740.0011 European War 1939/10942

Memorandum by Admiral William, V. Pratt19

Report of a very interesting conversation, I had with the Japanese Ambassador on April 28—The interview was private—held in the [Page 171] Hotel Plaza—He and I were the only ones present during the entire interview—it was held at his request, and lasted two and a half hours. In the main the conversation was general, but always stuck to the main theme—the war—However there were certain definite statements Nomura made, to wit—that Japan definitely wanted a peace with China—would ask no indemnities—did not desire the military occupation of China—that now, though at first military occupation had been a purpose, this idea had been given up, by most of the influential leaders—including most of the higher military men—nearly all of the naval men—and as I gathered by practically all of the leading business and financial heads—What opposition existed rested entirely in the younger group—that Japan’s aim vis-à-vis China was the rehabilitation along economic lines of China and Japan in order to create a stable economic situation through which both Countries would profit, along the lines of cooperation.

With regard to the southward expansion—Japan’s aims there were in line with the policy adopted in China—that a military move directed at Singapore and the Dutch East Indies was not intended, but economic stability, and a free flow of trade in which Japan could participate—and I gathered on equal and not on preferential terms—He distinctly did not want war to creep into the Pacific—and I gathered this was the general sentiment in Japan—as it would tend to disturb Japan’s policy of economic rehabilitation and stability in the Orient. In spite of the Russo-Japanese agreement, the great fear is and will continue to be Russia—not that they fear Russia in a military sense but that in a long war, with Britain and Germany exhausted—Stalin would be the only winner—then Communist influence would dominate the Orient, much to Japan’s undoing—that he, and I judged most of Japan’s informed military authority regarded Russia as a weak country, with Stalin under the thumb of Berlin—that Russia was not sincere and could not be trusted.

Nomura stated that of all foreigners in his country the Americans were the best liked.

He stated that the capitalist group in Japan were distinctly opposed to the Axis economic system—that Japan’s system was the growth of one patterned after ours and that of Britain, and that the supremacy of the Nazi system would distinctly disrupt their own, and as I gathered would interfere much with Japan’s economic policy in the Orient, as it was fundamentally different from the one Japan visualized.

The immediate purpose of the discussion with me, was in connection with a visit he hoped Matsuoka would be able to make to this country in the near future—When Matsuoka went to Berlin—he, Nomura had cabled him, asking that he return via the United States—Matsuoka [Page 172] could not do it then, as he had to complete arrangements with Russia—I gathered that the feeling was, if an atmosphere was created in this country, which was not hostile to him, since Japan was an Axis partner, that he Matsuoka might be glad to come to this country to talk things over.

I told Nomura then, if the suspicion was aroused in this country that Matsuoka came as an Axis agent, prepared to spread the Nazi doctrine of a conqueror’s peace, it would in my opinion be futile, and would only result in a greater antagonism in this country, for we would feel then that Japan had been sold lock, stock and barrel to the Nazis—But that if Matsuoka came with the purpose of establishing friendly relations with this country on the basis of limiting the war to Europe—establishing a condition of peace in the Orient, not to be broken by further military conquests there, and keeping the peace so that war could not spread to the Orient, there might be a possibility—I was not a statesman, nor in a position to make statements which carry any weight, but it was my opinion that the one successful approach to this country, and the only one giving any promise might be along the lines I suggested.

I asked him about Matsuoka, stating that I heard he was in sentiment hostile to this country—The Ambassador’s reply was to this effect—That Matsuoka must not be judged entirely by what he says—that he is a disciple of the American political method of saying a great many things to see their effect—but what he has in his heart may be quite another matter.

I gathered however from the whole conversation, that there was a growing fear in Japan, that ultimately, if the Axis were the victors Japan might have to fear Hitler, about as much as they do Stalin—that he Nomura looks forward to a long war, and in the end he did not see how Hitler could prevail over Britain and the United States with their great reserve power. This represents the gist of the conversation.

W. V. Pratt
  1. Recalled from retirement for active duty, January–July, 1941. Memorandum transmitted to the Secretary of State by the Chief of Naval Operations (Stark) in covering note of May 5, and copies submitted to President Roosevelt and the Secretary of the Navy (Knox).