Memorandum [88] Regarding a Conversation, Between, the Secretary Of State, the Japanese Ambassador (Nomura), and Mr. Kurusu, 22 November 1941


[WASHINGTON,] November 22, 1941.

The Japanese Ambassador and Mr. Kurusu called at the Secretary's apartment by appointment made at the request of the Ambassador. The Secretary said that he had called in the representatives of certain other governments concerned in the Pacific area and that there had been a discussion of the question of whether things (meaning Japanese peaceful pledges, et cetera) could be developed in such a way that there could be a relaxation to some extent of freezing.

The Secretary said that these representatives were interested in the sug gestion and there was a general feeling that the matter could all be settled if the Japanese could give us some satisfactory evidences that their intentions were peaceful.

The Secretary said that in discussing the situation with the representatives of these other countries he found that there had arisen in their minds the wine kind of misgivings that had troubled him in the course of the conversations with the Japanese Ambassador. He referred to the position in which the Japanese Government had left the Ambassador and the Secretary as they were talking of peace when it made its move last July into Indochina. He referred also to the mounting oil purchases by Japan last Spring when the conversations were in progress, to the fact that he had endured public criticism for permitting those shipments because he did not wish to prejudice a successful outcome to the conversations and to the fact that that oil was not used for normal civilian consumption.

The Secretary went on to say that the Japanese press which is adopting a threatening tone gives him no encouragement and that no Japanese statesmen are talking about a peaceful course, whereas in the American press advocacy of a peaceful course can always get a hearing. He asked why was there not some Japanese statesman backing the two Ambassadors by preaching peace. The Secretary pointed out that if the United States and other countries should see Japan coming along a peaceful course there would be no question about Japan's obtaining all the materials she desired; that the Japanese Government knows that.

The Secretary said that while no decisions were reached today in regard to the Japanese proposals he felt that we would consider helping Japan out on oil for civilian requirements only as soon as the Japanese Government could assert control of the situation in Japan as it relates to the policy of force and conquest. He said that if the Ambassador could give him any further assurances in regard to Japan's peaceful intentions it would help the Secretary in talking with senators and other persons in this country.

Mr. Kurusu said it was unfortunate that there had been a special session of the Diet at this time, as the efforts of the Government to obtain public support had brought out in sharp relief the abnormal state of the present temper of the Japanese people who had been affected by four years of war and by our freezing measures.

The Secretary asked to what extent in the Ambassador's opinion did the firebrand attitude prevail in the Japanese army. Mr. Kurusu said that it took a great deal of persuasion to induce the army to abandon a position once taken, but that both he and the Ambassador had been pleasantly surprised when the Japanese army acceded to their suggestion in regard to offering to withdraw the Japanese troops from southern Indochina. He said he thought this was an encouraging sign, but that nevertheless the situation was approaching an explosive point.

The Secretary asked whether it was not possible for a Japanese statesman now to come out and say that Japan wanted peace; that while there was much confusion in the world because of the war situation Japan would like to have a peace which she did not have to fight for to obtain and maintain; that the United States says it stands for such ideas; and that Japan might well ask the United States for a show?down on this question.

The Ambassador said he did not have the slightest doubt that Japan desired peace. He then cited the popular agitation in Japan following the conclusion, of the peace settlement with Russia in 1905, as pointing to a difficulty in the way of publicly backing a conciliatory course.

The Secretary asked whether there was any way to get Japanese statesmen to approach the question before us with real appreciation of the situation with which we are dealing including the question of finding a way to encourage the governments of other powers concerned in the Pacific area to reach some trade arrangement with Japan. He pointed out that Japan's Indochina move, if repeated, would further give a spurt to arming and thus undo all the work that he and the Ambassador had done. He suggested that if the United States and the other countries should supply Japan with goods in moderate amounts at the beginning those countries would be inclined to satisfy Japan more fully later on if and as Japan found ways in actual practice of demonstrating its peaceful intentions. He said that one move on Japan's part might kill dead our peace effort, whereas it would be easy to persuade the other countries to relax their export restrictions if Japan would be satisfied with gradual relaxation.

Mr. Kurusu said, that at best it would take some time to get trade moving. The Secretary replied that he understood this but that it would be difficult to get other countries to understand until Japan could convince those countries that it was committed to peaceful ways. Mr. Kurusu said that some immediate relief was necessary and that if the patient needed a thousand dollars to effect a cure an offer of three hundred dollars would not accomplish the purpose. The Secretary commented that if the Japanese Government was as weak as to need all that had been asked for, nothing was likely to save it.

Mr. Kurusu said that Japan's offer to withdraw its forces from southern Indochina would set a reverse movement in motion.

The Secretary said that the Japanese were not helping as they should help in the present situation in which they had got themselves but were expecting us to do the whole thing.

Mr. Kurusu asked what was the idea of the American Government.

The Secretary replied that although the Japanese proposal was addressed to the American Government he had thought it advisable to see whether the other countries would contribute and he found that they would like to move gradually. The effect of an arrangement between these countries and Japan would be electrifying by showing that Japan had committed herself to go along a peaceful course.

Mr. Kurusu asked what Japan could do. The Secretary replied that if, for example, he should say that he agreed to enter into a peaceful settlement provided that there should be occasional exceptions and qualifications he could not expect to find peaceful-minded nations interested.

The Secretary then asked whether his understanding was correct that the Japanese proposal was intended as a temporary step to help organize public opinion in Japan and that it was intended to continue the conversations looking to the conclusion of a comprehensive agreement. Mr. Kurusu said yes.

Mr. Kurusu asked whether the Secretary had any further suggestions. The Secretary replied that he did not have in mind any suggestions and that he did not know what amounts of exports the various countries would be, disposed to release to Japan. He said that Japan made the situation very difficult, for if Japan left her forces in Indochina, whether in the north, east, south or west, she would be able to move them over night, and that therefore this would not relieve the apprehensions of neighboring countries. The British, for example, would not be able to move one warship away from Singapore. .

The Ambassador argued that it would take many days to move troops from northern Indochina to southern Indochina, and he stated that the Japanese desired the troops in northern Indochina in order to bring about a settlement with China. He said that after the settlement of the China affair Japan promised to bring the troops out of Indochina altogether.

The Secretary emphasized again that he could not consider this, that also uneasiness would prevail as long as the troops remained in Indochina, and commented that Japan wanted the United States to do all the pushing toward bringing about a peaceful settlement; that they should get out of Indochina.
Mr. Kurusu observed that the Japanese Foreign Minister had told Ambassador Grew that we seemed to expect that all the concessions should be made by the Japanese side.

The Secretary rejoined that Mr. Kurusu had overlooked the fact that in July the Japanese had gone into Indochina. He added that the United States had remained from the first in the middle of the road, that it was the Japanese who had strayed away from the course of law and order, and that they should not have to be paid to come back to a lawful course.

Mr. Kurusu said that this country's denunciation of the commercial treaty had caused Japan to be placed in a tight corner.

The Secretary observed that Japan had cornered herself; that we had been preaching for the last nine years that militarism was sapping everybody and that if the world were to be plunged into another war there would not be much left of the people anywhere. He said that in 194 he had told Ambassador Saito that Japan was planning an overlordship in East Asia. The Secretary added that he had tried to persuade Hitler that participation by him in a peaceful course would assure him of what he needed. The Secretary said it was a pity that Japan could not do just a few small peaceful things to help tide over the situation.

Mr. Kurusu asked what the Secretary meant. The Secretary replied that the major portion of our fleet was being kept in the Pacific and yet Japan asked us not to help China. He sand we must continue to aid China. He said it was little enough that we were actually doing to help China. The Ambassador commented that our moral influence was enabling Chiang to hold out.

The Secretary said that a peaceful movement could be started in thirty or forty days by moving gradually, and yet Japan pushed everything it wanted all at once into its proposal. The Ambassador explained that Japan needed a quick settlement and that its psychological value would be great.

The Secretary said that he was discouraged, that he felt that he had rendered a real contribution when he had called in the representatives of the other countries, but that he could only go a certain distance. He said he thought nevertheless that if this matter should move in the right way peace would become infectious. He pointed also to the danger arising from blocking progress by injecting the China matter in the proposal, as the carrying out of such a point in, the Japanese proposal would effectually prevent the United States from ever successfully extending its good offices in a peace settlement between Japan and China. He said this could not be considered now.

There then ensued some further but inconclusive discussion of the troop situation in Indochina, the Secretary still standing for withdrawal, after which the Ambassador reverted to the desire of the Japanese Government to reach a quick settlement and asked whether we could not say what points in the Japanese proposal we would accept and what points we desired to have modified.

The Secretary emphasized that there was no way in which he could carry the whale burden and suggested that it would be helpful if the Japanese Government could spend a little time preaching peace. He said that if the Japanese could not wait until Monday before having his answer there was nothing he could do about it as he was obliged to confer again with the representatives of the other governments concerned after they had had an opportunity to consult with their governments. He repeated that we were doing our best, but emphasized that unless the Japanese were able to do a little there was no use in talking.

The Ambassador disclaimed any desire to press the Secretary too hard for an answer, agreed that the Secretary had always been most considerate in meeting with the Ambassador whenever an appointment had been requested, and said that the Japanese would be quite ready to wait until Monday.

The Secretary said he had in mind taking up with the Ambassador sometime a general and comprehensive program which we had been engaged in developing and which involved collaboration of other countries.

The Ambassador said that the Japanese had in mind negotiating a bilateral agreement with us to which other powers could subsequently give their adherence.


[88] 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. 801-06


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