Japan sticks to its mainland battle plan
Navy Admiral Kantaro Suzuki, President of the Privy Council, was appointed to succeed Prime Minister Kuniaki Koiso. Suzuki, who served as Grand Chamberlain for a long time, was deeply trusted by the Emperor. However, he was already 77 years old and hard of hearing.
Why was Suzuki appointed as the last wartime Prime Minister? Koiso presented his resignation as Prime Minister on the morning of April 5, 1945. According to Kido Koichi Nikki (Diary of Koichi Kido), at an evening conference of jushin, senior statesmen who served as extra constitutional advisers to the Emperor, which began with an address by Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Koichi Kido, former Prime Minister Hideki Tojo was the first to offer his opinion. Tojo stated, “It isn’t good that Cabinets fail and change frequently during a war...The next Cabinet should be the last one [during the war]. The nation is divided between those who want to continue fighting until a glorious victory is won, and those who favor accepting demands for our unconditional surrender and immediately make peace. I think we need to decide now which path to take.”
The Army wanted “an Army general on active duty” to succeed Koiso. Considering this, Tojo’s statement apparently was a warning aimed at people including former Prime Ministers Fumimaro Konoe and Keisuke Okada, who were proponents of the peace path. Kiichiro Hiranuma and Suzuki agreed with Tojo. However, Okada, Konoe and Reijiro Wakatsuki, another former Prime Minister, held their ground, insisting that the jushin conference’s aim was merely to choose the next Prime Minister and they had no right to “make any decision on national policy now.” Consequently, they agreed the next Prime Minister should be somebody who at least will “continue fighting until the end,” as Hiranuma and Suzuki had sought. Hiranuma recommended Suzuki to be the next Prime Minister, and Konoe and Wakatsuki supported the idea. However, Suzuki felt he was not the best choice. “It would destroy the nation if military officers interfere in politics...I also have poor hearing. I’d like to turn down the recommendation,” Suzuki said.
But Hiranuma was persistent and stated, “Though Mr. Suzuki is a Navy officer, he is deeply trusted by the Emperor as he served as civil servant for a long time.” Kido had earlier gained the approval of Okada, Konoe, Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai and other Cabinet ministers who could not attend the conference, to push for Suzuki to be the next Prime Minister. Tojo recommended Army General Shunroku Hata be given the post. In the end, Kido urged Suzuki to stand up, and most of those in attendance agreed to support him. “Now that our homeland will become a battlefield, if you aren’t very careful, the Army may turn its back on us,” Tojo said, trying to drum up support for Hata. “If the Army turns on us, the Cabinet will collapse.” However, the discussion finished after Okada briefly chided Tojo for speaking for the Army.
Kido later wrote in his diary that there was a tacit agreement among the jushin about seeking peace, but they did not speak up at the conference because they “feared the Army may take matters into their own hands if they made remarks about their wish to terminate the war.” At midnight on April 5, Suzuki was granted an audience with the Emperor, who ordered him to form a new Cabinet. According to custom, the Emperor was supposed to say, “You should abide by the Constitution after forming the Cabinet.” However, the Emperor omitted such formalities with Suzuki. Grand Chamberlain Hisanori Fujita later said the Emperor “ordered Mr. Suzuki to form a Cabinet without giving any preconditions.”
Suzuki asked the Emperor to allow him to decline the post. However, in an extraordinary statement the Emperor said, “At this critical juncture, there is nobody else. I beseech you, please accept my order, even if it goes against your wishes.” The Army was still distrustful of Suzuki. War Minister Hajime Sugiyama presented three conditions to Suzuki, who had already started forming the Cabinet:
Sugiyama implied he would not support the new War Minister if Suzuki did not accept these conditions. Despite Sugiyama’s concerns, Suzuki readily agreed to these demands—he picked Korechika Anami as War Minister and Shigenori Togo as Foreign Minister. He also retained Mitsumasa Yonai as Navy Minister.
Although the Army had wanted Yonai, who had refused to integrate the Army with the Navy, to go, he remained in his post partly because Suzuki wished him to do so. The Army, which had its sights set on fighting the final battle on the mainland, called for integration with the Navy. However, the Navy scoffed at the idea, adamant that any such integration would mean its absorption by the Army. What might have happened if the forces had been integrated? If the Army and Navy had been integrated, “We couldn’t have accepted [the Potsdam Declaration] due to absolute opposition from the military,” Navy Captain Atsushi Oi later said. “As a result, the mainland would have been destined to become a battlefield.”
The Suzuki Cabinet was inaugurated on April 7, the day the colossal battleship Yamato and five other ships of the Navy’s Second Fleet, which were heading to Okinawa on a suicide mission, were sunk by U.S. forces before they could accomplish their mission.