The Foreign Service Journal, October 2023

70 OCTOBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL The book has numerous strong points. First, it is a good story, very well told. We know the tragic ending, but we still cheer on the efforts of well-meaning people, American and Japanese, to stop the inevitable tragedy. It is also a tribute to the profession of diplomacy. Grew is a complete professional. He never gives up. Never. He searches for the sliver of common ground and the narrow opening that might allow the U.S. and Japan to settle their differences short of war. He remains calm in the face of the growing barrage of anti-Western verbiage from Japan and willful ignorance on the American side, where his advice is ignored, he is left uninformed, and he is often personally snubbed. He listens to his Japanese interlocutors with empathy and understanding. He finds much to admire in Japan and the Japanese and watches the country’s descent into military dictatorship—to the despair of his Japanese friends—with a feeling of helplessness. Vivid Characters The book is full of vivid characters. There is the ever-hesitating and indecisive Japanese politician Prince Konoye; the voluble, self-aggrandizing, and erratic Foreign Minister Matsuoka; the honorable Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura; the American Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and his unsympathetic Far East adviser, Stanley Hornbeck; and there is Grew’s embassy deputy after 1937, Eugene Dooman—an officer of Iranian Assyrian parentage who had grown up in Japan with missionary parents and spoke fluent Japanese. As with most humans, even the good guys have their dark sides, which Kemper’s book does not mention. Grew was the product of an “old boy” network and entered the U.S. Foreign Service in 1906 because President Theodore Roosevelt was impressed that a young Grew had shot a tiger in India. Grew was head of the Foreign Service Personnel Board after the Rogers Act created a merit-based Foreign Service in 1924. On the dark side, while he welcomed the new system, he used the oral examination process to exclude Black applicants after admission of the first (Clifton Reginald Wharton Sr.) in 1924. As for the talented Dooman, who as a country expert had faced accusations that he was “too sympathetic” to the Japanese, in retirement he strongly supported McCarthyism and the witchhunts of Senator William Jenner (R-Ind.). In the first years of his mission in Tokyo, Grew benefited from friendly U.S.-Japanese relations, but after Japan began its war against China in 1937, he witnessed Japan’s rapid descent into an authoritarian state dominated by an aggressive military. Grew arrived in Japan before Hitler took power, but he later saw how many Japanese were mesmerized by the apparent successes of European fascism. Kemper shows us a small and personalized U.S. Foreign Service, which was seriously underfunded. Salaries for everyone were low, and Grew entertained generously—making good friends among Japanese—with his own money. In 1936, facing an unresponsive department bureaucracy, he had to ask President Franklin Roosevelt personally to approve an overdue pay raise for the embassy’s Japanese employees. Growing Frustrations As relations deteriorated in the months before Pearl Harbor, Grew faced growing frustration. Japanese officials met his requests with “promises to investigate,” but only if the U.S. first validated Tokyo’s aggression in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. On the American side, Grew often found that his messages—about last-minute efforts to avoid war—were ignored or unanswered. What he did not know—and what Washington would not tell him—was that, thanks to a system called MAGIC, the U.S. was reading Japan’s diplomatic cables. In these messages it was clear that Japanese Ambassador Nomura was softening messages from both sides and misleading Japanese officials about American positions. Grew, who greatly respected Nomura, had no idea that Washington was reading these messages, which were much more hostile than what well-meaning Japanese were telling him. As a result, Grew and others pursued openings where there were no openings to pursue. A couple of excerpts illustrate Grew’s commitment to diplomacy: Kemper’s book is a superb read for anyone who believes in the profession of diplomacy.