In the years leading up to the Second World War, the U.S. was represented in Japan by Ambassador Joseph Grew: born from a patrician family, Harvard-educated, ran away to the foreign service, and deeply respected by his fellow diplomats and Japanese politicians alike.
From his arrival in Tokyo in 1932 to when he was eventually repatriated back to the US in 1942, after Pearl Harbor, Grew dutifully reported to and advised the US on what to do with an increasingly imperialist, militarist—and, at many times—dysfunctional Japan.
And if officials had listened to Grew, as Steve Kemper tells it in his book Our Man In Tokyo: An American Ambassador and the Countdown to Pearl Harbor, the history of US-Japan relations may have looked very different.
In this interview, Steve and I talk about Joseph Grew, his time in Japan, and how US obstinance, and Japanese imperialism, militarism and dysfunction, got in the way of his diplomacy.
Steve Kemper is a journalist and the author of A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles through Islamic Africa (WW Norton, 2012), A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham (WW Norton, 2016), and Code Name Ginger (Harvard Business Review Press, 2003). He has written for Smithsonian, National Geographic, Outside, Wall Street Journal, BBC Wildlife and many other magazines and newspapers.