Memorandum by the Secretary of State (Hull) Regarding a Conversation With the Japanese Ambassador (Nomura), 11 May 1941

[WASHINGTON,] May 11, 1941.

The Japanese Ambassador called at my hotel apartment at his request. He promptly proceeded to say that his Government had instructed him to hand me certain documents, of which the attached are copies. [62] He had still another document, which he said was prepared by his Government and which constituted a part of the written material that he was instructed to deliver to me. The latter document, he stated, was not correctly translated in certain respects, and he added that he would withhold it until the translation was perfected tomorrow, when it would be sent to me in proper form.

I thanked him for coming in and then very clearly and slowly said to him in effect that, in accordance with our past conversations, I was receiving these documents in a purely unofficial way with a view to examining them and ascertaining whether they, accompanied by any suggestions or proposals of our own made in the same unofficial and informal manner, would or might afford a basis for a step in negotiations. I added that, in these circumstances, either Government could deal with any rumors or reports about negotiations by truthfully saving that no negotiations have been instituted; that the rumors or reports on this subject could, at the most only relate to a casual reference or remark made at some time by representatives of the United States or Japan regarding some phase of the relations existing between our two Governments, et cetera, et cetera. The Ambassador agreed entirely to the foregoing.

I then inquired whether Matsuoka would conduct the negotiations at Tokyo. The Ambassador replied that he would, but that the Army, the Navy and Konoye would participate in the work of carrying on the negotiations, although Konoye did not make it a habit of interfering materially in such work of the Foreign Office. I said that Matsuoka was, of course, a politician and that he had recently been quoted as making, in a purely gratuitous way, numerous unfriendly remarks about the United States, as well as announcing ideas and doctrines diametrically opposed to most of the fundamental principles set out in the document which the Ambassador prepared some weeks ago, and with the contents of which we were all familiar. I added that, in these circumstances, there will be real difficulty to persuade even my associates of the absolute dependability of Matsuoka's acts and utterances. I said that I mentioned this in order that the Ambassador would fully understand my difficulties in more respects than one. The Ambassador not only did not take issue with anything I said, but I felt that he was really in harmony with the statements I made about Matsuoka.

The Ambassador then said that Japan was very desirous of keeping war out of the Pacific. I remarked very emphatically that many people in this country strongly believe that Japan's real purpose was to secure cooperation to aid her in getting out of China and her disastrous Chinese campaign and that this point would be uppermost in the minds of many and it was one of the most important to be guarded against. The Ambassador said he realized that that would be an exceedingly important matter to be made clear. I emphasized this point a number of times in the conversation.

I then inquired as to whether there were any definite plans in the mind of his Government in regard to when the Japanese troops would come out of China, and what assurances, if any, there were that they would actually come out under a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

The Ambassador did not know so much about this, but felt it could and would be worked out to the satisfaction of both sides. I said this would, of course, be a vitally important point for determination.

I asked the Ambassador whether his Government had in mind any method of giving absolute assurances that it would not use either force or threat of force for purposes of conquest in the southeastern area of the Pacific or other countries. The Ambassador had nothing special to offer on this point except to say that his Government had no purpose to use force or threat of force in this entire southeastern area.

I spoke generally then and said that, if his Government really desires a settlement of the Pacific situation on a basis of peace and genuine friendliness, there should be no serious difficulty about the matter; that he and his Government know the relations existing between this country and South America, which offer equal opportunity, politically, economically and every other ways to all countries: alike, including the United States and Japan; that my Government treats the smallest countries in this hemisphere, such as Haiti, on a basis of absolute equality in every sense with the largest countries, such as Brazil and the Argentine. I then inquired why it was that Japan, with ample capacity and standing to command influence and recognition, both at home and abroad, persists in an effort to use such high-sounding phrases as the "new order in greater east Asia" and variations of this slogan. I added that, unless Japan uses this slogan not as embodying the principles of law, justice, equality and nonintervention, but as a cloak under which Japan would continue her policy of conquest by force, there was absolutely no reason why this trouble-making slogan should be persistently flaunted before the peaceful and sovereign nations, and that Japan could get all of the benefits from contacts with. other nations without this slogan that the United States gets from its association with South American countries without such slogan; and, therefore, I cannot understand why Japan persisted in using it. The Ambassador had little comment to make, but did not take issue with what I said. He emphasized from time to time that his country desired to keep war out of the Pacific, and that it did not intend to use force in the South Sea area.

I again repeated that we were profoundly convinced that Hitler and Hitlerism will prove not only a scourge to other parts of the world, as it has in Europe, but that it will be applied to Japan herself just as quickly as it was applied to friendly countries in Europe who trusted Hitler and his previous guarantees of friendship, safety and freedom from attack and invasion.

I took advantage of a remark of the Ambassador to the effect that it would be an incalculable loss to both Japan and the United States, as well as to civilization, if our two countries should become engaged in war, by saying that unless the civilization of the world is to run the great risk of being destroyed anyhow by the world movements of Hitler, it will require all of the united efforts of civilized nations like Japan, the United States and Great Britain to shape the course of the world in a different direction; and that steps looking towards the gradual development of basic programs both for the transition and the post-war periods cannot be taken too soon. The Ambassador, of course, agreed to this.

In conclusion, I reemphasized that this Government is determined that Hitler shall not get control of the seas and that we would feel obliged without the slightest hesitation to resist to a successful conclusion such efforts on his part whether one year, five years or ten years should be involved. The Ambassador again bowed and smiled approvingly without saying anything. I said that, in these circumstances, with things moving so rapidly, no one could tell, as I remarked to him in our previous conversations, what any day might bring forth. I then repeated my former statement to him that, since Hitler avows his movement to be one of world control, and hence of conquest by force, this country does not propose to commit suicide, as so many countries in continental Europe did, by trusting Hitler and by waiting until it was too late to resist; that we propose to resist, when and where such resistance would be most effective, whether within our own boundaries or on the high seas or in aid of such countries as Great Britain, and that such resistance would be to the maximum extent within the minimum of time, and that this in its very nature would constitute necessary self?defense against an avowed world?wide aggressor, and in no sense could be construed as an act of offense, much less aggression, in the light of the world nature of the movement of aggression on Hitler's part.


[62] These documents were returned upon request to the Japanese Ambassador on May 12, before complete copies had been made.

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. 652-56

Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to Interwar Period Page