Saburo Kurusu’s Memoir of the Weeks before Pearl Harbor (Excerpt)

 From The Desperate Diplomat: Saburo Kurusu’s Memoir of the Weeks before Pearl Harbor, by J. Garry Clifford (Editor), Masako R. Okura (Editor), University of Missouri Press, 2016. pp. 60-65.

Chapter 4

Passing through the Places of
My Two Years of Service

Accompanied by Secretary Yuuki, from Otsubama I boarded a medium sized navy bomber early on the morning of 5 November. Our first schedule was to land at Taihoku (Taipei), but due to the weather, it was hurriedly changed and we landed at Chuyuan Air Field near Takao (Kaohsiung) on Formosa (Taiwan). As Chuyuan was a naval air station, there were numerous planes standing wing to wing. The behavior of the officers and men in station was indeed spirited, fully revealing their daily training and an aspect of the critical situation.

After entering the air station headquarters and paying courtesy to Commander Tsukahara, who reportedly had lost an arm in an air attack over Hankow, we were to be billeted overnight in an inn arranged by headquarters. We took a hot bath to relieve our fatigue from the early morning and enjoyed the atmosphere of a Japanese inn, our last for some time to come. The next morning, we were again aboard a bomber and flew to the Sixth Naval Base near Amoy. From there, we went to Amoy (Xiamen) aboard a small steamboat.

Guided by the consul, we toured the city of Amoy until the departure of the ship for Hong Kong sometime after midnight that night. I spent the time in sympathizing with the diligent efforts of the Portuguese to remain neutral while interposed between Japan and China and in visiting the gambling house called the Monte Carlo of the Orient.

We finally boarded the ship at midnight, and it was on the morning of the seventh that we arrived in Hong Kong. As my trip to America had been reported in the newspapers the day before, it seemed that a big crowd had gathered at the wharf. I boarded an automobile together with Consul-General Yano, who had come to greet me, and winding through the crowd, we headed for the point of departure of the plane for Manila. While in the automobile, I was told that the navy’s determination to keep troops on Hainan Island was unyielding. I boarded the small plane flying between Hong Kong and Manila for the trans-Pacific plane passengers and landed at Cavite at about 2 a.m.

Generally speaking, America, considering the Philippines as her base for advancing into the Orient, has been sending navy superior men, but it was the tendency of Japan, despite its proximity, to be neglectful. This was the place where I had served for two years as the first consul-general about twenty years ago when Japan’s policy was changed and the consular status was raised. Consequently, I had many friends, and since Conrad Penites, who, together with Consul-General Katsumi Niro and the representative of local Japanese residents, had come to greet me on the order of President Manuel Quezon, a friend whom I was meeting for the first time in twenty years, our hand-shake became vigorous of its own accord.

Because of my long years of residence abroad, Manila was a place of reminiscence. Consequently, even during the short interval on my way to Manila Hotel, where I, led by Penites, who came to greet us, registered as guest of President Quezon, various memories of twenty years ago returned and made me feel wistful.

Soon after having established myself at the hotel, I called on President Quezon. Led by an adjutant (Laurell’s son), who spoke fluent Japanese and reportedly had studied at the Military Academy in Japan, I entered the President’s chamber. Quezon welcomed me with an attitude short of embracing me.

My talk with Quezon, needless to say, primarily dealt with my mission to America. As we talked of our family’s welfare, then some of our friends and Quezon’s experience of two years of sickness, we practically did not know where to stop. In the meantime, Vice President Sergio Osmena came and our talk again returned to my mission. Quezon expressed great concern for the future of Japanese- American relations from the standpoint of a Filipino. I explained to him that the Japanese government was sincerely striving for the success of the Japanese-American negotiation and requested for the lateral support of influential Filipinos, including Quezon.

This talk did not touch on any problem in detail, but was merely an exchange of general views. During the conversation, Quezon revealed that the Philippines had been definitely promised independence in 1946, regardless of the outcome of the Japanese-American negotiation.

Then, I called on High Commissioner Francis B. Sayre at this official residence. This was not my first meeting with Sayre. On my way to assume my post in 1936 when I was appointed Ambassador to Belgium from my post as head of the Commerce Bureau, I had discussed with Sayre, who was then the second Under Secretary of State, two or three matters dealing with the Japanese-American cotton agreement and the taxes of three Japanese steamship companies, which were my unsettled affairs as head of the Commerce Bureau.

From the time of this negotiation in Washington, I had the idea that High Commissioner Sayre, together with Secretary of State Hull, was a champion of the principle of free trade and that there existed a very close relationship between the two. I had heard, also, that Sayre had visited Japan during the time of Admiral Yonai’s cabinet and had exchanged views with Foreign Minister Arita for the solution of the problem pending between Japan and America. As he was well known as President Woodrow Wilson’s son-in-law, I, thinking that to obtain Sayre’s understanding eventually might contribute to the progress of the negotiation in Washington, very frankly listed the reasons why I thought my mission was very difficult. I explained that he could readily see how pressing the relations between Japan and America was by merely looking at Manila today with its elaborate military preparations.

Sayre, then, wondered if I wasn’t being too pessimistic. Hence, I explained my view. Since the Washington Conference, some of the Chinese, considering the Nine Power Treaty and other agreements as white paper mandates for anti-Japanese movements and hastily concluding our country’s conciliatory diplomacy as evidence of the weakening of Japan under the pressure of England and America, have been depending on American and immediately carrying out anti-Japanese policies. As a result, the Japanese-American relations, not to mention the Sino-Japanese relations, have always been drawn into a vortex of war. Thus, the cause of the Japanese-American difference was complex and also deeply rooted. Nevertheless, America, without considering this fact, has been stubbornly trying to carry out her usual Chinese policies, it seemed, through her economic pressure against Japan. Such being the case, the settlement of the Japanese-American problems cannot help but be regarded as very difficult, and this was the reason I was concerned about the future of the Japanese-American diplomacy.

Secretary Lawrence Salisbury, who was present, expressed a similar opinion concerning the misconception of some Chinese in regard to the Washington Treaty. He was an old friend of mine dating from his undergraduate days at the University of Chicago. Not only had he been studying Japan for many years and was very fluent in Japanese, but he also was well acquainted with the details of the Sino-Japanese problems as he had served both in China and Japan. Since he was well known as a man who expressed very harsh criticism toward our diplomats concerning the actions of our military toward China, I felt very reassuring when he expressed a similar opinion as mine in regard to the Washington Treaty.

I, then, continued that America appeared to think that she could bring Japan under submission eventually through the abandonment of the trade agreement, the freezing of funds, and the charge on the export of important products to Japan, but this was a very dangerous point of view that ignored our national characteristics. I explained that the Japanese from old had a tendency always to choose honorable defeat rather than ignominious safety when confronted with danger and having to decide the next move. In regard to honorable defeat, I repeated its full meaning in Japanese and requested Secretary Salisbury, who was fluent in Japanese, to translate it.

After Sayre, in replying to this opinion, had explained the principle of world peace based on his pet theory of free trade, I retaliated and stated that leaving aside the question of the high tariff policy of America, herself, for the time being, I believed that the economic bloc policy, carried out by England since the so-called Ottawa Conference, was wholly contrary to the contentions of High Commissioner Sayre. Sayre explained that England’s policy and position after the war probably would change considerably and that she probably could not continue such a policy.

In other words, this discussion, too, had no concrete substance, but enabled me to realize fully that America, as usual, possessed a steadfast commitment in regard to the problem of the Open Door in China, which was one of the difficult points in the Japanese- American negotiation.

Later, I held an interview with foreign and Japanese reporters in my room in Manila Hotel just prior to attending the reception sponsored by Consul-General Niro. The questions fired at me by the reporters were manifold, but the principal point appeared to have been whether I was taking along a new plan of solution at this time. Of course, I had replied “no” to this.

The reception sponsored by Consul-General Niiro was attended by many Americans and Filipinos. High Commissioner Sayre had Admiral Thomas C. Hart, Commander-in-chief of America’s Far Eastern Fleet, were there. When my old friend, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo appeared, I remember seeing the old general, who was leaving early, off at the entrance. Since this get-together was purely a social affair, I can’t recall with whom I had talked on that occasion. However, High Commissioner Sayre appeared to have repeated his principle of free trade even on that occasion. While talking to Admiral Hart at this reception, I jokingly remarked, “In other words, I am going to negotiate to make you become unemployed.” As this was accidently overheard by a reporter, it appeared to have been reported as news.

Just as the reception was about to end, Quezon sent his private secretary to tell me that he wanted to talk to me once more. Quezon was an admirer of Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur as a man of character from old and often had expressed this during my tenure of office in Manila. Since he, during our discussion that day, had urged me to meet the General once, his business of that evening might have been this. However, since I couldn’t find the time for it, I lost my chance to talk with Quezon again forever.

When the Japanese-American war finally broke out, Quezon, it seemed, visited America, making speeches at various places, including the Congress, and holding interviews with newspaper reporters. During my internment, I read these newspaper accounts with special interest and I felt very reassuring to find out that he, as usual, was exhibiting his keen political intelligent everywhere.

This goes back to many years ago. It happened when I had completed my tenure as Counsel-General at Manila and was leaving the Philippines. A reporter, who was aboard the Santo Albano, on which I was, sent out a dispatch stating that I was one who held the independence of Philippines to be premature. Quezon, who read of this in the newspaper, became very indignant, it seemed, for later when he met me again in Japan on his way, if I remember correctly, to America, he immediately mentioned this article and rebuked me. I purposely replied that I, as stated in the article, thought that the independence of the Philippines was premature. Quezon, with a dubious look, asked me why. I asked him in return whom he would want as Japan’s first ambassador if the Philippines obtained her independence. As he replied, “You, of course, “I replied, “Look, I am merely a consul-general and it will take me some time to become an ambassador. That is why I believe the independence of the Philippines premature.” We both had a big laugh out of it.

As he was concerned about even such trifling newspaper reports, the contribution made by Quezon toward the achievement of the Philippines’ independence was indeed outstanding. I often had heard from numerous Filipinos and Americans, including Governor General Burton Harrison, of the effort exerted by him from the time he was the Philippines’ representative in Washington to the time of the passage of the Johnson Law and even after that. I always had a great respect for his fighting spirit, and the fact that he talked about his two years of fight against illness in our conversation that day was, in other words, a manifestation of his passion to fight for the independence of the Philippines even unto death. Today when his aim of many years has been completely achieved, I cannot help but be deeply moved on thinking that he, who had devoted his entire life to this movement, was now resting in Heaven.

After our defeat, I heard that Manila, which holds many fond memories for my family and myself, had been completely destroyed and that Intramuros, Luneta, and Escolta were practically ruined. To this destruction will become attached a very understandable enmity and an inevitable hatred in view of the loss of many of their loved ones, such as parents, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters, and the trampling of their dignity. On considering what the sentiment of the people of the Philippines will be toward the Japanese in the future, I, who had preached Japanese-Philippine friendship to Quezon for many years and had advanced it up to my last visit to Manila, cannot help but be appalled at the development of such a pathetic reality.


Saburo Kurusu
Author: Saburo Kurusu
(1886-1954) Japanese diplomat.

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