Taking advantage of Germany’s easy advance
The idea to form the Tripartite Pact, which had been shelved, was revived in 1940, primarily because of Germany’s easy advances in Europe. On June 14, 1940, Paris surrendered to Germany, with the German forces waiting for the right moment to invade Britain. In France, the pro-Germany Vichy government was born, while Dutch Queen Wilhelmina and her government sought asylum in London after the German invasion in May.
These dramatic changes gave Japan’s leaders some new ideas, as did the major upheaval in Europe. The island archipelago of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) was one of the major oil-producing areas at the time. If Japan could obtain oil in the Dutch East Indies, it would no longer be dependent on Britain and the United States for energy resources. Also Japanese leaders thought that Japan should not let the colonies of European powers be placed under German control, let alone allow them to fall within the sphere of influence of the United States and Britain, both of which were intensifying their economic pressure on Japan.
Japan’s South China Area Army’s Vice Chief of Staff Kenryo Sato reportedly said: “The construction of the new world order which Hitler advocated will proceed rapidly...If Japan is solely preoccupied with the Sino-Japanese War, Germany will come to East Asia and acquire the territories of Britain, France and the Netherlands, leaving no role for Japan to play in the region. Therefore Japan has to advance southward quickly.”
It was not only the Army that was obsessed with the idea of “southward advance.” Tasuku Nakazawa, head of the Operations Section of the Naval General Staff, wrote in a logbook on May 10, 1940, when German forces invaded the Netherlands: “The Fourth Fleet is preparing for an emergency dispatch to deal with Germany’s violation of neutrality in the Dutch East Indies.” The following day, May 11, the Naval General Staff began a war game with the assumption that “the Japanese forces captured an oil producing region of the Dutch East Indies while both Britain and the United States entered the war.”
At that time, the Yonai Cabinet was in charge, having been inaugurated in January 1940. Yonai—who was backed by aides to the Emperor, who were not in favor of an alliance with Germany—was cautious about signing the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy.
However, the Army moved to overthrow the Yonai Cabinet. On June 18, head of the Military Affairs Bureau of the War Ministry Akira Muto visited the private residence of former Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe and presented a document that read: “The policy of non-interference into war in Europe should be reviewed while at the same time Japan should form an alliance with those states which side with our country pursuing its own policy.” On the condition of these ideas being approved, the Army promised to extend “all-out cooperation” to a “new cabinet.” In July, the Army had War Minister Shunroku Hata submit his resignation. Hata wrote in his daybook on July 4 that Vice Chief of the Army General Staff Shigeru Sawada came to him, showing the affixed seal of Chief of Army General Staff Prince Kanin (Kanin-no-miya Kotohito), forcing him to resign. Thus the Yonai Cabinet collapsed, and Konoe returned to lead another.
The Army, at that time, started drafting a general plan for ways to address the changing global situation, with officials including the head of the Army Affairs Section Iwakuro and Senior Staff Officer Susumu Nishiura of Iwakuro’s section taking leadership. This document, which was to be formally approved by the second Konoe Cabinet on July 27, stated that “A settlement of the Sino-Japanese War should be promoted while the opportunity should be seized to solve the issues concerning the southern areas.” The document cited a southward advance, while on the diplomatic front, it said, “Political ties with Germany and Italy should be reinforced to allow for coordination on diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union.”
A background memorandum attached to the document also stated, “On the assumption that war with the United States is inevitable, we should make adequate preparation for war with the United States.” Yet in his memoirs, Sawada wrote that although the general plan “anticipates fighting a war against the United States, there was probably no one who seriously thought that Japan would actually fight against the United States.” He then went on to write that the true intention was for Japan to invade Singapore, as a response to Germany’s attack on Britain, so as not to give the United States a chance to enter the war. The general plan thus assumed that even if Japan attacked the British territory, the United States would not intervene.
How was policy decision within the government made? Drafts compiled by sections of the War Ministry or the Army General Staff would become the War Ministry’s plan only through approval at a joint meeting of bureau heads of the ministry and of the Army General Staff. After that, through forums such as joint meetings of heads of concerned bureaus and divisions of the Navy and the Foreign Ministry, a consensus would be worked out. Only after that would a draft be submitted to the Imperial Headquarters-Government Liaison Conference. (See Footnote 1.)
In the decision-making process led by War Ministry officials, elite and middle-ranking staffers who made the first draft had a major say. The same process took place for the general plan that dealt with the current situation, including a plan titled “the opportune time for exercising force in the southern areas,” drafted by elite Army officers. The Army and Navy interpreted the report to fit their intentions to continue the drive toward an all-out war.
The Imperial Headquarters-Government Liaison Conference:
A conference established to allow government and military authorities to cooperate.
The conference was attended by the Prime Minister, Foreign and War Ministers, the Chief of the Army General Staff, the Navy Minister, and the Chief of the Naval General Staff. In addition, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and, as secretaries, the heads of the Military Affairs Bureaus of the War and Navy Ministries also attended. When an important issue was to be discussed, the Emperor would attend, and the meeting would then be called Gozenkaigi or conference held in the Imperial presence.
Conferences were held as required from November 1937, and a series of decisions on “national policies” were made. After the second Konoe Cabinet was inaugurated, the conference was at one point called a “Liaison Gathering,” and was attended by the same members. It was later renamed the “Liaison Conference.”
When it reviewed the policy to go to war against the United States under the Tojo Cabinet, the conference was also attended by the Finance Minister, and Vice Chiefs of the Army and Naval General Staff.