Tokyo 1941:
MIGHT THE PACIFIC WAR HAVE BEEN AVOIDED?

by Robert A. Fearey

Photographs by Jane Smith-Hutton 


Embassy Staff in Front of the Chancellery

A version of this paper was published in the Foreign Service Journal in 12/91.  It was 
translated by Mr. Koichiro Fukui and published in Japanese in Bungei Shunju in 1/02.  
Click here
to download the Japanese version as Word file.

Until the day he died, Ambassador Joseph C. Grew, our Ambassador to Japan 1932-41 and the nation's most experienced and distinguished diplomat of that era, believed that Washington's handling of the U.S.-Japan negotiations preceding the Pearl Harbor attack was unimaginative and inflexible. Grew thought that Washington gave short shrift to the Embassy's carefully considered reports, analyses, and recommendations, centering on Japanese Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoye's proposal that he and President Roosevelt meet face-to-face in Honolulu in a direct effort to achieve a settlement of all outstanding issues. If the meeting had been allowed to take place, he believed, the Pacific War might have been avoided.

As Mr. Grew’s private secretary during that eventful period, I assisted him in a small way in the preparation of his never published failure-of-a-mission report during our post-Pearl Harbor internment in Tokyo; discussed the issues with him at length during our two months long repatriation voyage home; and accompanied him when he called on Secretary of State Cordell Hull and attempted to present the report. I thought then, and I think now, that Grew was right, that the meeting should have been held, and that if it had been held the Pacific War might in fact have been avoided, without sacrifice of any U.S. or Allied principle or interest.

Devoted to the Foreign Service and to his old school, Groton, Mr. Grew made it a practice during his ten years in Japan to ask Groton's headmaster to nominate a Grotonian about to graduate from college to come out to Tokyo for two years as his private secretary. The position paid only $50 a month, out of Grew's own pocket, but provided an unparalleled opportunity for the young man to view the Foreign Service from the inside and decide whether he wished to apply. Of the four afforded this opportunity, three joined the Service and one "got re-routed to the Church", to quote Mr. Grew's 1941 classic letter to Headmaster Crocker.

My predecessor, Marshall Green, returned home in June, 1941. We met in New York, where he removed any doubts I might have had about my acceptance of the job, made possible by a detached retina history which excluded me from any form of military service. The Grews, he said, were great, the Embassy group first class, the duties of the position not too arduous, and Japan still a wonderful place, notwithstanding the gathering war clouds. In the course of our couple of days together, I offered Green an airplane ride, having at that time accumulated several hundred private flying hours. He still talks of our bombing run a few feet above a tanker moving down Long Island Sound, with the captain running for cover on the bridge.

In those days, hard as it is to believe now, U.S. Foreign Service Officers called personally on the Secretary or Under Secretary before departing for their posts. The number of FSOs was sufficiently small to permit this. I was not an FSO, but Grew had written to his old friend, Under Secretary Summer Welles, another Grotonian, to ask him to oversee my departure arrangements and briefly receive me. I recall waiting in the anteroom between Secretary Hull's and Under Secretary Welles' offices, occupied by two secretaries, before Mr. Welles came out to usher me in. The two said they were their bosses' entire secretarial support!

Arriving in Tokyo in early July, I was met with a bow and a giggle by my amah (servant), Kani-san, inherited from Green, at the door of my Government provided apartment in the Embassy compound. I had barely started to unpack when the phone rang--it was Ambassador Grew inviting me up the hill to his residence to get acquainted.

As I entered Grew's study, he turned from the old typewriter on which he had hunt and pecked his work at home for decades and greeted me warmly. We talked for about half an hour, when Mrs. Grew came in to be introduced. She lamented the fact that unlike Green I did not play bridge. But Mr. Grew said that he had had good reports on my golf, which was the important thing. Both could not have been nicer; I left feeling that all would be well.

The next day I met the Embassy staff, particularly Eugene H. Dooman, the Embassy Counselor, born in Japan, fluent in Japanese, and Grew's right-hand man; Edward S. Crocker, First Secretary; Charles E. Bohlen, Second Secretary, recently arrived from Embassy Moscow and later President Roosevelt's Russian interpreter/adviser and Ambassador to the USSR, France and the Philippines; Captain Henri H. Smith-Hutton, Naval Attaché; Lt. Col. Harry J. Creswell, Army Attaché; Frank S. Williams, Commercial Attaché, and Marion Arnold, Mr. Grew's longtime secretary, with whom I shared his outer office.

I had known that one of my principal duties would be golf. Weekday afternoons when work permitted Grew would quickly assemble a foursome from the Embassy golfers, most often Dooman, Bohlen, Crocker or myself, and away we would go to Koganei, Kasumegaseki or some other nearby course. Relations with Japan had reached a point where Grew's Japanese friends could no longer afford to be seen with him, including on the golf course. On the -other hand, there were those, including Prime Minister Konoye, who found carefully arranged golf games and private dinners still feasible for meeting with Grew and Dooman at critically important junctures.

Of many lighter moments of that memorable summer and fall I will relate only one. A private secretarial duty was to operate the movie projector when the Grews showed American movies after dinner parties at their residence. The machine was somewhat antiquated, and occasionally broke down in the middle of a reel. This happened one evening when the British Ambassador, Sir Robert Craigie, and his wife were among the guests. Lady Craigie, sitting next to Mrs. Grew, remarked "Isn't it unfortunate, my dear, that that machine of yours is always breaking down." To which Mrs. Grew, a formidable adversary in repartee, replied, "Yes, my dear, but isn't it fortunate that we have no important guests tonight."

Averting War

As the weeks passed I became aware that Grew and Dooman were heavily preoccupied with an undertaking which they believed could critically affect the prospects for averting war. Though the matter was closely held within the Embassy, I learned that it related to a proposal Grew had transmitted to Washington from Prime Minister Konoye that he and President Roosevelt meet face-to-face in Honolulu, in an effort to fundamentally turn U.S.-Japan relations around before it was too late. Grew had told Washington that Konoye was convinced that he would be able to present terms for a settlement at such a meeting which the U.S. and its allies would be able to accept. Konoye had said that the terms had the backing of the Emperor and of Japan's highest military authorities, and that senior military officers were prepared to accompany him to the meeting and put the weight of their approval behind the hoped-for agreement with the President on the mission's return to Japan. Grew and Dooman had strongly recommended that Washington agree to the meeting.

Washington's initial reaction to the proposal was favorable. The idea was said to have caught the President's imagination. In a late August session with Japanese Ambassador Kichisaburu Nomura, Roosevelt "spoke of the difficulty of going as far as Hawaii and elaborated his reasons why it would be difficult to get away for twenty-one days. He turned to Juneau, Alaska, as a meeting place, which would only require some fourteen or fifteen days, allowing for a three or four days conversation with the Japanese Prime Minister." At the close of the meeting he said "that he would be keenly interested in having three or four days with Prince Konoye, and he again mentioned Juneau." Konoye told Grew after this conversation had been reported to Tokyo that Juneau was entirely acceptable, and that a destroyer with steam up awaited in Yokohama to carry him and his associates there. An Embassy officer who lived in Yokohama confirmed this.

However, at a meeting with Nomura at the White House on September 3 the President read a message, prepared at State, from him to Konoye which included the statement that "it would seem highly desirable that we take precautions toward ensuring that our proposed meeting shall prove a success, by endeavoring to enter immediately upon preliminary discussions of the fundamental and essential questions on which we seek agreement. When Nomura asked whether the President was still favorable to a conference, "the President replied that he was, but that it was very important to settle a number of these questions beforehand, if the success of the conference was to be safeguarded..." He added that "it would be necessary for us to discuss the matter fully with the British, the Chinese and the Dutch, since there is no other way to effect a suitable peaceful settlement for the Pacific area."

In succeeding meetings Roosevelt and Hull reiterated these two themes--that the proposed meeting must be preceded by preliminary U.S.-Japan discussions of (by which they clearly meant agreement on) "the fundamental and essential questions on which we seek agreement," and by U.S. consultation with our Chinese, British and Dutch allies. In a September 4 meeting with Nomura, Hull said that "this was especially necessary with the Chinese who might otherwise be apprehensive lest we betray them". Concern for Chaing Kai-shek's reactions was clearly a key factor in the Administration's thinking.

Fears of Betrayal

Konoye, in his initial broaching of the meeting idea in the spring, had explained to Grew, and he to Washington, why it was necessary for him to meet personally with Roosevelt outside Japan, and why he would be able to propose terms at such a meeting which he could never propose through diplomatic channels. If, he had said, he were to use such channels to provide the specific assurances Washington sought on the China question and other issues, his Foreign Minister, Yosuke Matsuoka, who had led Japan into the Axis Pact with Germany and Italy and who with the Germans and Italians would do anything to prevent a Japanese accommodation with the U.S., would immediately leak those assurances to fanatical Japanese elements and to the German and Italian Embassies, he (Konoye) would be assassinated, and the whole effort would fail. A further risk of hostile leaks lay in the codes through which the Embassy and the State Department communicated. The Embassy hoped that one of its codes was still secure, but Konoye told Grew that he believed that Japanese cryptographers had broken all the others.

After Matsuoka was forced to resign as Foreign Minister following the German invasion of Russia in June, Konoye told Grew, and he Washington, that Matsuoka had left supporters behind in the Foreign Office who would equally leak the positive and forthcoming terms which he (Konoye) intended to propose to the President. On the other hand, Konoye maintained that if he, accompanied by senior representatives of the Army and Navy, could meet face-to-face with Roosevelt, propose those terms and have them accepted in principle, subject to Washington and Allied concurrence and the working out of detailed implementing arrangements, the reaction of relief and approval in Japan would be so strong that die-hard elements would be unable to prevail against it.

The China Quagmire

Grew and Dooman supported this reasoning. From the Emperor down, they told Washington, the Japanese knew that the China venture was not succeeding. Particularly after the July freezing of Japanese assets abroad and the embargo on oil and scrap shipments to Japan, the endless war in China was driving Japan to ruin. Every time a taxi went around the corner Japan had less oil. There was solid reason to believe that the bulk of the Japanese people, except for the die-hards and fanatics, would sincerely welcome a face-saving settlement that would enable the country to pull back, on an agreed schedule, from China and Southeast Asia, even if not from Manchuria. Japan had now held Manchuria for nine years, had successfully integrated its economy into the homeland economy, and its disposition presented special problems which would have to be worked out in agreement with Nationalist China. But the time was now, -- the opportunity had to be seized before Japan's economic situation and internal discontent reached so serious a level that the military felt obliged and entitled to take complete control and launch Japan on a suicidal war against the West.

Grew told Washington that because of the risks of hostile exposure, Konoye could not provide the clear and specific commitments concerning China, Indochina, the Axis Pact, non-discriminatory trade, and other issues which Washington sought before the proposed meeting. On the other hand, he argued, there was strong reason to believe that Konoye would be able to provide those commitments at the proposed meeting and that with the Emperor's, the top military's and the people's support, they would be carried out. No one could guarantee this, but the alternative was almost certainly replacement of the Konoye Government and a rapid descent toward war.

Fading Hopes

As the weeks passed and Washington still withheld approval of Konoye's meeting proposal, he and Grew became increasingly discouraged. Konoye warned at their secret meetings that time was running out, that he would soon have no alternative but to resign and be succeeded by a prime minister and cabinet offering far less chance of determinedly seeking and being able to carry out a mutually acceptable U.S.-Japan settlement. Again and again Grew urged Washington to accept the meeting as the last, best chance for a settlement. He argued that not only Konoye but, he and Dooman firmly believed, the Emperor and Japan's top military and civilian leaders wished to reverse Japan's unsuccessful military course, if this could be accomplished without an appearance of abject surrender. Japan could not pull its forces out of China and Indochina overnight without such an appearance, but it could commit itself to a course of action which would accomplish that result in an acceptable period of time, under effective safeguards.

Personalities can make an important difference in such situations. Secretary Hull's principal Far Eastern adviser was a former professor named Stanley K. Hombeck. Coming to the post with a China background, he was personally known by Grew and other Embassy Tokyo officers to have shown disdain and dislike for the Japanese. Word reached the Embassy that it was largely as a result of his influence and advice that Roosevelt's and Hull's initially favorable reaction to the meeting proposal had cooled. It was reportedly at his instance that the policy of requiring Japan to provide clear and specific assurances on outstanding issues, particularly respecting China, before such a meeting could be held had been adopted. Hombeck was quoted as saying that Grew had been in Japan too long, that he was more Japanese than the Japanese, and that all one had to do with the Japanese was to stand up to them and they would cave. The Embassy heard that State's "Japan hands," led by Joseph W. Ballantine, tended to agree with its recommendations, but how strongly was not clear. What did seem clear was that Hombeck had the upper hand and that his views were prevailing with Hull and Roosevelt.

Konoye Resigns

On October 16 Konoye, having pled and waited in vain for U.S. acceptance of his meeting proposal, resigned and was replaced by General Hideki Tojo. In a private conversation with Grew, Konoye put the best face he could on this development, recalling that Tojo, as Army Minister in Konoye's cabinet, had personally supported the meeting proposal and had been prepared to put his personal weight behind the hoped-for agreement with the President. But Grew and Dooman now held little hope for peace, believing that the chance which Konoye had presented of a reversal, not at once, but by controlled stages, of Japan's aggressive course had been lost. The Washington talks continued, and Grew employed his talents to the full with the new Foreign Minister, Shigenori Togo, and others to make them succeed. But he was privately frank to say that in his view the die had been cast when Konoye gave up on the proposed meeting and resigned.

Reflecting this view, Grew sent a number of cables during October and November warning that the Japanese, finding themselves in a corner as a result of the freeze and embargo, not only might, but probably would, resort to an all-out, do-or die attempt to render Japan invulnerable to foreign economic pressures, even if the effort were tantamount to national hara-kiri. In a message of November 3 he expressed the hope that the U.S. would not become involved in war "because of any possible misconception of Japan's capacity to rush headlong into a suicidal struggle with the United States." He said that "the sands are running fast," and that "an armed conflict with the United States may come with dangerous and dramatic suddenness. Earlier in the year he had reported that the Peruvian Ambassador in Tokyo had informed diplomatic colleagues that a Japanese Admiral in his cups had been heard to say that if war came it would start with an attack on Pearl Harbor. The contrast between Grew's prescient warnings and Hombecks reported view that if one stood up to the Japanese they would cave could not be more stark. But pro-China Hombeck's analysis prevailed over that of our Tokyo Embassy, not only with Hull and the President but also apparently with our military authorities, responsible for our Pacific defenses.

And so war came. It was Sunday in the U.S. but Monday morning, December 8, when the news reached us in Tokyo. At about eight I walked over from my apartment to the Embassy chancery, a distance of about 40 feet. Chip Bohlen came down the stairs. Had I heard the news? The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and other points around the Western Pacific and the Imperial Headquarters had announced that a state of war existed between Japan and the U.S. and its Allies. As I absorbed this intelligence other Embassy officers arrived, most having heard the news from their drivers.

I went down to the compound's front gate, which was closed tight with Japanese police standing all about. Outside up the street I heard a newsboy calling "Gogai, Gogai," meaning "Extra, Extra," and waving copies of the English language "official" Japanese Government newspaper, The Japan Times and Advertiser, on which I could see the gigantic headline, WAR IS ON. It occurred to me that the paper would probably not only be informative on what had happened but would make a great souvenir. So I walked as inconspicuously as I could back along the 8-foot wall surrounding the compound to a corner where some small pine trees provided a little cover. There I scrambled over the wall, bought two copies of the paper, one to give to Grew and one to keep, and scrambled back.

My copy hangs framed at home. Below the WAR IS ON headline is the English version of the Imperial Rescript to the Japanese people on the outbreak of war. Probably drafted and translated by the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, fluent in English, it is a masterful piece of prose. Returning to Tokyo in early October 1945, I was able to obtain a copy of the August 15, 1945 surrender issue of the same paper, which during the war had been renamed the Nippon Times. The surrender headlines are understandably smaller than the outbreak of war ones, reading, "His Majesty Issues Rescript to Restore Peace." But as in 1941, the Rescript is a prose masterpiece.

Returning to Pearl Harbor day in Tokyo, at about 11:00 a.m. a car containing several Japanese officials drove into the compound and a Mr. Ohno of the Foreign Office asked to see the Ambassador. Informed that both the Ambassador and Counselor Dooman were unavailable, Ohno asked to see the next ranking Embassy officer, who was First Secretary Crocker. By that time I realized what was up and slipped into Crocker's office with Ohno and his colleagues.

After a brief exchange of greetings, Ohno pulled a paper from his pocket and said:

"I am instructed to hand to you, as representing the Embassy, the following document which I shall first read to you." He thereupon read:

"No. 136 - Strictly Confidential/-Investigation V. Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tokyo, December 8, 1941.

"Excellency:

"I have the honor to inform Your Excellency that there has arisen a state of war between Your Excellency's country and Japan beginning today.

"I avail myself of this opportunity to renew to Your Excellency the assurances of my highest consideration.

SHIGENORI TOGO: Minister for Foreign Affairs.

"His Excellency Joseph Clark Grew, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America at Tokyo."

After a brief silence Crocker said, "This is a very tragic moment." Ohno replied: "It is; and my duty is most distasteful."

Even before Ohno's arrival a group of us under Bohlen's direction had started to burn the Embassy code books and classified files. The code books were numerous and bulky and the files extensive. Burning them effectively was no easy task, particularly in contrast with modern destruction techniques. The burning was carried on in metal waste baskets indoors and steel drums outdoors in the garage enclosure. From time to time, in spite of our best efforts, whole or partial pages of unburned code or text would float up and away over Tokyo.
 

Golf and Groceries

In the days that followed our group of 65 organized itself under Grew's and Dooman's direction into a smoothly running, not unpleasant routine. Fortunately, as one of my responsibilities, and with the possibility of war all too apparent, I had in August mailed in to San Francisco a large grocery order, after obtaining from each American staff member a list of what he or she wanted, paid in advance. The order arrived only a week or two before Pearl Harbor and proved to be a godsend.

As the youngest member of the group, except for the 8-year old daughter, Cynthia, of the Naval Attaché , Captain Smith-Hutton and his wife, I was appointed Sports Director. This was not an insignificant assignment. Although most of the group busied themselves pretty well writing, reading, learning to type or whatever, there was inevitably a good deal of leisure time and sports had definite morale and fitness importance. So Bohlen, the Assistant Naval Attaché, Commander Mert Stone, and I laid out a nine-hole golf course totaling over 500 yards among and over the buildings; we set up a badminton court and ping pong table in the garage courtyard; and I organized a succession of hotly contested tournaments in all three sports, with prizes. Some of the prizes, such as engraved silver cups and ashtrays, I ordered from outside, and some were sent in by friends of the Grews.

Golf had always been Mr. Grew's favorite sport, and every morning he came down from the residence for a game. He had developed misplaced confidence in my golfing skills and usually chose me as his partner for the team contests. We won our share, and each of us brought back several trophies engraved "Greater East Asia Black Sulphur Springs Golf Club." "Black Sulphur Springs" was a reference to the plush resort where our counterparts, the Japanese diplomats in the U.S. were held. On other occasions we used the title, "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere Golf Course."

To enliven our golf games I organized a running sweepstakes under which, if you drew the name of the next person to break a window, you won the pot. Needless to say with some of the holes going over the 3-story apartment houses onto small, invisible to the driver., greens, a great many balls ended up in the Tokyo streets. Fortunately we had a lot of balls and never ran out. And every day except Sunday the Grews and four or five other avid poker players gathered for their marathon poker series, which continued on the repatriation ships almost to New York. The stakes were fairly high, and at one point the indebtedness of an Assistant Army Attaché reached a level as uncomfortable to the Grews and the rest of the group as it was to him. But happily in the end he pulled up almost even. The bridge players, led by Mrs. Grew, were equally committed to their almost daily game.

Doolittle Raid

In mid-April I was playing golf on our private course with Major Stanton Babcock, the Assistant Army Attaché (another Grotonian!) when we heard explosions in the distance. We looked up and saw a rather large military aircraft slowly flying quite low over the Diet (Parliament) building with black anti-aircraft bursts visible behind and above. As we watched it disappear to the south, obviously untouched by the anti-aircraft fire, Babcock said that he was sure that it was an American bomber but that he had no idea how it could have got to Tokyo. The most likely way was from an aircraft-carrier, but he had never heard of a plane of that size taking off from a carrier.

We dropped our clubs and ran up for a better view from the residence. There we encountered Grew with the Swiss Minister, Mr. Gorge. Grew said that he had been bidding the Minister farewell when they had seen and heard a number of large airplanes overhead. Shortly after they had observed fires burning in different directions with lots of smoke. Sirens and gunfire could still be heard as we stood there, but the planes were no longer in view.

The papers that evening reported that nine enemy aircraft had been shot down over various parts of Japan, and several photos were shown to prove it. On examination, however, our military colleagues concluded that the photos were all of one downed plane, taken from different angles. Only later did we learn through Gorgé that we had had a ringside view of the Doolittle raid.

‘Failure of Mission’ Report

In late December, as I recall, Grew mentioned that he had started work on a report to secretary Hull and the President presenting his frank, carefully considered views on what he believed had been Washington's mishandling of the pre-Pearl Harbor negotiations. After devoting ten years of his life to the cause of American-Japanese friendship and seen it end in the holocaust at Pearl Harbor, he did not feel that he could in good conscience fail to present to his superiors in Washington and to history his honest assessment of the 1941 negotiations as viewed from the Embassy. It would be his own, personal report for which he alone would be responsible, but he hoped to benefit from Dooman's comments and suggestions in its preparation, and later from those of a few others in the Embassy, notably Crocker and Bohlen. The report would of course be entirely confidential, for Hull's and the President's eyes only, unless they wished to open it to others.

Every morning Grew worked on the report in his study at the residence, progressively bringing Dooman and then Crocker and Bohlen into the task. Marion Arnold did all the typing. One morning in March he handed me a copy and asked me to take it to my apartment, study it, and give him my thoughts and suggestions, all the way from major policy considerations to drafting points. I was to show the draft to no one, and was to bring it back myself to him with my comments.

I spent two days at the task, and was rewarded by Grew's apparently sincere thanks for what I produced. As I will soon explain, to the best of my knowledge no copy of the paper exists today. Accordingly I can rely only on memory in attempting to relate what it contained.

Essentially, Mr. Grew, a master of the English language, recapitulated in clear, concise, often eloquent terms the case for the Konoye-Roosevelt meeting which he had earlier advanced in his cables. From the moment he had arrived in Tokyo as a Hoover appointee in 1932, he recalled, he had devoted himself unremittingly to the cause of U.S.-Japan friendship. Instead he had seen relations steadily worsen as Japan's aggressive course took it into Manchuria, then China and then Indochina.

Finally, Grew wrote, in the summer and fall of 1941, an opportunity had presented itself under Prime Minister Konoye to reverse that course. Again and again in carefully reasoned messages and with the benefit of intimate knowledge of the evolution of Japanese policy, of conditions and attitudes in Japan, and of the leading personalities involved, including Prime Minister Konoye, the Embassy had argued that the opportunity was a real one which should be seized. It had clearly explained why Konoye could not present his far-reaching proposals, representing a fundamental shift of Japanese policy, through diplomatic channels, because of the virtual certainty of hostile leaks, of Konoye's resulting assassination, and of the failure of the enterprise. Konoye was prepared, with the Emperor's and the military's backing, to pull Japanese forces out of China and Indochina. But this had to be done by controlled stages over a specified, limited period of time, and not so as to appear to be an abject surrender.

Unbending

Washington had initially shown interest in the proposal. But this soon waned and was replaced by sweeping and inflexible demands of Japan which ignored the real situation in which Japan, as a result of its own misguided policies, had placed itself. The U.S. had in effect said to Japan -- agree to withdraw completely from China and Indochina, to in effect renounce the Axis Pact, and to subscribe to open and non-discriminatory trade practices, and then we will negotiate with you. The Embassy had explained that Konoye sought many of the same goals the U.S. did, but that he had to reach them by stages which took account of the hard facts that Japanese forces were by that time stationed widely over China and Indochina, that the nation had undergone heavy sacrifices in pursuit of its misguided policies, and that a reasonable period of time was required to turn the ship of state around. The Embassy's advice that reasonable confidence should be placed in the good faith of Konoye and his supporters to implement the steps which were so clearly in Japan's interest was apparently disbelieved and rejected.

Grew in his report set forth more specifically than he had in his cables or than he later did in his books the terms which Konoye had told him he intended to present to the President. They were, as I recall:

(1) Japan would effectively commit itself not to take hostile action against the U.S. under the Tripartite Pact in case of war between Germany and the U.S.;

(2) Japan would commit itself to withdraw its forces from China lock, stock and barrel within 18 months from the date of finalization of the U.S.-Japan settlement agreement;

(3) The U.S. and its allies, in return for these commitments and for evidence of the beginning of the withdrawal of Japan's forces from Indochina and China, would (a) partially lift the freezing of Japanese assets and the embargo on the shipment of strategic materials to Japan, and (b) commence negotiations for new treaties of commerce and navigation with Japan on the clear understanding that signature and ratification would depend on Japan's full compliance with its obligations under the agreement;

(4) Japan would complete the withdrawal of its forces from Indochina;

(5) The U.S. and its allies, on the completion of the withdrawal of Japanese forces from China would completely terminate the freezing and embargo and effectuate the new treaties of commerce and navigation;

(6) The disposition of Manchuria would be left to be determined after the war in Europe was over -- Konoye intended to point out to the President that if the Allies prevailed in Europe they would clearly be able to compel Japan's withdrawal from Manchuria; if on the other hand the Axis prevailed, Japan would equally clearly be able to remain in control of Manchuria.

I also recall Grew's relating in his report an aspect of Konoye's plan which I have not seen set forth anywhere else. Because of Konoye's concern about the danger of leaks of what he and the President would hopefully agree at their meeting, Grew said that he (Konoye) had told him that he planned, with the President's cooperation, to keep the terms of their agreement secret until he had returned to Japan. Immediately on his return, he intended to meet with the Emperor, obtain his approval of the agreement terms and of an Imperial Rescript so stating, and then at once go on the radio to announce the terms, bearing the Emperor's and the highest military authorities' support, to the people. As earlier noted, Konoye believed that the people's response to the agreement would be so positive that extremist elements would not be able to prevail against it.

Although it is 50 years since I studied and made suggestions on Grew's internment report, and I kept no notes, I believe the above is an accurate rendition of what I read. The reciprocally controlled, step-by-step (pari passu) nature of the arrangement is particularly clear in my mind, because of Grew's emphasis on it in our discussions on the repatriation ship "Gripsholm." The first steps, he stressed, would be required of Japan; the U.S. and its Allies would not be obliged to start to lift the freezing and embargo or take any other action involving cost or risk until they were convinced that Japan was faithfully fulfilling its prior commitments, including those relating to the withdrawal of its forces from Indochina and China. The U.S. and its Allies thus stood to gain much--avoidance of war in the Pacific without sacrifice of any Allied principle or objective--while risking nothing.

Why Konoye's intended terms were not presented in the above detail in Grew's cables from Tokyo may be explained by Konoye's reluctance to go into such detail before the meeting, or by Konoye's and the Embassy's lack of confidence in the security of the U.S. codes. Why he did not present them in this detail later on in his books* I do not know. The specifics of the arrangement, clearly enabling the Allies to maintain control of the implementation of the settlement, would seem to add to the strength of Grew's case that the Konoye-Roosevelt meeting should have been held.

The arrangements through the Swiss and Spanish Governments for our exchange with Japanese diplomats, businessmen and others held in the U.S. finally fell into place, with June 18 as our scheduled sailing date. We would travel aboard the "Asama Maru" via Hong Kong, Saigon and Singapore, through the Sunda Straights, and across the Indian Ocean to Lourenzo Marques (now Maputo), the capital of Mozambique. There we would meet the Swedish cruise ship, "Gripsholm", which would have brought the Japanese repatriates from New York. They would board the "Asama Maru" for Tokyo while we proceeded on the "Gripsholm" via Rio to New York.

As June 18 approached, Grew pondered how he could most safely carry out his report. While our persons and effects should under diplomatic usage not be searched, we had no assurance that the Japanese would respect that rule, as they had not respected many other rules of diplomatic privilege during the internment, notably their December 8 search of the Embassy premises.

After discussing the problem with Dooman and others he decided to make seven copies of the 60-page, legal size document to be carried, one copy each, on his own, Dooman's, Crocker's, Bohlen's, my and a couple of other Embassy officers' persons, on the theory that the Japanese would be less likely to search us than our baggage. The problem, it became apparent when the seven copies were ready, was that they did not fold very well, producing a noticeable bulge in our pockets. So someone conceived the idea of making two holes at the top of each of the copies and hanging them down our backs inside our shirts, suspended by concealed strings around our necks. On our arrival aboard the ship, we would all repair to the Grews' cabin and hand over our copies to him, to be kept in a locked box throughout the voyage.

The early morning of June 17 we were taken in a line of police escorted taxis to the Tokyo Railroad Station. We walked in between lines of police to a large waiting room. There had been collected several score American and other diplomats, missionaries, businessmen, newsmen and others who had been held at various points around Tokyo. The newsmen, who the Japanese assumed were all spies, had been held in close confinement or prison, often in solitary, constantly interrogated and in many cases tortured. Later, on the ship, some of them demonstrated the "water cure" torture to which they had been subjected, some many times. There was much handshaking as friends met after six months separation and exchanged experiences.

After an hour or so we boarded a special train and rode by a roundabout route through Kawasaki directly to shipside. There were no searches or inspections of any kind on the train or as we boarded the "Asama Maru," a fairly large liner. Aboard the ship we were joined by many more American and other repatriates collected from all over Japan. Those of us who had carried aboard copies of Grew's report delivered them to him in his cabin as planned.

Soon word spread that a hitch had developed and that our departure would be delayed. The ship moved out to anchor beyond the breakwater, and the next day it moved again to an anchorage further out in the bay. For a week we sat there, with launches full of Foreign Office and other officials and police coming and going, and with constant rumors of our imminent departure or of our return to shore. One newsman, Max Hill of AP, who had spent almost his entire internment in solitary under torture, said that if we did not depart he would commit suicide. He clearly meant it, and in fact did commit suicide some years later, perhaps due in part to what he had suffered in confinement.

The Long Voyage Home

About midnight of June 24 I went on deck. A large group of crewmen were debarking from a launch, a nearby gunboat was frantically signaling with lights, and further down the deck I heard policemen saying goodbye. I woke some Embassy colleagues up in time to see the Foreign Office launch leave for the last time. The anchor came up and the ship began to move. And then, just as we were being ordered off the decks, presumably to prevent our carrying back military secrets of the harbor, the great white cross, perhaps 40 feet wide and tall, high up at the front of the ship, lit up. Our lives would depend on its safe-conduct message being seen and respected by enemy and friendly surface warships and submarines as we made our way through active war zones around Asia and across the Indian Ocean to Africa.

This is perhaps a fit point to repeat a story Chip Bohlen told me years later. He had attended a party in Moscow where the company included a former German naval officer. Someone brought up the diplomatic exchanges early in the war, and Bohlen mentioned that he had been on the "Asama Maru." The former naval officer looked at him and said that he (Bohlen) was lucky to be alive. He told how he had been a submarine skipper in the Indian Ocean, and one very dark and foggy night had seen a large ship about to cross his path which he had assumed to be an allied ship. He had ordered torpedoes into the tubes and was just about to give the order to fire when the fog cleared and he saw the great, lighted cross. He and Bohlen toasted fate and each other with vodka.

Hymns were sung on Sundays

Space permits recounting of only one other incident of the long voyage home. Mr. Grew had worried as we approached Lourenzo Marques what he should do if he met Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Admiral Kichisaburu Nomura in the street. They were longtime friends and he would normally have been glad to greet him, but now Nomura was an Ambassador of a country with which the U.S. was at war. Grew had no desire to have a photograph of Nomura and him chatting together shown all over the Free World. He decided that if they met he would bow stiffly and pass on without pausing.

And meet they did, in the main street. Nomura was accompanied by Ambassador Saburo Kurusu, who had been sent to Washington a month or so before the outbreak of war to assist Nomura. I happened to be with Grew. Nomura smiled broadly at Grew and started over with his hand outstretched, trailed by Kurusu. Grew never slackened his pace. Bowing coldly, he ignored the outstretched hand, and passed on. The incident long rankled with him, but he never doubted that he had done the right thing.

Report to Hull

We docked in New York on August 25. The ship was immediately flooded with State Department and other officials and newsmen, almost all of whom headed for Grew. After he had met with the press and dealt with the most pressing arrival problems, the two of us were taken by limousine to the station and entrained for Washington.

There we were met by Grew’s own car and driver and driven to his home at 2840 Woodland Drive. He unpacked, read some mail and made some phone calls. And then as we were finishing an early dinner the doorbell began to ring. One after another a half dozen old friends, including James Forrestal and Harry Hopkins, came in to welcome Grew home and hear his account of events before and after Pearl Harbor.

The next morning, armed with the original copy of his report, he and I climbed into his car and drove to the southwest corner of the State Department, where Secretary Hull's office was located. Perhaps a dozen reporters and cameramen awaited, peppering Grew with questions and flashes as we worked our way through to Hull's outer office. Under Secretary Welles was away. After a few moments wait Grew was ushered into Hull's office. I sat outside and tried to answer his and Welles' secretaries' questions about our experiences.

About 25 minutes later the Secretary's raised and clearly irate Tennessee accents penetrated the oaken door. I could not make out what he was saying, but it was obvious that the meeting was not going well. Soon the door opened and Grew emerged looking somewhat shaken, with Hull nowhere in sight. Though it was still only mid-morning Grew suggested that we walk two blocks up the street to the Metropolitan Club for lunch.

When we were settled there I asked him what had happened. He replied that he had presented his report to the Secretary, explaining that although it had benefited from the comments and suggestions of the principal members of the Embassy. staff, who concurred in it, it was his personal report for which he alone was responsible. As the Secretary knew, he had continued, the Embassy's assessment of the situation in Japan during the latter part of 1941, and its views and recommendations on the course the U.S. should pursue, had not been accepted in Washington. There may of course have been factors known to Washington but not in Tokyo which would account for this, but no such factors had been communicated to the Embassy, most of whose messages had in fact received no reply at all. Nevertheless during the internment he had felt it his duty to review the record as it was available in Tokyo and to draw up for the Secretary, the President and the Department's classified files his frank appraisal of the course of the negotiations in the months before Pearl Harbor. It was his honest, confidential report--he had provided copies to no one and would not without the Secretary's express approval.

Hobson’s Choice

Grew said that the Secretary started to leaf through the report. As he did so, his face hardened and flushed. After a time he half threw the report back across the desk toward Grew and said, "Mr. Ambassador, either you promise to destroy this report and every copy you may possess or we will publish it and leave it to the American people to decide who was right and who was wrong." Taken aback, Grew said that he had replied that this was his honest, confidential report to his superiors in Washington, and that he could not in good conscience agree to destroy it. Neither could he be a party to its publication and a public controversy in time of war when national unity was essential. Subject to the Secretary's approval, he had decided that what he could most usefully do would be to undertake an extensive speaking tour around the country to inform the American people about Japan's military strength and the need to prepare for a long, though in the end inevitably victorious, Pacific war. The Secretary's response had been, "Mr. Ambassador, come back at 10:00 tomorrow morning and give me your answer on the alternatives I have presented."

I told Grew that I did not see how he could have given any other reply than the one he had. The next morning we climbed into his car again and headed down Rock Creek Parkway to Hull's office. This time there were no reporters or cameramen and Grew was promptly escorted into Hull's office. No sounds penetrated the oaken door, and after about 30 minutes the two emerged together smiling and obviously on friendly terms.

Again Grew suggested that we walk up the Metropolitan Club. After a while, since he had not volunteered any information, I asked him what had happened concerning his report. He said that the Secretary had not mentioned it, but that he had expressed strong support for his (Grew's) planned nationwide speaking tour. The rest of the time had been spent in a discussion of the war in Europe and other topics.

No Useful Purpose

Shortly afterward, with Grew's help, I obtained a position in the post-war planning activity at State preparing research/policy papers for the occupation of Japan. I continued to see Mr. Grew, who in 1944 was appointed Under Secretary of State for the second time, and once or twice tried to draw him out on what had happened to his report, since an exhaustive search of the Department's files had failed to reveal it. He never seemed to want to discuss the matter, nor did Dooman, whom I also saw from time to time.

Years later, during the Seventies and Eighties, after I had been assigned back to Washington, I made a determined effort to find a copy of the report. It seemed a shame for students of the pre-Pearl Harbor negotiations to be denied access to the personal assessment of those negotiations, written right after Pearl Harbor during the internment by our Ambassador on the spot. This seemed particularly true considering that he and Washington differed sharply on the proposed Konoye-Roosevelt meeting. The essential reasoning of each side--Washington's and the Embassy's--had long been in the public record, but I had never seen the Embassy's case set forth as eloquently and persuasively as in Grew's internment report. Having earlier confirmed that the report was not in the collection of Grew's papers at Harvard, I sought clues from Mrs. Marian Arnold, Grew's long-time secretary, and from members of his family, but all to no avail. The family told me that at one of his last meetings with them Mr. Grew (who died in 1965) had said that everything he wished to say to history was in his books. With this clear statement of Grew's wishes, and convinced in any case that no copy remains, I abandoned the search.

In Chapter XXXIV, "Pearl Harbor: From the Perspective of Ten Years," of his 1952 Turbulent Era-Volume I, Grew reaffirms in 131 pages the themes of his internment report. He then cites the contrary view of Herbert Feis, the noted historian, in his 1952 book, The Road to Pearl Harbor:

"If Konoye was ready and able - as Grew thought - to give Roosevelt trustworthy and satisfactory promises of a new sort, he does not tell of them in his "Memoirs." Nor has any other record available to me disclosed them. He was a prisoner, willing or unwilling, of the terms precisely prescribed in conferences over which he presided. The latest of these were minimum demands specified by the Imperial Conference of September 6, just reviewed. It is unlikely that he could have got around them or that he would have in some desperate act discarded them. The whole of his political career speaks to the contrary..."

Grew, as I have described, believed that face-to-face with Roosevelt, Konoye intended, and would have been able, to "get around" the minimum demands specified by the Imperial Conference of September 6 and earlier conferences.

Grew concludes his Turbulent Era account with the following:

"I may as well close this Postscript with a single sentence from Mr. Feis's book, taken out of context it is true, but in my ex-parte view it is the crux of the whole story. "It will always be possible," he writes, "to think that Grew was correct; that the authorities in Washington were too close to their texts and too soaked in their disbelief to perceive what he saw."

If, as one can only conclude from reading Chapter XXXIV in Turbulent Era, Grew in 1952 still firmly held to the views he had expressed in his report to Hull and Roosevelt, why did he not insist on the report's being accepted by Hull in 1942, incorporated in the Department's classified files, and made available to historians 25 years later in The Foreign Relation of the United States, 1941, Japan? Why did he apparently destroy every copy?

I do not know, but my best guess is that he decided that pressing the report on a resistant Hull would serve no useful purpose, and would on the contrary cut him (Grew) off from Hull and the Department and the support he needed from them to do what he felt was much more important at that point, to tour the country to awaken the people to Japan's military strength and the prospect of a long war. He may also have been looking ahead to the end of the war, wishing to do nothing which would jeopardize the possibility of his being able to influence the terms the Allies offered Japan, particularly concerning the disposition of the Emperor. As for his obligations to history, he may have concluded that he could tell his story later in articles or books when doing so would no longer have the above-cited disadvantages.

Supporting this hypothesis is the fact that, with his report removed as an obstacle, Grew was able to carry out his speaking tour in 1942-43 and in 1944-45 was able to exert important influence on Allied occupation policies, especially concerning the Emperor. He was also able to publish his view of the 1941 negotiations in his books--a limited account in his Ten Years in Japan in 1944 and a fuller account in Turbulent Era in 1952, after he had retired from the Government.

Fifty Years Later

Having reviewed the arguments pro and con Konoye's proposed meeting with the President from the vantage point of 50 years later, what should one conclude? My own views are as follows:

1) The U.S. should have agreed to the meeting. There was certainly some basis for believing that an acceptable settlement could have been achieved at the meeting, and that it could have been successfully implemented over an 18-24 month period. Washington's contention that if the meeting were held and failed, the situation would be worse than if it had not been held at all is hard to accept. How could the aftermath of a failed meeting have been worse than what actually happened - a terrible, four years war?

2) The odds, I believe, are that if the meeting had been held, it would have produced an agreement. Whether that agreement would have been effectively accepted and implemented in Japan is less certain. Persuasive as Konoye's and Grew’s arguments were, Japan in 1941 may have been too much under military domination and too committed to the goal of Japanese hegemony in East Asia to reverse course except as a consequence of defeat by superior military force. One has to suspect that Konoye. and Foreign Minister Toyota in their conversations with Grew overstated General Tojo's and other Japanese military authorities' support of the meeting proposal and their commitment to implementation of the settlement terms Konoye hoped to bring back from the meeting. But that having been said, the real possibility remains that Konoye and Grew were right, that the Emperor's and the Japanese public's disillusionment with Japan's war course was so strong that Konoye's proposed U.S.-Japan settlement terms would have been overwhelmingly welcomed in Japan and effectively carried out.

3) Grew's analyses, views and recommendations submitted to Washington during the summer and fall of 1941 were wholly sound. He strongly urged that the meeting be held, for all the reasons brought out above, but he always acknowledged that it might not succeed. He rightly did not accept Washington's contention that if it failed, the situation would be worse than if it had not been held. His reporting of the situation in Japan, his analysis of Japanese psychology, and his warnings of the imminence of war if the meeting opportunity was let pass could not have been more perceptive and accurate.

Might the Pacific War have been avoided? I believe that it might, that Washington failed to capitalize on a credible opportunity to avoid it at no sacrifice of principle or interest.

 


The Konoye elements of my account prompt a brief postscript.

One of the papers I prepared toward the end of my postwar planning work at State concerned "The Apprehension, Trial and Punishment of Japanese War Criminals." When I left for Japan in early October 1945 to serve as Special Assistant to Ambassador George Atcheson, the Political Adviser to General MacArthur, I took a copy of this not yet finally approved paper with me and gave it, along with other such papers, to Atcheson for his information.

In mid-November Atcheson called me into his office to say that he had just had a call from General MacArthur complaining that although a number of major "Class A" war criminals had been arrested and were in jail, he wanted an additional list of such "Class A" war criminals on his desk within, as I recall, 24 hours, so that he could immediately order them arrested.

Atcheson said that since I had drafted the not yet officially received war criminals directives, I was the logical one to compile the requested list. I said that my work had concerned the arrest, trial and punishment of Japanese war criminals of all the various "Classes," but that it had not extended to which individual Japanese were guilty of war crimes. Nevertheless I said that I thought I could obtain the help I needed to compile the requested list.

I thereupon called Herbert Norman, a Canadian, a leading Japan scholar and a friend from pre-war days, who was attached to General MacArthur's headquarters in an intelligence capacity. With his long experience in Japan and language fluency, I knew that Norman would be able to add much to my knowledge of who the major Japanese war criminals were. Together that evening at the Dai Ichi Hotel where we were both billeted we drew up a proposed list, with a brief statement of our reasons for each name. I handed it to Atcheson in the morning, he had it delivered at once to General MacArthur, and banner headlines a day or two later announced that all had been arrested.

Some time later MacArthur called Atcheson to say that he was sure there were more Japanese major war criminals, and that he wanted a second list. I met again with Norman, who this time argued strongly that Konoye should be included because of the positions of highest responsibility which he had occupied over most of the pre-Pearl Harbor decade, including when Japan attacked China in 1937. In compiling the first list I had resisted Norman's view that Konoye should be included, arguing that he had never been an active protagonist of Japan's aggressive course but rather, as an inherently somewhat weak and indecisive man, had allowed himself to be used by aggressive elements. And he had seen the light in 1941 and done his utmost, at the risk of his life, to reverse Japan's military course, through his plan for the meeting with President Roosevelt. Norman said that he appreciated these points, but that we could not omit from our list someone who had held the positions which Konoye had held and who possessed the intimate knowledge of the Japanese pre-war decision process and of critical top-level pre-war meetings which he did. His status would be less that of a major war crimes suspect than of a material witness.

And so we agreed to include Konoye in the second list. But we also agreed that if he were arrested, we would get word to him of the special circumstances attending his arrest. With his far more extensive Japanese contacts than mine, Norman undertook to find someone who would convey this message.

Konoye was notified of his arrest on December 6, and ten days later, in the early morning of the day he was to report to Sugamo Prison, he committed suicide. Norman told me that he had arranged for a Konoye confidant to pass our message to him, but we never learned whether it got through. If it did, it probably had little influence. The word that reached us from the Konoye circle of intimates was that as a two-time Prime Minister and long time adviser to the Emperor, and with his noble lineage extending back a thousand years, his pride could not endure the humiliation of standing in court as a suspected war criminal. In his Konoe Fumimaro - A Political Biography, 1983, Yoshitake Oka relates how a few hours before his death Konoye asked his son, Michitaka, for pen and paper and wrote the following:

"I have made many political blunders beginning with the China War, and I feel my responsibility for them deeply. I find it intolerable, however, to stand in an American court as a so-called war criminal. The very fact that I did feel responsible for the China War made the task of effecting a settlement all the more crucial to me. Concluding that the only remaining chance to achieve a settlement of the war in China was to reach an understanding with the United States, I did everything in my power to make the negotiations with the United States a success. It is regrettable that I am now suspected by the same United States of being a war criminal."
 


* Ten Years in Japan (1944) (available from Amazon.com) and Turbulent Era (1952). The official Washington-Embassy Tokyo cables and other correspondence of the period are contained in The Foreign Relations of the United States, 1941, Japan. 
 


Robert A. Fearey served as a Foreign Service Officer for 38 years, retiring in 1979. His last assignments included Civil Administrator of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa), for which he received the Department of the Army's Distinguished Civilian Service Award, and Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Combatting Terrorism.  He then served as Special Assistant to the President of Population Action International for 18 years. He is the author of The Occupation of Japan, and two other books. In 1982 he was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Prime Minister of Japan for his role in the reversion of the Ryukyu Islands to Japan.

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