The Chargé in Japan (Dooman) to the Secretary of State

No. 4126

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Embassy’s telegrams Nos. 435, August 25, noon;10 437, August 25, 7 p.m.;11 440, August 26, 2 p.m.;11a 442, August 28, 11 a.m.;12 445, August 28, 10 p.m.; 447, August 30, 9 a.m.;13 and subsequent telegrams in regard to the fall of the Hiranuma Cabinet and the formation of a new Cabinet under General Nobuyuki Abe.

As set forth in my first three telegrams under reference, the reasons behind the resignation of the Hiranuma Cabinet were to manifest outwardly the end of the policy of cooperation with Germany and Italy under the anti-Comintern pact and the beginning of a new “independent” policy, and the desire of the Prime Minister, Baron Hiranuma, to assume personal responsibility for the failure of his Government to foresee the conclusion of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact. We are now able to analyze the effect of the conclusion of this pact upon the Japanese mind with sufficient perspective to conclude that the last reason given was perhaps more compelling than the first two. For months Prime Minister Hiranuma, with the aid principally of his Navy Minister, Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, had been fighting off the Army’s [Page 450] demands for closer relations with the Rome–Berlin axis, and that fight had been largely successful. In the normal workings of Japanese politics it would have been possible, despite the changed external situation, for the Prime Minister to jettison the War Minister, General Itagaki (indeed, the Army offered to assume complete responsibility for the new development), and carry on as before. That Baron Hiranuma did not follow this course is undoubtedly due to the character of the man himself. His statement made to the press on August 29 explaining the reasons for his decision to resign is of sufficient importance to warrant quoting in full:

“Ever since I assumed office I have constantly endeavored, in full cooperation with my colleagues and in accordance with the Imperial will, to surmount all obstacles and to effect the construction of a new order in East Asia in order that the objects of the holy war in China might be attained. In foreign relations a primary requisite has been to follow a policy of contributing toward world peace and civilization on the basis of the spirit of the national foundation and moral principles. With this object in mind I gave consideration to Japan’s European policy and reported thereon to the Throne from time to time. However, the conclusion of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact gave rise to a strange and complicated situation in Europe. In view of this situation it became necessary for Japan to abandon the policy which had been prepared and to establish a different one. This clearly represented a change in what I had been frequently reporting, thereby causing inconvenience to the Throne once more. I am overawed by the great responsibility to the Throne confronting me, and I fear that my remaining in office any longer would involve, in view of my duty as subject to Emperor, disrespect to the Throne. Moreover, I believe that in order to overcome the emergency facing Japan through internal reorganization and reorientation of Japan’s foreign policy, the most urgent problem of the day is to alter the face of affairs and to revitalize the minds of the people. For the foregoing reasons I have today tendered my resignation to the Throne.”

It seems clear from Prime Minister Hiranuma’s statement that his resignation was motivated primarily by the doctrine that the first duty of the Prime Minister as subject is to respect and enhance the dignity of the Throne. To continue in office under the changed situation would, in Baron Hiranuma’s mind, require exercise of imperial clemency, thus detracting from his prestige as Prime Minister. But what is more important, he felt apparently that by his resignation he would not only clearly establish the responsibility of the Prime Minister in matters of this kind and redefine its position vis-à-vis the Throne, but would bring into clear relief the role which to his mind the Throne should play in Japanese politics. The above analysis would appear to be borne out by the fact that the press was not only unanimous in its praise of Prime Minister Hiranuma’s decision to resign but for several days after the event gave only secondary importance to the selection [Page 451] of the new Premier, concentrating most of its attention on the character of Baron Hiranuma and the reasons behind his resignation. Out of the present development Baron Hiranuma seems destined to emerge as one of Japan’s outstanding “behind-the-scenes” statesmen, his power and influence growing in inverse proportion to the actual responsibilities which he has now divested from himself.

As secondary considerations in the decision of the Prime Minister to resign, it would appear that he and his advisers felt that the situation demanded a clearing of the air and that only through withdrawal would the new government be left completely free to initiate such new policies as the changed situation might require. The thought must have been strong in the mind of the outgoing Premier that the heritage he had assumed from the Konoe Cabinet in regard to the settlement of the China incident had often risen to plague him and that the Cabinet to come, if it were to surmount the tremendous difficulties facing Japan, must be free from similar legacies.

An outline of the mechanics by which General Nobuyuki Abe was selected to form a Cabinet to succeed that of Baron Hiranuma was provided in my telegrams Nos. 445, August 28, 10 p.m., and 446, August 29, 3 p.m. The decision of returning Japan to a new “independent” policy free from European commitments had already been announced by the Hiranuma Cabinet through its chief secretary on August 25. The problem then arose of selecting someone to carry out this policy. This task appears to have fallen largely on the shoulders of Prince Konoe, President of the Privy Council and Minister without Portfolio in the Hiranuma Cabinet; Mr. Kurahei Yuasa, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal; and Count Nobuaki Makino, former Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, all men with a sound understanding of Japan’s international position and its present internal political situation, and all possessed of intangible political power. It appears that these leaders, when it became clear that Hiranuma would not continue in office, decided upon three men who they thought were most fit for the Premiership: Mr. Koki Hirota, Foreign Minister in the Saito and Okada Cabinets and Prime Minister in 1937, General Kazushige Ugaki, Foreign Minister for a short time in the Konoe Cabinet, and General Nobuyuki Abe, retired. Apparently Mr. Hirota was soon eliminated as a candidate because of his close identification in many minds with Japan’s foreign policy in the past, in particular possibly his attitude of conciliation towards the Soviet Union. In the latter respect he could not, of course, expect the support of the Army. The name of General Ugaki was brought forward and was given long and careful consideration, but was finally rejected largely because of the unfortunate circumstances attending his resignation in 1938 when, as Foreign Minister, he opposed the establishment of [Page 452] the Asia Promotion Board, and also because of his abortive attempt to form a Cabinet in 1937, both memories still fresh in the minds of the people. The choice then fell upon General Abe, a man completely unknown in civil politics and without particular distinction in the Army, although he had served for a short period as Acting War Minister in the Hamaguchi Cabinet during the illness of General Ugaki.

One important fact stands out in bold relief in the present Cabinet change: despite the Army’s dominant position in the state and the fact that the power of direction over the affairs of state lies, for all practical purpose, in its hands, a substantial residuum of power over important matters of state, a power of decision as contrasted to power of direction, still is lodged elsewhere, in the group around the Throne, of which the Lord Keeper of the Privy Sisal, Mr. Kurahei Yuasa, is the focal point. This is not to assert that there exists a cleavage of power within the Japanese state itself: civilian elements see eye-to-eye with the Army on matters of principle. Such differences as may arise are essentially rather those of method to be pursued. That the group around the Throne could make its influence so effective in the present Cabinet change was probably due to the logic of the situation itself: the Army, discredited by the implications for Japan of the German-Soviet non-aggression pact, was prevented for the moment from taking active part in the political maneuvers required for the Cabinet change, such influence as the Army could bring to bear being of a negative, reflected character. The Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Mr. Yuasa, Prince Konoe, and others were able, therefore, to proceed relatively free-handed in the establishment of a government which would bring Japan’s foreign policy back on the track of Japan for itself and freedom from European commitments. It is of interest to note that Prince Saionji, the sole surviving Genro, was completely ignored by Mr. Yuasa, the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, in selecting a new Premier, being consulted only after the selection had taken place, thereby indicating that the Genro may be discounted in the future as an effective force in Japanese politics.

As reported in my telegram No. 447, August 30, 9 a.m., the composition of the Abe Cabinet is as follows:

  • Prime Minister: General Nobuyuki Abe, concurrently Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  • Minister of War: General Shunroku Hata.
  • Minister of Navy: Vice Admiral Zengo Yoshida.
  • Minister of Home Affairs: Mr. Naoshi Obara, concurrently Minister of Social Welfare.
  • Minister of Finance: Mr. Kazuo Aoki, concurrently President of the Cabinet Planning Board.
  • Minister of Commerce and Industry: Mr. Takuo Godo, concurrently Minister of Agriculture.
  • Minister of Communications: Mr. Ryutaro Nagai, concurrently Minister of Railways.
  • Minister of Education: Mr. Kakichi Kawarada.
  • Minister of Overseas Affairs: Mr. Tsuneo Kanemitsu.
  • Chief Secretary of the Cabinet: Mr. Ryusaku Endo.

The new Premier, General Abe, has been most aptly described as an unknown quantity. His name was not even mentioned until a few days before he received the command from the Throne and his selection came as a complete surprise to the Japanese press and public alike. As previously mentioned, his sole political experience in civil administration consisted of a few months as Acting War Minister in the Hamaguchi Cabinet during the illness of General Ugaki. He is not without political reputation in the Army, however, being known as a man of caution but of exceptional courage (he is best remembered for his part in the Army retrenchment program of 1925), thoroughly honest and possessed of considerable perspicacity. He has made few enemies, and what is more important, he is not known to favor any fixed set of policies, both of which factors appear to have been paramount in his selection and which constitute at the same time both his strength and his weakness. Son of a samurai family, General Abe represents the old and fast-disappearing type of gentry-soldier in the Japanese Army. Like many of the older group in the Army, General Abe saw service abroad as Military Attaché in Germany and in Austria, and is, therefore, presumably familiar with western ways of life and thought.

Abe’s Cabinet, with the exception of Admiral Yoshida, his Navy Minister, a man with a brilliant naval record and one long slated for his present post, and perhaps Mr. Kawarada, a close friend and confidant of Prince Konoe, is without distinction and may be dismissed with a few words. The Minister for War, General Shunroku Hata, will be remembered as the Commander-in-Chief of the Japanese forces in Central China who replaced General Matsui shortly after the sack of Nanking. He is a quiet, rugged type from whom nothing spectacular is expected. The non-service members of the Cabinet are for the most part professional bureaucrats like Mr. Aoki, the Finance Minister, and with a decided “controlled economy” background, or professional office seekers like Mr. Ryutaro Nagai, the new Communications and Railway Minister. It may be mentioned parenthetically that while General Abe paid lip service to the principle of including Party members in his Cabinet, he ignored the custom of waiting for overtures but proceeded to pick the men he desired and informed the Parties after the event.

General Abe’s Cabinet is not important for its composition but for the circumstances which brought it about, the manner in which it was formed, and the shape which it has assumed. By the system of concurrent [Page 454] portfolios the total number of Cabinet members has been brought down to ten. The latter principle was adopted, it appears, for three reasons: first, to avoid the danger of an imperium in imperio which manifested itself in the workings of the Five-Minister Conference principle under the Konoe and Hiranuma Cabinets; second, to facilitate despatch of Cabinet business; and third, to smooth, through coordination of activities, the path of internal reform which is now taking place in the various Ministries.

From all indications the Abe Cabinet will follow closely the policies of its predecessors in domestic matters, no marked changes being anticipated for the time being. The considerations arising in regard to foreign affairs in respect of the Abe Cabinet have been discussed in a separate despatch.

Respectfully yours,

Eugene H. Dooman
  1. Vol. iii, p. 53.
  2. Ibid., p. 54.
  3. Ibid., p. 55.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Telegram No. 447 not printed.