Japan WWII foreign minister asked Holy See to avert war with U.S.

A Japanese foreign minister met with Pope Pius XII and his secretary of state during the Second World War to try to mediate in a desperate attempt to avoid war with the United States, eight months before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 , Vatican documents seen recently by Kyodo News show.

Yosuke Matsuoka wanted the Holy See to talk to President Franklin Roosevelt to try to prevent a “war of mutual destruction,” telling Cardinal Luigi Maglione that Tokyo also wanted a truce with China after more than three years of war, in according to a summary by the cardinal’s office of the April 2, 1941, meeting between the two.

Yosuke Matsuoka, Japanese foreign minister between 1940 and 1941. (Kyodo)

Matsuoka, who served as Japan’s top diplomat from 1940 to 1941 and was indicted after World War II as a war criminal, said the US leader would be able to bring peace to the Far East by mediating on behalf of Japan with the Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek, according to the documents.

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Matsuoka held talks with the pope before he met the cardinal but what the pope said during the talks remains unknown to the public.

Relations between Washington and Tokyo, already deteriorating, worsened significantly after the launch of a full-scale Sino-Japanese war in 1937, which later overlapped with Japanese military advances in European colonies in Southeast Asia. The country’s alliances with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy further exacerbated the animosity.

Matsuoka apparently told the cardinal that he did not want the war to escalate — by then being fought in Asia, Europe and Africa. “Existing civilization would be destroyed” by a conflict between the US and Japan as neither would hesitate to resort to extreme means, both sides determined to win, he said.

It would be “very useful” if the Catholic Church could persuade the United States to refrain from participating in the war and from carrying out “provocative actions” against Japan, the Vatican summary states as asking.

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The diplomat, who spent his formative years in the United States and received a law degree from the University of Oregon, also claimed that the Tripartite Pact of September 1940 between Tokyo, Berlin, and Rome, he concluded, was meant to stop hostilities the United States, not to anger the country.

Matsuoka asked the Holy See to persuade Roosevelt “to interfere with his high authority” with Chiang to get him to “understand Japan,” explaining that it was not to fight China and its people, but Communists.

The Vatican notes do not give details of the settlement Tokyo wanted from China but write that the Japanese diplomat said in confidence that he hoped “to be able to conclude peace within a month” even without Roosevelt’s help.

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Maglione responded to the foreign minister that the Vatican would “do everything in its power for peace as soon as there is a chance of success for its efforts,” the document says.

Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, leading the United States to declare war on the country the next day and formally enter the conflict.

After his country surrendered in 1945, Matsuoka was arrested and charged as a Class-A war criminal by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East but died of illness in 1946 before the trial was completed.

According to historian and author Satoshi Hattori, Matsuoka began exploring ways to salvage Tokyo’s relationship with the United States around December 1940 after realizing that Japan’s military advance southward would fail.

The document is a demonstration of Matsuoka’s last-minute efforts to prevent war against the United States by using all possible channels, he said.

== Kyodo


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