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JAPAN AND AMERICA, c1930-1955:


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

Some 1997 Reflections on General John F. O'Ryan's 1940 Economic Mission to Japan and Japanese-Occupied Manchuria, North China and Central China from Warren S. Hunsberger

The stated purpose of General O’Ryan’s mission to Japan and certain Japan-occupied regions on the Asian continent was to evaluate the prospects for American capital there. Norbert McKenna of Eastman Dillon Company in New York, who arranged my participation, seems in retrospect to have expected that the Axis powers would control Europe, and Japan would control much of Asia; Japan’s need for capital consequently made some American role in Japan’s Asia potentially reasonable from American as well as Japanese viewpoints.

My inclusion in the membership of the mission came after the others had been selected. When I learned of the plans, I was eager for such an experience, having started study of Japan’s economy without visiting that country. I was attached to the group as junior economist. Even such limited study of Japan’s economy as mine was rare in the 1930s. I received no stipend, although I understood that General O’Ryan and the two others were to receive fees.

As the group’s Asia visit progressed, the prospects for American capital in Asian areas under Japanese control, never bright, seemed to us ever less realistic. Soon the question Dr Whitney and I found crowding out others was the real motives, hopes, and expectations of those who arranged the elaborate and costly hospitality that was being showered on General O’Ryan, most of which we and Mrs Syroboyarsky shared. Could the Japanese possibly think we might believe their preposterous explanations? Might their thought be that lavish entertainment would buy our judgement? The mystery only grew. At the end I felt wholly unsure why the mission had been arranged and what the different Japanese actors involved might have thought at different stages of our trip.

So now, in 1997, after all these years, after all that has happened to throw light on the pre-Pearl Harbor period and to change Japan, the United States and the world, here is a retrospective speculation. In expressing these thoughts I reflect experience and study, but what I know of pre-Pearl Harbor Japan is still not so complete as to cover all Japanese views, especially those not widely expressed.

There may well have been Japanese who early on seriously thought that some deals might be made to attract American capital, especially in the form of loans rather than equity investments. What we learned about the squeezing out of non-Japanese firms would not reduce the ability of a Japanese debtor to service its debt in local currency, although the ability of the various Japan-sponsored regimes to transfer dollars would have had to be judged for any particular regime, as would other aspects of any deal, including the possibility of simply stopping payments.

Japan’s military surge was gaining momentum, and any arrangements for American capital would have had to assume strong Japanese control. France fell to Hitler’s armies while the O’Ryan Mission was stopping in Hawaii on the way to Asia. The Battle of Britain, which checked German bombers and prevented any attempted invasion of Britain from the sea, was joined when the mission returned to New York in August. Japan was about to sign the Axis Pact with Germany and Italy. Serious business or other concessions to the United States by Japan were not in prospect.

My present estimate is that if any prospects for even a single deal ever existed they disappeared early in July 1940 when the relatively moderate Yonai cabinet gave way to the second Konoye cabinet, with Matsuoka Yosuke as foreign minister. In the interview he gave Whitney and me that day before becoming foreign minister, Matsuoka made clear his uncompromising attitude that Japan would keep control in Asia; Americans and other non-Japanese would participate only at Japanese sufferance.

So why then did the Japan Economic Federation go through with the rest of the mission’s program, as though serious business negotiations might really be even remotely possible? I see two answers. First, complicated arrangements such as those for hosting our mission are even more difficult for Japanese than for Americans to change in mid-course. Second, some of the Japanese involved may have had a broader agenda than what they stated formally. I knew during the mission that Ayusawa was a Quaker and that he would go far to follow any path that might keep the peace. It was only decades later that I learned from Sawada’s son that the leader on the Japanese side, Sawada, also was a Quaker. Perhaps we were participating in a long-shot effort to avoid war, especially by way of the message the Japanese wanted General O’Ryan to send to President Roosevelt after returning to the United States.

I cannot now say what, if anything, might have prevented Japan-United States war. We know of many efforts to head it off. Perhaps the O’Ryan Mission was such an effort. The American Ambassador to Japan, Joseph C Grew, believed that if Japan’s prime minister could just meet with President Roosevelt, war might be averted. My own judgement is that no Japanese political leader who attempted to change the essential course of Japanese aggression after the Mukden Incident of September 1931 would have long survived Japan’s military assassins.

For me personally and professionally the mission was a very rewarding experience - a first trip to Japan and some of its occupied areas that included economics, finance, industry, politics, international relations, sightseeing, theatre, geisha parties - and some lasting friendships and other contacts. This experience must have influenced US Naval assignment officers in their choices for me during the Pacific War of duty, mainly at headquarters, relating to economics and to Japan, rather than sea duty for which my training and experience in both the Navy and merchant marine had prepared me.

Sadly, in December 1997, shortly before the publication of The O’Ryan Mission to Japan and Occupied China, 1940, Professor Warren Hunsberger died at his home town of Washington

D C.

We are very grateful for the help and support of Professor Hunsberger in compiling this collection of material and for the preface Some 1997 Reflections on General John F O’Ryan’s 1940 Economic Mission to Japan and Japanese-Occupied Manchuria, North China and Central China written by the professor only a few weeks before his death.



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