Failure to avoid war with U.S.
While pursuing negotiations with the United States, Japanese political and military leaders were in conflict over national policy decisions. On September 3, 1941, the Imperial Headquarters-Government Liaison Conference developed a draft Teikoku Kokusaku Suiko Yoryo(the Principles for the Implementation of the Imperial Policy) which included the following points:
As the Army and Navy worked to coordinate policy, the two sides struggled over the wording of the three points. On September 5, surprised by a report from Prime Minister Konoe, the Emperor said, “It seems like a war is primary and diplomacy is secondary,” and called in Chief of the Army General Staff Hajime Sugiyama and Chief of the Naval General Staff Osami Nagano. The Emperor asked Sugiyama how confident the Army was it could finish a war waged against the United States. Sugiyama replied: “We intend to end it in about three months.”
Sugiyama had served as War Minister when the Sino-Japanese War started in 1937. The Emperor responded: “I remember you, as War Minister, told me at that time the incident would last about one month, but it is still continuing.” The Chief of the Army General Staff explained, “Since China has a vast interior, operations did not go as smoothly as we had planned.” The Emperor pressed Sugiyama: “The Pacific Ocean is much larger. What makes you so confident of finishing a war in three months?”
At a conference in the Imperial presence on September 6, the Emperor said it was deplorable that he could not hear any opinion from the Chiefs of Army and Naval General Staffs in spite of the fact that the matter was a very serious one. Then the Emperor reached in his inside pocket and read from a poem written by Emperor Meiji:
Yomo no umi/mina harakara to/
nado namikaze no/tachisawaguramu
In as much as all/the seas in all directions/
seem siblings of one birth,
Why must the winds and the waves
clash in noisiness?
Then Nagano said diplomacy would be given a higher priority than war although the nation would not hesitate to wage war if it became necessary to do so. Thus, the Principles for the Implementation of the Imperial Policy were adopted.
On the night of October 7 at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, Konoe urged War Minister Tojo to have Japanese troops withdraw from China. But Tojo rejected the suggestion, saying, “I will never give in on the issue of troops’ being stationed [in China].”
“If we cast serious doubts [over adopting the Principles for the Implementation of the Imperial policy], the conference in the Imperial presence on September 6 should bear a serious responsibility,”the Prime Minister added.
Tojo believed that if Japan agreed to withdraw from China, it would lose Manchukuo and Korea.
On the other hand, the Navy, which would be tasked with leading the war against the United States, was in turmoil. On October 7, when asked by Tojo whether he was confident about winning a war against the United States, Navy Minister Koshiro Oikawa admitted, “No, I am not.”
Trying to take advantage of indecisiveness in the Navy, Konoe summoned the War, Navy and Foreign Ministers and the President of the Cabinet Planning Board to his private residence Tekigaiso in Ogikubo, Tokyo, on October 12. As Konoe and Oikawa agreed before the meeting, Oikawa started the discussions, by saying, “I want to leave the matter entirely up to the Prime Minister.” Konoe responded, “I want to continue negotiations [with the United States].”
However, Foreign Minister Teijiro Toyoda, who once served in the Navy, pressed, “If the Army has no intention of compromising over the issue of troops stationed [in China], there is no point in entering negotiations.” War Minister Tojo was enraged and the meeting broke down.
Following this, Akira Muto, chief of the War Ministry’s Military Affairs Bureau, presented a view through Chief Cabinet Secretary Kenji Tomita on October 14 that the Army would follow the Navy if the Navy expressed that it did not want a war. Responding to Muto, Takazumi Oka, chief of the Navy Ministry’s Naval Affairs Bureau, failed to take a clear stance. He said, “We want to avoid a war as much as possible. But the Navy cannot express such a view.”
Two days later, the Konoe Cabinet resigned en masse.
The selection of Konoe’s successor was led by Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Koichi Kido who was the Emperor’s aide. Kido opposed the idea of forming a cabinet led by an Imperial Family member and instead strongly recommended Tojo to become Prime Minister. Kido calculated that if Tojo, known to be loyal to the Emperor, understood the will of the Emperor, a war against the United States might be avoided.
At an October 17 meeting, jushin approved Tojo to succeed Konoe. Citing a proverb, the Emperor told Kido, “It’s like, ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ isn’t it?”
Kido wrote in his diary, “I was moved [by the Emperor’s remark].”
Kido told Tojo the Emperor’s will was to call off the policy to launch a war against the United States “without being shackled by the decision at the September 6 conference in the Imperial presence.”
Shocked by Kido’s words, Tojo visited Meiji and Yasukuni Shrines after leaving the Imperial Palace.
The Tojo Cabinet was inaugurated on October 18. Shigenori Togo, a moderate vis- vis the United States, was appointed foreign minister. Prime Minister Tojo concurrently served as War and Home Affairs Ministers and immediately started to review the policy of launching a war against the United States. But initially he failed.
Kido’s intention was to revise the Imperial policy from scratch, saying, “The banner is held by core figures of the middle-class staff in the military. We will return to square one.” However, Tojo was unable to meaningfully reshuffle the bureaucracy. Vice Chief of the Army General Staff Osamu Tsukada, chief of the Operations Bureau of the Army General Staff Shinichi Tanaka and other hard-line military bureaucrats stayed in the same positions, holding sway in policymaking and decision-making processes.
A review of the Imperial policy started at the Imperial Headquarters-Government Liaison Conference on October 23, and the conference met on a daily basis for nearly 10 days until the policy was finalized. The Army’s Sugiyama told Tsukada and others that the Army had not changed its mind after the resignation of the Konoe Cabinet. Within the Army, it was informally agreed to accept the shifting of the deadline for ending negotiations from the initially decided “early October” to the “end of October.” The Navy compiled an Imperial Navy Operations Plan which included an attack on Hawaii.
However, during one conference meeting, some participants expressed concerns about Germany’s ability in its fight against Britain. Togo pointed out, “Britain gained extra capabilities while Germany was fighting against the Soviet Union. There’s a 50-50 chance next year [for Britain to win over Germany] and [almost certainly that Britain] will win the war the year after next.” The Navy said, “It will be almost impossible for Germany to invade British soil given British preparedness.”
The main sticking point in Japan-U.S. negotiations was the issue of Japanese troops stationed in China. Sugiyama and other Army officials repeated their hard-line stance. Navy Minister Shigetaro Shimada approved the continued stationing of troops. But elsewhere there was complete turmoil within the Navy. Shigeru Fukutome, director of the Naval General Staff’s Operations Bureau, advocated waging a war against the United States on October 28. On the other hand, Vice Navy Minister Yorio Sawamoto on October 30 urged Shimada to rethink the war, saying, “From a broad perspective, avoiding the war is the right answer.” But the Navy Minister only replied, “I will be sorry if one Navy Minister’s opposition led to missing the right moment.”
There were three options that the conference could choose:
At an Imperial Headquarters-government meeting on November 1 to decide which option should be picked, Shimada repeatedly said the Navy would not be ready to decide to go to war unless the Navy was provided with more steel. Sugiyama said, “Can you make a decision if you get steel?”Shimada nodded and expressed support for waging a war against the United States.
During the meeting, Finance Minister Okinori Kaya said, “There is little possibility the United States will wage war against us. It’s not a good idea to start a war [against the United States] now.” Foreign Minister Togo agreed with Kaya.
But Nagano yelled, “Now [is the time to win]. Otherwise, the chance for victory won’t come.” Tsukada sided with Nagano, saying. “If we hesitate at this moment, we can’t fulfill our duty of national defense.”
Finally, after further debate, the third option was chosen and the deadline for diplomatic negotiations was set for December 1. Thus, Japan’s policy of going to war with the United States did not change from the one decided on September 6 by the conference in the Emperor’s presence. The policy of waging a war against the United States was formally decided at the Imperial conference on November 5 as the Principles for the Implementation of the Imperial policy.
Advised by Prince Takamatsu who had just become an officer of the Operations Section at the Naval General Staff, the Emperor on November 30 asked Nagano and Shimada: “Once a war starts, it will be a long one. Even so, do we have to start it as planned?” Shimada replied: “We are adequately prepared in both human resources and supplies. We are waiting for an Imperial order.” At a December 1 conference in the Emperor’s presence where it was decided to wage war against the United States, the Emperor nodded to each explanation, while making no more particular remarks.
On December 2, Combined Fleet Commander-in-Chief Isoroku Yamamoto sent a telegram to the naval task force. The telegram read: “Niitakayama nobore [Climb Mount Niitaka] 1208.” The coded message meant, “Start a war against the United States on December 8 (December 7 in the United States).”