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Letter from Tokyo
JAPAN APPEARS CALM AT BRINK OF WAR
British Protest "Defeatist Speech" by American
By Al DeGeorge
Special to The Christian Science Monitor
TOKYO, DEC. 5 -- While last-minute negotiations to avert war between the United States and Japan approached their deadline in Washington, the average citizen of Tokyo basked in unusually pleasant December weather. This month is traditionally given to New Year's preparations and 1941 is no exception. Residents are sprucing up their houses, restuffing quilts and setting out new tatamis, the grass mats that cover the floor of every Japanese home. When Tokyoites meet, they discuss not matters of state but how, despite food rationing, to secure the oranges and lobsters that no New Year's celebration would be complete without. Even decorative pine boughs are in short supply, since the American embargo on oil has put most civilian trucks on blocks. One way or another, residents find ingenious solutions to problems caused by the embargo's sweeping ban on everything from steel and rubber to aviation fuel. In the case of oil, most taxis now run on charcoal burned by a stove in the trunk. Cars may not have the old oomph, but passengers in Tokyo have learned to be patient.
In a country where the emperor is worshiped, there is no doubt about Japan's position in the negotiations, that Japan has fairly won China and deserves to have the embargo lifted. The American position, that Japan must withdraw its troops first, is considered hypocritical or misguided. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Secretary of War Henry Stimson are regarded here as unfriendly, but the Japanese people have great faith in President Franklin Roosevelt as a more sympathetic ear. A Ginza noodle vendor gave his appraisal of the high-level stalemate: "It is the same with all negotiations. At the last moment, resolution!"
In fact, one of the most anticipated events is the release of the censor's list of new films from Hollywood. There is no embargo on American movies. They fill the theaters, and stars like Bette Davis and Cary Grant grace the covers of fan magazines here. The older generation may sit still for Kabuki, but the younger set is wild for the silver screen.
The only frayed nerves visible showed in a speech delivered today at the Chrysanthemum Club, the meeting place for Tokyo's banking and industrial elite. American businessman Harry Niles declared that Japan had just as much right to interfere in China as America did to "send the marines into Mexico or Cuba." Niles described the American embargo as an effort to "starve the hardworking people of Japan." He also attacked Great Britain for "sucking the life's blood of half the world and calling it a Christian duty."
British Embassy First Secretary Sir Arnold Beechum said that Niles's words were "out-and-out defeatist. The French and the Danes fell through the treasonous activities of collaborationists just like Niles. We are seriously considering a protest to the American embassy over the activities of their national." The American embassy refused to comment, although one official suggested that Niles had stood outside embassy control for a long time. The official, who preferred anonymity, said the club's choice of Niles as its speaker was telling. "It's a strong suggestion of Japanese impatience with the talks in Washington, an ominous indication, I'm afraid."
Otherwise, the city went about its business in its usual brisk fashion, squirreling away treats for the New Year, perhaps lighting an extra stick of incense to pray with, but apparently confident that no final rupture will break Japan's amiable relationship with the United States.
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Copyright © 2002 by Titanic Productions
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