740.00116 PW/8–645

The Under Secretary of State (Grew) to the Secretary of State

Ambassador Hurley in his telegram of August 4 requested the views of the Department on the position to be taken by the American delegate on the Far Eastern and Pacific Sub-Commission of United Nations War Crimes Commission, now sitting in Chungking, in the event that the question of listing the Japanese Emperor as a war criminal is brought up in the Sub-Commission.

Mr. Hackworth,90 in his appended memorandum of August 6,91 brings up the point that the Department would probably be subjected to considerable criticism if the impression should go out that we are hedging or are not clear in our own minds with respect to the Emperor. He feels that our decision can be taken now as well as later. He recognizes the fact that political expediency might have to be taken into account but he feels that in the administration of justice we should not be influenced by expediency.

I have given a good deal of thought to this subject and am inclined to feel that if Japan refuses to heed the Potsdam Proclamation92 and declines to surrender unconditionally, necessitating our invasion of the main Japanese islands by force and the inevitable loss of life which will occur among the Allied forces in the event of such invasion, the Emperor of Japan might well be treated as a war criminal in order that full justice should be done. The listing of the Emperor does not mean that he will be convicted. This will depend upon the evidence, part of which will relate to the question whether the Emperor has taken part in the planning and carrying on of the war with all of its atrocious aspects or whether he is a mere puppet without power to control or influence his military leaders.

In this particular problem, however, I do not think that we can afford to disregard the factor of political expediency. We have good reason to believe that important elements in Japan, including some of [Page 906] their elder statesmen as well as high officers in the Army and Navy, are trying to bring about an acceptance of the terms proposed in the Potsdam Proclamation. We know, for instance, from secret but unimpeachable information, that Sato, the Japanese Ambassador to Moscow, formerly Minister of Foreign Affairs, has been earnestly recommending this course93 and we believe it possible although by no means certain that this movement may gain headway to a point where the advocates of peace will be able to overcome the opposition of the military extremists and their present control of the Emperor. If they succeed in persuading the Emperor to issue an Imperial Rescript, which is regarded throughout Japan as a sacred document, ordering all Japanese armies to lay down their arms for the future good of the country, the war might thereby be brought to an end. Short of fighting to the last ditch within Japan itself it is not believed that the war is likely to come to an end in any other way as it is improbable that the Japanese armies in China, Manchuria and elsewhere would obey such an order from any Japanese Government without the sanction of the Emperor.

If it now becomes known that we have agreed to the listing of the Emperor as a war criminal—and if we take such a position it will almost certainly leak to the public in short order—the effect in Japan would in all probability be to nip in the bud any movement toward unconditional surrender and peace. The result, in all probability, would be to consolidate the determination of the Japanese people as a whole to fight on to the bitter end. Our decision therefore will be of prime importance and many thousands of American lives may depend on its nature.

I have not had an opportunity, owing to their absence from Washington, to discuss this question with Mr. Stimson and Mr. Forrestal94 but from what I know of their thinking I believe that they will probably share my views. I believe that in any case you will wish to discuss this matter with them as well as with the President. In the meantime I recommend that the appended telegram95 be sent to Ambassador Hurley directing him to inform the Department if the question of listing the Emperor as a war criminal is raised in the Sub-Commission and expressing the Department’s desire that the American delegate should not himself raise this question.

Joseph C. Grew
  1. Green H. Hackworth, Legal Adviser.
  2. Not printed.
  3. For text of proclamation issued on July 26 by President Truman, President Chiang Kai-shek of China, and British Prime Minister Winston S Churchill, see Foreign Relations, The Conference of Berlin (The Potsdam Conference), 1945, vol. ii, p. 1474.
  4. For correspondence between Ambassador Naotake Sato in Moscow and Foreign Minister Togo in Tokyo, see Conference of Berlin (Potsdam), vol. ii, pp. 12481298, passim.
  5. Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, and James V. Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy.
  6. Infra.