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

No. 4946

Sir: I have the honor to report on the movement for a “new national structure” in Japan.

Over a period of several years the Embassy has reported the development of a movement in Japan directed toward the formation of a single party or organization in which the political power of the nation would be unified.

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Events took a decisive turn when on May 4 Fusanosuke Kuhara, the not-too reputable president of the Kuhara Faction of the Seiyukai, proposed publicly that all existing parties be dissolved as a preliminary move toward the formation of a single new party. The proposal at first met with opposition, perhaps because of general distrust of Kuhara’s motives. Later, under the weight of circumstances that will be described, the political parties decided to disband. The last to do so was the powerful Minseito, which ended a 60-year career on August 15, having adopted a resolution advocating the formation of a “new political structure”. No doubt many of the party members, faced by an impasse to their ambitions, plumped for dissolution in the hope of reassembling on the new band-wagon of a national party. Prince Konoye has repeatedly tried to discourage the idea of a mere reshuffling of political forces but it still persists.

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Obviously the crux of the “new structure” movement hinges on the relationship between the military and the civil administrations. [Page 975] Japan’s political disputes of recent years have largely centered around the question of the army’s political power. With the decline of the parties, the army has usurped their place as the driving force behind Japanese politics, and in spite of constitutional impediments has openly exercised political power in all directions. What has obviously been taking place in Japan during the past decade is a reversion to old forms and traditions fixed during centuries of rule by a military caste. Now, of course, the army is no longer a caste, having democratized itself by conscription from the masses, but there remains unchanged in the nation’s consciousness the military tradition and, even more important, the tradition of military title to political power. The principal problem before Prince Konoye is, therefore, to find a means to associate the Supreme Military Command with the Cabinet in the general administration. His statements show that he is thoroughly aware of this problem. In a press interview on June 4 he declared (Domei): “A new party which is ready to do the bidding of the military is not what I am after. A new party desired by me is one confident enough to tender advice to the military and above all to reflect the feelings of the people in what is done by the military. The military should have the responsibility of managing military affairs. It is up to the politicians to manage political affairs. There is no thought of putting pressure on the army or resisting it. The need of the moment is to arrange for the military and the civilian population to cooperate from the depth of their hearts.” Again, in his formal statement of July 28 he declared “Among the items to be considered in this new organization of the nation must be mentioned the harmonious cooperation betwen the High Command and the administrative branch of the Government …”30

In its attitude toward the “new structure” movement the Army seems to be wavering between desire to be rid of the incumbrance of parliamentary government and reluctance to see set up any authority capable of challenging its own power. The military attitude toward the plans now under consideration are attracting the closest attention because it is generally realized that the fate of the “new structure”, and in a broader sense the fate of constitutional government in Japan, depends on the stand taken by the military at this time. Judging from the latest press reports, the opinion now prevailing in the army is that in order to preserve its special status as an organ of the Supreme Command it should “stand outside of the new structure and offer its wholehearted cooperation from outside.” This would mean, of course, that the old conflict of authority would be perpetuated in the “new structure.”

[Page 976]

The composition of the commission appointed by Prince Konoye on August 23 to organize the new structure is significant. Of the 26 members, the following will be recognized as representing the blackest reaction: Colonel Kingoro Hashimoto, president of the Dai Nippon Young Men’s Party, who was implicated in the sinking of the U. S. S. Panay,31 Seigo Nakano, president of the defunct and ultra-nationalistic Tohokai, Toshihisa Kuzuu, head of the notorious Amur (Black Dragon) Society, Toshio Shiratori, the nationalistic ex-Ambassador to Italy, Admiral Nobumasa Suyetsugu, a notorious fire-eater. Representing more moderate elements are Yoshiaki Hatta, President of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr. Hiraga, President of the Tokyo Imperial University, Mr. Takashi Isaka, Director of the Industrial Club, etc. But by and large the commission has a strong flavor of the most virulent nationalism. It is not hard to predict the nature of any project emerging from this Cave of Abdullum.32

Many observers have spoken of the “new structure” movement as an effort to create a Japanese equivalent of totalitarian regimes in Europe. However, Japanese exponents of the New Structure take much trouble to refute this impression. Prince Konoye himself has said in his statement of August 28 “No matter what brilliant results such a system (totalitarianism) may have reaped in other lands, it is not acceptable in Japan because it is contrary to the basic principle of our national policy …”33 On the same occasion he declared that the privilege of assisting the Throne is common to all Japanese subjects and “cannot be monopolized by the power of a single individual or a single party.” Actually, the contention that the “new structure” will differ essentially from Fascist organizations in Europe appears to be sound. Dictatorship by an individual is not in conformity with Japanese political traditions and could probably never be implanted in Japan.

Despite these arguments, the fact remains that the impelling force behind the “new structure” movement in Japan is the same as that which brought into being Fascism and Nazism, namely the necessity of unifying the total energies of the people to meet the exigencies of the occasion. In Prince Konoye’s own words his movement is designed “to unite the total energies of the State and of the People” in order to make possible “the powerful pursuance of any policy when the necessity arises”. Again he declared:

[Page 977]

“It aims at the concentration and unification of the nation’s entire powers. Its activities extend to the whole life of the nation.” In so far as fascism is characterized by authoritative government; by a monopoly political organization; by subordination of the individual to the larger interest of the state; and by rigid control over the economic life of the nation, Japan is following closely the pattern set by the dictatorships. The trend toward national socialism is already well under way. Industry, finance, politics and national defense are becoming inextricably interwoven in the totalitarian pattern.

It is therefore fruitless to argue whether the “new structure” will follow the European pattern of totalitarianism and whether the plan for a “new structure” would have been developed without European examples. It is safe to say that given the examples of successful authoritarianism in Europe and given an emergency situation at home, the Japanese are busy exercising at once their genius for imitation and their sure sense of tradition. While it is yet impossible to appraise with any degree of accuracy a political structure that is still on the drafting board of its designers, yet by the utterances of its sponsors the “structure” has every earmark of a totalitarian regime, in its purposes not far different from the Nazi party system in Germany or the Fascist party system in Italy, but in form modified to suit Japanese traditions and ideas.…

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Respectfully yours,

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Omission indicated in the original despatch.
  2. December 12, 1937; see Foreign Relations, 1937, Vol. iv, pp. 485 ff. and Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, Vol. i, pp. 517 ff.
  3. Where David and his followers took refuge from Saul; see I Samuel 22:1–2.
  4. Omission indicated in the original despatch.