894.00/984: Telegram

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

1372. 1. Evidence comes from a variety of independent sources that the Japanese Navy is using its influence in favor of moderate courses [Page 982] and is quietly working for the eventual return of Admiral Yonai to the Premiership. There is reason to believe that the appointment of Admiral Nomura38 as Ambassador to Washington was finally brought about by pressure from higher naval officers who are opposed to courting war with the United States. The unusual number of high naval officers who attended the luncheon of the America-Japan Society on December 1939 was impressive as well as the fact that out of a clear sky and without recent precedent the Vice Chief of the Naval General Staff recently gave a dinner for our Naval and Assistant Naval Attachés with a number of high Japanese naval officers at which the atmosphere was unusually friendly. These elements express the opinion that war can be avoided while adding the customary warning that an Anglo-American agreement for the joint use of Singapore followed by the stationing there of American warships would constitute so clear a menace that Japan might have to strike in self-defense.

2. This conservative attitude on the part of the Japanese Navy as distinguished from the general extremist attitude of the Army may be ascribed in part to the Navy’s broader vision and better comprehension of world affairs. Whether the Navy is also guided by lack of confidence in its power and readiness for war, or whether it desires merely to postpone war with the United States until the completion of the Japanese battleships now under construction, is a matter for pure speculation. I am told on good authority that the mechanization of the Japanese Army is in extremely poor condition owing to bad materials and faulty construction and that it would be hopelessly outclassed in the face of a modern army of any first-class power, but there is no way of estimating whether this applies equally to the Japanese Navy. The Naval Attaché concurs in the foregoing.

3. Meanwhile, evidence of closer cooperation between Japan and the Axis, especially Germany, is to be found in the setting up of the mixed commissions under the Triple Alliance,40 the reported arrival in Tokyo of German economic and police experts, the departure of Japanese naval and military missions for Berlin, and the reappointment as Ambassador to Germany of General Oshima, chief Japanese architect of the Triple Alliance. There is little doubt that Germany will make every effort and will grasp every opportunity to drive Japan into war with the United States in order to reduce American aid to Britain.

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4. The promotion by Germany of this intensified cooperation with Japan may be ascribed in part to the urgent need of the former to find another active partner in the event of Italy’s early collapse. It appears to be reasonable to ascribe Japan’s motive to fear of war with either or both the United States and Soviet Russia. The German Air Attaché in Tokyo, who is a close friend of Goering41 and in touch with the inner councils in Berlin, recently said to a neutral informant that Germany has now succeeded in diverting the Soviets’ attention from Europe to the Far East, while unconfirmed reports come to us of troop concentrations on both sides of the Russo-Manchurian frontier. All reports here indicate that the Russo-Japanese negotiations in Moscow have met insuperable obstacles.

5. On the other side of the picture, one informant, an influential Japanese who is not afraid to work openly against the Tripartite Alliance and who is in touch with the Prime Minister, has told one of my colleagues that Prince Konoye, who was never in favor of the alliance, now scarcely disguises his chagrin at the way in which matters have developed. The thought has been expressed that if Italy should collapse, Japan’s obligations which were undertaken jointly with Germany and Italy could be regarded as null and void and thus [apparent omission] doubtful issue from an increasingly embarrassing situation could be [apparent omission] worthless. This informant is one of many who are working for the fall of Matsuoka whose recent provocative utterances and especially the ineptness of his speech before the America-Japan Society42 as a prelude to Admiral Nomura’s mission to the United States have led to grave doubts as to the Foreign Minister’s balance and the dangerous course which he is pursuing. One astute colleague observed that Matsuoka in his public statements is unable to distinguish between frankness and freshness.

6. In the meantime, as frequently reported by the Embassy, the so-called “new structure” is giving rise domestically to widespread and increasing dissatisfaction and it is understood that the appointment of Hiranuma as Home Minister was effected with a view to controlling recalcitrant rightist elements with whom he possesses influence.

7. The foregoing points merely confirm the fact that while no immediate outlook for the fall of the Cabinet or for a change in orientation is evident, nevertheless dissatisfaction with the position in which Japan now finds herself is rife and may well gather strength. This comes to me from a great variety of sources and merits attention even with every precaution on our part to avoid allowing the wish to become father to the thought. In the meantime there has been a notable [Page 984] absence of recent steps in the policy of southward advance and the press has been unusually quiet on that subject. Further developments would seem to be awaiting the results of (1) the negotiations with Soviet Russia, (2) the economic negotiations with the French concerning Indochina which are to commence in Tokyo, (3) the renewed negotiations with the Netherlands East Indies and (4) trends in the war in Europe and Africa. Furthermore, the attitude of the United States is being constantly watched.

Sent to the Department. Repeated to Moscow.

  1. Adm. Kichisaburo Nomura, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, September 25, 1939–January 14, 1940.
  2. For addresses by Mr. Matsuoka, Admiral Nomura, and Mr. Grew, see Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, Vol. ii, pp. 123, 128, and 129.
  3. For summary of pact signed at Berlin, September 27, see ibid., p. 165.
  4. Hermann Göring, German Minister for Aviation.
  5. Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, Vol. ii, p. 123.