Now that the London Naval Conversations have terminated, I should like to convey to the Department various thoughts in this general connection to which the Department may desire to give consideration if and when the conversations are renewed or a naval conference convoked. I shall be contributing little that is new, for most of the facts and opinions set forth herein have already been brought to the Department's attention in previous reports. Furthermore the attitude, policy and action of our delegation in London, as directed by the Government and as revealed in the various summaries of developments telegraphed to this Embassy on October 25 and 31, November 22 and December 10, and in certain press reports, have indicated a sound comprehension of the situation in the Far East as it exists today. The firm stand of our Government and delegation to maintain the present naval ratios intact in the face of Japanese intransigence, as well as their decision that the action of the Japanese Government in denouncing the Washington Naval Treaty automatically created a new situation in which the conversations must be suspended sine die, leaving the Japanese to return home empty handed, were especially gratifying to those of us who have watched the developments in London from this angle. The purpose of this despatch is therefore mainly to summarize and to place my views in concise form on record for the future.
The thought which is uppermost in my mind is that the United States is faced, and will be faced in future, with two main alternatives. One is to be prepared to withdraw from the Far East, gracefully and gradually perhaps, but not the less effectively in the long run, permitting our treaty rights to be nullified, the Open Door to be closed, our vested economic interests to be dissolved and our commerce to operate unprotected. There are those who advocate this course, and who have advocated it to me personally, on the ground that any other policy will entail the risk of eventual war with Japan. ... In their opinion, "the game is not worth the candle" because the United States can continue to subsist comfortably even after relinquishing its varied interests in the Far East, thereby eliminating the risk of future war.
The other main alternative is to insist, and to continue to insist, not aggressively yet not the less firmly, on the maintenance of our legitimate rights and interests in this part of the world and, so far as practicable, to support the normal development of those interests constructively and progressively.
There has already been abundant indication that the present Administration in Washington proposes to follow the second of these alternatives. For purposes of discussion we may therefore, I assume, discard the hypothesis of withdrawal and examine the future outlook with the assurance that our Government has not the slightest intention of relinquishing the legitimate rights, vested interests, non-discriminatory privileges for equal opportunity and healthful commercial development of the United States in the Far East.
In following this second and logical course, there should be and need be nothing inconsistent, so far as our own attitude is concerned, with the policy of the good neighbor. The determination to support and protect our legitimate interests in the Far East can and should be carried out in a way which, while sacrificing no point of principle, will aim to restrict to a minimum the friction between the United States and Japan inevitably arising from time to time as a result of that determination.
The administration of that policy from day to day becomes a matter of diplomacy, sometimes delicate, always important, for much depends on the method and manner of approach to the various problems with which we have been, are, and will continue to be faced. With the ultra-sensitiveness of the Japanese, arising out of a marked inferiority complex which manifests itself in the garb of an equally marked superiority complex, with all its attendant bluster, chauvinism, xenophobia and organized national propaganda, the method and manner of dealing with current controversies assume a significance and importance often out of all proportion to the nature of the controversy. That the Department fully appreciates this fact has been amply demonstrated by the instructions issued to this Embassy since the present Administration took office, and it has been our endeavor to carry out those instructions, or to act on our own initiative when such action was called for, with the foregoing considerations constantly in view.
But behind our day to day diplomacy lies a factor of prime importance, namely
national support, demonstrated and reinforced by national preparedness. I believe
that a fundamental element of that preparedness should be the maintenance of
the present naval ratios in principle and the eventual achievement and maintenance
of those ratios, so far as they apply to Japan, in fact. With such a background,
and only with such a background, can we pursue our diplomacy with any confidence
that our representations will be listened to or that they will lead to favorable
results. General Douglas MacArthur, Chief of Staff of the United States Army,
was recently reported in the press as saying: "Armies and navies, in being efficient,
give weight to the peaceful words of statesmen, but a feverish effort to create
them when once a crisis is imminent simply provokes attack". We need thorough
preparedness not in the interests of war but of peace.
It is difficult for those who do not live in Japan to appraise the present temper of the country. An American Senator, according to reports, has recently recommended that we should accord parity to Japan in order to avoid future war. Whatever the Senator's views may be concerning the general policy that we should follow in the Far East, he probably does not realize what harm that sort of public statement does in strengthening the Japanese stand and in reinforcing the aggressive ambitions of the expansionists. The Japanese press of course picks out such statements by prominent Americans and publishes them far and wide, thus confirming the general belief in Japan that the pacifist element in the United States is preponderantly strong and in the last analysis will control the policy and action of our Government. Under such circumstances there is a general tendency to characterize our diplomatic representations as bluff and to believe that they can safely be disregarded without fear of implementation. It would be helpful if those who share the Senator's views could hear and read some of the things that are constantly being said and written in Japan, to the effect that Japan's destiny is to subjugate and rule the world (sic), and could realize the expansionist ambitions which lie not far from the surface in the minds of certain elements in the Army and Navy, the patriotic societies and the intense nationalists throughout the country. Their aim is to obtain trade control and eventually predominant political influence in China, the Philippines, the Straits Settlements, Siam and the Dutch East Indies, the Maritime Provinces and Vladivostok, one step at a time, as in Korea and Manchuria, pausing intermittently to consolidate and then continuing as soon as the intervening obstacles can be overcome by diplomacy or force. With such dreams of empire cherished by many, and with an army and navy capable of taking the bit in their own teeth and running away with it regardless of the restraining influence of the saner heads of the Government in Tokyo (a risk which unquestionably exists and of which we have already had ample evidence in the Manchurian affair), we would be reprehensibly somnolent if we were to trust to the security of treaty restraints or international comity to safeguard our own interests or, indeed, our own property.
I may refer here to my despatch No. 608 of December 12, 1933, a re-reading of which is respectfully invited because it applies directly to the present situation. That despatch reported a confidential conversation with the Netherlands Minister, General Pabst, a shrewd and rational colleague with long experience in Japan, in which the Minister said that in his opinion the Japanese Navy, imbued as it is with patriotic and chauvinistic fervor and with a desire to emulate the deeds of the Army in order not to lose caste with the public, would be perfectly capable of descending upon and occupying Guam at a moment of crisis or, indeed, at any other moment, regardless of the ulterior consequences. I do not think that such an insane step is likely, yet the action of the Army in Manchuria, judged from the point of view of treaty rights and international comity, might also have been judged as insensate. The important fact is that under present circumstances, and indeed under circumstances which may continue in future (although the pendulum of chauvinism throughout Japanese history has swung to and fro in periodic cycles of intensity and temporary relaxation) the armed forces of the country are perfectly capable of over-riding the restraining control of the Government and of committing what might well amount to national "hara-kiri" in a mistaken conception of patriotism.
When Japanese speak of Japan's being the "stabilizing factor" and the "guardian of peace" of East Asia, what they have in mind is a Pax Japonica with eventual complete commercial control, and, in the minds of some, eventual complete political control of East Asia. While Ambassador Saito may have been misquoted in a recent issue of the Philadelphia Bulletin as saying that Japan will be prepared to fight to maintain that conception of peace, nevertheless that is precisely what is in the minds of many Japanese today. There is a swashbuckling temper in the country, largely developed by military propaganda, which can lead Japan during the next few years, or in the next few generations, to any extremes unless the saner minds in the Government prove able to cope with it and to restrain the country from national suicide.
The efficacy of such restraint is always problematical. Plots against the Government are constantly being hatched. We hear, for instance, that a number of young officers of the 3rd Infantry Regiment and students from the Military Academy in Tokyo were found on November 22 to have planned to assassinate various high members of the Government, including Count Makino, and that students of the Military Academy were confined to the school area for a few days after the discovery of that plot, which had for its object the placing in effect at once of the provisions of the now celebrated "Army pamphlet" (see despatch No. 1031 of November 1, 1934). A similar alleged plot to attack the politicians at the opening of the extraordinary session of the Diet-another May 15th incident-is also said to have been discovered and nipped in the bud. Such plots aim to form a military dictatorship. It is of course impossible to substantiate these rumors, but they are much talked about and it is unlikely that so much smoke would materialize without some fire. I wish that more Americans could come out here and live here and gradually come to sense the real potential risks and dangers of the situation instead of speaking and writing academically on a subject which they know nothing whatever about, thereby contributing ammunition to the Japanese military and extremists who are stronger than they have been for many a day. The idea that a great body of liberal thought lying just beneath the surface since 1931 would be sufficiently strong to emerge and assume control with a little foreign encouragement is thoroughly mistaken. The, liberal thought is there, but it is inarticulate and largely impotent, and in all probability will remain so for some time to come.
At this point I should like to make the following observation. From reading this despatch, and perhaps from other reports periodically submitted by the Embassy, one might readily get the impression that we are developing something of an "anti-Japanese" complex. This is not the case. One can dislike and disagree with certain members of a family without necessarily feeling hostility to the family itself. For me there are no finer people in the world than the type of Japanese exemplified by such men as . . . and a host of others. I am rather inclined to place . . . in the same general category; if he could have his way unhampered by the military I believe that he would steer the country into safer and saner channels. One of these friends once sadly remarked to us: "We Japanese are always putting our worst foot foremost, and we are too proud to explain ourselves." This is profoundly true. Theirs has been and is a "bungling diplomacy". They habitually play their cards badly. Amau's statement of April 17 was a case in point. The declaration of the oil monopoly in Manchuria at this particular juncture, thereby tending to drive Great Britain into the other camp at a moment when closer Anglo-Japanese cooperation was very much in view, was another. While it is true that the military and the extremists are primarily responsible for the "bungling diplomacy" of Japan, the Japanese as a race tend to be inarticulate, more at home in action than with words. The recent negotiations in Batavia amply illustrated the fact that Japanese diplomats, well removed from home influences and at liberty to choose their own method and manner of approach, are peculiarly insensitive to the unhappy effects of arbitrary pronouncements. They have learned little from the sad experience of Hanihara. But the military and the extremists know little and care little about Japan's relations with other countries, and it is the desire of people like Shiratori, Amau and other Government officials to enhance their own prestige at home and to safeguard their future careers by standing in well with the military that brings about much of the trouble. Perhaps we should be grateful that they so often give their hand away in advance.
But all this does not make us less sympathetic to the better elements in Japanese life or in any sense "anti-Japanese". Japan is a country of paradoxes and extremes, of great wisdom and of great stupidity, an apt illustration of which may be found in connection with the naval conversations; while the naval authorities and the press have been stoutly maintaining that Japan cannot adequately defend her shores with less than parity, the press and the public, in articles, speeches and interviews, have at the same time been valiantly boasting that the Japanese Navy is today stronger than the American Navy and could easily defeat us in case of war. In such an atmosphere it is difficult, very difficult, for a foreigner to keep a detached and balanced point of view. We in the Embassy are making that effort, I hope with success, and in the meantime about all we can do is to keep the boat from rocking dangerously. Constructive work is at present impossible. Our efforts. are concentrated on the thwarting of destructive influences.
Having placed the foregoing considerations on record, I have less hesitation
in reiterating and emphasizing with all conviction the potential dangers of
the situation and the prime importance of American national preparedness to
meet it. As a nation we have taken the lead in international efforts towards
the restriction and reduction of armaments. We have had hopes that the movement
would be progressive, but the condition of world affairs as they have developed
during the past twelve years since the Washington Conference has not afforded
fruitful ground for such progress. Unless we are prepared to subscribe to a
"Pax Japonica" in the Far East, with all that this movement, as conceived and
interpreted by Japan, is bound to entail, we should rapidly build up our navy
to treaty strength, and if and when the Washington Naval Treaty expires we should
continue to maintain the present ratio with Japan regardless of cost, a peace-time
insurance both to cover and to reduce the risk of war. In the meantime every
proper step should be taken to avoid or to offset the belligerent utterances
of jingoes no less than the defeatist statements of pacifists in the United
States, many of which find their way into the Japanese press, because the utterances
of the former tend to enflame public sentiment against our country, while the
statements of the latter convey an impression of American weakness, irresolution
My own opinion, although it can be but guesswork, is that Japan will under no circumstances invite a race in naval armaments, and that having found our position on the ratios to be adamant, further propositions will be forthcoming within the next two years before the Washington Treaty expires, or before our present building program is fully completed. When the United States has actually completed its naval building program to treaty limits, then, it is believed, and probably not before then, Japan will realize that we are in earnest and will seek a compromise. We believe that Japan's naval policy has been formulated on the premise that the United States would never build up to treaty strength, a premise which has been strengthened in the past by the naval policy of the past two Administrations, by the apparent strength of the pacifist element in the United States, and more recently by the effects of the depression.
While it is true that Japan, by sedulously forming and stimulating public
opinion to demand parity with the United States in principle if not in fact,
has burned her bridges behind her, nevertheless the Japanese leaders are past-masters
at remoulding public opinion in the country by skillful propaganda to suit new
conditions. Once convinced that parity is impossible, it is difficult to believe
that she will allow matters to come to a point where competitive building becomes
unavoidable. With a national budget for 1935-1936 totalling 2,193,414,289 yen,
of which about 47% is for the Army and Navy, and with an estimated national
debt in 1936 of 9,880,000,000 yen, nearly equal to the Cabinet Bureau of Statistics
estimate of the national income for 1930, namely 10,635,000,000 yen; with her
vast outlay in Manchuria, her already heavily taxed population and the crying
need of large sections of her people for relief funds, it is difficult to see
how Japan could afford to embark upon a program of maintaining naval parity
with the United States and Great Britain.
Having registered our position firmly and unequivocally, we can now afford to await the next move on the part of Japan. I believe that it will come.
So far as we can evaluate here the proceedings of the recent preliminary naval
conversations in London, I am of the opinion that the most important and the
most valuable result issuing therefrom has been the apparent tendency towards
closer Anglo-American cooperation in the Far East. If we can count in future-again
as a direct result of Japan's "bungling diplomacy"-on a solid and united front
between the United States and Great Britain in meeting Japan's flaunting of
treaty rights and her unrestrained ambitions to control East Asia, the future
may well assume a brighter aspect for all of us.
Theodore Roosevelt enunciated the policy "Speak softly but carry a big stick". If our diplomacy in the Far East is to achieve favorable results, and if we are to reduce the risk of an eventual war with Japan to a minimum, that is the only way to proceed. Such a war may be unthinkable, and so it is, but the spectre of it is always present and will be present for some time to come. It would be criminally short-sighted to discard it from our calculations, and the best possible way to avoid it is to be adequately prepared, for preparedness is a cold fact which even the chauvinists, the military, the patriots and the ultra-nationalists in Japan, for all their bluster concerning "provocative measures" in the United States, can grasp and understand. The Soviet Ambassador recently told me that a prominent Japanese had said to him that the most important factor in avoiding a Japanese attack on the Maritime Provinces was the intensive Soviet military preparations in Siberia and Vladivostok. I believe this to be true, and again, and yet again, I urge that our own country be adequately prepared to meet all eventualities in the Far East.
The Counselor, the Naval Attaché and the Military Attaché of this Embassy,
having separately read this despatch, have expressed to me their full concurrence
with its contents both in essence and detail.
JOSEPH C. GREW
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. 236-244.
Return to Vinnie's Home Page
Return to Interwar Period Page