Process of elimination creates Koiso Cabinet
The Tojo Cabinet was succeeded by one led by retired Army General Kuniaki Koiso.
In reality, those who sought to topple the Tojo administration had not considered who would replace him or even who was qualified to lead the nation. That became apparent in jushin discussions held at the Imperial Palace on July 18, 1944, to usher in the Koiso Cabinet.
The meeting was attended by seven former prime ministers—Reijiro Wakatsuki, Keisuke Okada, Koki Hirota, Fumimaro Konoe, Nobuyuki Abe, Mitsumasa Yonai and Kiichiro Hiranuma—as well as President of the Privy Council Yoshimichi Hara and Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Koichi Kido. The meeting started at 4 p.m. and lasted for four tense hours. “At the beginning, everyone remained silent, not a word was spoken,” Konoe said.
First, Wakatsuki asked Kido for his opinion, but Kido adroitly deflected the question. “I don’t have any definite opinion. First, I would like to know your ideas,” he said.
“The Navy is the overriding factor at present,” Abe said as he recommended Yonai to be prime minister. Yonai insisted a civilian official was appropriate.
“That’s idealistic,”Konoe said. “Realistically, a military officer is a better choice at this moment.” Kido and Hiranuma agreed.
“How about asking the Emperor to give us an Imperial mandate to choose one of us to be prime minister among ourselves?”Hara asked. But Kido dismissed this plan as being “too difficult” to achieve.
Hirota proposed forming a cabinet with Imperial Family members, but Konoe, Hiranuma and Wakatsuki opposed it. Okada recommended Konoe. Konoe in turn recommended Kantaro Suzuki, Vice President of the Privy Council and former Chief of Naval General Staff and Grand Chamberlain. His proposal, however, fell flat as Yonai refused to agree while Hara contended that Suzuki “would never accept it.”
Under Kido’s lead and persuasion, the attendees eventually formed a consensus that the next prime minister should be chosen from the Army. Hisaichi Terauchi, Yoshijiro Umezu and Shunroku Hata were named as candidates from the Army. However, Terauchi was in active command of the Southern Army and Umezu had just been appointed Chief of the Army General Staff.
Looking at the list of candidates, Hara complained, “How different are they from Tojo?” Frustration was mounting as a successor to Tojo who would be acceptable to all was proving elusive. Finally, because Tojo, who did not attend the meeting of the jushin, had opposed appointing Terauchi as prime minister, they decided to call Koiso, who was Governor-General of Korea at that time, back to Tokyo.
Konoe was unconvinced of Koiso’s political caliber and urged Kido to form a coalition cabinet with Yonai. This plan failed to excite Yonai, who said a coalition cabinet “would result in a muddling of responsibilities.” Kido told Koiso and Yonai they should cooperate with each other to form a cabinet.
Yonai seemed content to take a back seat to Koiso. Yonai told Koiso: “You do whatever you feel is right because it will be troublesome for both of us to discuss every detail. Please consult with me only when you’re at a loss about what to do.”
What was going through Koiso’s mind at that time?
After World War II, Koiso looked back on the inauguration of his Cabinet and criticized the jushin for being unwilling to engage in state affairs themselves yet still recommending him to be prime minister even though they considered his position so precarious he needed Yonai to share the post.
Koiso keenly hoped the Japanese military would win “a brilliant victory just once” in the Pacific War because he wanted to start peace talks when Japan was on the front foot. He felt that a victory in the Philippines was necessary for concluding a peace deal with conditions favorable to Japan.
But why didn’t the jushin seriously discuss moves to end the Pacific War at the meeting? They were afraid of relentless surveillance by the Military Police and of falling victim to acts of terrorism or a coup d’etat. Less than 10 years had passed since the February 26 Incident took place, so they hoped the new Koiso Cabinet would mark a departure from Tojo’s military-police-style politics more than anything else.
Despite his best attempts, Koiso failed to unify the lines of war command and was unable to grasp the political and war situations.
Koiso later said, “I didn’t know what was really going on inside the military.”
He also trumpeted the slogan “Arm the entire 100 million [Japanese] people,” and proposed that every citizen simultaneously face toward Ise Grand Shrine at 1:22 p.m. on December 12, 1944, and pray for victory.
Critic Kiyoshi Kiyosawa ridiculed Koiso in his diary that day. “The Japanese Prime Minister, who leads us in a war with advanced science and technology in the middle of the 20th century, is a person who solemnly prays for a divine wind to blow,” he wrote.