The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State, 3 November 1941

[Telegram: Paraphrase]

TOKYO, November 3, 1941-3 p.m.
[Received 4 :19 p.m.


(1) I refer a leading article from the Tokyo Nichi Nichi of November 1 (reported in my telegram No. 1729 of that date), with a banner headline declaring "Empire Approaches Its Greatest Crisis" and introducing a despatch from New York with a summary of a statement the Japanese Embassy reportedly gave to the New York Times regarding the need of ending the United States-Japanese economic war. Both the article and the Nichi Nichi editorial (see my telegram of November 1, 7 p. m.) are believed to be close reflections of Japanese sentiments at present.

(2) I also refer to my various telegraphic reports during several months past analyzing the factors affecting policy in Japan and I have nothing to add thereto nor any substantial revision to make thereof. A conclusive estimate may be had of Japan's position through the application to the existing situation and the immediate future of the following points:

(a) It is not possible for Japan to dissociate either Japan or the conflict with China from the war in Europe and its fluctuations.

(b) In Japan political thought ranges from medieval to liberal ideas and public opinion is thus a variable quantity. The impact of events and conditions beyond Japan may determine at any given time which school of thought shall predominate. (In the democracies, on the other hand, owing to a homogeneous body of principles which influence and direct foreign policy and because methods instead of principles are more likely to cause differences of opinion, public opinion is formed differently.) For example, in Japan the pro-Axis elements gained power following last year's German victories in Western Europe; then Japanese doubt of ultimate German victory was created, by Germany's failure to invade the British Isles, this factor helping to reinforce the moderate elements; and finally Germany's attack on the Soviet Union upset the expectation of continued Russo-German peace and made the Japanese realize that those who took Japan into the Tripartite Alliance bad misled Japan.

(c) An attempt to correct the error of 1940 may be found in the efforts to adjust Japanese relations with the United States and thereby to lead the way to conclusion of peace with China, made by Prince Konoye and promised by the Tojo Cabinet. If this attempt fails, and if success continues to favor German arms, a final, closer Axis alinement may be expected.

(d) I and my staff have never been convinced by the theory that Japan's collapse as a militaristic power would shortly result from the depletion and the eventual exhaustion of Japan's financial and economic resources, as propounded by many leading American economists. Such forecasts were unconsciously based upon the assumption that a dominant consideration would be Japan's retention of the capitalistic system. The outcome they predicted has not transpired, although it is true that the greater part of Japan's commerce has been lost, Japanese industrial production has been drastically curtailed, and Japan's national resources have been depleted. Instead, there has been a drastic prosecution of the process to integrate Japan's national economy, lacking which there might well have occurred the predicted collapse of Japan. What has happened to date therefore does not support the view that continuation of trade embargoes and imposition of a blockade (proposed by some) can best avert war in the Far East.

(3) I call your attention, in this regard, to my telegram No., 827, September 12, 1940 (which reported the "golden opportunity" seen by Japanese army circles for expansion as a consequence of German triumphs in Europe). I sent this telegram under circumstances and at a time when it appeared unwise and futile for the United States to adopt conciliatory measures. The strong policy recommended in that telegram was subsequently adopted by the United States. This policy, together with the impact of world political events upon Japan brought the Japanese Government to the point of seeking conciliation with the United States. If these efforts fail, I foresee a probable swing of the pendulum in Japan once more back to the former Japanese position or even farther. This would lead to what I have described as an all-out, do-or-die attempt, actually risking national hara-kiri, to make Japan impervious to economic embargoes abroad rather than to yield to foreign pressure. It is realized by observers who feel Japanese national temper and psychology from day to day that, beyond peradventure, this contingency not only is possible but is probable.

(4) If the fiber and temper of the Japanese people are kept in mind, the view that war probably would be averted, though there might be some risk of war, by progressively imposing drastic economic measures is an uncertain and dangerous hypothesis upon which to base considered United States policy and measures. War would not be averted by such a course, if it is taken, is our own view. However, each view is only opinion, and, accordingly, to postulate the correctness of either one and to erect a definitive policy thereon would, in the belief of the Embassy, be contrary to American national interests. It would mean putting the cart before the horse. The primary point to be decided apparently involves the question whether war with Japan is justified by American national objectives, policies, and needs in the case of failure of the first line of national defense, namely, diplomacy, since it would be possible only on the basis of such a decision for the Roosevelt administration to follow a course which would be divested as much as possible of elements of uncertainty, speculation, and opinion. I doubt not that such a decision, irrevocable as it might well prove to be, already has been debated fully and adopted, because the sands are running fast.

(5) You will realize that, in the above discussion of this grave, momentous subject, I am not in touch with the intentions and thoughts of the Administration thereon, and I do not at all mean to imply that Washington is pursuing an undeliberated policy. Nor do I intend to advocate for a single moment any "appeasement" of Japan by the United States or recession in the slightest degree by the United States Government from the fundamental principles laid down as a basis for the conduct and adjustment of international relations, American relations with Japan included. There should be no compromise with principles, though methods may be flexible. My purpose is only to ensure against the United States becoming involved in war with Japan because of any possible misconception of Japan's capacity to rush headlong into a suicidal struggle with the United States. While national sanity dictates against such action, Japanese sanity cannot be measured by American standards of logic. We have no need to be over concerned respecting the bellicose tone and substance at present of the Japanese press (which in the past several years has attacked the United States intensely in recurrent waves), but underestimating Japan's obvious preparations to implement a program in the event the alternative peace program fails, would be short-sighted. Similarly it would be shortsighted for American policy to be based upon the belief that Japanese preparations are no more than saber rattling, merely intended to give moral support to the high pressure diplomacy of Japan. Japan may resort. with dangerous and dramatic suddenness to measures which might make inevitable war with the United States.


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. 772-74

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