Ishii Hanako, a woman with luminous, feline eyes and a round face, had never seen her man, Richard Sorge, so devastated in the five years she had known him. Entering his study—a simply furnished and cozy room cut off from the outside world by dark red drapes over the window—on that late-June evening, she saw him lying perfectly still on the daybed, his hand on his forehead. She sat beside him and was surprised to see tears in his eyes. Sorge buried his head in her lap and started to cry uncontrollably. “Why, why are you crying?” she asked, embracing him and patting his back, not knowing what else she could do to comfort him.
Hanako, whom Sorge preferred to call by her adoptive German name Agnes, was a petite woman who looked quite a bit younger than her twenty-nine years. Though not a great beauty, she was pretty in the way a child is pretty. Despite wearing heavy eye makeup and luscious lip color, she could not help seeming innocent. Sorge, tall and blue-eyed, was more than fifteen years her senior. Their age difference appeared even greater because of the deep wrinkles that lined his world-weary face. Sorge had been crying over the recent news of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union.
Sorge had met Hanako while she was working at the Rheingold, a beer hall in the Ginza. They had been together since the summer of 1936, though they kept separate homes. Hanako knew he was exhausted, and she sensed that his exhaustion was not of the usual kind. Her memory of Sorge losing control that day stayed with her for a long time.
Sorge was tired of his double life. As a German, his position in Soviet intelligence was becoming increasingly tenuous. The Communist doctrine that he wholeheartedly subscribed to was supposed to transcend the petty differences between countries, but the longer he spied for the Soviets, the more he found himself entrapped by the very differences he judged to be undesirable. Sorge’s brand of Communist ideology, more in line with the Comintern or utopian Marxism, was becoming a liability in Stalin’s Sovietized—and Russified—Moscow. Almost all of Sorge’s closest friends who were highly idealistic adherents of the Leninist doctrine had been purged by Stalin over the previous few years. He told a fellow spy in Tokyo, Branko de Vukelic, that he was convinced he would be killed if he were summoned back to Moscow.
Sorge took to drinking heavily. Hanako often stayed up late reading in his study, patiently waiting for her lover to come home, invariably drunk. On the day Germany opened fire on the Soviet Union, a member of the German embassy staff saw him inebriated at the Imperial Hotel. Sorge was trying to engage French, British, Americans, and others at the bar, but no one paid attention to the rambling drunk. He shouted in English that Hitler was a bastard to break the pact of nonaggression with Stalin. The man from the German embassy was sympathetic, and he booked a room for Sorge upstairs, lending him enough money for the stay. Sorge was lucky not to have been denounced.
In the wake of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, as Sorge and Ozaki had correctly surmised, Japan put any northward plans on indefinite hold, seeing the south as its priority. But doubt persisted among some observers because of a qualification attached to the imperial resolution: “Should a favorable development arise for the empire due to the changing conditions of the German-Soviet war, we shall resolve the northern problem by military force … [after] preparing secretly for war with the Soviet Union.” This, though, was primarily a face-saving clause for the army, which was unhappy that the navy was bragging of plans to fight a war with Britain and the United States in the Pacific.
To keep pace with the navy, and also for the sake of all-around preparedness, the army pushed for a major mobilization, effective July 7, aiming to transport 850,000 soldiers along with a large amount of military equipment to northern China by mid-August. As noted earlier, the Japanese army’s dream scenario was for the Soviets to move their troops from the Far East to the European front, thus thinning their defense against the Japanese. The new army plan was called a “special demonstration,” but in its sheer scale it seemed more like a mobilization for war. Ozaki later recalled that the development led him to think twice that a Japanese war with the Soviet Union was imminent after all. Germany hoped that was true. Stalin, of course, continued to be terrified by the prospect of a two-front war. With German troops close to Moscow, the Kremlin was desperate to know more about Japanese designs. Sorge and Ozaki would be busy.
Because of this new army policy, Soldier U, home from the Chinese front since March 1938 and now thirty-five years old, was called back up in mid-July. As it was explained to him, the conscription was only provisional (in bureaucratic terms, this meant that even those who had just been sent home after years of active service could be enlisted again). When Soldier U first left for China in the summer of 1937, he was given a great send-off. There was no such celebration this time. The thought of once more leaving his family made him despair, but he knew he simply had to close his shop, say good-bye, and report. He wished that he would be turned away after the physical exam, but he passed with flying colors and was soon getting ready for his new, unexplained duties in Manchuria.
WITH TOKYO NOT REACTING to the Indochinese neutralization proposal, Washington began enforcing a petroleum embargo on August 1. Technically, it was not meant to be the “total” embargo that had been proposed in congressional debates. Instead, oil trade with Japan was to be placed under a much stricter licensing procedure, with Japan still able to purchase low-grade oil unsuited for aircraft. Hawks like Dean Acheson, the assistant secretary of state for economic affairs, and Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr. took full advantage of the bureaucratic complexities of the licensing system. Working together, the State, Treasury, and Justice Departments ensured that appropriate funds would not be released to complete any petroleum transactions with Japan. Hull, ill when the freezing of assets went into effect in late July, only grasped the full extent of the oil embargo in early September.
As the crisis with the United States precipitously heightened, Konoe’s flaws became even more pronounced. He found more excuses not to act, especially when he felt cornered—as he was now by Arita Hachiro. The veteran diplomat, who had served in four different cabinets as foreign minister, including Konoe’s first, wrote him on August 1 saying that Konoe should not have allowed the occupation of southern Indochina while Japan was engaged in negotiations with the United States. Arita had not always been accommodating toward the Anglo-American powers, so this was a significant condemnation.
Konoe responded to Arita on August 3, after the petroleum embargo began:
It was a mistake to think that [the occupation of] French Indochina would not inflict serious damage.… [But] when the new cabinet [after Matsuoka’s removal] was formed, [the Japanese navy ships bound for Indochina] had already reached the island of Hainan. It was as if an arrow had already been shot and nothing could have been done to stop it.
All he could do, he said, was “pray for a miracle and divine intervention.”
Was it really too late to reverse the course of Japan’s southern program at that stage? Broadly speaking, one of the biggest obstacles to withdrawing from a war, especially a war you are losing, is justifying the blood spilled and the money spent. For example, when the U.S. Senate was sharply divided over the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in June 2006, the Democrats argued that the war had cost the United States too much already. The Republican administration, maintaining that any kind of withdrawal would be as good as conceding defeat, made emotive claims about the importance of having “the courage of our convictions” to fight on so that “the deaths of more than 2,500 troops would not be in vain.” An identical argument was repeatedly heard in late-1930s Japan against any suggestion of Japanese withdrawal from China.
In early August, however, a withdrawal from Indochina was still possible. No Japanese blood had been spilled in the most recent takeover, and unlike in the north the previous year, there had been no local resistance. Since the troops ostensibly went into Indochina to restore peace and order in the region, the government could have claimed it was retreating after having fully achieved its objective of making sure that no power, including France, would lay claim to neutral Indochina. Konoe’s government could have presented this “decolonization” of its fellow Asian nation as a political victory. Konoe was not up to the task.
The U.S. oil embargo of August 1 became a turning point in U.S.-Japan relations because Japanese leaders had failed to take a chance on the proposal that had preceded it. Now, surprised and overwhelmed by what they saw as an undeservedly harsh punishment for the “peaceful” occupation, some began to see war with the United States in much less abstract terms. “The ‘war’ that’s mentioned in the July 2 policy and others was primarily put in there to boost morale,” Ishii Akiho, a senior staff officer in the Army Ministry’s Military Affairs Bureau, recalled. But only a month later, he said, “that [war] phrase became a realistic problem, and we felt cornered into making things black and white.”
The news of the U.S. embargo made it known to ordinary citizens that things were quickly deteriorating between the two countries. The media’s continuing use of the term “ABCD encirclement” hammered at the idea that the United States, the primary bully, was bent on isolating Japan. To legitimize the Japanese claim of constructing the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere, the major newspaper Yomiuri ran in mid-August a series of articles introducing the cultures of various Southeast Asian nations to its readers, contextualizing them in terms of their colonial history.
“The encirclement of Japan by the so-called ABCD camp is becoming increasingly blatant of late,” one analysis read.
The peace of the Pacific is again being threatened by [Western] economic pressures, blackmail, and malicious propaganda [employed against Japan]. Those unnecessary deterrence measures are not only stopping our valiant march toward the Greater East Asia Coprosperity Sphere but are also revealing the depth of [Western] greed. All the [Western] military bases [in the Pacific]—forming a horseshoe shape starting from Burma to Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippine Islands, Australia, Samoa, Hawaii, and Guam—fall within the sphere of East Asian nations. But they have all been trampled upon by white people.… We must now pay attention to the five centuries of white invasion and face up to the realities.
This tone and the analyst’s prejudices continued throughout. Malays and Indonesians were described as diligent, clean, compassionate, and sensitive: “They are remarkably like us Japanese, but they lack in financial savvy and political awareness, allowing overseas Chinese to dominate their economy, while politically they are unable to break free of the British and Dutch fetters.” Filipinos were portrayed in a damning way because they had absorbed Western—especially American—culture:
Eighty-eight percent of the islands’ population are of mixed origins, resulting from the union of the natives and Spaniards, or Americans, and they believe in Christianity. They are a vain, Americanized bunch, devoted to dance and jazz music. That they have some white blood makes them so proud, and they believe that they are superior to Japanese. But the truth is, they have no culture of their own, and they take everything from Americans.
The question of how to square the purported U.S. injustices with Japan’s own arrogant and often appalling behavior toward its neighbors in its modern imperialist history was of course not addressed in these newspaper stories. But there was enough awareness—and some guilty consciences, too—about what was going on in China. A collector of rumors, Kafu one day recorded the story of a young man’s combat experience in the China War.
In Hankou, this young soldier and his comrades broke into a house of a physician who had two beautiful daughters. The doctor and his wife begged the Japanese soldiers not to touch the girls, offering them all the gold and silver they had. But they refused and raped the girls right in front of their parents, eventually tying up the whole family and throwing them alive into a garden well.
The young man returned to his mother and wife in Japan. Though the two women seemed to act a bit strange, distracted, and unhappy, they wouldn’t tell him why.
A few months passed, and while the wife was out, the mother confessed everything: One night, during his absence in China, their house was burglarized, and both the mother and the wife were tied up and raped by the burglar.
The young man went mad and started publicly recounting his stories, including his crimes in Hankou. He was incarcerated by the military police but was soon removed to the army’s psychiatric institution outside Tokyo, locked up with the other thirty thousand to forty thousand “madmen” the war had produced.
ROOSEVELT WAS BEGINNING to wonder if Tokyo really was interested in reaching a peaceful solution in the Pacific. On July 26, he wrote to one of his most trusted advisers, Harry Hopkins, who had been instrumental in realizing the Lend-Lease Act to boost U.S. aid to the Allies and was in London en route to a meeting with Stalin in Moscow. Roosevelt said he’d “had no answer yet” from Japan concerning his Indochinese proposal. Though he suspected that Tokyo’s reply would “probably be unfavorable,” he knew that his government “at least made one more effort to avoid Japanese expansion to [the] South Pacific.” In line with Roosevelt’s preference for giving Japan a chance to respond, Washington reacted calmly to what could have been a grave diplomatic incident in China. On July 30, Japan came ever so close to mistakenly sinking a U.S. gunboat. The Tutuila was anchored at Chongqing, unable to travel down the Yangtze River, where it had been used to escort U.S. shipping. Japanese forces were raiding Chiang Kai-shek’s capital in the hope of inducing his surrender when some of their bombs landed on the ship, damaging its outboard motor. There were no U.S. casualties, and Tokyo’s immediate apologies, communicated by Nomura, were enough to pacify Washington, still awaiting Japan’s answer to Roosevelt’s proposal for the neutralization of French Indochina.
The reply was long in coming. Not until August 6 did Japan announce that it intended to withdraw its troops from Indochina only after the China War had been resolved. As with all its other replies to U.S. proposals since the spring, Japan also asked the United States to help negotiate a peace between China and Japan, but with the assurance that Japan’s “special regional position” would not be compromised. Not only was Japan rejecting Roosevelt’s proposal, but it was again linking the chronic problem of the China War to the immediate issue of Indochinese occupation, something that Roosevelt had been careful to avoid. Japan pledged not to occupy areas beyond Indochina, but after the failure of appeasement at Munich, that certainly sounded hollow to Roosevelt’s ears.
Two days later, Konoe requested a meeting with the U.S. president. The idea for a summit meeting came from Konoe’s closest aides and friends—among them the Breakfast Club regulars Saionji Kinkazu, Matsumoto Shigeharu, and Ushiba Tomohiko—who were hopeful of reaching a peace with Washington. Their idea was that an international conference far from Tokyo would physically prevent the hard-line elements in the military from quibbling with whatever agreement might arise between the top statesmen. It was also meant to allow the militarists to save face, as they would not be held responsible for whatever was decided there. The summit was to be a chance for Konoe to compensate for all his past failures.
This approach had been tested before. In 1930, the prestige of an international agreement coupled with its imperial backing helped Premier Hamaguchi when he endorsed the ratification of the London Naval Treaty. Konoe, though far less consistent, courageous, and principled in his actions and beliefs than Hamaguchi, seemed to realize that a tactic as drastic as a direct meeting with Roosevelt was necessary to reverse the downward spiral he’d helped to create. Something could still be done, he believed, despite the resignation he had expressed earlier to Arita.
The timing of and the manner in which Konoe went about proposing the summit meeting, however, were bafflingly inept. On August 4, two days before his government turned down Roosevelt’s plan, Konoe informed both the army and navy ministers of his intention to propose the summit meeting. Despite surface bravado, there was now a growing sense within the military that the southward advance had been an error in judgment. Although no leaders would assume blame for the mistake, they would have conceded to a reversal, especially if diplomatically arranged. The navy, unprepared to risk a major war in the Pacific, agreed to Konoe’s proposed summit meeting right away.
Army Minister Tojo’s support was more qualified. According to Konoe (who kept records selectively, mostly to his advantage), Tojo declared in a signed document that he would not necessarily object to Konoe’s seeing Roosevelt “if the prime minister goes to the meeting in full cognizance that war with the United States might be the eventual outcome.” Tojo added that if the conference did not bear fruit, Konoe should continue leading the government in its war preparations. Tojo was checking the notoriously evasive prince, to ensure that Konoe would be made to accept his share of responsibility in Japan’s possible war with the West. Tojo’s bullying tone intimidated Konoe, which was presumably why the prince noted it, as proof of what he was up against in his own government. But the navy and army had consented to Konoe’s initiative, so Japan’s negative reply could certainly have been delayed. Instead, Japan rejected Roosevelt’s neutralization proposal and then asked for a summit. From the U.S. perspective, there was nothing to discuss. Japan had rebuffed what in U.S. eyes was an unusually generous concession, without expressing any interest.
On August 8, in reply to Konoe’s request for a meeting, Hull told Nomura that Japan’s recent response precluded a summit. The Roosevelt administration regarded Japan’s occupation of southern Indochina as an unequivocal expression of its expansionist intent, especially since the occupation was carried out while the United States was still waiting to hear back from Tokyo. Foreign Minister Toyoda, without referring to the specifics of the concessions Konoe was considering, instructed Nomura to tell Washington that the previous Japanese answer regarding the southern Indochinese occupation was actually not “rigid” and that Konoe wished to “have a heart-to-heart with the president, from the broader vantage point of maintaining world peace.” Nomura could not convey this message immediately. President Roosevelt was at the time meeting the British premier, Winston Churchill, off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.
THAT SUMMER, 49th Parallel, a film set in Canada, was in the process of being completed. With a formidable cast including Laurence Olivier and Leslie Howard, this tour de force of dramatic propaganda tells the story of a U-boat crew stranded ashore in Canada. The forty-ninth parallel, which delineates much of the U.S.-Canadian border, constitutes for the German crew the fine line between a nation at war and a nation considering going to war. The Germans dash down Canada toward the border in order to flee to the still-neutral United States, where they cannot be captured. In their desperation, they steal and kill, terrorizing Canadians. By introducing the possibility of Germans landing on the North American shore, the makers of the film—Michael Powell, an Englishman, and Emeric Pressburger, a Hungarian Jewish refugee in Britain—were arguing that Hitler’s war should not be seen as a strictly European affair. Like it or not, the war could very easily spill onto American soil from the North Atlantic. They called for timely U.S. participation in the war. Churchill was seeking the same in meeting with Roosevelt.
From August 9 to 12, the U.S. cruiser Augusta and the British battleship Prince of Wales, anchored side by side in Placentia Bay, became the venues of a historic Anglo-American summit meeting. Though Roosevelt was not ready to give Churchill a concrete promise, recent events in Europe were forcing him to think of U.S. entry into the European war in ever more realistic terms. At home, debates were raging in Congress over the amendment of the Selective Training and Service Act, passed in August 1940, which enabled the U.S. Army to draft up to nine hundred thousand men for a one-year period. The new resolutions, if passed, would lift that limit and would allow the army to retain draftees for the duration of the national emergency and to send them beyond the Western Hemisphere. The Senate passed the bill on August 7, but a great deal of resistance was expected in the House of Representatives. The outcome could dramatically affect America’s war readiness.
Over the course of the conference, Roosevelt and Churchill developed a personal rapport, despite the president’s fundamental dislike of old European imperialism. The joint declaration they drafted, widely known as the Atlantic Charter, detailed the Allied war aims and plans for the postwar world. Both leaders pledged to support Stalin to prevent a Soviet collapse. They were greatly influenced by the positive view of Stalin formed by Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s emissary who had met the Soviet leader in Moscow before sailing back with Churchill to attend the conference. This proved to be a critical juncture for the Allied campaign against Hitler. Despite the initial projection by Washington strategists of a swift German victory in Russia, as the weeks passed, the Soviet Union was beginning to reveal its dogged resilience in the face of major military setbacks. More and more favorable images of the Soviet Union began circulating in mainstream U.S. media, and lend-lease, the privilege that Roosevelt was initially reluctant to grant the Soviet Union, would come into effect by November 1941.
While in Newfoundland, Roosevelt took another decisive step by approving U.S. armed escorts for all shipping as far as Iceland, effective September 16. The president’s hawkish military advisers had been pushing for convoy escorting in the Atlantic ever since the German-Soviet war broke out. Chief of Naval Operations Harold Stark argued for it, acknowledging it “would almost certainly involve us in war.” Churchill failed to gain a clear U.S. commitment to go to war, but it was the closest the cautious Roosevelt had ever come to accepting that his country’s entry into the European war was just a matter of time. Roosevelt told Churchill that the United States would consider war in the Pacific if Japan’s policies took on a more expansionistic character. However, both leaders were still willing to explore diplomatic solutions and even to give Japan a chance to save face over Indochina.
On the last day of the conference, Roosevelt was notified of the passage of the amended Selective Training and Service Act in the House by one vote. That would prove indispensable in mobilizing for war.
Finally, on August 17, Nomura was able to meet with Roosevelt. The president, just back from Placentia Bay, had agreed to receive the ever-anxious ambassador on a Sunday. Hull reported that Nomura took from his pocket an instruction he said was from his government. With painful earnestness, Nomura stressed that Tokyo “desired to see peaceful relations preserved between our two countries” and that
Prince Konoye feels so seriously and so earnestly about preserving such relations that he would be disposed to meet the President midway, geographically speaking, between our two countries and sit down together and talk the matter out in a peaceful spirit.
The president responded in even broader terms:
If the Japanese Government takes any further steps in pursuance of a policy or program of military domination by force or threat of force of neighboring countries, the Government of the United States will be compelled to take immediately any and all steps which it may deem necessary toward safeguarding the legitimate rights and interests of the United States and American nationals and toward insuring the safety and security of the United States.
Despite such strong words, Roosevelt did not reject the idea of a summit meeting. He said that Hawaii, the proposed location, would be too far for him to travel and suggested Juneau, Alaska, instead. He was never averse to the kind of statecraft in which great things got decided by great leaders, efficiently and gentlemanly, as he had proved in his meeting with Churchill. Konoe therefore had legitimate reason to think he still could avert a disastrous war.
RICHARD SORGE HAD NEWS for Moscow regarding the mobilization of the Japanese army in the north. It had slowed down conspicuously and was not yet completed by the mid-August deadline. In fact, the Army General Staff, on August 9, had decided that the army would not attack the Soviet Union, at least not in 1941. There still was no prospect of a decisive German win over the Soviet Union, and no strategist in his right mind would suggest starting a war when the Siberian winter was fast approaching. By the second half of August, even the German embassy in Tokyo had come to see Japanese participation in the war as highly unlikely.
All summer long, Soldier U waited at his base in central Japan to be mobilized. On August 24, a small transport ship carrying him and others finally left Osaka for China via Korea. It was barely possible for each soldier to secure enough space to lie down. They arrived in northern Manchuria in early September. Most of them were novice soldiers. Now regarded as an old hand, Soldier U was assigned to oversee their intensive training in anticipation of fighting yet-to-be-identified enemies. He and his comrades suffered from acute hunger, which was made worse by the demanding physical exercises. Desperate, they resorted to stealing a few vegetables every now and then from local farmers’ fields.
Things weren’t plentiful in Japan, either, but the power elites were getting by just fine. Ozaki met his friend Saionji on or around August 25, dining at Asia, a restaurant on the top floor of the Southern Manchurian Railway building where Ozaki worked. The sleek state-of-the-art structure of reinforced concrete was completed in 1936, as if to assert the success of Japan’s Manchurian project. (It would be purchased by the United States in 1952 and turned into a U.S. embassy annex.) Over the meal, Ozaki asked, “Looks like they’ve decided?” “Yes, they have decided not to do it,” replied Saionji, who had become a special aide to Konoe.
When Ozaki reported to Sorge that the Japanese army’s northern operation was officially scrapped, an expression of joy and relief swept over Sorge’s face. Little did Saionji know that he had casually revealed a piece of information vital to the Soviet Union. Though it is impossible to prove, Stalin, paranoid over the increased presence of Japanese soldiers (including Soldier U) in the north, might not have decided to transfer his troops to the western front had it not been for the trust he came to have in Sorge’s communications from Tokyo. The Soviet comeback, especially in the absence of immediate U.S. assistance, might not have been achieved without his absolute confidence that Japan would not strike north. Only later would Saionji discover the unwitting role he had played in this espionage drama.
At that time, Saionji was preoccupied with helping Konoe arrange a meeting with Roosevelt. Saionji and many of his blue-blooded friends knew that a war with the West would be unwinnable. Matsumoto Shigeharu, the Yale-educated journalist who was a direct descendant of another illustrious Meiji oligarch, shared Saionji’s concern. “I have made a big mistake on Japan’s relations with China,” Konoe had confided to him. In a show of vulnerability displayed only to his social equals, the prime minister went on to lament:
I am so ashamed and cannot face up to my ancestors. I do not want to repeat such a mistake. And I want to avoid war with the United States at all costs. If at all possible, I want to improve Sino-Japanese relations as well. I will give it my best shot, so won’t you help me?
At a liaison meeting on August 26, 1941, a message from Konoe to be delivered to the president was approved. The original English text of it read:
The preliminary informal conversations, disrupted July last, were quite appropriate in both spirit and content. But the idea of continuing those conversations and to have their conclusion confirmed by the responsible heads of the two Governments does not meet the need of the present situation which is developing swiftly and may produce unforeseen contingencies. I consider it, therefore, of urgent necessity that the two heads of the Governments should meet first to discuss from a broad standpoint all important problems between Japan and America covering the entire Pacific area, and to explore the possibility of saving the situation. Adjustment of minor items may, if necessary, be left to negotiations between competent officials of the two countries, following the meeting. Such is my aim in making the present proposal. I sincerely hope my views in this regard are fully understood and reciprocated by Your Excellency. Because of the nature of the meeting as stated above, I would prefer that it will take place as soon as possible.
Nomura conveyed this message to the president on August 28. Roosevelt complimented the “tone and spirit of it” and again mentioned Juneau as a meeting place. To Nomura, the location mattered little. The ambassador was encouraged because, as Hull noted, Roosevelt explicitly told him that he considered the prime minister’s message a “step forward,” that he was “very hopeful,” and that he would be “keenly interested in having three or four days with Prince Konoye.”
Nomura called on Hull at his hotel apartment that evening to express his gratitude for having arranged the presidential interview. He said that Juneau should be as agreeable a location as any other and that all that mattered from the Japanese point of view was that the meeting take place very soon. He described the likely composition of the Japanese delegation: “about twenty persons, of whom five each would be from the Foreign Office, the Army, the Navy and the Japanese Embassy at Washington.” The period between September 21 and 25 would be suitable for the meeting, the ambassador added, and the prime minister would leave Japan about five days before the president left Washington so that the two leaders would arrive simultaneously.
Nomura’s enthusiasm was quickly dampened. Hull wasn’t really keen on the idea of a summit. He alluded to the recent “difficulties [that] had been encountered in regard to certain fundamental points which had caused delays that finally culminated in Japan’s taking action contrary to the conversations.” He was, of course, talking about Indochina. Before a summit meeting could be held, he said, he would have to have clearer answers from the Japanese to the most pressing issues endangering U.S.-Japan ties—namely, Japan’s Axis alliance, Japan’s troops in northern China and Inner Mongolia, and Japan’s commitment to the application of the principle of nondiscrimination in international commercial relations.
Nomura, while trying to regain his composure, said the China issue would, in his view, be the most difficult to reach a prior agreement on. He suggested that the matter be left for the conference itself. Hull correctly responded that the United States was involved in the matter because Japan had requested that it exercise its good offices. “We could work together, Japan and the United States,” Hull said, “in order to make the most of the potentialities of the 500,000,000 people of China as a trading nation”—a sentiment fully shared by Roosevelt. He repeated that “there should be an agreement in principle on the outstanding questions of importance prior to the holding of the meeting” and that “the meeting would serve the purpose of ratifying agreement in principle already reached.” Wouldn’t that be better for everyone’s peace of mind? Nomura felt that a Juneau conference was now much less likely than it had been just a few minutes earlier.
Konoe was still confident that a summit meeting would take place. On August 29, he and his supporters gathered at a resort at the foot of Mount Fuji to draft a proposal for a preconference agreement, just as Hull had requested. The banker Ikawa Tadao, who had recently returned from Washington, and Father Drought, one of the two Catholic priests who had begun the haphazard U.S.-Japan talks, dropped in to lend their moral support. For the last three days of August, those assembled at Fujiya, a luxury hotel known for its silver tea service and French cuisine, worked day and night to hone the proposal. The intensity of their work was relieved by a round or two of golf.
In their drafting sessions, two points emerged as most critical. One was that Japan should, “as a general principle,” agree to withdraw from China. It would be the first time Japan committed itself to a categorical withdrawal. The second point was that should a war break out between the United States and Germany, Japan would exercise its own judgment over the terms of obligations in the Tripartite Pact. This was meant to reassure the United States that Japan would not automatically go to war against it. The drafters had to walk a fine line between enticing Washington and not being seen as weak by Japanese military leaders. Konoe took an active part in polishing the document, and by the end of their stay, the drafters felt they had achieved the proper balance.
The draft would have to go through a liaison conference on September 3 before Konoe could present it to the United States as Japan’s official preconference proposal. Saionji laid the necessary groundwork, running the proposal by officials at both the Navy and Army Ministries, who ultimately approved it. It was now up to Konoe to do what he was least skilled at: confronting opposition and holding his own. He had to know that, in the end, all that mattered was the invitation from Roosevelt asking him to “meet me in Juneau.”