Memorandum by the Adviser on Political Relations (Hornbeck)70

Reference, Tokyo’s 1345, August 29, 7 p.m., and 1347, August 29, 9 p.m.

The contents of Mr. Grew’s 1345 point to the conclusion and support the view that the Japanese people now fear and now are not prepared for a real war. The fact that the Information Board has now turned to “conducting a publicity campaign to assure the nation that capacity for war is adequate” implies that the Government has doubt regarding the fact asserted and that the people are not psychologically prepared for and prepared to go into a real war. Mr. Grew’s concluding paragraph reads:

“The evidence indicates that if Japan is to engage in a war with a major power, the morale of the people will need further strong stimulation. At best they will go into it blindly doggedly desperately. They will not be confident.”

This indicates that the Japanese nation is not going to push the Government into any new military adventuring; that if such adventuring takes place it will be because the Government deliberately chooses to drag the nation into and along such a course.

The simple fact is that Japan is already more than half beaten, i. e. is substantially exhausted, in and by the military efforts of the past four years and she does not possess a reserve of general capacity in terms of men, matériel, money, materials, and morale sufficient to qualify her for entry upon a new and additional major military effort with any expectation or prospect of success.

In Mr. Grew’s 1347, it is reported that news of Prince Konoye’s approach to the President has leaked out through the Domei News Agency to the Japanese people. We should note that Mr. Terasaki pointed out to Mr. Grew “the deplorable effect of the Washington publicity” but that he did not impute to American sources any responsibility for the fact that the publicity has occurred. This publicity, Mr. Terasaki says, is “playing directly into the hands of the extremists and the pro-Axis camp” in Japan and “has greatly increased the risk of an attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister”. This implies that such risk has already existed.

The Japanese Foreign Minister asks of the American Government that: (a) we facilitate the taking place of the proposed meeting between Prince Konoye and the President at the earliest possible moment; [Page 413] (b) we suspend the dispatch of oil tankers to Soviet Russia pending the taking place of this meeting; and (c) we suspend the freezing order pending the taking place of this meeting. As an offset to this, he cites action taken by Japan: assurances given (on condition) by that Government that (1) Japanese troops in Indochina will be withdrawn when the China Affair has been settled; (2) no further move will be made by the Japanese forces in Indochina [this assurance would have to be given some precision before it would have any specific meaning];71 and (3) Japan would “strictly conform to the neutrality treaty so long as Soviet Russia likewise adhered to the spirit and letter of that treaty [”] [this is obviously a very elastic commitment].71 In essence, the Foreign Minister asks of the United States that the American Government, [at great risk to the Administration],71 (1) assist the Japanese Government to dismount from the Tiger which it has by its own choice been riding; (2) suspend a legitimate commerce between the United States and the Soviet Union, which commerce is similar to the commerce which we have long carried on with Japan and which even now we have not completely discontinued and which is now being carried on for the purpose of assisting Russia to resist one aggressor and discourage another potential aggressor, Japan herself; and (3) suspend a freezing order which we decided upon and put into effect only after Japan had long been enforcing against this country similar measures. And against this, the Japanese Foreign Minister offers assurances in general terms that Japan will (on condition) abstain from certain acts of aggression, in the future, which she has no right even to be contemplating.

These, Mr. Terasaki says, are the “maximum commitments which the Japanese Government could undertake at the present moment”.

We should note that the M. F. A.’s assurances make no mention of and apparently take no cognizance of the “China Incident” and Japan’s intentions in regard thereto. Nor do they make any mention of Japan’s commitment to the Axis alliance.

The M. F. A. feels, Mr. Terasaki says, that the American Government should do its utmost along the lines suggested—“to facilitate the course undertaken by the Prime Minister in the face of the greatest dangers and difficulties with which he is now confronted as a result of the Washington publicity”.

By way of comment: The dangers and difficulties by which the Prime Minister is now confronted come not as a result of the Washington publicity; they come as a result of the adoption a long time ago by Japan of a program of aggression and especially the taking by the Japanese Government while the present Prime Minister was for the first time prime minister of certain steps, and of persistence by the [Page 414] Japanese Government, notwithstanding the disapproval of every country in the world except Germany and Italy, in pursuit of a course of aggression unparalleled in modern times except by the course which Nazi Germany later adopted and is following.

Mr. Grew speaks of “this moment of intense crisis in Japanese-American relations.” By way of comment, it is submitted that this concept is in considerable degree out of perspective. The “intense crisis” which now exists in Japanese-American relations is one which exists in the press, especially the Japanese press, and perhaps in the minds of a good many people, especially people in Japan, but does not exist in reality. The Japanese Government has no intention of making war on the United States. The American Government has no intention of making war on Japan—unless Japan goes further in courses of deliberate aggression. There exists no “crisis” today except that Japan is faced with the necessity for making a critical decision. The real “intense crisis” of the present moment is a crisis within Japan. The possibility of resort to force (violence) is one which prevails in the field of Japan’s internal political strife. The government that is in danger is the Japanese Government. The men who are in danger are Japanese high officials. The critical conflict which is going on is a conflict not between the United States and Japan but between the more audacious and the less audacious members of the militant militaristic leaders who have brought Japan to the position in which she finds herself today. It is in part a conflict between (a) leaders who believe in and wish to make the most of all-out association with Nazi Germany in driving jointly toward world conquest and (b) leaders who have misgivings regarding Germany’s capacity and the alliance’s capacity to achieve their common objective by the methods which they have been employing.

Mr. Grew, having during recent weeks manifested great solicitude for the Japanese point of view, nevertheless characterizes as “preposterous” the M. F. A.’s suggestion that the United States suspend its commerce in oil with the Russian Far East and the suggestion that we suspend the freezing order; and he rightly discouraged any expectation on the Japanese Government’s part that we would so act.

Mr. Grew expresses a view that the Prime Minister has a “heavy responsibility” to bear “for having allowed Japan to come to the present pass”. Nevertheless, he comments, “there can be no doubt as to the genuineness of the present efforts of Prince Konoye to find some mutual ground for conciliation with a view to avoiding the steadily increasing risk of war.” By way of comment, it is submitted that it should be easy for us to accept the view that Prince Konoye’s present effort toward conciliation is “genuine”: when a prime minister and his country find that the animal which they have mounted [Page 415] is a tiger, efforts on their part to find a way and to get help toward dismounting are likely to be genuine. But, as to “the steadily increasing risk of war”, it may be suggested that this risk is one which has been created and is being increased by the attitude and acts, unwarranted and unlawful, of Japan’s leaders (the Japanese people having the role of pawns) and not by the attitude and acts, warranted and legitimate, of the United States (government and people).

The critical issue of the present moment is an issue not between the United States and Japan but within and among Japan’s political and military leaders. The issue between the United States and Japan is one which cannot be resolved until first there has been resolved the critical issue between and among Japan’s leaders. Until Japan’s leaders (and therefore Japan) have decided definitely and conclusively whether they wish to go on with their general program of conquest by force (“divine destiny”, “new order”, et cetera) or to give up that program, there is little that can be done on any sound basis toward effectively resolving the current issue (which is of long standing and which has long revolved around and now revolves around principles and practices) between the United States and Japan.

A concept that the United States should go out of its way, take great risks, make concessions of principle, et cetera, in order to safeguard a premier of a cabinet or “the government” of Japan from the natural consequences of the ill-advised and misdirected decisions which they have made and activities in which they have engaged is one which is easy of acceptance but which should not be accepted without thoughtful and incisive consideration.

Worse things could happen in Japan and between Japan and the United States than the fall, by whatever process, of a Japanese premier, a Japanese cabinet, a Japanese “government”.

It is the belief of the undersigned that so long as the element which has controlled Japan during recent years remains in control of Japan, there is no chance whatever of Japan’s becoming a peaceful state, of there being created and maintained conditions of peace in the Far East, and of there being real security in the Pacific Ocean.

Were the present leaders of Japan to fight among themselves, were some of them to be eliminated, even by violence, were the present controlling element to be overthrown, the situation in Japan might become worse than it is—and this, of course, would be deplorable, in some respects, from point of view of world interest. But, the worse the conditions in Japan become, the less for the time being will Japan be of a real (capably effective) menace to her neighbors and the rest of the world. Moreover, given violent changes in Japan, there is certainly a chance that conditions in Japan might become better. Only with and by and through some change in Japan’s leadership [Page 416] can there be offered any chance that Japan will forego her program of conquest, her inclination to proceed along Nazi lines, her effort to achieve by force a position in the world which, as we see it, she might more readily achieve by employment of peaceful methods.

  1. In submitting this memorandum on August 30 to the Secretary of State, Dr. Hornbeck expressed the “hope that you will have time to read the whole of this.”
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