Memorandum by the Secretary of State on Discussions with Ambassadors Nomura and Kurusu, 17 November 1941

[WASHINGTON,] November 17, 1941.

I accompanied Ambassador Nomura and Ambassador Saburo Kurusu to the White House in order that the latter might be received by the President.

Following several minutes of an exchange of courtesies and formalities, the President brought up the more serious side by referring to the misunderstandings and matters of difference between our countries and made clear the desire of this country, and he accepted the statement of the Japanese Ambassador that it was the desire of Japan equally, to avoid war between our two countries and to bring about a settlement on a fair and peaceful basis so far as the Pacific area was concerned.

Ambassador Kurusu proceeded with one line of remarks that he kept up during the conversation and that was that we must find ways to work out an agreement to avoid trouble between our two countries. He said that all the way across the Pacific it was like a powder keg, and again he repeated that some way must be found to adjust the situation.

Ambassador Kurusu made some specious attempt to explain away the Tripartite Pact. I replied in language similar to that which I used in discussing this matter with Ambassador Nomura on November fifteenth, which need not be repeated here. I made it clear that any kind of a peaceful settlement for the Pacific area, with Japan still clinging to her Tripartite pact with Germany, would cause the President and myself to be denounced in immeasurable term and the peace arrangement would not for a moment be taken seriously while all the countries interested in the Pacific would redouble their efforts to arm against Japanese aggression. I emphasized the point about the Tripartite Pact and self-defense by saying that when Hitler starts on a march of invasion across the earth with ten million soldiers and thirty thousand airplanes with an official announcement that he is out for unlimited invasion objectives, this country from that time was in danger and that danger has grown each week until this minute. The result was that this country with no other motive except self?defense has recognized that danger, and has proceeded thus far to defend itself before it is too late; and that the Government of Japan says that it does not know whether this country is thus acting in self-defense or not. This country feels so profoundly the danger that it has committed itself to ten, twenty-five or fifty billions of dollars in self-defense; but when Japan is asked about whether this is self?defense, she indicates that she has no opinion on the subject-I said that I cannot get this view over to the American people; that they believe Japan must know that we are acting in self-defense and, therefore, they do not understand her present attitude. I said that he was speaking of their political difficulties and that I was thus illustrating some of our difficulties in connection with this country's relations with Japan.

The President remarked that some time ago he proclaimed a zone around this hemisphere, 300 miles out in the sea in some places and 1,100 miles in others.

The President added that this was self-defense.

I then said that Ambassador Nomura and I have been proceeding on the view that the people of the United States and Japan alike are a proud and great people and there is no occasion for either to attempt to bluff the other and we would not consider that bluffing enters into our conversations, which are of genuine friendliness.

The President brought out a number of illustrations of our situation and the Japanese situation as it relates to Germany and our self-defense which serve to emphasize our position and to expose the sophistry of the Japanese position.

Ambassador Kurusu said that Germany had not up to this time requested Japan to fight; that she was serving a desirable purpose without doing so; this must have meant that she was keeping the American and British Navies, aircraft, et cetera, diverted.

The further question of whether the United States is on the defensive in the present Pacific situation came up by soma general discussion in reference to that situation by Ambassador Kurusu, and the President and I made it clear that we were not the aggressors in the Pacific but that Japan was the aggressor.

At another point I said that the belief in this country is that the Japanese formula of a new order in greater East Asia is but another name for a program to dominate entirely, politically, economically, socially and otherwise by military force all of the Pacific area; that this would include the high seas, the islands and the continents and would place every other country at the mercy of very arbitrary military rule just as the Hitler program does in Europe and the Japanese in China. The Ambassador made no particular comment.

There was some effort by Ambassador Kurusu to defend their plan of not bringing the troops out of China. Placing the Japanese on the defensive, the President said that the question ought to be worked out in a fair way considering all of the circumstances and relative merits of the matters involved; and that at a suitable stage, while we know that Japan does not wish us to mediate in any way, this Government might, so to speak, introduce Japan and China to each other and tell them to proceed with the remaining or detailed adjustments, the Pacific questions having already been determined.

Ambassador Kurusu strongly stated that it would be most difficult to bring all the troops out of China at once.

Ambassador Kurusu said that we, of course, desired to bring up both sides of matters existing between our two countries and he said that we would recall. that when the Japanese went into Shantung during the World War, this Government insisted that she get out. I replied that my own country opposed a policy of this seizure of new territory by any country to the .fullest extent of its' ability to do so; that it declined to take a dollar of compensation or a foot of territory for itself; that it insisted that the world must turn over a new leaf in this respect or nations would be fighting always for territory and under modern methods of war would soon destroy and utterly impoverish each other; that in any event his country fared well in this respect.

The question of our recent proposal on commercial policy was brought up by us and Ambassador Kurusu said he had not examined it and that he had forgotten much of the technical side of commercial policy since he was in the Foreign Office. The President made very pertinent and timely reference to the destructive nature of armaments and the still more destructive effects of a permanent policy of armaments which always means war, devastation and destruction. He emphasized the point that there is from the long-term point of view no difference of interest between our two countries and no occasion, therefore, for serious differences.

All in all, there was nothing new brought out by the Japanese Ambassador and Ambassador Kurusu. Ambassador Kurusu constantly made the plea that there was no reason why there should be serious differences between the two countries and that ways must be found to solve the present situation. He referred to Prime Minister Tojo as being very desirous of bringing about a peaceful adjustment notwithstanding he is an Army man. The President expressed his interest and satisfaction to hear this. The President frequently parried the remarks of Ambassador Nomura and also of Ambassador Kurusu, especially in regard to the three main points of difference between our two countries. There was no effort to solve these questions at the conference. The meeting broke up with the understanding that I would meet the Japanese representatives tomorrow morning.


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. 788-91

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