Memorandum [85] Regarding a Conversation Between the Secretary of State, the Japanese Ambassador (Nomura), and Mr. Kurusu, 20 November 1941


[WASHINGTON,] November 20, 1941.

The Japanese Ambassador and Mr. Kurusu called at their request at the Department. Mr. Kurusu said that they had referred to their Government the suggestion which the Ambassador had made at a previous meeting in regard to a return to the status which prevailed prior to the Japanese move into south Indochina last July, and said that they had anticipated that the Japanese Government might perceive difficulty in moving troops out of Indochina in short order, but that nevertheless the Japanese Government was now prepared to offer a proposal on that basis. He said, however, that the proposal represented an amplification of the Ambassador's suggestion. He then read the proposal to the Secretary which was as follows:

The Secretary said that he would later examine the proposal, and that he would give sympathetic study to the proposal speaking generally, but that the comments which he was about to make were not directed specifically to the proposal but to the general situation. The Secretary said that Japan had it in its power at any moment to put an end to the present situation by deciding upon an all-out peaceful course; that at any moment Japan could bring to an end what Japan chose to call encirclement. He said that we want to have Japan develop public opinion in favor of a peaceful course. Mr. Kurusu said that if we could alleviate the situation by adopting a proposal such as the Japanese Government had just made it would help develop public opinion. The Ambassador said that the Japanese Government was clearly desirous of peace and that it was trying to show this peaceful purpose by relieving the pressure on Thailand which adoption of the proposal would accomplish.

The Secretary asked what the Ambassador thought would be the public reaction in this country if we were to announce tomorrow that we had decided to discontinue aid to Great Britain. He said that in the minds of the American people the purposes underlying our aid to China were the same as the purposes underlying aid to Great Britain; that the American people believed that there was a partnership between Hitler and Japan aimed at enabling Hitler to take charge of one-half of the world and Japan of the other half; and that the fact of the Tripartite Alliance and the continual harping by Japanese leaders upon slogans of the Nazi type such as "new order in East Asia" and "co-prosperity sphere" served to strengthen the public in their belief. What was therefore needed, the Secretary pointed out, was the manifestation by Japan of a clear purpose to pursue peaceful courses.

The Ambassador replied that there was no doubt of Japan's desire for peace, as this was clear from the eagerness of the Japanese Government to reach a settlement of the China affair-and indeed adoption of the Japanese Government's proposal that he had just presented was designed to bring about speedy settlement of the China affair. He said that the Japanese people after four years of fighting were jaded and that the slogans to which the Secretary had made reference were intended to encourage the Japanese people to push on to victory.

The Secretary said that we of course are anxious to help work this matter out for if we should get into trouble everybody was likely to get hurt.

Mr. Kurusu said that if we could go ahead with the present proposal the Japanese idea would be that we could go on working at fundamentals. He said that Japan has never pledged itself to a policy of expansion. The Secretary observed that the Chinese might have an answer to that point. The Secretary said that our people desired to avoid a repetition in east Asia of what Hitler was doing in Europe; that our people oppose the idea of a "new order" under military control. He said also that the public in this country thinks that Japan is chained to Hitler. Mr. Kurusu asked how Japan could eradicate such a belief as Japan could not abrogate the Tripartite Pact. The Secretary said that he did not want to be disagreeable, but he felt he must observe that Japan did not talk that way about the Nine Power Treaty. Mr. Kurusu said something, about the Nine Power Treaty being twenty years old and being outmoded. The Secretary said that of course he did not wish to argue the matter. He said that when the Japanese complained about our helping China the public in this country wonders what is underneath the Comintern Pact. He emphasized that Japan is doing this country tremendous injury in the Pacific; that Japanese statesmen ought to understand that we are helping China for the same reason that we are helping Britain; that we are afraid of the military elements led by Hitler. He added that the methods adopted by the Japanese military leaders in China were not unlike Hitler's methods. The Ambassador asked how we could save the situation at this juncture. The Secretary replied that he agreed upon the urgent importance of saving it, but he asked whether the Ambassador thought that the Japanese statesmen could tone down the situation in Japan. Mr. Kurusu said, with reference to the fifth point in the Japanese proposal, that he did not know whether his Government would agree but he thought that that point might be interpreted to mean that American aid to China would be discontinued as from the time that negotiations were started. The Secretary made no comment on that point but noted that in the last few days there had been marked subsidence in warlike utterances emanating from Tokyo, and he felt that it was indeed a great tribute to the Ambassador and Mr. Kurusu that so much had been accomplished in this direction within a short space of two days as he felt sure that it was their efforts which had brought this about. He said that if so much had been accomplished within the course of two days, much more could be accomplished in the course of a longer period.

No time was set for the next meeting.


[85] Prepared by Joseph W. Ballantine.


Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943), pp. 798-800


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