740.0011 European War 1939/14403: Telegram

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

1319. For the Secretary and the Under Secretary. 1. The reaction of the Japanese press to Mr. Churchill’s broadcast of August 24 (please see Embassy’s 1313, August 26, midnight50) was one of almost unprecedented violence in tone. Considering the fact that the Japanese press is controlled by the Government and that the tone of the press is frequently set by the Government for tactical reasons, the violence of the press reactions is not necessarily to be taken at its face value. However, one aspect of the press reaction which in my opinion is of even greater significance than its challenging tone is the note of despair that the differences between the United States and Japan can never be resolved peacefully. The throttling effect on Japan’s economy of freezing measures in the United States and the British Empire with growing realization that there is no prospect of a military decision being reached in Europe before Japan’s resources—however carefully husbanded—become exhausted, is creating a psychology of desperation.

Although there are elements in Japan who are fully aware of the dangerous potentialities of this situation and who are prepared to go far to attempt to avert war with the United States, the possibilities of constructive Japanese statesmanship being able to overcome growing counsels of despair here are, in the present circumstances, deteriorating from day to day. In Japan a psychology of despair leads characteristically to a do-or-die reaction.

2. There are in my opinion two focal points of immediate danger: one, the supply of American arms and military supplies to Russia through Siberian ports, and the other the recent decision of the Netherlands Indies Government (please see Embassy’s 1310, August 26, 9 p.m.51) to curtail severely if not to discontinue the supply of petroleum to Japan. The Department is of course aware of the different aspects of the latter situation, but I need merely say that sooner or later—depending on the extent of Japan’s oil reserves—the practical loss of the last important source of supply for this essential commodity will exert a controlling effect on her future policies and actions.

3. With regard to the first point above-mentioned, the Japanese press has been belaboring the argument that considerations of prestige and national dignity would make intolerable the passage through [Page 398] waters contiguous to Japan (which it is claimed could properly be proclaimed to be territorial waters as a wartime measure) of vessels carrying military supplies to a nation whose relations with Japan are characterized as “delicate.” I believe, however, that this argument looms large in Japanese eyes because of another consideration which, although not so frequently presented, would seem to have greater practical validity and that is the fear that some part of the supplies from the United States of primary military equipment, notably aircraft, might be retained by the Russians in eastern Siberia. It would seem, therefore, that the Japanese would be deprived of any rational ground for complaint if American assurances that supplies are intended for the defense of Russia against Germany were supplemented by Soviet assurances that American supplies reaching Siberian ports will not be retained in Eastern Siberia. (It is rumored that the Japanese Ambassador at Moscow yesterday requested the Soviet Government for such assurances.)

4. The position as we see it is that if our Government is still prepared to explore an approach from Japan, time is of the essence. There would seem to be developments in the making which if not immediately anticipated might well eliminate the last possibility—slim though it may be—of preventing the spread of the war to the pacific.

  1. Not printed.
  2. Vol. v, p. 281.