Memorandum Handed to President Roosevelt by Bishop James E. Walsh 31

The Japanese Government cannot admit, through official channels, that American economic pressure and defense preparations under President Roosevelt have been so politically successful that the Japanese now would welcome an opportunity to change their international, and modify their China, positions.

The domestic position of the present Japanese Government is like that of the Bruening Government in Germany in 1931. The Japanese would rather lose the war in China than lose the domestic war to their own Extremists. But, the loss of the China War and the imminence of an American War, would put the radical nationalists, civil and military, in complete control. If the Conservative authorities, including Prince Konoye, Mr. Matsuoka, Count Arima, General Muto,32 etc. and the Emperor, can win, by diplomacy, a safe economic and international position, public opinion in Japan would restore the Conservatives to complete control.

For such a reversal, the Japanese majority needs, no less than China, the help of the United States. Failing this, they foresee the possibility of a union of their own Extremist elements with the Radical forces in China; a union comparable to, and an appendage of, the compact of Russia and Germany in Europe. They feel that if some constructive cooperation is not realized with the United States before March or April, the Fascist element will take control in both China and Japan, no matter whether England or Germany wins in the Spring offensive.

Such an eventuality would surely close the door for the Allied cause in the Far East. …, in his own words, “is riding the horses until he can stop them.” …, in his own words, said that “to call the present war in China a Holy War is a blasphemy,” and “to call the Treaty with Wang-Ching-Wei an equal Treaty is a lie.” … said he would probably be killed if we revealed his statements to certain Japanese.33

We found the Japanese officials virtually despairing of any possibility of reestablishing cordial relations with the United States. President Roosevelt’s policy, and the Italian losses in the Mediterranean have created a remarkable opportunity for solidifying the Far Eastern situation in our own favor, and the Japanese are apparently [Page 15] now following a plan of procedure for cooperation with the United States. Mr. Matsuoka designed his speech of December 19th34 as an indication of this intention.

The Japanese feel that their alliance with the Axis will have to be nullified realistically before it can be broken legally and officially. The Japanese authorities are ready (though they dare not admit their readiness at the peril of their lives) to substitute the United States for Germany, by an agreement which would embrace the following aspects:

I. Legal (for Japanese public opinion)

A. The Japanese Government could maintain that as they accepted the Axis Alliance to maintain world peace by restricting the European War vis-à-vis the United States (but much more Russia) they could apply the same principle to Germany and threaten Germany with Japanese involvement if she extends the War beyond its present confines. (Germany then would be doubly hesitant to declare war on the United States.)

II. Politic

Acceptance of the cooperation of the United States in a settlement of the China War on the basis of the secret Truce Terms offered last October by Chiang Kai Chek [sic]. With some guarantee of politic-economic order in China, and the removal of China as an immediate military menace, or a political menace through a European “sell-out”, China and Japan could then unite to fight Communism in China and in the Far East. This would take Germany, now acting through Russia, out of China.
A recognition of a Far Eastern Monroe Doctrine based on the aforementioned China settlement, the Japanese-American guarantee to check any third power attempting to alter the political status of the Philippine Islands, Hong Kong, Singapore or Malaya, and the establishment of autonomous Governments in Indo-China and the Dutch East Indies, in order to remove these areas as potential war spoils, and in order to forestall the demand of Japanese Extremists for forcible action. (These autonomous Governments would agree to respect all existing investments, etc.) Actually, in the Dutch East Indies, Queen Wilhelmina could be accepted as a Sovereign.
Just prior to our abrogation of the Commercial Treaty, the Japanese and British had virtually agreed upon a Treaty reopening trade in the Yangtze Valley. The British, therefore, would have no objection.
No territorial aggrandizement in China proper.

III. Economic

Japan (and with her, the Far East) is drifting into a commodity economy which will produce a low standard of living which she does not like, but cannot avoid without American assistance. American assistance (cfr. additional memoranda) could be so given as to guarantee the political agreement and set up an economy in the Far East [Page 16] so totally variant from the German that the Germans could not do business with it. By earmarking, but leaving in the United States, a heavy gold credit, with interest payments, for substantiating the currencies of Japan and China, the United States would put the Far East on a money economy like our own, and hold over both China and Japan the threat of withdrawal for any failure to comply with the political provisions of the joint agreements.
Japan would grant a complete Open Door provided she received similar treatment from other Far Eastern countries. She would write a Reciprocal Trade Treaty with the United States allowing free entry of certain basic commodities, heavy machinery, etc. Cotton and agricultural surpluses would be similarly accepted and could actually be bought by both China and Japan under the monetary arrangement above mentioned.

Because of the domestic situations, any such arrangement would have to be presented to the Japanese and Chinese people as a fait accompli. Meantime, merely to indicate that such a settlement is possible is to put power in the hands of the Conservative element in Japan and give them confidence to proceed.

A representative of President Roosevelt could be introduced, with the full knowledge of Mr. Grew, to work out, with the utmost speed and secrecy, in cooperation with the controlling elements in Japan, including the Emperor, such an agreement as would bring some order in the Far East, and put within the power of President Roosevelt the opportunity to immunize the Pacific for at least three years.

The Japanese people who now despair of American friendship would welcome this as the greatest boon to their national life and security, for which the Japanese would sacrifice anything except their Far Eastern position. The representative of the President should be someone whom he knows and trusts intimately; someone who will be apprised fully of American aims in the Far East; someone who is keenly aware that the Germans will attempt ruthlessly to prevent any American-Japanese agreement; and someone who will not attract attention as an official member of our State Department.

If President Roosevelt acts to investigate this possibility, we would be willing to cooperate with his representative for the safeguarding of the Japanese officials, and the verification of their statements.

  1. Copy of original document which President Roosevelt transmitted to the Secretary of State with his memorandum of January 26: “Here is the memorandum that was handed to us the other day by the Reverend Bishop. What do you think we should do? FDR.” Original returned to the President on February 5. Bishop Walsh was Superior General of the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America, known as “Maryknoll Fathers”, which he founded in 1911.
  2. Director of the Military Affairs Bureau of the Japanese Ministry of War.
  3. Omissions indicated in the original.
  4. Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 123.