• U.S.

JAPAN: Hardest Hit

2 minute read

First Japanese reactions to the German-Russian Pact were complete bewilderment. Cabinet Ministers began the routine of hurried calls—on each other, on the Premier, on privy councilors, on the Emperor —which invariably accompany important Japanese decisions and invariably give rise to rumors that the Cabinet will fall. Foreign Minister Hachiro Arita, who had many a time publicly plumed himself on having accomplished the Anti-Comintern Pact, was busy word-swallowing; Premier Baron Kiichiro Hiranuma, who came to power last January because he had Fascist leanings, looked as if he would topple over when his leaning posts were suddenly withdrawn.

Since Oriental diplomacy and even war are nine-tenths Face, Japan’s greatest shock aside from losing potential armed support against Russia was that Germany had not whispered a word of warning. Ambassador to Berlin Hiroshi Oshima hurried around to see Joachim von Ribbentrop soon after he got back from signing the Pact, taxing him with this slight. How long had this been in the wind? Why had he told Italy’s Count Ciano and not him? Herr von Ribbentrop, who seemed to enjoy the situation, merely replied that consultations had been going on “for a considerable time.”

To the Japanese, such intolerable arrogance could not go unanswered. The Cabinet met, announced its decision: “An independent foreign policy.” Japan would take on the world.

The Cabinet met again this week, searched its soul, announced another decision: it would resign in a body. Man chosen by Emperor Hirohito to be successor to Premier Hiranuma was no fire-eater, no ambitious young officer, no strong man—but conservative Nobuyuki Abe. An old hobbyhorse of a retired general, he has had no spectacular fighting and political experience, but plenty of experience in behind-the-scenes talking. He was briefly Acting War Minister in 1928, was one of the seven generals who retired after the 1936 uprising of the Army’s jingoists. His probable policy: a strong line in China, but hands off world ambitions.

Of all the nations affected by the Soviet-German Pact, Japan was hardest hit. Before it, she had been a second-rate power with first-rate connections; after it, she was a no greater power with no connections at all. Nobuyuki Abe certainly realized it. “Japan,” he said, “will have a troubled future.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com