A newly released memo by a wartime Japanese official provides what a historian said is the first look at the thinking of Japanese Emperor Hirohito and then-Japanese prime minister Hideki Tojo on the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust the US into World War II.
While far from conclusive, the five-page document lends credence to the view that Hirohito bears at least some responsibility for starting the war.
At 8:30pm in Tokyo, just hours before the attack, Tojo summoned two top aides for a countdown to war briefing. One of them, then-Japanese vice minister of the interior Michio Yuzawa, wrote an account three hours after the meeting was over.
“The emperor seemed at ease and unshakable once he had made a decision,” he quoted Tojo as saying.
To what extent Hirohito was responsible for the war is a sensitive topic in Japan and the bookseller who discovered the memo kept it under wraps for nearly a decade before releasing it to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, which published it earlier this week.
Hirohito was protected from indictment in the Tokyo war crimes trials during a US occupation that wanted to use him as a symbol to rebuild Japan as a democratic nation. He died in 1989 at age 87, after 62 years on the throne.
“It took me nine years to come forward, as I was afraid of a backlash,” said bookseller Takeo Hatano, who handled the document carefully as he showed it to reporters. “But now I hope the memo would help us figure out what really happened during the war, in which 3.1 million people were killed.”
Takahisa Furukawa, a Nihon University expert on wartime history who has confirmed the authenticity of the memo, called it the first detailed portrayal of Tojo and Hirohito just before the attack.
Palace documents have confirmed Hirohito’s daytime meeting with Tojo on Dec. 7, 1941, but without elaborating.
The memo supports the view that Hirohito was not as concerned about waging war on the US as was once portrayed, Furukawa said.
The emperor had endorsed the government’s decision to scrap diplomatic options at a Dec. 1 meeting and his unchanged position the day before the attack reassured Tojo.
Yuzawa’s account portrays Tojo as upbeat and feeling a sense of accomplishment after all the required administrative steps for war had been taken and, most importantly, Hirohito had given him the final nod without asking any questions.
“If His Majesty had any regret over negotiations with Britain and the US, he would have looked somewhat grim. There was no such indication, which must be a result of his determination,” Tojo is quoted as saying in the memo. “I’m completely relieved. Given the current conditions, I could say we have practically won already.”
His optimism was misplaced. The Pearl Harbor attack killed nearly 2,400 US service personnel and caused major damage to the US Pacific Fleet. However, within months the tide was turning.
Tojo was blamed for prolonging the war after it was clearly lost, leading to the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. He was later executed as “Class-A” war criminal.
Tojo, whose administrative skills and loyalty had won Hirohito’s trust, was made prime minister just two months before the Pearl Harbor attack and served in the post for most of World War II.
Furukawa said that Tojo’s remarks in the memo about his relief at completing the preparations for war support evaluations of him as a good bureaucrat, but not a visionary leader.
More decisive leadership might have ended the war earlier, he said.
“Tojo is a bureaucrat who was incapable of making his own decisions, so he turned to the emperor as his supervisor. That’s why he had to report everything for the emperor to decide. If the emperor didn’t say no, then he would proceed,” Furukawa said. “Clearly, the memo shows the absence of political leadership in Japan.”
Yuzawa wrote in the memo that he was “moved and honored to get involved in war preparations at the time of a crucial event that would determine the fate of the Imperial state.”
He was later promoted to minister of the interior. but turned critical of Tojo’s leadership and was dismissed from the Cabinet over a policy difference.
“He is a man of passion and loyalty,” Yuzawa wrote of Tojo in a notebook he kept. “But he is so narrow-minded and he has no philosophy as a political leader.”
Hatano, a longtime acquaintance of some of Yuzawa’s descendants, received the notebook and other items from family members when they wanted to make room in their apartment. He found the memo folded in half inside the notebook about a year later.
“When I recognized the date, Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, I knew it was something special,” he said.
He examined it repeatedly to try to make sense of the handwriting and archaic language.
“Then I spotted references to the emperor and prime minister Tojo,” he said.
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
Three Micronesian sailors stranded on a remote Pacific island have been found alive and well after a rescue team spotted their giant SOS message written into the sand on a beach. Australian and US military aircraft found the three men on tiny Pikelot island, nearly 200km west of where they had set off. Rescuers said that the men were “in good condition” with no significant injuries. The men had been missing for three days after their 7m skiff ran out of fuel and strayed off course. Authorities in the US territory of Guam raised the alarm on Saturday after the men failed to complete
A cat that went missing on a family holiday on the shores of Loch Lomond, Scotland, has been identified 12 years later. Tortoiseshell-and-white Georgie spent October half term in 2008 with her owners at the Rowardennan campsite, but vanished as they were due to return home to Greater Manchester, England. After a search of the site the Davies family departed without Georgie, hoping the three-year-old microchipped feline would be located by someone. Over the intervening 12 years, she remained close to the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park site, being fed and cared for by campsite staff and holidaymakers. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdown
LIFELONG LOSS: Jiro Hamasumi, who was not quite born when an atomic bomb hit Hiroshima, lost his father and other relatives, but said he thinks about his father daily As Japan marks 75 years since the devastating attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the last generation of nuclear bomb survivors is working to ensure their message lives on after them. The “hibakusha” — literally “person affected by the bomb” — have for decades been a powerful voice calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. There are an estimated 136,700 left, many of whom were infants or soon to be born at the time of the attacks. The average age of a survivor now is a little over 83, according to the Japanese Ministry of Health, lending an urgency as they share their testimonies