In dispatching Suematsu the Japanese sought to nip in the bud western European sympathy with their fellow Christians. As one French commentator put it at the start of the conflict, “God cannot do otherwise than give victory to the Russians, for they are only schismatics, whilst the Japanese are terrible pagans!” That this sentiment was proven wrong was down to Japan’s refusal to leave any aspect of the struggle to divine providence. Suematsu wrote letters and articles for the British, French and German newspapers, gave erudite lectures on a wide variety of topics, some directly relevant to the war, some less so, and pressed Japan’s case with the movers and shakers of the day.
Matsumura summarises Suematsu’s activities well, and appropriately reproduces in places some of the Baron’s finer writing or speeches. The deficiency is the shortage of third party assessment of whether Suematsu’s mission achieved its aims; Matsumura’s attribution of success because of the absence of a surge of pro-Russian sentiment is insufficient in the absence of a counterfactual.
This book is one for the historian or at least amateur version thereof, not the general reader. But it is a welcome addition to the English language material on the Russo-Japanese war, and an insight into the very astute political leadership that Japan enjoyed at that time. A quality of leadership that has sadly not been matched by any of the subsequent generations.