Joseph Grew

Joseph Clark Grew (May 27, 1880 – May 25, 1965) was an American career diplomat and Foreign Service officer. He is best known as the ambassador to Japan between 1932-1941, and as a high official in the State Department in Washington between 1944-1945, where he opposed hardliners, sought to avoid war, and sought a soft Japanese surrender in 1945 that enabled a peaceful American occupation of Japan after the war.

Joseph Grew
Ambassador Grew.jpg
13th United States Ambassador to Japan
In office
June 14, 1932 – December 8, 1941
PresidentHerbert Hoover
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byW. Cameron Forbes
Succeeded byWilliam J. Sebald (ad interim)
6th United States Ambassador to Turkey
In office
October 12, 1927 – March 13, 1932
PresidentCalvin Coolidge
Preceded byAbram I. Elkus
Succeeded byCharles H. Sherrill
26th United States Ambassador to Switzerland
In office
September 24, 1921 – March 22, 1924
PresidentWarren G. Harding
Preceded byHampson Gary
Succeeded byHugh S. Gibson
32nd United States Ambassador to Denmark
In office
April 7, 1920 – October 14, 1921
PresidentWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byNorman Hapgood
Succeeded byJohn Dyneley Prince
5th and 13th Under Secretary of State
In office
April 16, 1924 – June 30, 1927
PresidentCalvin Coolidge
Preceded byWilliam Phillips
Succeeded byRobert E. Olds
In office
December 20, 1944 – August 15, 1945
PresidentFranklin D. Roosevelt
Preceded byEdward Stettinius, Jr.
Succeeded byDean Acheson
Personal details
Joseph Clark Grew

May 27, 1880
Boston, Massachusetts
DiedMay 25, 1965 (aged 84)
Spouse(s)Alice (Perry) Grew
ChildrenLilla Cabot Grew
Alma materHarvard University

After numerous minor diplomatic appointments, Grew was the Ambassador to Denmark (1920–1921) and Ambassador to Switzerland (1921–1924). In 1924, Grew became the Under Secretary of State, and in this position he oversaw the establishment of the U.S. Foreign Service. Grew was the Ambassador to Turkey (1927–1932) and the Ambassador to Japan 1932-1941, where he opposed American hardliners and recommended negotiation with Tokyo to avoid war. He was the ambassador in Tokyo at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 8, 1941) as well and was interned until American and Japanese diplomats were formally exchanged in 1942. On return to Washington he became the number two official in the State Department as Under Secretary, and sometimes served as acting Secretary of State. He promoted a soft peace with Japan that would allow the Emperor to maintain his status, which did become policy and which facilitated the Emperor's decision to surrender in 1945.

Early lifeEdit

Grew was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in May 1880 to a wealthy Yankee family. He was groomed for public service. At the age of 12 he was sent to Groton School, an elite preparatory school whose purpose was to "cultivate manly Christian character". Grew was two grades ahead of Franklin D. Roosevelt. During his youth, Grew enjoyed the outdoors, sailing, camping, and hunting during his summers away from school. Grew attended Harvard College, graduating in 1902.[1]


Following graduation, Grew made a tour of the Far East, and nearly died after being stricken with malaria. While recovering in India, he became friends with an American consul there. This inspired him to abandon his plan of following in his father's career as a banker, and he decided to go into diplomatic service. In 1904 he was a clerk at the consulate in Cairo, Egypt, and then rotated through diplomatic missions in Mexico City (1906), St. Petersburg (1907), Berlin (1908), Vienna (1911), and again in Berlin (1912-1917). He became acting chief of the State Department's Division of Western European Affairs during the war (1917-1919), and was the secretary of the American peace commission in Paris (1919-1920).[2][3]

Ambassador to Denmark and SwitzerlandEdit

From April 7, 1920, until October 14, 1921, Grew served as the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark appointed by President Woodrow Wilson. He was preceded by Norman Hapgood and succeeded by John Dyneley Prince. He replaced Hampson Gary as the United States Ambassador to Switzerland, appointed by President Warren Harding. In 1922, he and Richard Child acted as the American observers at the Conference of Lausanne.[4] Grew served as Ambassador until March 22, 1924, when Hugh S. Gibson replaced him.

Under Secretary of State (1924–1927)Edit

From April 16, 1924, until June 30, 1927, Grew served as the Under Secretary of State in Washington under President Calvin Coolidge, taking over from William Phillips.

Ambassador to TurkeyEdit

In 1927, Grew was appointed as the American ambassador to Turkey. He served in Ankara for five years from 1927 until 1932. at which point he was offered the opportunity to return to the Far East.

Ambassador to JapanEdit

In 1932, Grew was appointed by President Herbert Hoover to succeed William Cameron Forbes as the Ambassador to Japan, where he took up his posting on June 6.[5] Ambassador and Mrs. Grew had been happy in Turkey, and were hesitant about the move, but decided that Grew would have a unique opportunity to make the difference between peace and war between the United States and Japan. The Grews soon became popular in Japanese society, joining clubs and societies there, and adapting to the culture, even as relations between the two countries deteriorated.

One major episode came on 12 December 1937: the USS Panay incident, where the Japanese military bombed and sank the American gunboat Panay while it was anchored in the Yangtze River outside Nanking in China. Three American sailors were killed. Japan and the United States were at peace. The Japanese claimed that they did not see the American flags painted on the deck of the gunboat, apologized, and paid an indemnity. Nevertheless, the attack outraged Americans and caused U.S. opinion to turn against the Japanese.[6]

One of Grew's closest and most influential Japanese friends was Prince Iyesato Tokugawa (1863-1940 - aka Prince Tokugawa Iesato) who was the president of Japan's upper house, the House of Peers. During most of the 1930s, these two men worked together in various creative diplomatic ways to promote goodwill between their nations. The 1937 photo illustration to the right reveals them at a luncheon linked to commemorating the Japanese gifting of Cherry Blossom Trees to the U.S. in 1912.[7]

1937 Tokyo, Ambassador Joseph Grew and Prince Iyesato Tokugawa promote and honor continued goodwill between their nations, the United States and Japan.

Historian Jonathan Utley argues before Pearl Harbor Grew took the position that Japan had legitimate economic and security interests in greater East Asia, and he hoped that President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Hull would accommodate these through high-level negotiations. However Roosevelt, Hall, and other top American officials were strongly opposed to Japanese massive intervention in China, and were negotiating agreements to send American warplanes to China, and negotiating with Great Britain and the Netherlands to cut off sales of steel and oil that Japan needed for aggressive warfare. Other historians argue that Grew was putting far too much trust in the power of his moderate friends in the Japanese government.[8][9]

On January 27, 1941, Grew secretly cabled the State Department with rumors passed on by Peru's Minister to Japan, that "Japan military forces planned a surprise mass attack at Pearl Harbor in case of 'trouble' with the United States." Grew's own published account of 1944 said, "There is a lot of talk around town [Tokyo] to the effect that the Japanese in case of a break with the United States, are planning to go all out in a surprise mass attack on Pearl Harbor.".[10] Grew's report was provided to Admiral Harold R. Stark, Chief of Naval Operations, and Admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, but it was discounted by everyone involved in Washington and Hawaii.[11]

Grew served as ambassador until December 8, 1941, when the United States and Japan severed diplomatic relations during the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. All Allied diplomats were interned. On April 18, 1942, American B-25 bombers flying from a U.S. carrier made the Doolittle Raid, bombing Tokyo and other cities. Grew witnessed the attack while interned. When he realised the low-flying planes over Tokyo were American (not Japanese planes on maneuvers) he thought they may have flown from the Aleutian Islands, as they appeared too large to be from a carrier. Embassy staff were "very happy and proud".[12]

In accordance with diplomatic treaties, the United States and Japan negotiated the repatriation of their diplomats via neutral territory. In July 1942, Grew and 1,450 other American and foreign citizens went via steamship from Tokyo to Lourenço Marques in Portuguese East Africa (now Maputo, Mozambique) aboard the Japanese liner Asama Maru and her backup, the Italian liner Conte Verde. In exchange the U.S. sent home the Japanese diplomats along with 1,096 other Japanese citizens.[13]

The atomic bomb dilemmaEdit

Grew wrote in 1942 that while he expected Nazi Germany to collapse as the Kaiser's German Empire had in 1918, he did not expect the Japanese Empire to do so:

I know Japan; I lived there for ten years. I know the Japanese intimately. The Japanese will not crack. They will not crack morally or psychologically or economically, even when eventual defeat stares them in the face. They will pull in their belts another notch, reduce their rations from a bowl to a half bowl of rice, and fight to the bitter end. Only by utter physical destruction or utter exhaustion of their men and materials can they be defeated.[14]

Grew became a member of a committee, along with the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, and the Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, that sought to work out an alternative to the use of the atomic bomb as a weapon, in order to bring about Japan's surrender. Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy drafted a proposed surrender demand for the Committee of Three, which was incorporated into Article 12 of the Potsdam Declaration. The original language of the Proclamation would have increased the chances for Japanese surrender as it allowed the Japanese government to maintain its emperor as a "constitutional monarchy". President Harry S. Truman, who was influenced by Secretary of State James Byrnes during the trip via warship to Europe for the Potsdam Conference, changed the language of the surrender demand. Grew knew how important the emperor was to the Japanese people and believed that the condition could have led to Japanese surrender without using the atomic bombs.

Under Secretary of State (1944–1945)Edit

Grew returned to Washington in 1942 and served as a special assistant to Secretary Hull. In 1944 he was promoted to director of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs. From December 1944 to August 1945 he served once again as undersecretary of state. a fierce anti-communist, he opposed cooperation with the Soviets; President Roosevelt wanted closer relationships with Joseph Stalin, but the new President Harry Truman did not. Grew was again appointed as an Under Secretary of State serving from December 20, 1944 until August 15, 1945. He served as the Acting Secretary of State for most of the period from January through August 1945 while the Secretaries of State Edward Stettinius and James F. Byrnes were away at conferences. Among high-level officials in Washington, Grew was the most knowledgeable regarding Japanese issues. Grew was also the author of an influential book about Japan, titled Ten Years in Japan. Grew advocated a soft peace that would be acceptable to the Japanese people, and maintain an honorable status for the Emperor. He successfully opposed treating the Emperor as a war criminal, and thereby prepared the way for a speedy Japanese surrender, and friendly postwar relations during which Japan was closely supervised by American officials. [15]

Forcible return of Soviet POWsEdit

By May 1945, the U.S. held a number of Soviet prisoners-of-war (POWs) who had been captured while serving voluntarily or involuntarily[16] in some capacity in the German Army, mostly as rear area personnel (ammunition bearers, cooks, drivers, sanitation orderlies, or guards).

Unlike the German prisoners, who were looking forward to release at war's end, the Soviet prisoners urgently requested asylum in the United States, or at least repatriation to a country not under Soviet occupation, as they knew they would be shot by Joseph Stalin as traitors for being captured (under Soviet law, one only had to surrender to earn the death penalty).[17][18]

The question of the Soviet POWs' conduct was difficult to determine, though not their fate if repatriated. Most of the Soviet POWs stated that they had been given a choice by the Germans: volunteer for labor duty with the German army, or be turned over to the Gestapo for execution or service in an arbeitslager (a camp used to work prisoners until they died of starvation or illness). In any case, in Stalin's eyes they were dead men, as they had 1) been captured alive, 2) had been 'contaminated' by contact with those in bourgeois Western nations, and 3) had been found in service with the German army.[16]

Notified of their impending transfer to Soviet authorities, a riot at their POW camp erupted; while no one was killed by the guards, some were wounded while other Soviet prisoners hanged themselves; President Truman granted the men a temporary reprieve. Nevertheless, Grew, as Acting Secretary of State, signed an order on July 11, 1945 forcing the repatriation of the Soviet POWs to the Soviet Union. Soviet cooperation, it was believed, would prove necessary to remake the face of postwar Europe. On August 31, 1945, the 153 survivors were officially returned to the Soviet Union; their ultimate fate is unknown.[18]

Other workEdit

Grew's book Sport and Travel in the Far East was a favorite one of Roosevelt's. The introduction to the 1910 Houghton Mifflin printing of the book features the following introduction written by Roosevelt:

My dear Grew,— I was greatly interested in your book "Sport and Travel in the Far East" and I think it is a fine thing to have a member of our diplomatic service able both to do what you have done, and to write about it as well and as interestingly as you have written.... Your description, both of the actual hunting and the people and surroundings, is really excellent;...

In 1945, after Grew left the State Department, he wrote two volumes of professional memoirs, published in 1952.

Personal lifeEdit

Painting of his wife and her sisters, Lilla Cabot Perry, The Trio (Alice, Edith, and, Margaret Perry) by their mother, Lilla Cabot Perry, ca. 1898–1900

Grew married Alice Perry (b. 1884), the daughter of premier American impressionist painter Lilla Cabot Perry (1848–1933), daughter of Dr. Samuel Cabot (of the New England Cabots) and her husband, noted American scholar Thomas Sergeant Perry (1845–1928). Through her paternal grandfather, she was a great-granddaughter of famed American naval hero Oliver Hazard Perry. Together, Joseph and Alice were the parents of:

He died two days before his 85th birthday on May 25, 1965.


Grew's grandson, Jay Pierrepont Moffat, Jr. (b. 1932), was the United States Ambassador to Chad from 1983 to 1985.

In popular cultureEdit

In the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!, a historical drama about the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the part of US Ambassador Joseph Grew was played by Meredith Weatherby.

Published worksEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Heinrichs, Waldo. American Ambassador: Joseph C. Grew and the Development of the American Diplomatic Tradition, Oxford University Press, 1986. ISBN 0-19-504159-3.
  2. ^ Current Biography Yearbook, 1941, pp 345–46.
  3. ^ Edward M. Bennett, "Grew, Joseph Clark (1880-1965)" American National Biography (1999)
  4. ^ Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919 (2002), p. 452
  5. ^ Grew 1944, pp. 6–9.
  6. ^ Douglas Peifer, Choosing War: Presidential Decisions in the Maine, Lusitania, and Panay Incidents (Oxford UP, 2016) online review
  7. ^ The biography The Art of Peace by Stan S. Katz highlights the friendship and alliance between these two men. Katz, Stan S. (2019). The Art of Peace. California: Horizon Productions. pp. Chapter 14. ISBN 978-0-9903349-2-7.
  8. ^ Jonathan G. Utley, Going to War With Japan, 1937-1941 (2005).
  9. ^ Stephen Pelz, 1985, p. 610.
  10. ^ Joseph C. Grew (1944). Ten Years in Japan. p. 355.
  11. ^ James Johns (2017). Reassessing Pearl Harbor: Scapegoats, a False Hero and the Myth of Surprise Attack. McFarland. p. 76.
  12. ^ Grew 1944, pp. 526,527.
  13. ^ "Yank Free from Japan Reports 600 Tokyo Raid Deaths, Army Suicides," The Fresno Bee, July 24, 1942, p. 2.
  14. ^ Grew, Joseph C. (1942-12-07). "Report from Tokyo". Life. p. 79. Retrieved November 23, 2011.
  15. ^ Julius W. Pratt, "Grew, Joseph Clark" in John A. Garraty, ed. Encyclopedia of American Biography (1975) pp. 455-456
  16. ^ a b Newland, Samuel, Cossacks in the German Army, 1941–1945, Routledge Press (1991), ISBN 0-7146-3351-8, ISBN 978-0-7146-3351-0, p. 32
  17. ^ Tolstoy, Nikolai, Stalin's Secret War, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston (1981), ISBN 0-03-047266-0
  18. ^ a b Blackwell, Jon, "1945: Prisoners' dilemma", The Trentonian

Further readingEdit

  • Bennett, Edward M. "Grew, Joseph Clark (1880-1965)" American National Biography (1999) online
  • DeConde, Alexander, et al. Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy (4 vol. 2002).
  • Grew, Joseph C (1944). Ten Years in Japan. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Grew, Joseph C. Turbulent Era: A Diplomatic Record of Forty Years, 1904–1945, Books for Libraries Press, 1952.
  • Heinrichs, Waldo H. American ambassador: Joseph C. Grew and the development of the United States diplomatic tradition (1966) online free to borrow, a standard scholarly biography
  • Katz, Stan S. The Art of Peace: An Illustrated Biography on Prince Iyesato Tokugawa (2019) excerpt
  • Pelz, Stephen. "Gulick and Grew: Errands into the East Asian Wilderness." (1985) 13#4: 606-611. online
  • Utley, Jonathan G. Going to War with Japan, 1937-1941 (U of Tennessee Press, 1985).

External linksEdit

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Norman Hapgood
U.S. Ambassador to Denmark
Succeeded by
John Dyneley Prince
Preceded by
Hampson Gary
U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland
Succeeded by
Hugh S. Gibson
Preceded by
Abram I. Elkus
as Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire
United States Ambassador to Turkey
Succeeded by
Charles H. Sherrill
Preceded by
W. Cameron Forbes
U.S. Ambassador to Japan
Succeeded by
(World War II began)
Political offices
Preceded by
William Phillips
Under Secretary of State
Succeeded by
Robert E. Olds
Preceded by
Edward R. Stettinius, Jr.
Under Secretary of State
Succeeded by
Dean G. Acheson