The Menace of Japan


By THE HONORABLE JOSEPH C. GREW, Former Ambassador to Japan

Delivered Before the Academy of Political Science, New York City, November 10, 1942

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 155-157.

FOR more than ten years it was my responsibility to act as the representative of the United States in Tokyo. Throughout that time I was aware of the portentousness of American-Japanese relations. It is scarcelya confession for me to admit to you that this responsibilitywas the weightiest—and at the end, the most sorrowful—which I have ever borne. Yet in coming before you tonight, I feel that I am carrying out a mission even more urgent, even more weighty, than the one I undertook in Tokyo, In Japan, I served as the representative of the American people

and government; with my colleagues in the world-wide system of the Foreign Service, I sought to hold America's diplomatic front against the threat of crisis and war. But in coming before you tonight, I carry no formal diploma. My mission is not to any one of you alone, but to all of you. I am charged by my own knowledge of dangerous truth to put that truth before you. I can succeed only if I make this truth plain to each of you.

The truth I bring to you is simple. It is the story of the power of our enemies, the Japanese. I bring this story to you almost directly from Tokyo; it is not so many months ago that I lived in the midst of our enemies, that I beheld their power, and saw the "glory" which they thought their weapons had achieved. Even in coming back to America, I saw further evidences of the terrible power and successful criminality of Japan. I saw one of the world's greatest naval bases—Shonanko on Shonanto. A huge city fed the commercial and war fleets of victorious Japan. Rubber and oil were plentiful—for Japan. Out of sight, but known to be there, huge shipyards and drydocks worked for Japan. A cosmopolitan population, vast in number, and including thousands and thousands of English-speaking prisoners, worked in bondage for Japan. That was Shonan—which is the Japanese phrase for Southern Glory. Not so long ago, we knew it as Singapore.

We cannot and must not deceive ourselves about the war in the Pacific. Japan launched the Northwestern and Far Western Pacific campaigns. These were a war in themselves, and Japan has temporarily won that particular war. Japan has beaten us in the Philippines—and our allies in neighboring areas—as she has never beat the Chinese in China. What we now face is a long, slow recovery of our own losses—only ultimately the attack on the enemy's own cities and bases—if we do not realize the magnitude of the task, and equip ourselves for it. We rejoice at each victory of our armed forces in the Solomons, forgetting that a few months ago the Solomons were uncontested British territory. We must remember that each victory won today is only a stepping-stone in the rolling back of Japan's advances.

Let me tell you why Japan succeeded. Let me present the case to you forthrightly and simply. To you, I am no representative of a foreign power, pleading for the recognition of a cause. I am your own former ambassador from Tokyo, and I plead for nothing but the truth. This truth can be put in three sentences:

Japan temporarily won the struggle for the Western Pacific because Japan was immensely strong—physically strong, technically strong, militarily strong, and most of all, psychologically strong.

Japan—the Empire of Nippon—was strong when the war started, but the new Japan—the great slave empire of the Greater East Asia—is today potentially the strongest power in the world.

Japan can be beaten; but Japan can be beaten only by physical and moral strength equal to or greater than her own, and that strength can be supplied only by the all-out effort of all Americans.

There you have it. These three sentences are all I have to tell. Some of you may see the picture, the whole picture, now. Others may prefer that I follow out, in general terms at least, the implications of these statements. First, Japan is strong. Japan is not a little country. The Japanese are not a little people, except in stature, and they more than compensate for stature by vigor and skill. There are more Japanese than there are Englishmen, or Frenchmen, or Italians. Japan is about as populous as the German Reich, and each single Japanese is a part of an effective war machine. Man for man, nation for nation, Japan measures up to the highest standards of organized power in the modern world.

Japan is civilized, in her own way. This civilization is deep and beautiful, but its culture has a streak of brutality and subservience in it which makes Japanese ideals alien to ours or to the ideals of the Chinese, or any other of her neighbors. Japan was well-ordered and metropolitan when New York, in our infant Republic, was a small commercial port and Washington a scattered village in the thickets along the Potomac. At that time, the Emperor Napoleon never saw—perhaps never knew about—the largest city in the world he sought to conquer. That city was not his Paris, nor the London he sought to conquer, nor the Moscow where he met nemesis; that largest city was Yedo, which we know as Tokyo, where a vast dictatorship held a great urban culture under absolute and unrelenting control. Out of this old, big, rich, strange civilization, there emerged the power and brutality of modern Japan. It was no miracle that Japan adopted our machinery and our weapons so rapidly: Japanese civilization did it—despotic, sophisticated, military civilization.

Japan is unified, and pervasively governed. The Japanese live by their own rules. They swept ahead of Asia by the dictates of their rulers. They were accustomed to authoritarian, totalitarian government from the ages of their past growth. When Hitler was a maladjusted, unhappy student, and Mussolini an ardent young radical, the Japanese military leaders were men of foresight and ruthlessly cold vision. They already had an obedient, faithful people at their command—a people who believed in the rule of the warrior, in the unfreedom of the common man, in the superiority of the Japanese race to all others, and in the absolute incontrovertible rightness of what their government did. Japanese democracy never went behind these assumptions; Japanese freedom never included the freedom to challenge the Kokutai—literally the national body—of the Empire of Japan. Hitler fought the German people first, with the Stormtroopers and the SS., before he captured the German state and the German Wehrmacht as instruments of renewed attacks on free men; but the Japanese leaders never faced an effective opposition. They inherited their power from the dictatorial, military past of Japan; when the hour came for them to bid for wider power, perhaps for world dominion, they stepped smoothly into their inheritance. Today, we probably have spiritual allies among the German people; we have few among the Japanese. Whatever they may have believed, the Japanese today support their government. That is the difference between the raw new authoritarianism of Hitler, and the old suave authoritarianism of Japan. Germany will stand just so much, and will then collapse from within; the Japanese will stop fighting only when the last platoon of infantry, and the last torpedo-boat crew on the water, have no further hope. It is my considered opinion—and in the course of two wars I have seen each at first hand—that as soldiers the Japanese are definitely superior to the Germans.

Civilized, unified, military, Japan is also up-to-date. In the big cities of Japan, skyscrapers floated on pools of sand, ingeniously built to withstand the concussion of earthquake. The streets are asphalted, and clean. Busses and streetcars run regularly and well. Private homes are cheaply built, but simple and tasteful; the Japanese find them comfortable, and if one burns down, it costs a fraction of the cost of an equivalent American home to replace. The Japanese have extracted the best of their old thrift and the best of modern industrialism. They combine them. In the shadow of long-range electric power lines, the common peasants follow an intensive agriculture which keeps the home Empire blockade-proof and self-sufficient. In the modern factories, which produce at speeds and standards equalling our own, the labor force lives by the old Japanese scale, and makes possible the price competition which we all knew before the war. Thisup-to-dateness of Japan, economically as well as psychologically, depends on the traditional Japan. The Japanese soldier or sailor who lives and fights like a Spartan is not undergoing privation; he has been a Spartan from birth. Just because a Japanese operates a battleship, a machine lathe, a modern locomotive, or a combat plane, he does not become un-Japanese; he is still a tough, simply satisfied man who believes in obedience and who is used to hard living because he has known no other. To call a Japanese worker or soldier a "coolie" is to forget the most dangerous thing about him: the fact that he, no less than you or I, is a man of the twentieth century and can fight, perhaps beat us at some of our own games and with some of our own weapons. Such is the home Empire of Nippon. I do not have time to tell you of the internal sea communications which make of the Japanese Empire an immense, immobile and unmovable fleet—a fleet larger than the mind of man has ever dreamed of building—anchored forever close to the coast of Asia. Islands are unsinkable aircraft carriers, and Japan is all islands. Beyond this, I wish there were time to tell you of the newly-built, up-to-date Japanese merchant marine, of the efficient navy, the huge army, the indispensable factories working at full time, the diversity and richness of the resources of Japan. You have known that these things were there; remember it now, keep it in mind, and consider with me what Japan has added.

To the home Empire which I have described, Japan has added immense possessions in three wars of conquest—the war with China in 1895, the war with Russia in 1905, and the present war, which began in Manchuria in 1931. Japan has taken Korea, China's Manchurian provinces, the grain lands and coal and iron of North China, the dairy land of Inner Mongolia, the coast and main rivers of most of China, with the biggest cities of China; Japan has taken Formosa and Hainan, Indochina and Thailand, Burma and British Malaya, the vast empire of the Netherlands Indies, our daughter democracy of the Philippines, some of the British, Portuguese and Australian islands of the Southwest Pacific, and the strategic Andamans in the Bay of Bengal. Militarily and navally, this new and greater Empire depends on internal communications, which—in simple language—means that we have to go the long way around while they work the short way through. To contain and roll back such an empire, the encircling forces cannot be merely equal; they must be superior, and be superior in geometric, not arithmetical, ratio. Economically—mark this, for here is the very essence of danger—economically, the so-called Greater East Asia contains everything, absolutely everything, which a great power needs. Grain, meat, fish, fruits, tobacco, palms for oil, sugar, rubber, oil, coal, iron, electric power, labor skilled and unskilled—all of this is there. The strong Japan which has defeated us and our allies momentarily in the Far East has become Japanese East Asia. If Japan could defeat indomitable China, organize her present holdings, consolidate her position, Japan—not Germany, not Britain, not Russia, not ourselves—Japan could become the strongest power in the world. The Japanese need only one thing: time. They must try to correct their own political mistakes and military offenses. They must try to browbeat or cajole the peoples whose lands they have occupied. They must get the machinery, technical and financial, of exploitation going at full blast. Japan is entrenching herself in this empire of her conquests so rapidly that days are our most precious possessions in the war. To lose a day is as bad as losing a ship. We cannot wait. We cannot be leisurely. We cannot afford debate, or disunity, or indecision. Japan is getting stronger every hour, and this new Japan is not merely our equal; the new Japan is potentially our military superior. If we fight there,soon, and hard, we shall not have to fight here, later on, and with heavy handicap.

Do you not see the second of the truths I have stated: the fact that this new Japan, conceived in the invasion of China and born in the conquests of 1942, is a new, terrible power not known before in the world? We cannot let this slave empire become entrenched! I am sure that you cannot fail to see this.

As Americans, we can see the third truth in our own hearts. We know that there cannot be the slightest doubt of our own victory; but we must all see and understand that the task is a heavy one. China, the largest and most patient nation in the world, has stopped the thrust of Japanese invasion with the living bodies of her young men—indeed of men, women and children; she has built a new and unforgettable Great Wall with the heroic Chinese dead, who have died to protect free men in China and everywhere. But China has done her share, and more; China alone cannot defeat Japan. We must weigh and tip the scales to victory. We cannot accept an armistice or stalemate,—for the hours are with Japan, not with us. If we do not fight at our very hardest, and fight now, the period of our blood, sweat and tears may be indefinitely and unnecessarily prolonged. We cannot pause, or hesitate, or kill time—"as if you could kill time without injuring eternity!"

The Japanese are counting on our not being prepared to make great sacrifices. They have put great store in what they think to be our softness. They look upon us as constitutional weaklings, demanding our daily comforts and unwilling to make the sacrifices demanded for victory. The Japanese attach great importance to what they thought was our disunity over the war issue, and they count on us to delay before we develop a fighting spirit. That delay, they feel, will give them time to obtain complete control of all East Asia. When they struck, they made no provision for failure; they left no road open for retreat. Japan is counting on you—on each of us—one by one—to hold back and delay the American war effort long enough for Japan to consolidate her potential invincibility. Japan needs and relies upon your hesitation, or partial effort, or doubt. It is up to you and me to see that Japan does not get this.

If we act soon, we can strengthen our Chinese ally. We can, as Mr. Forrestal recently pointed out, continue to protect Russia's Asiatic flank by holding Japan's forces in the Pacific. We can restore hope and can carry the four freedoms to all the peoples now enslaved by Japan. If we fight and give aid now, we shall still have allies in Asia, bases in Asia, and an enemy not yet wholly prepared. Any advantages of delay today can be purchased only at one price: larger numbers of deaths of our own soldiers and our allies' today and tomorrow. We can buy additional hours for leisurely preparation with additional lives of our young men. We could buy peace only with our national honor and our own security. None of us wants to do this.

We must, therefore, be prepared to go forward against Japan with a full realization of the nature of our task and the gravity of our responsibility. Every adult in the United States, even every child that can walk and speak, can help in some way to promote the war effort. The troops are only the fighting front of the army which is America. We are all enlisted—of necessity—in this war for freedom. In this battle, we can do no better than to recall and to make our own resolve in the words of an American soldier, Martin Treptow, who fell at Chateau Thierry. He wrote in his diary,

"I will work; I will save; I will sacrifice; I will endure; I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost; as if the whole struggle depended on me alone."