462 Sir John Latham, Minister to Japan, to Sir Frederick Stewart, Minister for External Affairs

Dispatch S-52 TOKYO, 20 May 1941


As I have had the honour to report in my telegram No. 234 [1], on the afternoon of the 17th May I called on Mr. Matsuoka, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the Foreign Office.

After referring to other matters I spoke of the escape of Rudolf Hess from Germany. [2] He said that he did not know Hess personally, but was told that he was an idealist, and that he probably thought that he could end the war by his personal influence. I said that this was the German story which was now in circulation but that it was very different from the first story, which was to the effect that Hess was out of his mind.

The Minister said that he could understand the action of Hess quite well. He himself had been an idealist since the age of 15 and recently had sometimes thought of himself flying to Chiang Kai Shek [3] and endeavouring to settle the China Affair. He had also thought of inviting Hider, Mussolini, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill to Tokyo in order to bring about the end of the war. If he had done so perhaps people would have said of him, as they were saying of Hess, that he was out of his mind.

He said that Mr. Togo, former Japanese Ambassador to Berlin, who knows Hess well, had told him that Hess was a very earnest anti- Bolshevist, and that his flight probably meant a real difference of opinion between Hitler and himself 2. I raised the question of the general war position. The Minister was most despondent. The world was headed for Armageddon-this he repeated several times-for a disaster which would probably mean the end of civilisation.

The Pope had impressed him more than any other man he had met in Europe. The Pope was praying every day and every night for the end of the war, and Mr. Matsuoka had promised that he would also pray every day and every night, and was doing so.

The outlook was very bad. Perhaps God intended to destroy civilisation as a punishment for national egotism, for national selfishness. Man could do nothing if God so decided.

I said that it seemed to me that it was within the power of man to decide the issue. For example, a great deal depended on the course of action taken by Japan. He had spoken of national egotism. Would he allow me to apply to Japan what he said?- with particular reference to Australia. I told him that before Mr. Kawai [4] went to Australia I had conversations with him in which I told him that he would be received personally in a friendly manner in Australia, and that he would find little personal antagonism to Japanese people. He would, however, find very strong objection to Japanese policy. Australia was not prepared to submit to any self-appointed leadership by Japan in anything described as a 'sphere' in which each country had 'its proper place', as the Minister had so often declared. If Japan would abandon all the dangerous talk of 'southward advance' and of 'Japanese leadership' there would be no trouble in this part of the world. Leadership by Japan would mean submission to Japan by other people. Let Japan abandon these ideas and offer to buy what she wants-rice, rubber, tin etc.-without claiming that she had some sort of right to get anything she wanted on her own terms. The whole position would then be changed for the better. I referred to several recent articles in the press and especially to one in the 'Miyako' (see my S-49 paragraph 8) [5] in which it was said that now was the time for Japan to push southward when other countries were involved in war-that now was the opportunity to get rid of British influence in the East-that any country which was unwilling to enter 'the common sphere of prosperity under Japanese leadership' should be compelled to come in-and that the southward economic advance of Japan must have a political foundation.

I referred to China as providing an opportunity for Japan to show that her aims were not selfish. (We had some discussion about the statements made by Mr. Honda, the Japanese Ambassador to Nanking, who has recently been urging a policy of conciliation towards China to be exercised through the Nanking Government.) 3. The Minister replied that his intention was that Japan should only have spiritual leadership and that such leadership by one country would not imply submission by others. Some peoples, such as Japan, were fitted for leadership and others were not. In Australia, for example, we did not think of allowing the rabble of the streets to lead the country. They were quite unfitted for it.

4. I replied that in Australia all the people had a share in the government of the country, all the people were subject to the laws made by their own representatives and no section of the community claimed a right to lead irrespectively of the Government. As between countries the position was quite different. There was no law or principle according to which one country was entitled, independently of the consent of other countries, to appoint itself the leader of those countries.

I compared Russia and Germany with Great Britain. Russia and Germany had deliberately adopted brutality and savagery as instruments of Government. Take on the other hand the policy of Great Britain in recent years. In Australia, for example, we had complete freedom and self-government, without objection from Great Britain and by the will of Great Britain. There had not been a British soldier in Australia for about 70 years. The other self- governing dominions were in the same position, and other parts of the Empire were advancing toward self-government. Compare this with anything that Russia or Germany had ever done.

5. The Minister said that he did not agree with what I said about Russia and Germany. He had a quite different opinion, but there was not now time to explain it. I replied that this was not a matter of opinion. The facts were plain and could not be denied.

The Minister said that he admitted that many people in Japan did think and speak and write in the manner which I had condemned. He thought that they were entirely wrong and he condemned them. He was fighting against them, but they had learned these ideas from Western civilisation. It was necessary, while receiving good ideas from Europe to get rid of these evil ideas which Europe had brought into Asia. He and Prince Konoye [6] as leaders of a minority party were struggling against these evil ideas.

6. I have already said that the Minister was very despondent. He seemed to me to be in a state almost of despair as he contemplated the possibility of the destruction of human civilisation as a result of the war. He referred to this subject again and again, and several times said that he was afraid that God had decided to destroy mankind. I abstained from referring to the subject of the U.S.A. introducing a convoy system and so possibly entering into the war against Germany, and possibly involving Japan on the other side. This question had been fully discussed in separate conversations between the Foreign Minister and the British and American Ambassadors []7] two days before. I am sure however, that it was this possibility which he had in his mind when he took such a gloomy view of the outlook. My impression was that he thought that Japan would be forced to enter the war, that he could not say what the result would be, and that he was profoundly disturbed when he contemplated the possibilities.


1 Dispatched 19 May. On file AA: A981, Far East 21A.

2 Rudolf Hess, Deputy Leader of the German National Socialist Party, flew to Scotland on 10 May without the knowledge of the German Govt. His object was to negotiate an armistice between Germany and the United Kingdom, but he was held as a prisoner of war and sentenced to life imprisonment as a war criminal in 1945 3 Commander-in-Chief of Chinese armed forces and member of Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang.

4 Japanese Minister to Australia.

5 Dispatched 15 May. On file AA: A981, Japan 54, iv.

6 Japanese Prime Minister.

7 Sir Robert Craigie and J. C. Grew.

[AA: A981, JAPAN 181, iv]