Memorandum by the Adviser on Political Relations (Hornbeck) and Mr. Joseph W. Ballantine54

We have, in the light of authentic information received today, two problems to consider:

[Page 401]
That of the special conference; and
That of the gasoline which is on its way to Vladivostok.

This memorandum will relate to the latter, the question of the gasoline.

The Japanese contention that the United States is “exercising stringent limitations on gasoline essential to our [Japanese]55 civilian population”56 is not in conformity with facts. Whether the gasoline which is on its way to Vladivostok constitutes “cargoes of petroleum products which should be coming to us [the Japanese]”55 is a question of opinion: query is warranted, Why should those cargoes be going to the Japanese. As regards the “severe blow to the sensibilities of our [Japanese]55 government and people”, it may be said that what the Japanese people think about it is determined by what the Japanese Government lets them know and suggests that they think about it. What this matter has to do with the “neutrality treaty between Japan and Soviet Russia”, it is difficult to perceive. That it is not “in accord with the interpretation of international law” is an unsound affirmation.

The Japanese Government instructs that representations be made again to the Secretary of State toward bringing about “an immediate cessation of these measures”. If, such representation having been made, the United States declines to stop the shipments to the Soviet, the Ambassador is to suggest that the transportation route be changed. If this is refused, he is to try to persuade the American Government that it immediately revive shipments of petroleum products to Japan.


The whole of this instruction is a confession of uncertainty and lack of determined intent on Japan’s part to make this matter a real issue. It is firmly believed that, in the presence of this evidence, the United States should maintain a firm attitude and avoid any word or any act that might be construed by the Japanese Ambassador as an indication of doubt or indecision on our part. Our right to send this gasoline and the Soviet right to purchase and receive it are indisputable. The transaction in no way violates any Japanese right; it in no way prejudices adversely any legitimate Japanese interest—other than that feature of Japanese policy which is directed toward establishing the concept that Japan is to be the judge and arbiter of [Page 402] other people’s rights in the western Pacific; it in no way menaces or jeopardizes Japan’s security—for, the Soviet Union is in no position, with or without this gasoline, to launch any military attack upon Japan.

It is believed that it would be advisable for this Government to arrange to have the ships that carry this cargo avoid passing through any waters adjacent to the main islands of Japan [this might be done by having those vessels pass close to the southern point of Kamchatka or pass through the channel which is considerably more than six miles wide between two of the northerly islands of the Kurile group];57 that the Japanese be told that we are making this arrangement out of respect not for any admitted right of theirs but for their susceptibilities; and that they be told that we regard this trade with the Soviet Union as perfectly legitimate trade, comparable to trade which we have carried on for a long time with Japan and which we have recently subjected to restrictions so far as Japan is concerned only because of action on Japan’s part inimical to our security.

It is believed that if we proceed in the manner thus outlined we will have no real trouble with Japan over this matter.

Action, if taken, on this Government’s part involving a recalling of the tankers in conformity with the suggestion reported in Ambassador Grew’s telegram 1332 [1322], August 27, 7 p.m., “to await the outcome of the proposal recently made with regard to” a conference, would be construed by the Japanese Government and be interpreted to the Japanese nation as a clear indication that, meeting with opposition and an indication of firmness on Japan’s part, the United States backs down; would be inconsistent with indications which have been given to our own people, to the British, to the Chinese, to the Russians, and to all others concerned, that this Government has at last adopted and intends to maintain a firm attitude vis-à-vis Japan; would be inconsistent with and stultifying to our efforts to encourage the Russians to resist Germany and our assurances to them that we will afford them material aid; and would be prejudicial generally to our effort to wield a decisive influence toward causing the peace-desiring peoples of the world to resist and overcome the movement of aggression and conquest of which Japan was the inaugurator and the German-Japanese-Italian alliance is the spearhead and battering ram.

  • S[tanley] K. H[ornbeck]
  • J[oseph] W. B[allantine]
  1. Noted by the Secretary of State.
  2. Brackets appear in the original memorandum.
  3. This and later quotations in this memorandum are from intercepted Japanese telegram from Tokyo to Washington, August 26; see Pearl Harbor Attack: Hearings before the Joint Committee on the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack, 79th Cong., 1st sess., pt. 12, Joint Committee Exhibits Nos. 1 through 6, p. 21.
  4. Brackets appear in the original memorandum.
  5. Brackets appear in the original memorandum.
  6. Brackets appear in the original.