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  Library Correspondence Joseph Grew: Memorandum, May 28, 1945

Memorandum on Conversation on Japanese future
From: Joseph C Grew, Acting Secretary of the State
To: Franklin D Roosevelt, President of the United States of America
Date: May 28, 1945


After a conference this morning with Judge Rosenman I went with the Judge to see the President and set forth the purpose of our visit as follows:

In waging our war against Japan it is an elementary and fundamental concept that nothing must be sacrificed, now or in future, to the attainment and maintenance of our main objective, namely, to render it impossible for Japan again to threaten world peace. This will mean the destruction of Japan's tools for war and of the capacity of the Japanese again to make those tools. Their military machine must be totally destroyed and, so far as possible, their cult of militarism must be blotted out.

With the foregoing fundamental concepts as a premise it should be our aim to accomplish our purpose with the least possible loss of American lives. We should, therefore, give most careful consideration to any step which, without sacrificing in any degree our principles or objectives, might render it easier for the Japanese to surrender unconditionally now.

While I have never undertaken to predict with certainty anything that the Japanese may do, we must remember that the Japanese are a fanatical people and are capable, if not likely, of fighting to the last ditch and the last man. If they do this, the cost in American lives will be unpredictable.

The greatest obstacle to unconditional surrender by the Japanese is their belief that this would entail the destruction or permanent removal of the Emperor and the institution of the Throne. If some indication can now be given the Japanese that t hey themselves, when once thoroughly defeated and rendered impotent to wage war in future, will be permitted to determine their own future political structure,

They will be afforded a method of saving face without which surrender will be highly unlikely.

It is believed that such a statement would have maximum effect if issued immediately following the great devastation of Tokyo which occurred two days ago. The psychological impact of such a statement at this particular moment would be very great.

In a public message to his troops sometime ago Chiang Kai-shek, whose country has suffered more from the Japanese than any other country, said that in his opinion a defeated and penitent Japan should be permitted to determine its own future political structure.

The idea of depriving the Japanese of their Emperor and emperorship is unsound for the reason that the moment our backs are turned (and we cannot afford to occupy Japan permanently) the Japanese would undoubtedly put the Emperor and emperorship back again. From the long range point of view the best that we can hope for in Japan is the development of a constitutional monarchy, experience having shown that democracy in Japan would never work.

Those who hold that the Emperor and the institution of the Throne in Japan are the roots of their aggressive militarism can hardly be familiar with the facts of history. For approximately 800 years the Japanese Emperors were deprived of their throne in practice and were obliged to eke out a precarious existence in Kyoto while the Shoguns who had ejected them ruled in Tokyo and it was the Shogun Hideoshi who in the sixteenth century waged war against China and Korea and boasted that he would conquer the world.

The emperor Meiji who brought about the restoration of the throne in 1868 was a strong man who overcame the militaristic Shoguns and started Japan on a moderate and peaceful course. The emperors who followed Meiji were not strong men and it became relatively easy for the military extremists to take control and to exert their influence on the Emperors. If Hirohito had refused to support the military and approve the declaration of war in 1941 he would in all probability have suffered the fate of h is predecessors. In any case whether he was or was not war minded he would have been powerless to stem the tidal wave of military ambition.

The foregoing facts indicate clearly that Japan does not need an Emperor to be militaristic nor are the Japanese militaristic because they have an Emperor. In other words, their militarism springs from the military clique and cult in the country which succeeded in gaining control even of the Emperor himself and rendered powerless the Emperor's advisers, who in the years before Pearl Harbor were doing their best to restrain the hotheads. The assassinations in February 1936were undertaken by the military extremists for the specific purpose of purging the peace-minded advisers around the throne. General Tojo and his group who perpetrated the attack on Pearl Harbor were just as much military dictators as were the Shoguns in the old days and the Emperor was utterly powerless to restrain them regardless of his own volition.

The foregoing facts do not in any way clear Hirohito from responsibility for the war for, having signed the declaration of war, the responsibility was squarely on his shoulders. The point at issue is that the extremists group would have had their way whether the Emperor signed or not. Once the military extremists have been discredited through defeat the Emperor, purely a symbol, can and possibly will be used by new leaders who will be expected to emerge once the Japanese people are convinced that their military leaders have let them down. The institution of the throne can, therefore, become a cornerstone for building a peaceful future for the country once the militarists have learned in the hard way that they have nothing to hope for in the future.

I then submitted to the President a rough draft of a statement which he might wish to consider including in his proposed address on May 31. The President said that he was interested in what I said because his own thoughts had been following the same line. He thereupon asked me to arrange for a meeting to discuss this question in the first instance with the Secretaries of War and Navy, General Marshall and Admiral King and that after we had exchanged views he would like to have the same group come e to the White House for a conference with him. I said that I would arrange such a meeting at once for tomorrow morning and I asked Judge Rosenman to join us, which he said he would do. (The meeting was arranged in Mr. Stimson's office in the Pentagon Building for 11:00 a.m. tomorrow.)

Judge Rosenman thought that our draft statement could be somewhat tightened up and suggested three or four points which we shall endeavor to include in the statement.

Joseph C. Grew

Source: Foreign Relations of the United States 1945, vol. 6, 545-547
Thank you Paul Priest (priest@u.washington.edu) for providing this page!


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