A Friendship Through Peace

Admiral Kichisaburō Nomura and President Herbert Hoover outside the White House, September 27, 1929. (HHPL-M image 31-1929-a88)

During his four years in office, President Hoover met a variety of foreign leaders, both military and civilian. On September 27, 1929, Hoover met Admiral Kichisaburō Nomura of Japan and a group of midshipmen under his command to the White House. At one o’clock Mr. Hoover reviewed the squad on the South Lawn and posed for a photo with Admiral Nomura. At 1:30 p.m. they had lunch. We have no other contemporary records for the meeting. Nomura retired from active service in 1937, which started a new chapter of his work life, that of diplomat. After serving as Foreign Minister of Japan, he became an ambassador to the United States in 1940. It was Nomura and special envoy, Saburō Kurusu, who tried to negotiate peace with the United States while Japan plotted to attack U.S. forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In 1942, Nomura returned to Japan and served as an unofficial advisor to the Japanese government.

Over two decades and a world war later, Mr. Hoover and Admiral Nomura reconnected. Mr. Hoover’s Post-Presidential papers contain over two dozen pages of correspondence with Admiral Nomura from 1952-1963. In the early 1950’s Nomura wrote the essay “Prospects After Peace,” that was published in the book, Contemporary Japan. Both Hoover and Nomura died in 1964.

The correspondence between the former president and Japanese admiral turned diplomat reveal a unifying connection, that of peace. In 1951 Nomura received a copy of Mr. Hoover’s memoirs from mutual friend, Admiral William V. Pratt, who was Chief of Naval Operations during the Hoover administration. In August 1952, Nomura wrote to Hoover acknowledging Pratt’s gift and enclosed a copy of his essay in Contemporary Japan and a second essay he wrote that Admiral Pratt recommended he send to Hoover. In “Prospects After Peace,” Nomura addressed the incorporation of democracy into Japan and looked at Japan’s need of self-defense. He wrote, “It is beyond what the pride of the Japanese can endure, to leave the work of self-defense to the United States armed forces alone, and sit in idle security.”

Nomura’s second essay, apparently unpublished and dated July 31, 1952, discussed how the safety of Japan was connected to the Korean War and the threat of communism from China and the Soviet Union. He strongly promoted the rearming of Japan for purposes of self-defense. The constitution for Japan established after World War II banned Japan’s ability to resolve international disputes by force thus, eliminating armed forces, and made the government more democratic with civilian rule over the military. While the lack of a strong military was a concern, he supported the civilian rule. “I think democracy is a fine thing in Japan. Now that sovereign power resides with the people, the people in return should make every effort to elevate themselves in all ways to the level of the people in other civilized countries.” Nomura was hopeful that the U.S. and Japan would work together to, “advance the plan of rearmament of Japan.”

Hoover received and read Nomura’s essays. September 17, 1952, Hoover wrote to thank Nomura for the essays saying, “I have read the articles you sent me with great interest. They represent to me the true Japan.” Hoover continued, “I believe you could do a great service to truth, to Japan, and to world history, if you would write a detailed and documented account of your relations with the United States when Foreign Minister and Ambassador.”

Nomura’s cloisonné jar on exhibit at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum.

Over the next few years Hoover and Nomura exchanged Christmas greetings. In the May 1961, Nomura wrote to Hoover indicated that encouraged by his 1952 letter, he wrote a book for “interested friends.” The letter concluded with news that he planned to visit the United States accompanied by his daughter-in-law, Miyoko later that summer. He hoped to pay Hoover a visit. The two met for lunch at Mr. Hoover’s apartment at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on June 21. At the appointed hour, Nomura and his daughter-in-law arrived with a copy of Nomura’s memoir and a red cloisonné jar. The next day Hoover wrote to Nomura thanking him for his visit. “Your books are a valuable addition to my collection and that lovely cloisonné jar excites the admiration of all who come in.” Nomura’s writings are in the archives and the cloisonné jar is on display in our “Gifts of Esteem” section of the museum awaiting your visit.

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