Togo unwisely seeks Moscow’s help to resolve situation: Atomic bombs, Soviet participation
Those mainly responsible
After the outbreak of war between Japan and the United States, on the assumption that it would lead to all-out hostilities, diplomatic analyst Kiyoshi Kiyosawa (1890–1945) noted: “The most important issue for the nation’s future is whether the Japanese people, who are brave in times of war, can also demonstrate sagacity in diplomacy to the same degree as their courage in war.”
However, no national leaders demonstrated both boldness and intelligence in diplomacy during the war. Shigenori Togo, Foreign Minister in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki, which was inaugurated on April 7, 1945, was resolved to bring an early end to the war since he had been in the same post during the Pearl Harbor attack. However, he made an extremely foolish decision to ask the Soviet Union, Japan’s potential adversary, to act as a peace mediator between Tokyo and Washington.
Of course, Togo did not know the Soviet Union had secretly agreed with the United States and Britain at the Yalta Conference in February of the same year to join the war against Japan. On April 5, shortly before the inauguration of the Suzuki Cabinet, the Soviet Union notified Japan that it would not extend the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact, which was scheduled to expire in April the following year. War Minister Korechika Anami and Chief of Army General Staff Yoshijiro Umezu were determined to land at least one strong blow against the United States—any meaningful victory in any battlefield—to bring Washington to the peace negotiations table. This concept was called “Ichigeki Kowa.”
However, they thought that Soviet participation in the war would highly likely result in Japan’s defeat in battle with the United States on the homeland. Umezu and others asked Togo to prevent Soviet participation through diplomatic efforts. “It’s too late now,”replied Togo, who was once ambassador to the Soviet Union. However, Togo thought it might not be a total waste of time to seek Moscow’s mediation. Utilizing the military’s request as a good excuse, he presumed he could take some time in the negotiations. Togo’s decision is understandable, given that there was no other choice at that moment. However, he should be blamed for wasting precious time trying in vain to persuade the Soviet Union to stay out of the war.
Togo gambled on negotiations, which started on June 3, between former Prime Minister Koki Hirota and Soviet Ambassador to Japan Jacov Malik. However, these negotiations basically went nowhere from the beginning and achieved nothing before the talks were suspended on July 14. After the war, Ambassador to the Soviet Union Naotake Sato said it was intolerable that “one precious month was wasted” as the nation’s fate hung in the balance. Japan waited too long for the Soviet Union’s reply to its request for mediation. Moscow never answered the request, and as a result, Japan delayed accepting the Potsdam Declaration, announced on July 26 resulting in a devastating outcome: the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Soviet Union’s participation in the war against Japan.
Prime Minister Suzuki’s leadership must also be seriously questioned. Of the six leaders of the Imperial Supreme War Council, three members—Togo, Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai and Prime Minister Suzuki—wanted an early end to the war. However, Suzuki never expressed his position on the matter. On August 1, when Japan was on the verge of capitulating, Togo asked Yonai to ask Suzuki what was on his mind. When members of the council met on June 6, details of the status of national power were distributed to all members, who were informed of the harsh reality that Japan had already lost its capability to continue the war. However, the council adopted the “Principles of War Leadership,” which stipulated that the nation was capable of continuing the war if measures were taken to galvanize the public’s spirit. Nobody opposed this idea at the council’s gozenkaigi meeting in the presence of the Emperor on June 8.
At this meeting, Chief of Naval General Staff Soemu Toyoda fabricated and reported false estimates of casualties and damage that would be inflicted on the enemy forces during an expected invasion of the homeland. These figures suited the objectives of those who wanted the war to continue. Anami made almost no comments in these meetings. It was likely that he was leaning toward early peace, but he did not take any concrete actions.
Suzuki also made a telling mistake in handling the Potsdam Declaration. At a Cabinet meeting, Umezu and Toyoda opposed Togo’s proposal not to reject the declaration but to postpone a formal response to it at least until they received a reply from the Soviet Union to Japan’s mediation request. In the end, the government decided to make no response to the declaration. However, Suzuki, pressured by Vice Chief of Naval General Staff Takijiro Onishi and others, said at a press conference that the government would “only ignore”(as reported by the Western media) the Potsdam Declaration, although he had actually intended to say “make no comment on” the declaration. His statement gave more rationale for the United States to drop the atomic bombs and for the Soviet Union to join the war against Japan.
Suzuki conspired with Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Koichi Kido in asking for the Emperor to hand down a decision on how to handle the declaration, even though the Cabinet had not made a decision on the matter. After asking the Emperor twice to make “divine judgments,” the Showa War finally came to an end.