Sugiyama, Nagano, others make major misjudgments
During the Sino-Japanese War, Koki Hirota supported Fumimaro Konoe as a pacesetter. Hirota served as Foreign Minister in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Makoto Saito and that of Prime Minister Keisuke Okada while the Army was moving forward with a plan to compel five provinces in northern China to secede from the Nationalist (Kuomintang) government. Hirota was an architect, together with Vice Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, of “Hirota’s Three Principles,” which called on China to suppress anti-Japanese activities, approve Manchukuo—the puppet state established by Japan in Manchuria—and to form a united front against communism. Hirota’s diplomatic stance indicated a departure from the policy of pursuing cooperation with Britain and the United States.
Hirota became Prime Minister as Konoe declined an Imperial order to take up the post in the wake of the February 26 Incident of 1936. Hirota promoted a series of pro-military policies. He restored a system that made the appointment of military officers in active service as war and navy ministers a requirement for installing a new cabinet and approved a state policy guideline in August 1936 that for the first time incorporated the doctrine to seek expansion in Southeast Asia and the Pacific islands. He also signed an anti-Comintern pact with Germany in November of the same year.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka’s diplomatic stance was in line with Konoe’s 1918 view on the international order as expressed in Konoe’s magazine article. After the Tripartite Pact was signed by Japan, Germany and Italy, Matsuoka flew to Moscow. He inked the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact in April 1941. Matsuoka’s plan to work with German leader Adolf Hitler and Soviet leader Josef Stalin against Britain and the United States collapsed two months later when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. He then insisted on advancing into the Soviet Union in compliance with the Tripartite Pact—a step that presented the military with a serious problem—and disrupted Konoe’s plan for peace negotiations with Washington.
For his part, Hajime Sugiyama, who was War Minister at the time of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident of 1937, pressed Konoe hard to dispatch three Army divisions to China. Sugiyama prepared a statement issued by Konoe that condemned China as a “vicious” state. Sugiyama, who was Chief of the Army General Staff, pressured Konoe in 1941 to order a military takeover of southern French Indochina, saying, “Such an advance will likely restrain British and U.S. maneuvers.”
Sugiyama also helped whip up a pro-war, hard-line stance against the United States in the Army General Staff. Before the outbreak of the Japan-U.S. War, Osami Nagano, chief of the Naval General Staff, was concerned that the U.S. fleet eventually would cross the Pacific Ocean to face the Japanese forces. He asserted, “Now that it’s come to this, we’ve got to go to war.” He said, “We have a chance to win a war now, but it will get more difficult if we just wait.” He insisted Japan should make the first strike. Nagano thus propelled the Navy forward toward war.
When the Cabinet of Prime Minister Hideki Tojo reexamined the state policy that did not exclude launching a war against the United States, one crucial point was the stance of Navy Minister Shigetaro Shimada, who was regarded as leaning toward those opposing the war. On October 30, 1941, despite opposition from Vice Navy Minister Yorio Sawamoto and others, Shimada declared, “On this occasion, we decided we should begin the war.” However, at a liaison meeting of the Imperial Headquarters and the government on November 1, Shimada vented his true feelings, “I have no confidence, no good ideas and I see no prospect for diplomatic negotiations. There’s no other choice [but war].” The decision to start the war was thus made in an atmosphere of desperation without due strategic consideration.
Dubbed “Tojo’s adjutant,”Shimada continued to support the administration of Tojo. As Tojo doubled as Chief of the Army General Staff, Shimada took up the post of chief of the Naval General Staff as instructed by Tojo.
Kuniaki Koiso, who succeeded Tojo as Prime Minister in July 1944, also hailed from the Army and was deeply involved in the Manchurian Incident when he was chief of the Military Affairs Bureau. Taking up the post soon after the fall of Saipan, Koiso knew that Japan was losing the war and that supplies of iron, crude oil and other materials essential for maintaining the nation’s ability to wage war were almost exhausted. Koiso at one point made some effort toward promoting peace but later gave up. Although the war situation deteriorated, Koiso unreasonably continued the war. He came up with the idea to mobilize the entire populace and make them pray for victory while facing Ise Grand Shrines under the slogan “Ichioku Sobuso” (Arming all the 100 million Japanese).
Chief of Naval General Staff Koshiro Oikawa played a crucial role in initiating suicide attacks during the Koiso administration. Under the second and third Konoe Cabinets, Oikawa, as Navy Minister, was involved in a series of steps that led to the war against the United States, such as the establishment of the Tripartite Alliance by Japan, Germany and Italy, the takeover of southern French Indochina and the compiling in September 1941 of the Principles for Implementation of the Imperial Policy that expressed the government’s determination to launch war against the United States.
In June 1945, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki decided to fight decisive battles on Japan’s mainland. Chief of Army General Staff Yoshijiro Umezu, who attended the meeting at which the decision was made, had been Vice War Minister and had supported the Sino-Japanese War when fighting broke out. War Minister Korechika Anami of the Suzuki Cabinet was involved in the signing of the Tripartite Pact when he was Vice War Minister. Soemu Toyoda, Chief of the Naval General Staff at that time, used to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, which suffered a string of defeats in the battle off the Marianas, the air battle off Taiwan and the sea battle off Leyte Island. He also ordered the suicide mission of the colossal battleship Yamato to Okinawa. Umezu and Anami insisted during an Imperial Supreme War Council meeting on August 9 that the nation should fight to the very end on the mainland, with the former saying, “We will do a great wrong to the divine spirits [of our war dead] if we surrender unconditionally,” and the latter saying, “We’ll find a way to escape an impossible situation with gyokusai [suicide attacks with honor] by 100 million [Japanese] people.” Umezu, Anami and Toyoda thus resisted the nation’s acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration until the end.