Some leaders make peace efforts
During the Showa War, some military and political leaders continuously made efforts to end hostilities although they made mistakes, for which they are accountable, in a number of instances. The Showa War ended with two “divine decisions” by Emperor Showa. The pro-peace group led by Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Koichi Kido, Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo and Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai, among others, worked together to get through this critical stage. Kido, the Emperor’s closest aide, was the de facto overseer of the selection of prime ministers after the second Cabinet of Fumimaro Konoe. After the Konoe Cabinet resigned en masse, Kido opposed bringing in an Imperial Family member to form a cabinet, and strongly pushed War Minister Hideki Tojo, who took a hard line toward the United States, for the Prime Minister’s post. Kido calculated that Tojo could prevent the nation from sliding into war against the United States as he called himself a loyal subject to the Emperor. But Kido’s expectations turned out to be wrong.
Kido bears serious responsibility for this mistake. Also, when a campaign against the Tojo Cabinet spearheaded by former Prime Ministers Keisuke Okada and Reijiro Wakatsuki took place, Kido was reluctant to be part of it. Kido finally embarked on war-ending efforts after an Imperial Supreme War Council meeting in the presence of the Emperor on June 8, 1945. Kido at this time believed, “There’s no other choice but to end [the war] by making the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal and Foreign Minister shoulder all responsibility and ask for His Majesty the Emperor’s decision when the chance arises.” Kido compiled overnight “a draft proposal for saving the situation,” which called for mediation of peace negotiations by the Soviet Union, and obtained the Emperor’s approval. Konoe, who had served as Prime Minister, was named as a special envoy to Moscow.
Konoe shifted to a pro-peace stance after the Japan-U.S. war broke out. Konoe became the first person to propose to the Emperor an early end to the war in February 1945, citing fears of a possible “red revolution” by communists.
Suzuki, who became Prime Minister in April 1945, was viewed as seeking an end to the war but also shared the view of War Minister Korechika Anami that inflicting a major blow to the enemy on the nation’s mainland would enable Japan to glean more favorable terms in peace negotiations. Although Suzuki gradually moved to bring about an early end to the war, he never revealed his true feelings. Togo and Yonai, therefore, sometimes became suspicious of Suzuki, a situation that prevented unity forming among pro-peace group members.
Suzuki also made a mistake in ignoring the Potsdam Declaration because of pressure from the military. But it can be said that ending the war with the Emperor’s “divine decisions”could not have been achieved without Suzuki’s seasoned judgment. Togo, who as Foreign Minister opposed going to war against the United States, instructed Foreign Ministry officials on New Year’s Day in 1942, “You may even abandon other duties so you can study and make preparations [for bringing an end to the war].” Togo joined the Suzuki Cabinet on condition that the government would seek a peace deal at an early stage. Togo made a colossal blunder by asking Moscow to mediate peace negotiations. But even this mistake was said to be aimed at containing the military by bringing negotiations with the Soviet Union to a deadlock.
Kijuro Shidehara, who had served as Foreign Minister, and Shigeru Yoshida, who had served as Ambassador to Britain, had proposed early on possible ways to seek peace to those close to the Emperor. Within the Navy, Rear Admiral Sokichi Takagi was secretly engaged in studying how to end the war under the instructions of Vice Navy Minister Shigeyoshi Inoue. Navy Minister Yonai took a more hard-line stance after the Shanghai Incident and urged War Minister Sugiyama to capture Nanjing. Yonai also holds partial responsibility for escalating the Sino-Japanese War. Having served as Prime Minister, Yonai was a man with a wide perspective. But he was unusually taciturn—a disadvantage for a statesman—and thus lacked political power. While seeking a peace deal, Yonai greatly depended on Takagi for information and other activities. However, Yonai made tactless, yet prophetic remarks on the atomic bombings by the United States and on the Soviet Union’s participation in the war, saying, “This might be the wrong expression, but it’s a godsend.”
Jushin unofficial senior advisers to the Emperor, who comprised former Prime Ministers and the President of the Privy Council, were all slow to act in seeking an end to the war because they feared becoming targets of terrorist acts and coups.