Memorandum Regarding a Conversation Between the Secretary Of State and the Japanese Ambassador (Nomura), 29 September 1941

[WASHINGTON] September 29, 1941.

The Japanese Ambassador called at his request at the Secretary's apartment. He handed the Secretary a document (copy of which is attached hereto) containing the gist of what the Foreign Minister said in his conversations with the American Ambassador at Tokyo on September 27.

The Ambassador said with an apparent touch of embarrassment that he was very well aware of the attitude of this Government and had made this Government's position very clear to his own Government, and that notwithstanding this his Government had instructed him to press for an answer on the Japanese Government's proposal. The Ambassador added that he had been asked by his Government to seek a further meeting with the President, but that the Ambassador realized the situation here and that was why he was laying the matter before the Secretary.

The Secretary replied that, as the Ambassador knew, the President's brother?in?law had died last week, that the President went to Hyde Park over the weekend, and that consequently the Secretary had not been able to see the President for the last three or four days. The Secretary said, however, that he expected to see the President today. The Secretary went on to say that he expected to be able to give the Ambassador within two or three days a memorandum having a bearing upon the Japanese Government's proposal. The Secretary pointed out that just as the Japanese Government had its difficulties we had our difficulties, that the whole effort of our conversations had been to narrow the gap between our respective views, and that we had felt that time was necessary in order to enable the Japanese Government to educate its public opinion to accept a broad-gauge program such as we advocated.

The Ambassador commented that he himself was in favor of a broad-gauge program, but that he knew very well the psychology within the Japanese Army. He said that even the highest-ranking generals had a simplicity of mind which made it difficult for them to see why, as they saw the situation, when the United States should be asserting leadership on the American continent with the Monroe Doctrine the United States should want to interfere with Japan's assuming leadership on the Asiatic continent. The Secretary asked why the Japanese Government could not educate the generals. The Ambassador replied that this would take twenty years.

The Secretary then asked whether the Japanese public as a whole desired a speedy settlement of the conflict with China. The Ambassador replied that for the last two or three years the Japanese public desired such a settlement but felt that under existing circumstances they had no alternative to continuing fighting. The Secretary observed that there have been a number of our marine guards who did not want to leave China and he supposed that in the case of the Japanese occupationary forces there were many who would not like to be recalled. The Ambassador laughed and replied that this was quite true, and he observed that when an Army general in China was clothed with the authority of a viceroy, naturally he did not welcome the prospect of being shorn of that authority.

The Ambassador, in reply to a further question by the Secretary, stated that he believed that the Japanese Government was in a stronger position internally than it had been, but that, nevertheless, in his own personal opinion, he judged that if nothing came of the proposal for a meeting between the chiefs of our two Governments it might be difficult for Prince Konoye to retain his position and that Prince Konoye then would be likely to be succeeded by a less moderate leader. He suggested that this was one reason why the Japanese Government desired to move as speedily as possible. The Secretary repeated that we would expect to communicate with the Japanese Ambassador in two or three days.



Gist of What the Foreign Minister Said in His Conversation With the American Ambassador at the Foreign Office, Tokyo, September 27, 1941

1. The war in Europe, involving many major Powers, has spread to the Atlantic. Fortunately, it has not yet touched the Pacific Ocean, where the key to peace or war lies in the hands of Japan and the United States. Should these two countries go to war, it would mean the destruction of world civilization and a dire calamity to mankind.

In recent times various events have occurred in rapid succession, tending to destroy the friendly relations between the two countries.

An adjustment of Japanese?American relations at this time and the enhancement of the friendship of the two countries will redound not only to the benefit of Japan and America but also to the cause of world peace. The Japanese Government seeks such adjustment not solely for the sake of the two countries but also for the purpose of paving the way for a general peaceful settlement throughout the world.

2. For the past two months since my appointment as Foreign Minister I have striven night and day toward obtaining an amicable settlement between Japan and America. It is also with the same purpose in view that Prince Konoye himself has decided to come to the front and proposed a meeting with President Roosevelt.

3. Japan is bound in alliance with Germany and Italy. The very idea that the Head of my Government should meet the President of the United States is liable to give rise to misunderstandings regarding Japan's ties with those two countries. Such a step would entail really a great sacrifice on the part of the Japanese Government. Moreover, from Japan's domestic standpoint, it will be an event unprecedented in history for the Prime Minister to go out of the country on a diplomatic mission. This fact alone should be a sufficient testimony to the sincerity of the Japanese Government in its desire for an adjustment of Japanese-American relations and for the preservation of peace in the Pacific.

4. If there are those who would interpret Japan's attitude as an indication not of her solicitude for peace but of her submission to American pressure, they are grossly mistaken. Eager as we are for peace, we will not bow under the pressure of another country, nor do we want peace at any price. It is a characteristic trait of our people to repel, rather than to submit to, external pressure. I repeat this point in view of certain comments that have appeared in American newspapers, although I am told they are showing nowadays signs of moderation.

5. Japanese-American relations are so complex and complicated that they are not capable of being adjusted at one stroke. The proposed meeting of the heads of the two Governments may not succeed in effecting a general solution of all difficulties. However, this meeting is bound to have a vast political significance. Moreover, it is certain that at least those problems yet to be settled (assuming that there will remain such problems) that had been the subject of our negotiations by cable will be readily solved at the conference. It will mark an epochal turn for good in Japanese?American relations. The American Government has already agreed in principle to the proposed meeting between Prince Konoye and President Roosevelt. Should it fail to take place there will never be another opportunity combined with such an auspicious setting for such a conference. Besides, the repercussions of the failure might be most unfortunate.

6. The policy and aims of my Government have been fully communicated to the American Government. A resume of these, put in the form of the American Draft Understanding of June 21, 1941, has also been submitted to Your Excellency. I trust that the views of my Government are being given careful consideration by the American Government.

7. On our side, the ship to carry the Prime Minister is ready. The members of his suite including a full General and a full Admiral have been privately appointed. The party is prepared to depart at any moment.

8. In the circumstances such as I have described, the Japanese Government is now anxiously looking forward to receiving a reply from the American Government at the earliest date possible. As I have spoken to Your Excellency at our last meeting, any further delay-especially after today's anniversary of the Tripartite Pact-would put my Government in a very delicate position.

Furthermore, the climatic conditions in the Northern Pacific and the vicinity of the Alaskan coast are likely to become unfavorable for the proposed meeting.

9. Time, as I have often said, is a vital factor from both internal and international viewpoints. The decision must be made as soon as possible. So I desire to ask for the most speedy and sincere consideration of the American Government.

I may add that, as regards the date for the meeting, October 10-15 will suit the Japanese Government.

Finally, by way of a conclusion, I should like to say that negotiations of this sort require sincerity and mutual confidence. I need not dwell on the character, the convictions and faith of Prince Konoye as well as his political position, all of which are well known to Your Excellency. Without Prince Konoye and the present Cabinet under him, an opportunity for Japanese-American rapprochement is likely to be lost for some time to come. I wish to emphasize again the urgent necessity of having the proposed meeting at the earliest possible date.

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. 749-53

Return to Vinnie's Home Page

Return to Interwar Period Page