Memorandum by the Acting Secretary of State (Welles) Regarding A Conversation With, the Japanese Ambassador (Nomura), 23 July 1941

[WASHINGTON,] July 23, 1941.

The Japanese Ambassador called to see me this afternoon at his request.

Admiral Nomura commenced the conversation by saying that as soon as he had received from Mr. Wakasugi the report of his conversation with me two days ago, he had immediately returned to Washington in order to speak with me personally.

The Ambassador then commenced his exposition, which I did not interrupt until he had concluded.

The Ambassador said that he had now received from press reports, but not as yet officially, information that the Japanese Government had concluded with the Vichy Government an agreement whereunder the Japanese Government would send military forces to occupy certain portions of southern Indochina. The Ambassador said that he understood this agreement entailed no violation of the inherent sovereignty of French Indochina. He stated that I was well aware of the critical economic situation of Japan and of the great difficulty which Japan had in procuring raw materials, particularly food supplies, from abroad. He stressed the question of lack of fertilizer which Japan had been accustomed to importing from Germany and said that consequently additional rice must be imported from abroad. He stated that Japan was now importing a million tons of rice a year from Indochina. He went on to say that one of the two reasons for the step taken was to assure to Japan an uninterrupted source of supply of rice and other food stuffs, which Indochina afforded, as well as an uninterrupted supply of other raw materials which they required from that region. He sated that Japan believed that de Gaullist French agents were stirring up trouble in southern Indochina and that of course there were many Chinese agitators in that region and the Japanese Government feared that at some tune in the near future a situation might develop which would cut off Japan's supplies from those territories.

The Ambassador then said that the second reason for the occupation undertaken was the need for military security. He stated that Japan believed that certain foreign powers were bent upon a policy of encirclement of Japan and that the step taken was purely a precautionary measure in the nature of a safeguard.

The two situations which the Ambassador had set forth above, he stated, had occasioned great "uneasiness" to Japan.

The Ambassador then said that from the tone of the press in this country and from observations which had been made to him by various Americans in whom he placed reliance, these recent developments were creating a condition of great excitement and perturbation in the United States. He said that of course the question of the measures which the United States might take was something which the United States alone could determine, but he urged most urgently that this Government should not "reach hasty conclusions" and should permit a little time to elapse in the hope that a friendly adjustment between Japan and the United States might be found. He said that any measures restricting oil exports to Japan would undoubtedly inflame Japanese public opinion exceedingly and he hoped, in view of his own belief that friendly relations could be maintained between the two countries, that full consideration might be given to his views in this connection.

The Ambassador concluded his exposition by saying that one of the first messages he had received from the new Cabinet was an urgent instruction to him to press for an understanding with the United States along the lines he had been discussing with Secretary Hull. These instructions, he said, were not as yet given to him in full detail but made it completely clear that the new Government fully supported the policies which he had been representing throughout the course of the conversations.

He said that I would of course realize that "third powers" were doing everything within their power to prevent the reaching of an agreement with the United States. He expressed the hope that this Government would bear this fact fully in mind in reaching any decisions it might contemplate.

I replied to the Ambassador that in view of his statement to me that Mr. Wakasugi had fully reported his conversation with me to the Ambassador, I felt I need not cover the same ground again in my conversation with the Ambassador this afternoon. I said that I had made it clear to Mr. Wakasugi that if the Japanese Government was now determined to pursue a policy diametrically opposed to the policy laid down by the Japanese Ambassador in his conversation with Secretary Hull as the policy which would result from the reaching of an agreement with the United States, this Government must reconsider its own position in the matter.

I said it was very clear to this Government that any agreement which Japan might have reached with the Vichy Government could only have been reached as a result of pressure brought to bear upon the Vichy Government by Berlin. Since that was the case in our judgment, the reaching of this agreement by Japan could only be regarded as offering assistance to Hitler in his obvious policy of world conquest and of world domination, which, I emphasized, in the opinion of the United States, would, if successful, prove equally deleterious to Japan and to the United States.

The Ambassador had referred to the desire of Japan, by occupying Indochina, to assure itself of supplies of food and raw materials from that territory. I said that if the agreement which Secretary Hull and the Ambassador had been discussing were concluded, the Ambassador must fully realize that a far greater measure of economic security would be afforded Japan since the whole agreement was predicated upon equal economic opportunity and equal economic security for all of the nations directly concerned in the Pacific region. With regard, to the statement made by the Ambassador that the measure taken was in the nature of a military precaution, I inquired as to what possible justification there could be for such a step on the part of Japan when the Japanese Government had been fully informed through the Ambassador by Secretary Hull, of the policy of this Government in the Pacific, which was a policy of the maintenance of peace, of non?aggression and of the refusal to carry out any policy of conquest or of physical force. I said the policy of this Government was the reverse of a policy of encirclement or of a policy which would constitute any threat to Japan. Furthermore, I said, this Government was equally confident that the policy of Great Britain constituted no menace to Japan and that if an agreement of the kind which had been under discussion were concluded, the United States would have been joined, together with Japan, in support of the underlying principles for which this Government stood, by the Governments of Great Britain, of the Dominions, of the Netherlands, and, I was confident, by the Government of China as well.

I said the Ambassador could hardly expect me to take seriously the Ambassador's statement that Japan was concerned by the activities of Chinese agitators or de Gaullist sympathizers in southern Indochina. I said I believed we could both agree to pass that by without further reference.

I said I thought the time had now come to speak with the complete frankness which the Ambassador would expect from a member of his own naval profession and I would consequently take the liberty of doing so. I said that the movement now undertaken by Japan could only be regarded by the United States as having two probable purposes, neither of which purpose this Government could ignore.

First, the United States could only assume that the occupation of Indochina by Japan constituted notice to the United States that the Japanese Government intended to pursue a policy of force and of conquest, and, second, that in the light of these acts on the part of Japan, the United States, with regard to its own safety in the light of its own preparations for self-defense, must assume that the Japanese Government was taking the last step before proceeding upon a policy of totalitarian expansion in the South Seas and of conquest in the South Seas through the seizure of additional territories in that region.

This Government could not see that there was any fact or factual theory upon which Japan could possibly fill Indochina with Japanese military and other forces for purposes of defending Japan. The only consequent alternative was to regard the occupation of Indochina by Japan as being undertaken because of the Japanese realization of its value to Japan for purposes of offense against the South Sea area.

I said that in view of all of these considerations, which I believed I had set forth very clearly to the Ambassador, I was now in a position where I must tell him, at the request of Secretary Hull, that the latter could not see that there was any basis now offered for the pursuit of the conversations in which he and the Ambassador had been engaged. This Government, in the opinion of Secretary Hull, had made it thoroughly clear to the Government of Japan that it was entirely ready to go forward with Japan on the basis of peaceful adjustment of the relations between the two countries in accordance with the principles and policies set forth in the agreement which it had been proposed should be concluded. This Government had already shown the utmost measure of patience in its dealings with Japan-and at this stage the Ambassador emphatically nodded his head-and had been prepared, as I had emphasized to Mr. Wakasugi, to continue to be patient in the event that the Government of Japan had required time in order to deal with its own public opinion but had at the same time refrained from embarking upon measures which were fundamentally opposed to the principles which both parties here in Washington had been endeavoring to establish. I repeated again that in the judgment of the United States if such an agreement had been reached, the Government of Japan would have obtained an infinitely greater amount of security, both military and economic, than it could obtain through its embarkation upon a policy of conquest by force.

The Ambassador then said that he fully realized that this Government had been exceedingly patient. He urged that it continue, at least for a short time, to be patient and he said most emphatically that he was willing to assure me that if the agreement which had been under discussion had been concluded, the present steps would not have been taken by the present Government of Japan. He said he felt that the procrastination which had taken place-and for this he did not attempt to place the blame-had been responsible for the creation of conditions with which the new Government was confronted when it took office and from which it could not immediately free itself.

The Ambassador concluded by saying that he would report to Tokyo what I had said.

I concluded the interview by saying that I was happy to say that Secretary Hull was now almost completely restored to health and that he hoped he would be able to return to Washington in the near future and in such event I was sure that he himself would wish to talk again with the Ambassador.

The Ambassador gave me the impression of being greatly disturbed and sincerely concerned by the possibility that a situation might now develop which would make utterly impossible any understanding between the two countries. His manner was exceedingly conciliatory throughout the interview and when he spoke about his hope that the United States would not reach "hasty conclusions", he said three or four times that, of course, he had no right to interfere or to give the impression that he was intervening in the decisions which might be made by this country, but that he made the remark solely because of his belief that a friendly adjustment could still be found.


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. 692-96

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