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JAPAN AND AMERICA, c1930-1955:

THE PACIFIC WAR AND THE OCCUPATION OF JAPAN

Series Two: The O'Ryan Mission to Japan and Occupied China, 1940

Editorial Introduction by Professor Elizabeth P. Tsunoda

The summer of 1940 was a critical time in American-Japanese relations. Hitler had overrun continental Europe and was preparing to invade England in the fall. Americans feared they would have to enter the war in Europe or abandon England to its fate, while Japanese military leaders viewed Hitler’s success as an opportunity to invade European colonies in Southeast Asia. By the summer’s end, Japan had signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and begun its southward advance. The United States had increased aid to Britain, instituted legal embargoes on exports to Japan, and stepped up planning for a two-ocean war. These decisions put the two countries on a course of collision with one another.

That summer, a group of Americans headed by General John F O’Ryan toured Asia at the invitation of the Japan Economic Federation [Nihom Keizai Renmeikai], a business lobby organized in 1921 to formulate recommendations on a wide variety of economic and foreign-policy issues. Members of the Federation included such elite businessmen as its president, Baron Gô Seinosuke, but also many lesser industrialists and financiers as well as academics, journalists, and an occasional government official acting as liaison between the Federation and the government. Sawada Setsuzô, chief architect of the O’Ryan mission, was a diplomat serving in that capacity at the request of his brother, a vice-minister in the Foreign Ministry. In the United States, the Federation worked through Nishiyama Tsutomu, who headed the Finance Ministry’s New York office and had personal contacts with American businessmen. One of these, Norbert A McKenna of Eastman Dillon Company, organized the mission on the American side.To lead it, he selected O’Ryan, the commander of a New York National Guard Division in World War I and, in 1940, a partner in the law firm Loucks, O’Ryan and Cullen. Two young economists, both recent Yale graduates, offered their services: Simon N Whitney was an advisor to Lionel D Edie and Company, a firm of investment counsellors; Warren S Hunsberger was a specialist on Japan’s economy then teaching at Princeton. While not formally a member of the mission, Mack Kleiman, a New Yorker with business interests in Japan, travelled with the group, contributing his expertise from time to time.

Chaperoned by members of the Japan Economic Federation, the visiting Americans toured Japan and Japanese-occupied areas of Asia, interviewing Japanese business and political leaders, as well as representatives of the foreign community in Asia. Their notes, including a diary kept by Simon Whitney, their reports, and materials prepared for them by their Japanese hosts form the core of this archive. Additional materials include American State Department memoranda relating to the mission in its planning stages and to the reports filed by members of the mission after their return to the United States. These materials afford a unique window on American and Japanese thinking during the summer of 1940, as each country made the decisions that, in retrospect, led to Pearl Harbor.

The O’Ryan mission materials are remarkable, in part, for their breadth. In Asia, the mission had access to such well-known figures as: Matsuoka Yôsuke, foreign minister and architect of the Tripartite Pact; Wang Ching-wei, the president of Japan’s puppet government in Nanking; Ayukawa Gisuke, founder of Nissan and, in 1940, president of the Manchurian Heavy Industry Development Corporation, and Ishibashi Tanzan, editor of the Oriental Economic Journal [Tôyô Keizai Shinpô] and a prime minister during the 1950s. On the American side, the mission drew comment from President Franklin D Roosevelt, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Ambassador Joseph C Grew, and Maxwell Hamilton, director of the State Department’s Far Eastern Division. Still more revealing, however, are the views expressed to members of the mission by a wide variety of lesser personalities: businessmen, government officials, and foreign service officers, many of whom are not readily identifiable today.


Taken together, these materials suggest that the summer of 1940 was a turning point in both Japanese and American thinking. While individuals in both countries continued to hope some way might be found to avoid war, by the summer’s end, most were pessimistic. The O’Ryan mission found that their Japanese hosts all but universally supported their government’s expansionist policies in Asia and believed, mistakenly as it turned out, that the Japanese economy could support war in China for as long as necessary. They also sensed, however, that the United States would prove an implacable foe of Japanese expansion and that a clash was, therefore, highly likely. On their return to the United States in September, members of the mission found that a similar hardening had occurred in American thinking. Convinced that Japan was the Germany of Asia, State Department officials took the view that Japan would have to be challenged and defeated sooner or later. On both sides of the Pacific, General O’Ryan and his economists interviewed men who, by September, were prepared to put the matter simply: Japan and the United States were enemies.

Efforts to avoid war did not end, of course, in the fall of 1940, but the sense that war was well-nigh inevitable may have contributed to the failure of those efforts. In this respect, too, the records of the O’Ryan mission are revealing, for the mission was but one of a series of peace initiatives organized by private individuals or agencies with the knowledge, and at least the tacit consent, of high-ranking figures in the Japanese government. The winter of 1940-1941 brought two more such private initiatives, both involving Japanese participants who had also taken part in sponsoring the O’Ryan mission. The first was organized on the American side by the unofficial member of the mission, Mack Kleiman. That was shortly followed by the better known effort termed the “John Doe Associates”. As is clear in the memoranda included in this archive, the American State Department took a dim view of such affairs, declining to treat with private emissaries or to allow private citizens to negotiate on behalf of the United States. It may be that the United States missed some chances to avert war in its adamant refusal to deal with Japan through such channels. Clearly, an influential group of dissidents did exist in Japan in 1940, and it had the surreptitious support of elite government officials, perhaps even Prime Minister Konoe. Yet the impression remains that no real opportunity was lost. The mainstream of Japanese opinion emerges clearly from the records in this archive, all but overwhelming the dissenting views of the men who sponsored the mission. Indeed, General O’Ryan and his economists had the opportunity to confer with several members of Japan’s dissident group and to find a basis for accord if one existed. None of the three came home believing that one did.

Finally, the records of the O’Ryan mission are important because they underscore the economic aspect of relations between Japan and the United States. Organized by business interests in both countries, the mission’s participants were concerned about long-term trade and investment relations as well as the immediate foreign-policy crisis. Japanese businessmen urged the Americans to look beyond present tensions toward future profits. Simon Whitney records that one of Norbert McKenna’s purposes in organizing the mission on the American side was to put his firm, Eastman Dillon, in an advantageous position when Japan and other Asian interests wanted to borrow money. In fact, when Japan was reopened to American investment in 1947, the irrepressible Mack Kleiman was back in Tokyo promoting deals with Sawada Setsuzô and a high-ranking bureaucrat in the pre-war Finance Ministry whom Kleiman had introduced to the O’Ryan mission. In 1940, irreconcilable political differences interrupted such business activities, but only temporarily. Since World War II, mutually advantageous economic relations have been a cornerstone not only of American-Japanese relations, but also of international stability. The records in this archive call attention to this important, but often overlooked continuity in American and Japanese thinking about international relations.

In this respect, the views articulated by General O’Ryan, to the growing distress of his colleagues on the trip to Asia and State Department officials after their return, are especially interesting. A businessman, an opportunist, and a pragmatist, O’Ryan was quite prepared to sacrifice fine points of principle if that would win Japan to the American side in the struggle with Hitler. He urged his fellow Americans to abandon their moralistic attitudes, table the divisive political issues between the two countries, and make whatever “friendly gestures” were needed to draw Japan into a defensive alliance with the United States. That perspective made O’Ryan few friends in the summer of 1940. On his return to the United States that fall, he found himself regarded as a suspicious person: incompetent, hopelessly naive, and guilty of harboring pro-Japanese sentiments. Yet, O’Ryan had his counterparts in the business-oriented policy makers like William H Draper, Jr who, in the late 1940s, redirected the goals of the American occupation toward an American-Japanese alliance and toward Japan’s economic recovery at the apparent sacrifice of democratic social reform. After 1945, in short, the business perspective characteristic of men like O’Ryan, Norbert McKenna, and Mack Kleiman came into its own and, in the context of a reconstructed Japan, bore fruit.

Thus, the records relating to the O’Ryan mission have much to tell us. First, they shed new light on the tragic events of 1940 and 1941. Equally important, however, they also offer insight into the postwar relationship between the United States and Japan and the foundations on which it has been built.

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