Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

8-12 Surrender

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- As America continued the war, after dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese high command was in turmoil and disarray.
On the evening of August 9, the day of the Nagasaki bombing, Emperor Hirohito unexpectedly called a meeting of the top six Japanese government officials.
This inner cabinet was equally divided. The peace faction wanted to accept the Potsdam Declaration and end the war. The war faction wanted four conditions attached to a surrender.
It insisted that the emperor system of government be retained, that Japan be allowed to try its own war criminals and disarm its own military and it insisted the Allies not occupy the homelands of Japan.
At the meeting, the emperor sat at the head of the table but, by custom, did not participate in discussions or decisions. The presiding officer was the prime minister, a member of the peace faction.
After three hours of discussion and the cabinet still hopelessly deadlocked at 3-3, Prime Minister Suzuki asked the emperor to break the tie. Gen. Anami, the war minister, loudly protested.
But Hirohito immediately rose and agreed that the Potsdam Declaration be accepted. "I cannot bear to see my innocent people struggle any longer," he said.
The prime minister had trumped the war party, even though that faction actually controlled the government through the threat of force. Hirohito immediately left the room. The cabinet agreed that the Potsdam Declaration would be accepted if the emperor's status could be preserved.
On August 10, President Harry Truman met with his war council to discuss the conditional surrender offer. The council agreed that retention of the emperor would be practical, since without his directive, the Japanese armies, scattered throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia, would be unlikely to surrender. And the war needed to be ended before Russia advanced any further.
But allowing any conditions would not be popular with Congress or the American people. It was noted that Japan demanded and received unconditional surrender on Bataan and at Singapore.
So the Allied response was carefully worded to leave the emperor's status to the commander of the occupation force.
This sent the Japanese cabinet back to square one in its surrender deliberations. The imperial form of government was important to the military because even though it controlled the decision making process, it was only through the emperor that decrees were communicated and implemented.
And there was one other problem. Young army officers in the war ministry had long wanted to take matters into their own hands. They were extremely unhappy with the conditional surrender and the Allies' position of neither accepting nor rejecting it. That opened the door for them to demand that all four previous conditions be honored.
For three days a potential coup developed as the young officers worked to solidify the war faction and sway members of the peace faction to their side.
On August 14, a lone B-29 from Tinian flew over the center of Tokyo and dropped millions of leaflets addressed to the Japanese people advising them that the Japanese government had offered to surrender. It presented the Allied response and declared that the government now had a chance to end the war immediately.
Up to that point, only top government officials knew of the surrender offer. The rest of the military had no knowledge and it was feared they could revolt.
The emperor was convinced to call an immediate cabinet meeting. The same deadlock continued. Without being asked this time, Hirohito rose and said his views were unchanged. The Allied response was acceptable.
At midnight, as the emperor recorded a radio address for the following day, the coup plotters made a final attempt to sway military leaders who had pledged to support the emperor's decision. It was a night of assassinations and suicides, but by 5 a.m. the coup collapsed.
FRI, 8-12-05

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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