711.94/2223: Telegram

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

1355. For Secretary and Under Secretary only. 1. At this time of crisis in American-Japanese relations, just as in other crises that have occurred during recent years, all of which have been fortunately surmounted, it is of the highest importance that I should omit no effort to convey to the President and yourself a perfectly clear conception of the various factors in Japan which exert a controlling or important influence in shaping the view-point of the Japanese people and, therefore, the incentives which control or importantly influence the policy and measures of the Japanese Government. Without such a thorough and intimate conception, steps may be taken or constructive measures may be overlooked by our own Government which may importantly affect the general situation for better or for worse. In general terms I can contribute little to the administration’s own store of knowledge, gathered from our own periodic reports and from other sources, but at this particular juncture I venture to try to bring this knowledge into clear focus as applying to current problems and, in that connection, to advance a certain suggestion for what it may be worth.

2. The conception generally held abroad that Japan is a so-called Totalitarian Power is, as the Department is well aware, fallacious. The Government, working through the press and the police, exerts an important but by no means a controlling influence on public opinion, and the patent explanation of this lack of total control lies in the fact that the Government itself is composed of groups and various discordant but influential elements which in varying degrees must be humored and whose views must be given considerable ration in the formulation of policy and official measures. The alternative, as we have seen in times past, would be assassinations and the downfall of the Government itself. The possibility always exists of the setting up of a totalitarian military government which could and would exercise purely dictatorial powers. In certain contingencies, as I have previously pointed out, such a step is always, perhaps now more than ever, possible, but it has not yet come and may never come if the present [Page 417] Government can successfully guide the country through the present crisis.

3. In liberal circles Prince Konoye is characterized as weak but it is doubtful if those circles have true conception of the fundamental difficulties and dangers which confront him from extremist and pro-Axis elements. As stated in the final paragraph of my 1347, August 29, 9 p.m., the Prime Minister must bear the heavy responsibility for having allowed Japan to come to the present pass, but it is clear that he is now courageously working to find a way out. It is probable that he and his colleagues already perceive the handwriting on the wall; it is certain that they already realize the fundamental error that was made in concluding the Tripartite Alliance but that having aided and abetted the development of pro-Axis sentiment in Japan, they are now faced with the gravest difficulties in overcoming that sentiment than in activating new orientation both in sentiment and policy, especially toward conciliation or a rapprochement toward the United States. This being the case, does it not behoove the United States, in our own interest and in combatting Axis influence in Japan, to endeavor to facilitate Prince Konoye’s task so far as that can be done without sacrifice of the principles for which we stand, and indeed in the hope of facilitating an orientation in Japan which may in due course lead to an acceptance of those very principles.

4. Publicity and propaganda, heavily stimulated from Nazi sources, for which the present government must bear its full share of responsibility, has painted a deplorably fallacious picture in the minds of the great majority of the Japanese people which in brief terms may be sketched as follows. The United States and Great Britain, the so-called “have” countries, have throughout history exploited the countries of East Asia for their own selfish ends; their intention is to establish hegemony in the Far East; to control commerce and trade and sources of raw materials, ruthlessly depriving Japan of essential supplies and driving her, by alleged encirclement, to the wall. When Germany finally wins the war, her eventual victory being regarded as a certainty, the downfall of Great Britain and the discomfiture of the United States, which will then be obliged to transfer her fleet to the Atlantic, will leave Japan free to pursue the southward advance and the establishment of the new order in greater East Asia and the co-prosperity sphere, as well as the final settlement of the China affair, unhindered by the western exponents of ruthless imperialism. The foregoing thesis could be drawn out ad infinitum but along general lines it represents in brief the viewpoint of the majority of the Japanese public today.

5. In the meantime the Japanese people have been given no conception of the true attitude of the United States or of what the United [Page 418] States would have to offer if Japan were to meet the American position by abandoning the use of force as an instrument of national policy and in other respects adopting the principles laid down by the United States as a basis for conciliation. The public has been given no conception of the benefits that would redound to Japan through such a reorientation of policy and action. Certainly the Japanese press has given no indication of such potential benefits while such information as comes to individual Japanese officials or Ministries is generally kept in water-tight compartments so far as other officials or the public are concerned.

6. I therefore respectfully raise the question whether the administration might not helpfully consider the advantages to be gained by a public discussion from some official source of this general subject, dwelling not on the past or present but on the potential future, perhaps setting forth the four points handed by you to the Japanese Ambassador on April 1672 as the basis for a constructive improvement in American-Japanese relations and then proceeding to discussions of some of the concrete benefits which would accrue to Japan if Japan were now to adopt a new orientation and policy based on those main principles. I realize that this general subject has been dealt with time and again in past utterances by high American officials, but few if any of these utterances have come to the attention of the Japanese public, and such of them as have been published here are now forgotten in the welter of anti-American publicity and propaganda.

7. Time is now of the essence. The Japanese press and public are keenly interested, adversely or favorably as the case may be, in the prospect of efforts to achieve conciliation with the United States arising from the delivery of a message from the Prime Minister to the President. The moment would appear to be auspicious. If the President in his forthcoming Labor Day speech could deal even briefly but in forward-looking view with this subject, emphasizing the potential beneficial future rather than the unhappy past and omitting, so far as feasible, comments which could be played up by pro-Axis elements, I believe that his remarks would be published in Japan (I would, of course, make every effort to have them published) and that a new turn of thought might thereby be stimulated among the Japanese people which would strengthen the hand of the Japanese Government in its present efforts toward conciliation in the face of the extremists and pro-Axis elements who will leave nothing undone to wreck those efforts.

  1. See memorandum by the Secretary of State, April 16, 1941, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, pp. 406, 407.