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

No. 2912

Sir: I have the honor to refer to my telegram 239, April 11, 6 p.m.,13 in which I reported that differences of opinion with regard to important policies had developed within the Cabinet, and to my telegram 282, April 28, 7 p.m.,14 in which the opinion was expressed that these differences had apparently been tided over.

Although the internal political situation has been outwardly calm ever since the outbreak in July last of the hostilities with China, there have been a number of undercurrents indicating unrest: the political parties have been increasingly conscious of the futility of their opposition to the revival of bureaucracy, business elements have been intensely unhappy over the trend toward governmental control of industry and commerce, and among all classes there exists bewilderment with regard to the failure of Japanese operations in China to unfold more rapidly and successfully than has been the case. In spite of the extreme importance of maintaining national unity, and, further, of maintaining semblances of national unity, and in spite of the absolute power of those in authority to suppress all dissentient elements, the fact is significant that the existence of disunity within the Cabinet, [Page 597] the supreme directive and administrative agency of the Government, could not be concealed. The purpose of the present despatch is to estimate the significance of that fact.

The Prime Minister is not a bureaucrat, a militarist, a member of any political party, or a businessman. In this lies his strength, for his lack of affiliation with any of these groups has made him acceptable to all classes and groups. With Prince Konoye in the Cabinet are (aside from the Ministers of War and Navy, whose attitudes are always determined by the respective services) the Home Minister, Admiral Suyetsugu, a military firebrand, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Count Arima, an aristocrat and a close friend of Konoye’s, Minister of Overseas Affairs Count Otani, the head of a noble ecclesiastical family, Education Minister Marquis Kido, a bosom friend of Prince Konoye’s, and a “string” of other ministers, all bureaucrats, some with party affiliations which are no longer important. We find then a cabinet of bureaucrats and friends of the Prime Minister, headed by a man without special obligations to any political faction.

The Government as thus constituted, aside from a minor change made last year, has administered the affairs of the nation through nine months of conflict with China. It has laid down as a fundamental policy that it has “ceased to deal with” the Nationalist Government of China. It has succeeded in the recent session of the Diet in securing the passage in substantially the form it desired of a large number of laws, some of them, especially the National Mobilization Law and the Electric Power Control Law, far-reaching in their ultimate effect on the Japanese political and social structure. Notwithstanding these accomplishments, to which should be added a fair measure of military success, doubt and apprehension with regard to future political developments appeared, and at the time of writing have not been entirely removed.

The recent Cabinet crisis—for lack of a more precise term—was precipitated by an observation, whether casual or made with calculated effect, by Prince Konoye that because of ill-health and other personal reasons he wished to resign the premiership. There then occurred a scurrying to-and-fro of important political figures—a sure sign in this country that serious political difficulties have arisen. Under banner headlines, the press took notice of the political crisis, but the voluminous discussions of the situation were sheer froth and gave no plausible explanation. It would have been entirely too ingenuous to believe that the situation had arisen over Prince Konoye’s physical condition, which was widely stressed, for the reason that Prince Konoye has not been in robust health for several years. It was being repeatedly affirmed by his friends that Prince Konoye has no political ambitions; and from what we know of his personality and character we are inclined to agree with that statement. If ill-health were a controlling [Page 598] factor, it would be reasonable to suppose that Prince Konoye would have actually resigned immediately after the session of the Diet, through which the Government carried through its legislative program practically intact, thanks largely to the efforts of Prince Konoye himself. Further, it must be assumed that no one realized more clearly than did Prince Konoye that the situation confronting Japan, both internally and externally, was not one which would allow him to resign for reasons of personal convenience. In the light of these considerations, it was obvious that the controlling factor in the situation was the question whether differences of opinion among those sharing in the execution of fundamental policies could be adjusted.

Among certain observers, the view was held that the crisis was caused by the insistence of a certain group within the Cabinet that the National Mobilization Law be immediately invoked. In the light of the formal assurance which the Government gave to the Diet that the law would not be applied during the period of the present hostilities in China, the reports which we had received in confidence from Japanese friends of a virtual cleavage over the carrying out of the China policy seemed to be a more correct estimate of the cause of the crisis. The latter view has been largely borne out by subsequent events.

As previously stated, the policy of the Japanese Government is to “cease to deal with the Nationalist Government”. It is obvious that this phrase describes merely the negative aspect of Japan’s policy, the declaration of January 16th15 in which the phrase occurs being singularly uninformative on the affirmative aspects of policy and on the methods to be employed in their prosecution. It would be to beg the question merely to say that Japan seeks to destroy the Chinese Government by methods of force. There need to be considered such questions as the number of troops to be sent to China, the area of operations, purchase from abroad of supplies, maintenance of national credit, and a thousand and one other questions. Some of these problems fall within the jurisdiction or responsibility of the Government, while others fall entirely within the jurisdiction of Imperial Headquarters. It is to be supposed that the coordination of what might be desirable from a military point of view with diplomatic, financial and economic realities is in itself a fundamental problem. In theory satisfactory liaison between the two agencies is assured by specially appointed officers and, for a period of several months, by frequent meetings between officers of Imperial Headquarters and certain members of the Cabinet who formed an “Inner Cabinet”—the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, the War and Navy Ministers and the Minister of Finance. Nevertheless, according to reliable sources, [Page 599] there has been a fundamental difference of opinion between that element of the Cabinet which follows Prince Konoye and Imperial Headquarters over the question of methods which should be used to bring the conflict with China to a successful conclusion.

The best information available is that Prince Konoye leads a group, including Mr. Hirota and Marquis Kido, which advocates the urgent need of bringing the conflict to a successful conclusion and whose conception of strategy, both military and political, is that it should be elastic and opportunistic. The War Minister, reflecting the opinion of Imperial Headquarters, is a proponent of the view that pressure steadily exerted on China, by military operations within limited key areas and by economic and financial measures, will eventually bring about the collapse of Chinese resistance. At first glance, such an alignment would seem to be paradoxical; but it is in fact not improbable. There is every reason why the Army, with a powerful potential foe on its right flank, would prefer to husband its resources as much as possible and avoid the risks inherent in dissipating its strength by conducting operations throughout the length and breadth of China. On the other hand, it can be reasonably assumed that Prince Konoye and his supporters are more alive than is the Army to the risks of involvement with Great Britain and the United States, and to the threat to Japan’s material well-being, the longer the conflict continues.

Whatever satisfaction Prince Konoye can derive from the basic soundness of his position he cannot blink the fact that, in enjoying thus far the support of the Army, he remains in office only so long as it may please the Army to have him there. Knowing something of Prince Konoye, I am of the opinion that he would not have remained in the intolerable position of acting as a figurehead for the Army and that, notwithstanding a fundamental difference of opinion with the Army as to method, there existed until the crisis developed some common ground. It is interesting to note in retrospect that the Cabinet difficulties first became known immediately after the Japanese military reverse in Southern Shantung. In any event, General Sugiyama, the War Minister, made a literally flying visit to China to inspect conditions at the several fronts, Marquis Kido consulted the Elder Statesman, Prince Saionji, and Prince Konoye duly announced that he would continue in office. There are suggestions in the press that the military operations will be conducted hereafter with greater vigor, and, although no official statement to that effect has been made, an advance on Hankow is believed by many intelligent Japanese to be in preparation. I cannot support my estimate by quotation from authoritative sources, as no person in authority would permit himself to be approached on this subject; but it is my belief, as stated in my telegrams under reference, that there was a serious difference of opinion [Page 600] among those in control with regard to what should be done by Japan in China and that this difference has been tided over, presumably by the making of a limited concession by the Army to the Prime Minister.

No useful forecast of future trends can now be made. Excluding the two Service members, the two most forceful individuals in the Cabinet are Marquis Kido, the Minister of Education, and Admiral Suyetsugu, the Home Minister. Marquis Kido is extremely well-informed and a definite realist. He is very close to the Prime Minister and is one of his most trusted and active advisers. Admiral Suyetsugu, on the other hand, is a visionary, and an active advocate of totalitarian doctrine. For Prince Konoye, it is no difficult or unpalatable task to accept Marquis Kido’s advice and maintain a position of independence, while it does not seem to be “in” Prince Konoye to become the mouthpiece of such fanaticism as that with which the name of Suyetsugu has become associated. There are indications that Prince Konoye, in standing out against the Army, has won at least a partial victory and that the Army has “liked it”. I am inclined to the view that the partnership will continue for some time.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew