the General was practically overlooked, according to Mr. Russell’s account.

Thereupon Mr. Russell mentioned General Araki’s statement, in his letter of February 4 commenting upon the interview as published, [Page 593] that the General was impressed with the accuracy with which the interview was rendered into English. When this comment by Mr. Russell was translated into Japanese the General’s attendants were infuriated, It was obviously their first information of the letter and they immediately demanded explanations of General Araki. The subsequent discussion seemed to disclose that the letter was the work of Mr. Kumasaki. After some time it was agreed that in spite of the letter the Advertiser should nevertheless print the statement just drafted by Mr. Russell.

Mr. Russell next drew attention to the fact that he had cabled his interview to the United States and that it had already been published. This aspect, to Mr. Russell’s surprise, caused no interest. The men stated that the reaction abroad is a matter of no importance, and pointed to the reaction within Japan as their only interest. Thereupon the conversation ended and the Advertiser printed the statement agreed to.

Mr. Russell’s interpretation of the incident is that it suggests that there are groups in Japan aiming at keeping General Araki’s record clear in order that he may be used as the head of some political movement, probably reactionary, aiming at the displacement of the present political parties by a single organization. The evidence of the Japanese interpreter who accompanied Mr. Russell is that the General’s two attendants were unmistakably of the organized ruffian class which is by all odds the most dangerous to deal with in Japanese life. Even when General Araki was Minister of War he was largely a figurehead for other leaders, and there is plausibility in the estimate that he is still thought of for a similar use again by certain groups having extremely reactionary plans for the solution of Japan’s present difficulties. Such groups would wish him to keep clear of any public statements which might tend to alienate fascist sympathies.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Not reprinted.