Imperial Diet: Diet rubber-stamps military operations
During the Showa War period, the Imperial Diet was transformed into an organization that simply gave approval to war. As representatives of the people, the job of politicians who were members of the Diet was to control the bureaucrats and prevent the military from acting recklessly. However, they closed their eyes to these heavy responsibilities.
Some lawmakers did attempt to keep a leash on the military. Examples included speeches by Takao Saito on his antimilitary ideology and his call for enforcement of discipline on the military, as well as criticism of the military by Kunimatsu Hamada. Lawmakers belonging to the Yokusan Seiji-kai (Imperial Rule Assistance Association Political Society) adopted a resolution against the Cabinet of Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, leading to the fall of the Cabinet.
However, the Imperial Diet made a number of mistakes, in part because lawmakers feared becoming targets of terrorist attacks. The Diet failed to rein in the rampant behavior of the military while lawmakers were caught up in a political tug of war. It also rubber-stamped war budgets without criticism and forewent elections that would have been chances to gauge public opinion during wartime. After the Sino-Japanese War started in 1937, the Imperial Diet scarcely deliberated war-related budgets and approved the government’s budget proposals one after another. Giving up the right to deliberations practically became the norm during the Pacific War period.
In May 1938, the National Mobilization Law was established to give the government absolute power to control the public. Initially, lawmakers had opposed passing the bill into law, but they finally caved in to pressure from the military and allowed the law’s enactment. Earlier, in 1930, politicians such as Tsuyoshi Inukai and Ichiro Hatoyama, both from the opposition Seiyukai party, together with senior officers of the Naval General Staff, berated the Cabinet of Prime Minister Osachi Hamaguchi over its decision to conclude the London Naval Treaty. They said the arms control decision interfered with the Emperor’s supreme command authority to control the military. But this criticism of the Hamaguchi government based on political rivalries led to an expansion of the scope of the supreme command.
In the 1935 row, House of Peers (upper house of the Imperial Diet) member Takeo Kikuchi and others spoke against the theory that the Emperor was an organ of the state. Helped by the military, Kikuchi criticized Tatsukichi Minobe, a scholar and advocate of the theory, an attack that successfully eliminated the influence of the theory as a lèse-majestèattempt. Around this period, and compounded by the May 15, 1932 and the February 26, 1936, Incidents, the climate in which society was afraid to criticize the military and the government gradually took hold.
In the February 26 Incident, Finance Minister Korekiyo Takahashi, who had resisted requests from the military for bigger budgets, was assassinated. The Finance Ministry’s history reads, “The principle of gradually decreasing the issuance of government bonds that had been staunchly protected by Finance Minister Takahashi was abandoned at this point.”
In fiscal 1936, the military budget was 1.07 billion yen. But in fiscal 1937 when the Sino-Japanese War started, the budget tripled to 3.27 billion yen. The figure almost doubled each year after that to 6.47 billion yen in fiscal 1939, 12.5 billion yen in fiscal 1941 and 29.82 billion yen in fiscal 1943. The figure reached 73.49 billion yen in fiscal 1944. The Imperial Diet blindly approved these budgets.
In the early years of the Showa Era—the late 1920s and 1930s— election-related corruption, including bribes and buying voters, was routine. These acts amplified voters’ distrust in political parties and created room for the government to interfere in elections. In May 1935, the government issued an ordinance ostensibly to establish government committees to promote clean elections. However, the government used the committees to increasingly interfere in elections. In February 1936, the 19th House of Representatives election was held, followed in April 1937 by the 20th general election. In the former, Kanju Kato won a seat with the most votes throughout the country after appealing to voters with his anti-fascist platform. However, after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, no elections were held for some time and political parties were disbanded amid the New Order Movement, a political movement to seek a fascist government, and the ideal of seeking one-party control of the nation. After July 1940 a number of political parties, including Shakai Taishuto, Seiyukai and Minseito, were dissolved, marking the end of party politics in reality and in name.
As the end of the term for lower house members, April 1941, was approaching, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe submitted a bill to the ordinary Imperial Diet session convened in December 1940 to extend the terms of lower house of the Diet and local assembly members by one year. The bill was passed into law. Konoe’s motive for the extension reportedly came from his concern that public frustration amid the Sino-Japanese War would be unleashed in elections. Lawmakers passed the bill, effectively compromising the election process.
Prime Minister Tojo, who took over from Konoe in October 1941, decided to hold a general election as lower house lawmakers’ term was to expire in April 1942 to ride the public confidence in his government borne by victories in the early stages of the Pacific War. Tojo’s Cabinet introduced an infamous system under which only government-recommended candidates were allowed to run in a government-led general election. The election under the system was held on April 30 of the same year. Of 464 seats up for election, 381 were won by candidates recommended by the government. Some well-intentioned Diet members critical of such an election system resisted, but the Imperial Diet was unable to control and stop the Showa War.