BECK index

Japan's War and Defeat 1937-1949

by Sanderson Beck

Japan Invades China 1937-38
Japan's Occupation of China 1939-40
Japanese and American Diplomacy in 1941
Japan's Aggressive War 1941-42
Japan's Losing War 1943-45
Japan's Defeat and Surrender
American Occupation of Japan in 1945
American Occupation of Japan 1946-49
Trials of Japanese War Crimes
Censorship and Kurosawa's Early Films

This chapter has been published in the book EAST ASIA 1800-1949.
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Japan Invades China 1937-38

Japan's Modernization 1800-1894

On July 7, 1937 Japanese soldiers stationed in Beijing conducted a night exercise near the Marco Polo Bridge. They wanted to build a barracks in the area and often held maneuvers to intimidate the Chinese troops. When one Japanese soldier was reported missing, a Japanese request to search the town of Wanping was denied. The Japanese were deployed around the town, and in the morning the Chinese garrison and the Japanese fired on each other. Chief of Staff Kanin ordered the North China Garrison “to avoid further use of force.” More shooting occurred at Wanping, but two days later a local settlement was reached. On July 11 the Inner Cabinet ordered the deployment of three divisions from Japan, one from Korea, and two brigades from Manchuria. The majority approved this with the understanding it could be cancelled if it was not needed. The Foreign Ministry sent Nanjing terms similar to the local settlement, but the Japanese Army insisted on the local Chinese commander being dismissed and withdrawal of the Chinese troops by July 19 without withdrawing any Japanese soldiers. On July 20 a report that the Chinese had opened fire again led to sending the three divisions.

Kazuki Kiyoshi arrived in Beijing as the commander of the North China Garrison on July 22. When another clash occurred on July 25, he gave the Chinese an ultimatum to withdraw their forces from Beijing by the 28th. Premier Konoe spoke publicly in the Diet that Japan was determined to bring about “a new order in East Asia.” On July 28 Emperor Hirohito authorized the use of chemical weapons, and Japanese troops surrounded Beijing. After aerial bombing the city was taken two days later. The Chinese Peace Preservation Corps at Dongzhou east of Beijing killed their Japanese supervisors and 230 Japanese residents; but Tianjin also fell, and the Japanese gained control of northern Hebei. On August 8 the Japanese high command authorized an advance into Inner Mongolia led by General Tojo Hideki.

General Ishiwara Kanji wanted to avoid war with China. He with the Naval General Staff proposed an end to previous agreements and special trade, withdrawal of Japanese reinforcements, and restoration of China’s sovereignty over Hebei and Chahar if China would recognize Manzhouguo, form an anti-Communist alliance, and end the boycott and other anti-Japanese activities. The Inner Cabinet approved this proposal and sent an envoy to Nanjing on August 7, and negotiations began two days later. That night two Japanese marines forced their way into a Chinese military airfield near Shanghai by killing a guard, and they were shot dead. Admiral Hasegawa Kiyoshi asked for reinforcements for Shanghai, and the Inner Cabinet approved mobilization on August 12. The Japanese Navy pushed a “Strike South” strategy, and Emperor Hirohito approved its priority.

Two Japanese Army divisions were dispatched to Shanghai, and Japanese warships exchanged fire with Chinese batteries on shore. Two Chinese aircraft dropped bombs on the International Settlement in Shanghai, causing a thousand casualties. The next day Japanese naval bombers attacked Shanghai and Nanjing, and China ordered mobilization. The two Japanese divisions landed in Shanghai on August 23, but they met tough resistance and called for more reinforcements. All the Reserves were mobilized, and on September 9 a special Diet session approved an additional two billion yen for military expenses in China. Two days later an imperial order transmitted by Prince Kanin deployed chemical warfare units in Shanghai.

Ishiwara’s restraint was over-ruled, and he was dismissed from the General Staff on September 27. On October 5, US President Franklin Roosevelt proposed a quarantine on aggressive nations. The next day the League of Nations accused Japan of violating the Washington Treaty and the Kellogg-Briand Pact, and they suggested that the Powers aid China; a conference was arranged in Brussels. In October the Japanese presented demands to China that included recognizing Prince De in Inner Mongolia and paying Japan reparations for the cost of the war, but Jiang Jieshi (Kai-shek) initially rejected these. The Navy suspected Premier Konoe’s “Strike North” strategy, and he was excluded from the decision-making.

Japan landed five more divisions north and south of Shanghai in early November. On the 9th the Chinese army began withdrawing, and their defenses gave way a few days later. Nearly a quarter million Chinese including women and children were killed in Shanghai while Japan had 9,115 killed and 31,357 wounded. The Brussels Conference ended on November 19 without recommending economic sanctions or even naming Japan the aggressor. The Japanese people united behind the war, and the Social Mass party endorsed the “holy war” at its congress and tried to work with the government to nationalize industries. The Imperial Headquarters formed a coordinated plan between the Army and Navy. On December 2 Jiang changed his mind about the Japanese offer. However, General Matsui Iwane believed that occupying Nanjing would force the Chinese to capitulate, and so Japan made their terms more harsh. The 200,000 men in China’s army were retreating from Shanghai and were demoralized, but Jiang would not give up his capital Nanjing without a fight.

General Matsui was ill, and Hirohito’s uncle Asaka commanded the attack on Nanjing. A surrender demand was soon followed by saturation bombing on December 10. Three American oil tankers and the gunboat USS Panay were attacked by naval aircraft to block the Yangzi River. President Roosevelt sent a note to Emperor Hirohito. The Foreign Ministry said it was “purely accidental” and offered generous compensation to the families of the 17 casualties with apologies. Nanjing fell after two days of bombing, and desperate refugees were drowned and trampled in the panic. Leaflets had warned that the city would suffer “harsh and relentless” treatment if it did not surrender. Women suffered the most as tens of thousands between the ages of 10 and 76 were raped. Japanese soldiers slaughtered at least 150,000 Chinese troops and 50,000 civilians as officers supervised the looting of homes and shops. General Matsui led a victory parade on December 17 and reprimanded the gathered officers; but he returned to Shanghai, and Asaka was left in charge of the continuing atrocities.

On December 14 the Japanese set up a Provisional Government in Beijing to replace the Peace Preservation Committees over Shandong, Henan, southern Hebei, and Shanxi. Tojo and the Guandong Army maintained control over north China and Inner Mongolia, where Prince De was supposed to be autonomous. In Japan more than four hundred socialists were arrested in December, and the leftist Rodo Hyogikai labor union was disbanded. On the 21st Japan asked China to surrender by the end of the year, demanding demilitarized zones in northern and central China and payment of reparations for all of Japan’s war costs and losses. The deadline was extended to January 16, 1938, and on that day Premier Konoe announced that the Imperial Government would no longer negotiate with Jiang’s Nationalist Government.

A Reserve Bank of China replaced Chinese currency with its own notes. The North China Development Company and the South Manchuria Railway controlled economic activities with support from Mitsui, Mitsubishi, and other cartels. In northern Shanxi the Dadong coal mines exported to Japan at a tenth of the previous price. The Provisional Government cut tariffs and collected customs dues to favor Japanese imports. The deceptively named Opium Prohibition Bureau licensed the drug traffic to obtain its profits. The Central China Army tried to set up the Restoration Government, but they were called racketeers and gangsters and were denied customs dues in Shanghai from the international community.

In February 1938 Konoe proposed the National Mobilization Act to use all the nation’s human and material resources for the war. The Diet was concerned about its five-year plan but approved it on March 24. At the end of March the Emperor declined Konoe’s resignation, and they reorganized the cabinet by choosing Itagaki as minister of War, Ugaki as Foreign minister, and Araki as Education minister.

On April 5 Imperial orders dispatched the two armies toward Xuzhou, and after much fighting they took over the abandoned city on May 19. Once again the Japanese soldiers slaughtered the Chinese men and raped the women. The advance on Hankou began on June 15. Five days later Jiang disrupted this by destroying the dykes of the Yellow River, flooding out two million residents. From August to October the Wuhan offensive was authorized to use the internationally banned mustard gas against the Chinese 375 times. The International Red Cross reported that many Japanese soldiers had become pessimistic and doubted they would ever see Japan again. Although Hirohito had studied international law, Japan did not ratify the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Proof that they slaughtered the Chinese soldiers they captured is indicated by the fact that at the end of the war they had only 56 Chinese prisoners of war but thousands of Western prisoners. On December 2, 1938 Hirohito approved the “three-alls policy” (sanko sakusen) to “burn all, kill all, and steal all.” The historian Himeta Mitsuyoshi has estimated that the Japanese killed more than 2.7 million Chinese civilians in their sanko campaigns.

On July 3 Japanese soldiers took up positions near the Soviet forces at Lake Khasan, where the borders of Siberia, Korea, and Manchuria meet. When Soviet troops moved forward and dug trenches on July 11, commanders of the Korean Army asked permission to respond. The Soviet spy Richard Sorge learned that Japan did not want a war with the Soviet Union, but on July 29 Japan’s 19th Division attacked the Russian positions in defiance of Imperial orders. They were pushed back by Soviet tanks and air attacks while Japanese pilots in Korea obeyed orders not to participate. Vice War Minister Tojo Hideki had two colonels replaced by Tanaka Takayoshi and Cho Isamu. The battle continued until a truce was made on August 11. Each side had suffered nearly 10,000 casualties. General Blücher had wanted to fight Japan, and Moscow recalled him in September. In eastern Hebei the Chinese Communists used guerrilla tactics to occupy 22 districts, and in October they stopped the Beijing-Hankou railway from operating at night.

On September 27, 1938 Foreign minister Ugaki resigned because he was not allowed to negotiate with the Nationalist Government. Japanese troops took Guangzhou (Canton) on October 21, and four days later General Okamura Yasuji completed a six-month drive by occupying Hankou and other Wuhan cities. Along with Beijing and Tianjin in the north and Shanghai in the east, Japan now controlled China’s five largest cities. The conquering phase of the war ended as the Japanese settled into the enduring task of occupation. In November negotiations began between Wang Jingwei and Doihara’s Commission. Wang accepted the Asian Development Board that Premier Konoe appointed on December 16 to organize the economic exploitation of China. Suzuki Teiichi, who had led the looting of Nanjing, became head of its Political Affairs Branch. Two days later Wang took a plane from the Chongqing airport to Hanoi to begin negotiating with Japan the forming of a new collaborating government in China. Wang hoped to govern in the unoccupied provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, but the warlords would not accept him. Prime Minister Konoe announced that Japan would sponsor a New Order in East Asia to help liberate Asians from Western colonialism.

Japan's Occupation of China 1939-40

Wang Jingwei was expelled from the Guomindang on January 1, 1939. Three days later Baron Hiranuma replaced Konoe as prime minister, and his hard line caused Wang to threaten to return to Chongqing. Hiranuma moderated his attitude and arranged for Wang to be safe in Shanghai. In February the Japanese Navy took over the island of Hainan, and in March they put a base in Southeast Asia on the uninhabited Spratly Islands that had been claimed by France. That month General Okamura Yasuji was given permission to use 15,000 canisters of poison gas so that his troops would have “the feeling of victory.” Japanese planes began bombing Chongqing in May, killing 5,000 residents in the first two days. Japan also tried to stop arms and income from getting to Jiang’s capital. In June the Inner Cabinet decided that Wang was to represent only one in a body of constituents. Wang told Itagaki that he did not want Japanese advisors attached to his government.

On May 11 the Guandong Army and Inner Mongolian tribes invaded the Soviet protectorate of Outer Mongolia and went as far as Lake Nomonhan. Hitler announced his military alliance with Mussolini on May 22. Three days later Major Alfimogen Bykov counterattacked with 10,000 Mongolians who reoccupied Nomonhan. Hirohito sent in three divisions with 56,000 men, and Stalin dispatched his outstanding tank commander, General Georgi Zhukov. Sorge’s spying gave Zhukov detailed information on the Japanese forces. On August 19 he attacked them with 500 tanks, 250 planes, 346 armored cars, and nearly 80,000 troops. News of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact on August 23 caused Premier Hiranuma to send a protest to Berlin and then to resign on August 30; he was replaced by Abe Nobuyuki. After his successful advance, Zhukov stopped his forces at the Manchurian border on August 31. Germany invaded Poland the next day, and the British Commonwealth nations declared war. Japan announced that they would not “intervene in the war in Europe.” Ambassador Togo Shigenori and Soviet Foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov signed a truce in Moscow on September 15, agreeing on the previous borders. According to official figures 8,440 of the Japanese forces were killed, and 8,766 were wounded. Recent research of Soviet archives found the Russians and Mongolians had 7,974 killed and 15,251 wounded. After this the Japanese “Strike North” strategy was dead.

On September 19 Wang Jingwei met with the puppet leaders of the Provisional and Restoration governments, and he was appointed chairman of the Central Political Congress. On December 30 Wang signed the Outline for Adjusting to New Relations between Japan and China. Japan imposed strict censorship during the war, and more than 500 publishers went out of business by the end of 1939. Each year more Japanese and foreign books were put on the index of prohibited works. During the first year of World War II Japan added a quarter million men and twelve new divisions to their Army that increased to more than a million men. By December 1941 the Japanese military would have 2.1 million men.

The United States had notified Japan in July that they would not renew their commercial treaty in January 1940. Also in July 1939 the US prohibited the selling of airplane parts to Japan. In October the US moved much of its Pacific fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor.

Food and energy shortages and inflation caused Abe’s cabinet to fall, and Navy minister Yonai Mitsumasa became premier on January 16, 1940. On February 2 Saito Takao of the Minseito party gave a speech in the House of Representatives that criticized the hypocrisy of calling the occupation of China a “holy war against Western imperialism” when it was really the strong taking advantage of the weak. His words were stricken from the Diet record, and he was expelled.

Wang Jingwei met again on January 20 with the Provisional and Restoration leaders to plan his collaborating government. The Central Political Congress convened at Nanjing in March, and on the 30th the National Government was inaugurated. Only one third of the Congress members belonged to the Guomindang.

On March 25 Prince Konoe recruited a hundred members of the Diet from all parties and formed the League for Waging the Holy War, and they advocated an alliance with Germany and Italy. After France capitulated to Germany in June, Japan demanded that Governor-General George Catroux of French Indochina allow Japanese military observers in Hanoi and stop moving war materials to the Chinese Nationalists on the Hanoi-Chongqing railway, which Japanese planes were already bombing. The French ambassador Charles Arsene-Henry agreed to recognize Japan’s “special requirements.” Japan’s South China Army was on the border ready to invade. A week later Japan told the British to remove their troops from Shanghai and close the Hong Kong frontier and the Burma Road.

Prime Minister Yonai favored cooperation with Britain and America, and he opposed a military alliance with Germany. Fifty people in the right-wing Daitojuku plotted to assassinate him and were arrested by the police in July. When Yonai refused to resign, War minister Hata Shinroku resigned. The Big Three in charge of the military refused to approve a replacement, and Yonai’s cabinet was dissolved. Prince Konoe became premier again on July 22, 1940 with Tojo as War minister and the “Talking Machine” Matsuoka as Foreign minister. Five days later the Inner Cabinet met with the Army and Navy chiefs in the Liaison Conference, and they began to plan for a war against the British and the Americans. On August 1 they announced their intention to found the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Greater East Asia. Matsuoka negotiated with Germany, and it was agreed that Japan would decide if an attack by a third country on the alliance required Japan’s assistance. On September 3 Navy minister Yoshida Zengo resigned in protest against the proposed pact.

In North China about 400,000 Communists had launched an invasion on August 20, damaging railways, roads, industry, mines, and the blockhouses, but the Imperial Army was able to defeat them. In September a Japanese mission went to Batavia to negotiate with the Dutch East Indies to gain an additional supply of oil, but the failure to reach an agreement led the militarists to argue that Japan needed to break out of the ABCD encirclement by the Americans, British, Chinese, and Dutch.

On August 30 the French collaborators in Indochina agreed that Japan could station 6,000 troops in three airfields on the Chinese border, and on September 13 Japan insisted that they be allowed in the Hanoi-Haiphong area within ten days. On the 22nd Japan moved an additional 25,000 troops to four airfields on the Chinese border, and their South China Army crossed the border and attacked the French garrison, occupying northern Indochina. An order from Emperor Hirohito stopped the fighting after two days. On September 25 the New York Times reported that Germany and Japan were forming an alliance and that Hitler wanted Japan to attack Hong Kong and Singapore. Washington announced a loan of $25 million to the Chinese Nationalists that day and on the next day an embargo on all scrap iron and steel to anyone outside the British Commonwealth and the western hemisphere. Japan, Germany, and Italy signed the Tripartite Pact on September 27. In the next two weeks sixteen million Americans registered for the military draft. Britain reopened the Burma Road, but the United States declined to move its Pacific Fleet to Singapore.

On October 8 the Japanese ambassador warned Washington that future relations could become unpredictable if trade was curtailed. US officials had access to Japanese cables and telegrams because by September 25 they had developed a machine to decipher Japan’s diplomatic code. Although one message leaked out, the Japanese did not change their code. Thus US access to diplomatic messages continued, but the Americans did not have the code used by the Japanese Navy.

Premier Konoe hoped to form a single totalitarian party like the Nazis and Fascists. During the summer the Social Masses party and conservative parties had dissolved themselves, and the Minseito party was the last to dissolve itself in August. Konoe met with a preparatory commission of 37 prominent leaders representing important interest groups, but the demands of the Home Ministry alienated the others. On October 12 Konoe and prominent national leaders inaugurated the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (IRAA), but too much political opposition persisted. The Japanists complained that the reforms proposed by Konoe and the Army would violate the imperial constitution. So the IRAA was organized by the Home Ministry using neighborhood associations with ten families in each to handle practical problems and assure compliance with the war effort, and it was called an “educational and spiritual association.”

Abe became ambassador to the new regime of Wang Jingwei and negotiated the Basic Treaty that was accepted on August 31. However, Tokyo leaders did not recognize the new government because they were negotiating with Jiang and offering him better terms. His troops had gone back to fighting the Communists, and the British had closed the Burma road for a few months. Jiang used his negotiation with Japan to get a $100 million loan and fifty fighter planes from America, who did not want Japan free to move into the Pacific. So Japan and Wang signed the Basic Treaty on November 30. Japan continued its China policy of “requisitioning all materials needed for the survival of the army.” On December 7 the Cabinet adopted the policy of a planned economy while assuring entrepreneurs a role in the planning. Also in 1940 Japan began the experimental use of bacteriological weapons in China. On the home front the moderate Sodomei labor union was dissolved, and even dance halls were prohibited. Japan made polished rice illegal, and the more nutritious brown rice was rationed along with salt, sugar, matches, and other necessities. Women were forbidden to perm their hair or wear fancy clothes.

Japanese and American Diplomacy in 1941

On November 21, 1940 the Inner Cabinet decided to support Thailand’s demands to regain territory from French Indochina, and they supplied planes and arms to Bangkok. On January 16, 1941 Indochinese troops pushed back the Thais on the border and defeated the Thai fleet. When Bangkok asked for help, the Japanese threatened Indochina and moved two aircraft carriers, four cruisers, and 700 marines. Foreign minister Matsuoka asked Germany to pressure the French, and a truce led to negotiations in February and France’s capitulation in Indochina on March 6. After visiting Berlin, Matsuoka went to Moscow and signed a five-year neutrality pact with Molotov on April 13. Japan pledged to respect the Mongolian People’s Republic, and the Soviet Union recognized Manzhouguo.

In Washington the Japanese ambassador Nomura Kichisaburo began discussions with Secretary of State Cordell Hull in March. The next month Hull presented Nomura with the following Four Principles “on which all relations between nations should properly rest:”

1. Respect for the territorial integrity
and the sovereignty of each and all nations.
2. Support of the principle of non-interference
in the internal affairs of other countries.
3. Support of the principle of equality,
including equality of commercial opportunity.
4. Non-disturbance of the status quo in the Pacific,
however the status quo may be altered by peaceful means.1

Japan wanted to continue trade especially for oil, and the United States wanted the Japanese to withdraw from China and Indochina.

On June 5 Hitler notified the Japanese ambassador that Germany was going to invade the Soviet Union, and the invasion began on the 22nd. On July 2 the Imperial Conference decided to fight the Russians if Germany was victorious. About 850,000 soldiers assembled in Manzhouguo near the border, but Stalin only withdrew a few troops from the east. On August 9 Japan abandoned the idea of attacking the Soviet Union in 1941. By September the German army was bogged down at Leningrad. In his last message on October 4 before the Soviet spy Sorge was caught, he informed Moscow that Japan was headed south, enabling the Soviet Union to transfer troops from Manchuria to the western front. His informant Ozaki Hotsumi was also caught in October, and both were hanged in 1944.

On June 6 the Dutch finally informed Japan they would not sell them oil and other strategic materials in the quantities they wanted. Five days later the High Command decided to accelerate the march south. On July 2 the Emperor approved a document that first called for establishing a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. To achieve this purpose preparations for war against Britain and the United States began. Foreign minister Matsuoka threatened to break off negotiation with the Americans, and Premier Konoe replaced Matsuoka with Admiral Toyoda Teijiro on July 18 in order to maintain friendly relations with the United States.

The Japanese demanded that the French Vichy government let them move their troops into southern Indochina. Japanese Army tanks moved into Saigon on July 24, and four days later they had 40,000 troops in the area. On July 26 President Roosevelt ordered the defenses in the Philippines strengthened and the freezing of Japanese assets in US banks. On the first day of August the US included oil, gasoline, and scrap metals in the total embargo on exports to Japan that only excepted cotton and food. Britain and the Dutch also froze Japanese assets. Japan froze the assets of Americans in Japan and allowed them to withdraw only 500 yen per month, worth a quarter of the $500 a month the Japanese could withdraw in the United States. In 1939 two-thirds of Japan’s imports had come from countries in the Anglo-American sphere, and in 1940 Japan had gotten 80% of its oil from America.

On August 8 Nomura asked Hull if Prime Minister Konoe could meet with President Roosevelt, but the latter was meeting with Winston Churchill in the Atlantic and warned Japan against any further encroachment into the southwestern Pacific. Hull told Nomura that the meeting could not occur unless Japan was willing to withdraw from the Axis Pact and from northern China and Inner Mongolia.

In September the Japanese demanded that the United States and Britain not interfere with Japan’s settlement with China, not add any more military bases in Asia, and restore trade with Japan. In exchange Japan promised to withdraw from Indochina and not go to war against them if the US entered the European war. On September 10 Hirohito gave his staff chiefs permission to mobilize the reserves with the understanding they would stop if negotiation succeeded.

On September 18 Konoe’s car was attacked by four right-wing socialists, and a bullet missed his head by eighteen inches, showing that any leader opposing war could be a target. Two days later the Liaison Cabinet set October 15 as the deadline for a diplomatic solution with the United States. Premier Konoe protested and said he would resign if the deadline was not postponed. Seal Keeper Kido Koichi said that Konoe was behaving irresponsibly. On October 2 Konoe received another message from Hull and Roosevelt that their meeting depended on his committing to the Four Principles. On October 14 the desperate Konoe asked the Maryknoll bishop James Edward Walsh, who had tried to mediate a peace agreement the previous year, to deliver a message to Roosevelt. Konoe refused to approve the war and resigned on October 16.

War minister Tojo Hideki recommended the Emperor’s uncle Higashikuni to be prime minister, and Konoe concurred; but Kido and Hirohito opposed a member of the royal family being blamed for beginning a war because it could threaten the future of imperial rule. They chose Tojo, and Konoe agreed. Prime minister Tojo continued as War minister and extended the time for negotiation. He was also appointed Home minister for a time so that he could control extremists if there was a diplomatic settlement. The experienced diplomat Togo Shigenori became Foreign minister. Japan had not developed enough synthetic oil and calculated that they had only two years of oil reserves and less in time of war. Tojo said that if Japan did nothing, it would become a “third-class nation.” Also the Army could not accept giving up China because in four years they had sacrificed more than 100,000 dead and tens of billions of yen. Japan would not give up all they had gained in the past fifty years without a fight.

The new cabinet set the end of November as the deadline for a diplomatic solution while the Navy’s surprise attacks were prepared. They developed two proposals to present to the United States. Proposal A promised withdrawal of most Japanese troops from China in two years except in North China, Inner Mongolia, and Hainan; acceptance of non-discriminatory trade; no interference by the US in Japan-China peace negotiations; and finally Japan’s withdrawal of troops from Indochina. Proposal B suggested that neither Japan nor the US advance troops, that they cooperate to acquire raw materials from the Dutch East Indies, that their commercial relations be resumed, that the US not interfere in the Japan-China peace, and that Japan remove its troops from southern Indochina. Proposal A was communicated on November 7 and was rejected. Kurusu Saburo arrived as an extra ambassador, and he and Komura suggested going back to the situation before July; but Tokyo vetoed that and told them to present Proposal B on November 20. Joseph Grew, the US ambassador in Tokyo, warned Washington that Japan might seize the initiative with a surprise attack.

The United States did not accept either proposal, but President Roosevelt and Hull suggested a modus vivendi that included resuming trading for some oil and rice with more later; no more Japanese troops going to Indochina, the Manchurian border, or the south; Japan not invoking the Tripartite Pact if the US joined the European war; and US mediation between Japan and China. The British vetoed this, and Hull’s final note on November 26 included the Four Principles and a non-aggression pact. The Japanese ambassadors in Washington, Nomura and Kurusu, asked Kido to make an appeal to prevent war; but Kido replied that negotiating based on the Hull note would provoke a civil war in Japan. An imperial conference decided on December 1 to go to war on December 8, which is December 7 in the western hemisphere.

Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku had a plan for several surprise attacks on that day. Yet he had opposed war with the United States because he believed that the Japanese Navy could only prevail for six months and then would lose. However, years of propaganda and biased reporting had led most of the Japanese people to believe in their empire and its use of the military to govern in Asia. Japan notified Germany not to expect their help against the Soviet Union, and Hitler promised to join Japan in the war against the United States. Thailand was asked for free passage for Japanese troops. On November 27 a task force with six aircraft carriers left Tankan (Hitokappu) Bay in the Kurile Islands and headed for Hawaii. On November 30 Prince Takamatsu tried to persuade his brother Hirohito to stop the war; but the Navy leaders Nagano Osami and Shimada Shigetaro reassured the Emperor that they would be victorious, though not necessarily after two years of war.

Roosevelt ordered that Americans were not to start the war. On Saturday December 6 the President also sent a telegram to Ambassador Grew to pass on to Hirohito, who did not receive it until after the attack. Roosevelt’s message concluded with a final appeal to “a sacred duty to restore traditional amity and prevent further death and destruction in the world.”2 The Japanese planned to give the Americans a final ultimatum at the very hour of the attack on Pearl Harbor; but typing the message was delayed, and it was delivered about an hour late. However, Washington had the message decoded four hours before that. Japan’s notice to the British arrived 75 minutes after their attack on the Kra Peninsula in Malaya. Emperor Hirohito proclaimed Japan’s intention to eradicate the source of evil and bring about an enduring peace in East Asia to preserve “the glory of our empire.”

Japan's Aggressive War 1941-42

The Japanese knew that the US Pacific fleet had six aircraft carriers; but three of them were in the Atlantic, and the other three were not at Pearl Harbor. Fuchida Mitsuo led the air raid that attacked the American ships at Pearl Harbor at 7:55 a.m. on December 7 Hawaii time. To indicate that the surprise was successful he sent the radio message “Tora, tora, tora,” which means “Tiger, tiger, tiger.” The first wave included 51 bombers, 89 torpedo planes, and 43 Zero fighters. The pilots had practiced their low-flying bombing runs over a Japanese island. A bomb down the stack of the Arizona battleship caused it to explode, break in two, and quickly sink with 1,104 men. A second wave of 167 Japanese planes arrived one hour after the first. When they returned to their aircraft carriers, Fuchida could not persuade the commander Nagumo Chuichi to authorize a third raid aimed at oil tanks and other targets. While losing only 29 planes, 5 midget submarines, and 55 men the Japanese had destroyed five battleships, three destroyers, and 188 planes while killing 2,008 US sailors, 218 soldiers, 109 marines, and 68 civilians. The Japanese fleet headed back to Japan.

On the same day, which was December 8 west of the International Dateline, the Japanese attacked Malaya, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. Japanese planes flying from Taiwan destroyed or damaged seventeen B-17s and thirty fighter planes at Clark Field in the Philippines. General Honma Masahuru led the invasion of Luzon that began on December 22 from the north with about 48,000 troops, followed two days later by about 26,000 from the south. They captured Manila on January 2, 1942. These invasions were so successful that troops were transferred to the attack on Java which was moved up one month. The Americans and Filipinos defended Bataan while General MacArthur was ordered to Australia in March. With fewer forces Honma’s army did not take Bataan until April. The Corregidor fortress held out until May 7. The 70,000 combat prisoners included about 11,500 Americans, of whom more than 2,000 died on the infamous 60-mile Bataan death march. About 16,000 Filipinos also died, and some 8,000 Filipinos and a few Americans escaped along the way.

General Yamashita Tomoyuki led the invasion of the Malay peninsula as about 60,000 troops in the 25th Army began landing on the eastern coast on December 8. Two days later the Japanese Navy sank the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, devastating the British fleet off Malaya. On December 21 Japan formed a military alliance with Thailand. Japan’s 30,000 soldiers marched south and conquered Singapore on February 15, 1942 as General Arthur Percival surrendered the British garrison of 85,000. Japan had lost 4,500 men and the British 25,000. The total number of Allied troops captured in Malaya was about 260,000. They were imprisoned in camps for more than three years, suffering brutality, slavery, and starvation. The Japanese military police (Kempeitai) selected more than 5,000 Chinese hostages, and they were killed in various ways.

Japanese forces in China attacked on December 8 and took Kowloon on the 12th. After bombing Hong Kong, Japanese troops landed on December 18. The British surrendered on Christmas Day after suffering about 4,400 casualties. The Japanese lost 2,754 men. Many Japanese atrocities were reported from Hong Kong, and Foreign secretary Anthony Eden protested in the House of Commons. Hirohito’s advisors believed that committing atrocities fortified the Japanese for what they had to do and persuaded them not to surrender lest they suffer similar abuse.

Three Japanese battalions from Indochina invaded British Borneo on December 16, and the British surrendered five weeks later. The Japanese invasion of Dutch Borneo captured Tarakan on January 11, Balikpapa on the 24th, and Bandjarmasin on February 16. The retreating Dutch force finally surrendered on March 8. The Japanese also moved into Ambon and the Celebes to exploit resources and establish bases.

The Japanese forces had taken Guam on December 11 and overcame Wake Island on the 23rd. On January 23, 1942 Japan captured the Australian airbase at Rabaul on New Britain Island in the Bismarck Archipelago. The Japanese also invaded British Burma in mid-January and captured Rangoon on March 8, one day after the military evacuated. The Japanese took Lashio on the Burma Road on April 28 and Mandalay on May 1. They defeated the Burma army near Kalewa on May 13. By the end of 1942 about 10,000 prisoners in Burma had been put to work building a railroad. The Japanese brought in 60,000 POWs in 1943 and then 270,000 indentured Malays, Burmans, Thais, and Javanese to try to finish the 250-mile railroad by August.

An amphibious Japanese force with paratroopers invaded southern Sumatra around Palembang on February 14, 1942, and four days later they captured Bali and Lombok. The next day the Japanese attacked Timor. On February 27 in the battle of the Java Sea the Japanese Navy attacked the American, British, Dutch, and Australian allies who in three days lost ten warships and 2,173 sailors. Japanese troops invaded Java from both ends on February 28 and March 1, and the garrison of 93,000 troops that included about 20,000 Dutch surrendered on March 9. About 5,000 Australians, British, and Americans were also captured. Japan had conquered the Dutch East Indies in less than three months, and only a few oil wells had been sabotaged. Japan’s War Ministry decided to leave only 21 battalions in the south, and the remaining forces returned to the homeland, China, and Manzhouguo. On April 5 the Emperor appointed the former mobster Korematsu Junichi to administer the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. In April the fleet commanded by Nagumo attacked the British at Ceylon, sinking several ships including an aircraft carrier.

On April 18, 1942 Col. James Doolittle led a squadron of sixteen B-25s 668 miles from the carrier Hornet, and they dropped incendiary bombs on downtown Tokyo, killing fifty civilians and destroying ninety buildings. Three of the planes bombed factories and oil tanks in Yokohama, and two planes struck Nagoya. Fifteen planes went to China, and one came down in Siberia; twelve of the pilots bailed out with parachutes. Of the eighty men in the raid 64 made it to Chongqing, and five were detained in the Soviet Union. This raid stimulated the Japanese to improve their air defenses and to take over Nationalist air bases in Zhejiang and Jiangxi. Japanese planes and ships sent many radio messages searching for the Hornet, and the Americans figured out their code. Hirohito was so angry that he broke the truce with Jiang and sent 100,000 troops to Zhejiang, where they killed about 250,000 Chinese before withdrawing in August.

The battle in the Coral Sea, which began on May 4 and lasted five days, was the first in history between planes from aircraft carriers. The Japanese sank the carrier Lexington and damaged the carrier Yorktown, but they lost one aircraft carrier and 104 skilled pilots and were not able to fulfill their mission of attacking Port Moresby in New Guinea. Having deciphered the Japanese military code, the Americans were fully prepared for the major battle at Midway Island that began on June 4. After numerous failed raids the Americans finally destroyed four Japanese aircraft carriers, one heavy cruiser, 332 planes, and about 3,500 men, including 121 ace pilots. The United States lost one carrier, one destroyer, and 147 planes. Many American pilots had to ditch in the ocean because they did not have enough fuel to return. Midway was a turning point that ended Japanese naval supremacy in the Pacific War. At the same time the Japanese were attacking the American bases at Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, but they would not be able to hold them in 1943. In July 1942 General Hyakutake Haruyoshi landed forces near Buna in eastern New Guinea and tried to march over the Owen Stanley Range to Port Moresby; but they suffered disease and hunger and had to turn back in September as they were harried by Australian troops.

At home Prime Minister Tojo invoked emergency laws to control the press, assembly, and association. The police monitored Jews, Christians, and the Soka Gakkai sect of Nichiren Buddhism. The Kempeitai extended their authority beyond the military and had 7,500 men to enforce the war effort. In the April election the Government endorsed a candidate for each seat and won 381 of the 461 with help from secret funds in the Army budget. Voter participation was 83%. During the war the Diet usually approved whatever Tojo proposed.

On August 7 the American marines invaded the Solomon Islands of Tulagi, Florida, and Guadalcanal. Two days later the Japanese gave the US Navy one of its worst defeats ever when they destroyed four cruisers off Savo Island and killed 1,600 Allied sailors. Each side lost 24 combat ships in this naval campaign. On August 18 Col. Ichiki Kiyonao landed half his 2,000 men on Guadalcanal, and they advanced without resistance; but in a night battle with the Americans 777 of them were killed. On September 12 General Kawaguchi Kiyotake led his men against Henderson Field, but for three days his charging men were shot down by machine guns. Four days later Japan’s commander on Guadalcanal, General Hyakutake, was ordered to attack the airfield again with 30,000 men. More than 2,000 Japanese soldiers were killed charging less than 200 entrenched marines. His Second Division landed, but by November they were losing two hundred men a day to starvation. Tojo wanted to withdraw, but Hirohito would not agree. So the War Ministry withheld supplies.

On December 31 the Imperial Conference decided to transfer the men from Guadalcanal to Bougainville. After losing 25,000 men, the 13,000 survivors were not evacuated until the first week in February 1943. The Americans had about 1,500 killed and 4,800 wounded. The battle for Guadalcanal lasted six months, and in that time the Japanese lost 893 planes and 2,362 aviators. In the first year of the war US submarines sank 139 cargo vessels, 59 of them in October and November with five times the tonnage that had been sunk in the Pacific War before that. Before the end of 1942 Lockheed was producing P-38 Lightnings that were bigger, heavier, and faster fighter planes than the Japanese Zero.

Japan's Losing War 1943-45

In 1943 Japan lost 6,203 planes and 4,824 airmen. American submarines were destroying Japan’s cargo ships faster than they could be replaced. Japan was not getting enough supplies and food, and other parts of the empire fared even worse. In February the Seal Keeper Kido began meeting secretly with former prime minister Konoe to review the planning of a peace faction. In April the Emperor recalled Ambassador Shigemitsu Mamoru from Nanjing to be Foreign minister. He negotiated with Chongqing in May and tried to assure Jiang (Kai-shek) that Hirohito could control the military. Prime Minister Tojo approved of the peace offensive and suggested offering independence and withdrawing from occupied territories. Jiang rejected peace proposals offered through Madame Sun Yatsen in September. On the 22nd Hirohito met personally with Wang Jingwei, but Wang could not persuade Jiang to accept the Japanese terms. The fascist Nakano Seigo, who had been secretary-general of the IRAA 1940-41 but had quit to form the Tohokai political group, tried to organize a conspiracy in the fall to assassinate Tojo, Kido, and others; but the plot was discovered, and he committed suicide on October 25 after being released from prison.

In Tokyo on November 5 Tojo presided over the Greater East Asia Conference that was attended by Wang from eastern China, Zhang Zhonghui of Manzhouguo, President Jose Laurel of the Philippines, Thai prince Wan Waithyakon, Ba Maw of Burma, and Subhas Chandra Bose of the Indian National Army. Tojo promised them self-determination in 1944. Kido learned in December that negotiations between Wang and Jiang had been terminated.

Japan sent a convoy of sixteen ships from Rabaul in New Britain toward eastern New Guinea, but American planes attacked them on March 3 and sank all eight transport ships and four destroyers. Between April 7 and 11 Admiral Yamamoto ordered air raids on the American airfields and warships in the Solomon Islands, but his pilots claimed more damage than they caused. Yamamoto took a plane to visit them and died on April 18 when it was shot down over Bougainville Island.

The Allies began to attack the Aleutian Islands on May 11. Almost all of the 2,500 Japanese soldiers on Attu fought to the death before the garrison was destroyed on May 29. However, 5,600 Japanese evacuated Kiska before 35,000 Allies arrived in August. In early June the Americans landed on New Georgia in the Solomons, and 10,000 Japanese held out for nearly three months. General MacArthur directed the attack on eastern New Guinea in June. The Allies adopted the strategy of moving on without defeating all the Japanese who were left without supplies.

Bougainville was the last major Solomon Island that Japan held, and the Americans attacked it on November 1. The Japanese Navy withdrew from the Solomons before the end of the year, but the fighting on Bougainville continued in March 1944 when the Japanese lost 5,469 men and the Americans had 263 killed. General Robert Eichelberger led Americans and Australians advancing along the New Guinea coast and took Buna on January 2, 1944. Americans suffered 11,300 casualties while about 50,000 Japanese troops in western New Guinea and about 55,000 in eastern New Guinea were bypassed and left isolated without supplies. Of the 140,000 Japanese on New Guinea only 13,000 survived to surrender at the end of the war.

Admiral Chester Nimitz commanded the attacks on the Gilbert Islands in November 1943. A thousand Americans died in the four-day battle for Betio on Tarawa while all the 4,800 Japanese marines were being killed. Bypassing fortified atolls, Nimitz landed 41,000 US troops on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands on February 1, 1944. In three days they killed 7,780 Japanese while losing 372 men. In capturing Eniwetok 195 of the 8,000 Americans died; 2,677 Japanese were killed, and only 64 allowed themselves to be captured. The heavily fortified Truk in the Carolines was bombed by American planes on February 18, and 50,000 Japanese soldiers there were isolated from supplies. MacArthur captured Admiralty Island in March and made Seeadler Harbor a naval base for repairing ships. In April his men attacked Hollandia in Dutch New Guinea, and less than a thousand survived of the 11,000 Japanese; they also lost 300 planes and two destroyers.

After a year of preparation, in March 1944 the Japanese launched an offensive with 155,000 men against Imphal in Assam, hoping to invade British India with Indian recruits Subhas Chandra Bose got from the prison camps. They lacked supplies and were bogged down by monsoons; by June the Allies had retaken Kohima. The Japanese forces finally began to withdraw in July; 30,000 died, and 42,000 were sick or wounded. Allied losses were 17,000 British and Indians.

In April a Japanese offensive in China opened up the Beijing-Hankou railway in the south, and the northern and central fronts joined in May. That summer the Japanese armies took over Changsha and the American air base at Hengyang in Hunan. By November they had taken over four more US air bases, but the B-29 base at Chengdu in Sichuan continued to be used by the long-range bombers. US General Joseph Stilwell commanded a counteroffensive in northern Burma to capture Myitkyina while a Chinese army from Yunnan took Bhamo. Now the Allies could use the Burma Road to move supplies into China.

Admiral Kogo Mineichi tried to keep the Allies out of the Philippine Sea, but in March he was also killed in a plane crash. Admiral Toyoda Soema organized the First Mobile Fleet with nine aircraft carriers, five battleships, 450 carrier planes, and 1,000 planes from bases on islands. On May 27 Americans assaulted the tiny island of Biak north of western New Guinea where they killed 10,000 Japanese and lost 460 men. The Japanese were determined to regain this airfield that dominated the Strait of Malacca and the Makassar Channel, and they lost many valuable pilots trying to do so.

In June the US Fifth Fleet approached the Marianas with 535 combat ships and transports carrying 127,571 men. Admiral Toyoda moved his warships from Biak to the Marianas. Allied planes bombed the Marianas for three days. After naval bombardments of Saipan, the marines began landing on June 15. Japan had 31,629 men defending Saipan, but they were not well armed. On June 19 Admiral Ozawa Jisaburo commanded four air attacks by the First Mobile Fleet. On that day US planes bombed the Japanese airfield on Guam. American submarines sank Ozawa’s flagship and an aircraft carrier. The Japanese fleet fled north, but the Allied task force led by Admiral Raymond Spruance in two days sank three aircraft carriers and damaged four others. Japan lost 476 airplanes and 445 pilots while the United States lost 130 planes and 76 aviators. Admiral Nagumo committed seppuku, and by July 9 the Japanese garrison on Saipan had lost 23,811 men. About 10,000 Japanese civilians were also killed while 10,258 civilians and 921 Japanese soldiers were captured. The Americans lost 3,426 of their 67,451 troops on Saipan.

Next the Allies attacked nearby Tinian, using tanks of gasoline and napalm for the first time. Guam was invaded on July 21 with 55,000 US troops fighting 20,000 Japanese, of whom half were killed in three weeks and 8,500 in the next year. Only 1,250 Japanese surrendered, and the Americans lost 1,435 men. On July 24 Tinian was invaded by 15,614 US Marines, who killed 5,000 Japanese soldiers in a week while losing 389 men and taking 252 prisoners. The Tinian airstrip was taken over and used for long-range bombers.

Emperor Hirohito had persuaded Premier Tojo not to quit, but after losing some political struggles he resigned on July 18. General Koiso Kuniaki, who had been governing Korea, became prime minister with Admiral Yonai Mitsumasa as his deputy and Navy minister. Koiso tried to reach out to the Soviet Union, but on November 7 Stalin condemned Japan as an aggressor. Koiso also hoped to negotiate with Miao Bin in Nanjing, but Foreign minister Shigemitsu warned that he was not reliable, and Kido persuaded the Emperor.

In September and October the Allies attacked the Palau Islands and took over the Japanese bases at Peleliu and Angaur. On October 12 a US task force of 1,068 planes supported by B-29s from China attacked the Japanese air force in Taiwan, destroying more than 500 planes. They also bombed the Japanese airfields on Mindanao and in the East Indies. The US armada moving toward the Philippines with 840 ships had 1,600 planes on 47 aircraft carriers, and as many bombers and long-range fighters came from China, Tinian, Morotai, and Peleliu.

General MacArthur landed 60,000 troops on the Philippine island of Leyte on October 20, and 140,000 more would follow. That summer 80% of the Japanese ships going to the Philippines had been sunk. On October 23 began the biggest naval battle in history. American submarines sank two heavy cruisers including the flagship of Admiral Kurita Takeo, who escaped to the Yamato battleship. The gigantic Musashi battleship was sunk the next day. Admiral Ozawa managed to lure Admiral William Halsey’s Third Fleet to the north, but Ozawa lost three aircraft carriers, a destroyer, and 280 planes in one day. Admiral Thomas Kinkaid’s Seventh Fleet ambushed Nishimura Shoji’s task force in the Surigao Strait. In addition to four battleships and four carriers, in the six-day battle the Japanese lost thirteen cruisers, eight destroyers, and six submarines. Of the 55,000 Japanese soldiers fighting for Leyte about 49,000 were killed. The first two kamikaze attacks were made against US ships. After the Leyte defeat the Japanese released thousands of balloon bombs that were intended for North America. By March 1945 they had released about 9,300, but only a few came down in the United States and did very little damage.

In 1944 Japan produced about 18,000 planes even though their plan was for 40,000. By the end of the war the United States would have 40,893 planes and sixty aircraft carriers.

The campaign for the Philippines was the climactic battle of the Pacific War. US forces landed on Mindoro Island on December 15, and by January 1945 about 174,000 troops had landed on Luzon. General Yamashita tried to make a stand north of Manila with 275,000 troops while Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi ordered 21,000 soldiers to fight to the death for the city. General MacArthur did not use aerial bombing in order to prevent civilian deaths in Manila, but heavy artillery was used. After two months of fighting and the death of nearly 100,000 civilians, the Americans took Manila on February 24, 1945. Yamashita’s men ran out of supplies and tried to live off the land and moved into the mountains. The fighting continued until Japan surrendered in September. Japan lost 9,000 planes and much of its Navy. The number of Japanese killed in the Philippines was 336,352, and 12,573 were captured. The Americans had 13,973 killed and 48,541 wounded.

US Marines attacked Iwo Jima on February 19 and declared it secure on March 16. They had 6,821 killed and 19,189 wounded; the Japanese garrison of 21,000 had 20,703 killed as only 216 surrendered.

Americans began invading Okinawa on April 1 with a force that would total 548,000 soldiers before the battle was won in the middle of June. On April 6 Japan launched a desperate counter-attack with 341 bombers and 355 suicide planes. About 200 kamikaze pilots reached Okinawa, and 135 were shot down. Those hitting targets sank two destroyers and four other ships and damaged eighteen others. The next day the colossal Yamato was sunk, going down with about 2,500 men. About 5,000 US sailors were killed by kamikaze attacks that sank 34 ships and damaged 368 others in the Okinawa campaign. Only four destroyers returned to Japan as its Navy was devastated. On June 21 General Ushijima Mitsuru and his chief of staff committed suicide. In the battle of Okinawa 62,500 Japanese combatants were killed along with about 150,000 Okinawan civilians; 7,455 Japanese soldiers surrendered. The Americans had 12,513 killed or missing and 38,916 wounded. The United States lost 79 ships and 763 planes. Japan also lost 3,130 planes and had few left.

General Curtis LeMay, who had planned the strategic bombing of Hamburg, took over the bombing operations in the Mariana Islands in January 1945 and became concerned that the high explosives that had devastated German industries were not as effective in Japan, where two-thirds of industry was dispersed in homes and small factories. On the night of February 24 the US Air Force launched 174 B-29s in the first incendiary air raid on Tokyo that devastated about one square mile. Then LeMay ordered the pilots to fly at low altitudes of less than 8,000 feet with fewer guns in order to carry more bombs. On the night of March 9 the 279 B-29s doing this dropped 1,700 tons of bombs that contained a mixture of oil, phosphorus, and napalm, killing about 90,000 people and burning sixteen square miles, a quarter of Tokyo. The next night LeMay sent 313 bombers with napalm to attack Nagoya, Japan’s third largest city. That week 45 square miles of industrial areas were burned. In April B-29 raids bombed the Nakajima aircraft factory twice, the Koizuma aircraft factory, arsenals, and urban areas. After Germany surrendered on May 8, the United States shifted more forces to the Pacific War. On May 23 a raid by 520 B-29s bombed the industrial area south of the Imperial Palace, and two days later Tokyo was hit again by 564 B-29s. Yokohama was attacked by 450 bombers on May 29.

The United States had about eighty times the industrial resources of Japan, which had to import many raw materials. As the war progressed, the American advantage became overwhelming. In the first year Japanese shipping lost 1,250,000 tons, in the second year 2,560,000 tons, and in the third year 3,484,000 tons. In 1941 Japan had 4,468,000 metric tons of scrap iron and steel, but by 1944 this had dwindled down to 449,000. Japan’s store of oil was 48,893,000 tons in 1941, but in early 1945 only 4,946,000 remained. Coal, bauxite, and other metals also diminished. In four years Japan produced 58,822 planes by the end of 1944 while the United States manufactured 261,826 aircraft. Japan began the war in 1941 with 2,400,000 men in the armed forces. This was increased to 3,980,000 by February 1944 and to 5,360,000 by the end of the year. At the end of the war Japan had 7,190,000 in the armed forces. Women, students, and Koreans were mobilized to work in factories, and farms were left to women, children, and old men. In 1944 rice imports were 30% of normal and in 1945 only 11%. Bad weather caused a 27% drop in domestic production of rice in 1945. The average daily consumption of calories in Japan had dropped from 3,400 before the war to 1,600.

Japan's Defeat and Surrender

On April 5, 1945 Molotov informed the Japanese ambassador in Moscow that the Soviet Union would not renew the neutrality pact. That day Hirohito replaced Premier Koiso with the 78-year-old Admiral Suzuki Kantaro. His war policy emphasized the suicidal tactics of the kamikaze pilots, human torpedoes, crash boats, and ground charges. About 10,000 planes were converted from training and other uses to be packed with explosives for suicide missions. The IRAA national organization was dissolved in June and was replaced by the People’s Heroic Fighting Corps, which lasted only two months. On June 8 Kido gave the Emperor a plan to ask the Soviet Union to mediate a peace agreement, and the next day the Diet passed the Wartime Emergency Measures Law and other bills to mobilize Japan to defend the homeland. B-29s dropped millions of leaflets written in Japanese calling on the people to appeal to the Emperor for peace. On June 22 Hirohito directed the Supreme War Leadership Council to begin negotiating an end to the war, and the Army leaders reluctantly agreed. The Soviet ambassador Jacob Malik broke off talks with the former prime minister Hirota in early July.

On July 26 US President Harry Truman and Winston Churchill in concurrence with Jiang issued the Potsdam Declaration warning that the Japanese armed forces would be completely destroyed and the Japanese homeland devastated if Japan did not surrender unconditionally all its armed forces. Conditions included removing from authority those who had misled the people into attempting world conquest. The Declaration went on. Until this is accomplished and Japan’s war-making capacity is destroyed, the Allies will occupy Japanese territory. Japan must fulfill the Cairo Declaration by returning Manchuria, Taiwan, the Pescadores and other territory to the Republic of China and by allowing Korea to be free and independent. “Japanese sovereignty shall be limited to the islands of Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, Shikoku and such minor islands as we determine.” Japan’s military forces must be completely disarmed. The Allies promised “stern justice” to all war criminals and democracy for Japan, which must establish freedom of speech, religion, thought, and human rights. Peaceful industries will be permitted to enable payment of reparations, and eventually trade relations will be allowed. Once the objectives are attained and after Japan has a responsible government, the occupying forces will withdraw. The concluding sentence warned, “The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.”3

On July 28 at a press conference Premier Suzuki said that Japan would ignore the Potsdam offer and press forward with the war. On the first two days of August 766 B-29s bombed Nagaoka. By then sixty Japanese cities had been devastated by 6,960 B-29 sorties dropping 41,592 tons of bombs. Half of Tokyo, Kobe, and Yokohama had been destroyed along with 40% of Osaka and Nagoya and 90% of Aomori.

The Allies had refrained from bombing Hiroshima; but on August 4 they dropped 720,000 leaflets warning that this city and others would be obliterated if Japan did not surrender at once. On August 6 at 8:15 a.m. while many were cooking their breakfasts, the first atomic bomb used in war was dropped on Hiroshima with the explosive power of 12,500 tons of TNT. According to the US Government this was the first time that a uranium bomb had ever been exploded, the only official test on July 16 having been a plutonium bomb. The blinding light and searing heat burned tens of thousands, immediately killing about 70,000 people out of a population of 255,000. The effects of the burns, disease, and radiation would cause about 20,000 to 50,000 more to die by the end of the year. Estimates of the total number who died as a result of the bomb have been estimated at 200,000. The industrial city of Hiroshima had 80% of its buildings destroyed by one bomb.

On August 8 more leaflets were dropped, and radio warnings were given. On that day the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, and their army of a half million men invaded Manchuria in four places with 500 planes, 3,700 tanks, and 26,000 artillery guns. Before much of the Guandong Army could mobilize, the war was over. The Russians and the Chinese seeking revenge killed 83,737 Japanese soldiers and took 594,000 prisoners.

Weather considerations caused the bombing of Nagasaki to be moved up two days to August 9. A plutonium bomb was dropped at 11:01 a.m. and exploded with the power of 21,000 tons of TNT, killing about 35,000 immediately and eventually about 74,000 of the 200,000 people in the city. The bomb exploded in the air midway between the Mitsubishi Steel and Arms Works and the Mitsubishi-Urakami Torpedo Factory. Hills between the industrial area targeted and the civilian population prevented as many human casualties as at Hiroshima despite its greater power. Nagai Takashi had been studying radiation, and his wife was killed. He wrote Leaving These Children and The Bells of Nagasaki before dying of radiation sickness in 1951. Like many in Nagasaki, he was a Christian, and he considered these two atomic bombings a warning by God to wake up humanity.

The Japanese cabinet was concerned about the sovereignty of the Emperor, but Hirohito accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration with the proviso that the sovereign ruler’s prerogatives were not prejudiced. US Secretary of State James Byrnes replied that the Emperor and the Japanese government would be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers and that ultimately the government would be “established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.” Minister of War Anami Korechika and Privy Council President Hiranuma persuaded Premier Suzuki that this violated Japan’s national polity (kokutai); but Foreign minister Togo and Kido convinced Suzuki to accept their interpretation of the US offer. Hirohito said he would not allow his people to suffer any more, and they agreed to the Allied terms on August 14. That day 828 B-29s bombed Tokyo again without losing a plane, and Truman’s announcement of the surrender was made before they returned to their bases.

Major Hatanaka Kenji was trying to organize a coup; but Anami did not think it would work and committed seppuku that night. Hatanaka and other officers could not persuade General Mori Takeshi of the Imperial Guard and killed him. They forged an order in his name and tried to destroy the recording made by the Emperor and took over the Radio Broadcasting House, but Hatanaka was thwarted in his attempt to speak on the radio. He and Col. Shiizaki Jiro killed themselves with a pistol. General Tanaka Shizuichi, the commander of Tokyo Defenses, fulfilled his duty and then committed seppuku.

On August 15 the Japanese people heard the voice of their Emperor for the first time on radio as they learned that the empire had accepted the Joint Declaration and that the war was over. Hirohito explained that a new bomb meant that continuing to fight would cause the complete collapse and obliteration of the nation and even “the total extinction of human civilization.”

Prime minister Suzuki resigned that day and was replaced by Prince Higashikuni Naruhiko on August 17. Several high-ranking officers and more than 500 military personnel committed suicide after the surrender was announced. The surrender order was read to the chiefs of staff in Manchuria on August 18, and the Guandong Army was dissolved by September 17. Higashikuni appointed Konoe vice prime minister and newspaper publisher Ogata Taketora cabinet secretary. They both acted to legitimize the Emperor’s actions and to prepare for the arrival of the Americans and British. Higashikuni also spoke on radio on August 17 to assure the people that his government would act “in accordance with the imperial will.” He encouraged constructive discussions and freedom to form healthy associations.

The Americans and British Commonwealth troops were considered well disciplined during the war and had committed few rapes, but this changed during the occupation. In the first twelve days of the occupation Japanese women reported 1,336 cases of rape by US soldiers in the Kanagawa prefecture that includes Yokohama and Yokosuka. US records indicate that only 247 US soldiers were prosecuted for rape in the last half of 1945, and that included Europe as well as Asia. Concerned about rape, violence, and miscegenation, Konoe suggested organizing prostitutes for the Allied soldiers, and on August 21 Higashikuni approved the Home Ministry setting up the Recreation and Amusement Associations with Government funding. Women were urged to volunteer for the good of the nation, and 1,360 women had enlisted in Tokyo by August 27. By the end of the year 20,000 women were working for the RAA, which reached a peak of 70,000 women before it was disbanded on March 27, 1946 because of spreading venereal disease. Many RAA women “comforted” between 15 and 60 GIs each day.

On August 17 the Japanese government sent out an urgent memo ordering that all confidential documents and incriminating evidence be burned immediately. During the two weeks before the Occupation forces arrived, massive theft of government supplies also occurred, and a black market quickly developed. The Ministry of Munitions was changed back to the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. Ishiwara Kanji, who led the millenarian East Asia League (To’A renmei), blamed the defeat on people’s morals and urged repentance. He advised disarmament, ending restrictions on speech and ideas, and following American ways. The Buddhist Tanabe Hajime had similar views and in 1945 wrote Philosophy as the Way of Repentance, which was published in April 1946 as the Tokyo tribunal was beginning.

On September 2 Foreign minister Shigemitsu and General Umezu Yoshijiro formally signed the surrender document with General MacArthur on the battleship Missouri. MacArthur expressed hope for a better future and warned that humanity needs to “devise some greater and more equitable system” than the “utter destructiveness of war” in order to avert Armageddon. He suggested that a “spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character” that could match the advances in science, art, and literature will enable the spirit to save the flesh. He intended to demobilize the Japanese armed forces to neutralize the war potential so that Japan could return its talents into constructive channels.

During the Pacific War the Japanese armed forces had about 1,565,000 men killed and at the end categorized 4,470,000 men as wounded or ill. Japan also had 480,000 troops killed in the China War 1937-41. About 393,000 Japanese civilians were killed in air raids, and about 500,000 civilians died in war zones. An estimated nineteen million Chinese also died in China during that long war. Of the 132,134 Allied troops from Britain, the Netherlands, Australia, the United States, Canada, and New Zealand that the Japanese held as prisoners, 35,756 died before the others were released. The United States military lost 100,997 dead and had 190,546 wounded in the Pacific War.

American Occupation of Japan in 1945

President Truman appointed General Douglas MacArthur the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP), and he arrived on August 30, setting up his temporary headquarters in Yokohama. After presiding over the surrender ceremony on September 2 he ordered that all of Japan was to be under military law. Foreign minister Shigemitsu in an interview with MacArthur and his Chief of Staff Richard Sutherland the next day suggested that this would likely cause chaos unless the Japanese Government had responsibility to carry out Occupation policy. MacArthur, who was given the same advice by the US Government, adopted the recommendation. The Far Eastern Commission met in Washington with eleven members from the Allied nations; but if they did not agree, the United States Government had the power to act on its own. The Allied Council in Tokyo had four representatives from the United States, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union, but they did not meet until December 27 and were only advisory. The Soviet representative often criticized SCAP. The American costs of the occupation were paid for by the Japanese government and were almost a third of its budget.

The two main goals of SCAP were demilitarization and democratization. Japan’s military equipment and installations were destroyed, and the remaining navy vessels were divided among the four main Allies. The US military demobilized 3,700,000 Japanese troops in Japan as SCAP directed Japanese commanders to disarm their own soldiers. By the end of 1947 mostly American ships had transported most of the 3,300,000 Japanese troops and 3,200,000 Japanese civilians from the territories they no longer occupied back to Japan. In central China epidemics of smallpox, typhus, and cholera broke out in the spring of 1946 and delayed repatriation. About one million Japanese were returned from the Soviet Union by the end of 1949, but about 300,000 were missing. Records made available after the collapse of the Soviet Union indicate that about 500,000 Japanese war captives died in their forced labor camps. Jiang encouraged the Chinese to treat their former enemies as friends because he wanted them as allies in his civil war against the Communists. Most of the 1,350,000 Koreans were repatriated, but some preferred to go to or stay in Japan rather than return to their divided nation. Returning veterans were often despised, and many resented the harsh treatment they had received from their officers during the war. They were on their own because the Government was forbidden to pay them any pensions.

The physical situation of Japan at the end of the war was wretched. They had lost 80% of their shipping, 30% of their industrial capacity, and 30% of their thermal power. Japan’s industrial production was at 10% of its prewar level. The Japanese empire was defeated, and the nation returned to its four main islands. The United States was administering Okinawa. The Soviet Union wanted to occupy Hokkaido, but MacArthur vetoed that. Thus unlike Germany and Korea, Japan was not divided. Rice was 32% below prewar production, and fishing was down 40%. Official food rations provided each person with only 1,050 calories per day. People had to acquire food from the black market to survive. One Tokyo judge died of malnutrition because he would not break the law. MacArthur immediately set up a food distribution network and cabled Washington to send 3,500,000 tons of food. When confronted with bureaucratic delays, he cabled back, “Give me bread or give me bullets.”5 The cost of living rose about ten percent a month for two years, and by the end of 1949 the consumer price index had multiplied to 240 times the pre-war level. Millions of people in Japan had their homes destroyed by the bombing, and many lived in shanty towns or were homeless. In February 1948 the number of orphaned and homeless children was 123,510.

The Higashikuni cabinet had begun demobilizing the Army and Navy before the Americans arrived. At a press conference on September 4 he urged national repentance and praised the Emperor for ending the suffering of the war. Higashikuni admitted that the main reason for Japan’s defeat was that its enemies had much more war power; but this made many people feel that their leaders had foolishly led them into a war against the United States and Britain.

On September 6 President Truman’s advice to use existing government structures arrived. SCAP abolished the Imperial Headquarters on September 13. MacArthur moved into the General Headquarters (GHQ) in central Tokyo opposite the Imperial Palace on September 17. GHQ had about 35,000 civilian administrators in Government, Civil Information and Education, and Economic and Scientific sections. The next day MacArthur began receiving the secret instructions from the Truman administration for the reform of Japan. The Americans decided to use the Emperor’s sway over his people for their purposes, and Operation Blacklist was the plan for blaming the militarists rather than the Emperor. On September 25 Hirohito granted interviews to Frank Kluckholm of the New York Times and Hugh Baillie, president of United Press, in which he emphasized his support for democracy and pacifism while he avoided questions about Pearl Harbor, which he blamed on Tojo.

Two days later Hirohito went to see MacArthur, and in a private meeting they seemed to form a working relationship for cooperation. MacArthur was surprised and impressed that the Emperor accepted “sole responsibility for every political and military decision made and action taken by my people in the conduct of war.”6 Later MacArthur gave Hirohito credit for playing “a major role in the spiritual regeneration of Japan.” The main post-war prime minister Yoshida believed that not prosecuting and executing the Emperor was the greatest single factor that made the occupation a success.

On October 4 MacArthur issued a civil liberties directive that abolished the Peace Preservation Law, the National Defense Security Law, and the special higher police. Learning that several thousand officials would be dismissed, the Higashikuni cabinet resigned in protest the next day. Three days later MacArthur imposed censorship on Tokyo newspapers and radio. He approved the Emperor’s choice of 74-year-old Shidehara Kijuro as prime minister. On October 10 display of the sun flag was banned, but people were allowed to sing the national anthem “Kimigayo.” The next day GHQ freed about five hundred political prisoners, mostly Communists, and announced the “five great reforms” that would emancipate women, promote labor unions, and democratize politics, education, and the economy. Political parties began to organize, and Communists could criticize the Emperor publicly. On October 22 GHQ dismissed all teachers who had advocated militarism or opposed occupation policies.

The issue of the Emperor abdicating was discussed, but it was argued that he was needed to carry it out the Potsdam Declaration. GHQ revealed that Hirohito’s financial assets were more than 16 billion yen. He went on a tour by train and began to meet the people.

GHQ began breaking up the huge zaibatsu conglomerates in early November. The chief holding companies were required to sell their stocks to the public, beginning the Tokyo stock exchange. Later an anti-monopoly law was passed that prohibited trusts, cartels, interlocking corporate controls, and agreements restraining trade. Agrarian land reform was also initiated. In the first purge of the Diet the Progressives lost about 93% of their seats and the Liberals about 45% of theirs. The Diet had 16% of its members purged compared to 80% of military officers and less than 1% of civil servants. Weapons research was banned. The Japanese atomic program was abolished, and scientists were arrested. All five cyclotrons were destroyed in November even though MacArthur had approved their use for medicine, metallurgy, and agriculture. The headquarters of the Navy and Army had been dissolved in October, and on December 1 those two ministries were abolished and became the First and Second Demobilization Ministries. In June 1946 these ministries became bureaus of the Demobilization Board. Also in December the Pauley Report recommended removing all equipment from Japan’s war industries and reducing severely their capacities in steel, machine tools, and shipping. Later these punitive measures were moderated.

GHQ’s Civil Information and Education (CIE) section prepared propaganda to persuade people that militarism had caused them to lose the war. “A History of the Pacific War: The Destruction of Deceit and Militarism in Japan” was translated into Japanese, and the first installment was published in all national newspapers on December 8, 1945. The articles detailed the terrible consequences of the Japanese war crimes and blamed military cliques while the Emperor and the people were portrayed as deceived victims. The Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) broadcast on radio a version called “Now It Can Be Told” for thirty minutes three times a week until February 10, 1946. Masunaga Zenkichi hired Mainichi newspaper reporters to write The Twenty-Year Whirlwind: Exposing the Inside Story of the Showa Period to reveal the secret history of the war. The first volume covering 1926 to 1936 was published on December 15 and sold 100,000 copies in the first week. The second volume which went to the end of the war was published on March 1, 1946 and soon sold more than 700,000 copies. The Twenty-Year Whirlwind stayed on the best-seller list through 1947.

On December 15 SCAP ordered the disestablishment of the Shinto religion with its directive “Abolition of Government Sponsorship, Support, Preparation, Control, and Dissemination of State Shinto.” After much negotiation with religious leaders SCAP allowed some shrines to have government support as cultural treasures. In his New Year’s message Hirohito warned the people against “the false conception that the emperor is divine and that the Japanese people are superior to other races and fated to rule the world.”4 He advised people to follow the Meiji Charter Oath of his grandfather as a better precedent. MacArthur tried to promote Christianity and encouraged American missionaries to come to Japan. At his urging ten million Bibles were imported, but the pages of many were used for cigarette papers.

American Occupation of Japan 1946-49

Women were given the right to vote on December 17, 1945 and the voting age was lowered from 25 to 20. In the provinces 23 women were elected to prefectural assemblies, 74 to city councils, and 707 to town assemblies. Wives were given the right to own property and the equal right to divorce. Primogeniture was abolished, and daughters could inherit as much property as sons. Males at age 18 and females at 16 could marry without their parents consent, ending contract marriages and concubinage. The high schools became coeducational, and 26 women’s universities were started. In January 1946 SCAP abolished “public” prostitution as a violation of women’s rights, but by the time this took effect months later nearly ninety percent of RAA women were infected with diseases. One unit in the US 8th Army had 70% of its men detected with syphilis and 50% with gonorrhea. In 1948 there were still 670 licensed houses of prostitution in Tokyo and about twice that many private ones. Birth control gradually gained popular support even though Margaret Sanger was barred from speaking in Japan. Abortion was legalized in June 1949. In September 1946 the Diet passed a law increasing the autonomy of cities, towns, and villages.

On December 22, 1945 the Diet passed a Trade Union Law that guaranteed worker rights to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. In 1946 about 845,000 union members participated in about 1,260 industrial disputes as employees often demanded participation in production management. In September the Labor Relations Adjustment Law established procedures for settling labor disputes.

At the beginning of 1946 the purge of about 200,000 ultranationalists and militarists from holding public office began. The Ministry of Education had already removed or accepted the resignations of 116,000 teachers, and in 1946 another 6,000 were purged. MacArthur ordered all suspect organizations dissolved, and new organizations had to register with the government, reporting their purposes, funding sources, and members. On January 25 MacArthur sent a strong cable to Washington arguing that arresting the Emperor would threaten the goals of the occupation and cause chaos. The imperial family’s holding company was dissolved, and most of the fortune was given to the people. In December 1946 eleven of the fourteen princes lost their aristocratic positions and much of their wealth, but the Emperor’s three brothers retained their imperial status.

In March a commission led by New York State commissioner of education George Stoddard submitted a report to SCAP that suggested purging militaristic and ultranationalist teachers, revising textbooks, and altering curriculum. They recommended nine years of compulsory schooling, decentralized control, more colleges, and education that encouraged students to think. Japan adopted these proposals and the American system of six years of elementary school, three years in junior high school, three years in high school, and four years of college. Public schools were put under locally elected boards. In 1949 Japan established 68 new national universities and 99 other universities. Junior colleges were started in 1950. The Japan Teachers Union was influenced by left-wing politics. The National Student Federation was founded in September 1948 and staged demonstrations on behalf of democracy.

In April 1946 a national election was held with 2,781 candidates representing 257 parties running for 466 seats in the Diet. Hatoyama Ichiro led the Liberal party that was formed from Seiyukai members and won 140 seats. Shidehara led the Progressive party from Minseito members, and they captured 93 seats. Katayama Tetsu organized the Japan Socialist party, which won 92 seats. Tokuda Kyuichi led the Communists after being in prison for eighteen years, and they occupied five seats. Japanese women voted for the first time, and 39 women were elected to the Diet, including one prostitute. SCAP disqualified Hatoyama because of his violations of civil liberties between 1928 and 1934. So the Liberals chose Yoshida Shigeru to head the government; he was acceptable because he had tried to end the war. Yoshida would be prime minister most of the time for the next seven years, and urged on by SCAP the Diet passed seven hundred laws.

MacArthur rejected a revision of the Meiji Constitution drafted by the Japanese, and on February 3 he ordered the Government section of GHQ to draft a new constitution quickly that was made public on March 6. MacArthur noted that it borrowed from many constitutions, and he believed it was the “most liberal constitution in history.” Prime Minister Shidehara said, “We must see to it that our constitution establishes the foundation for a democratic government and externally leads the rest of the world for the abolition of war.”7

On January 24, 1946 Shidehara had proposed a “no-war” article and persuaded MacArthur that in this way the Japanese people could show the world that they would never engage in war again. MacArthur liked the idea and instructed the Government section to make it one of the three essential principles in the new constitution. This most innovative feature of the Japanese constitution is the pacifist Article 9 which states:

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace
based on justice and order,
the Japanese people forever renounce war
as a sovereign right of the nation
and the threat or use of force
as means of settling international disputes.
 In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph,
land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential,
will never be maintained.
The right of belligerency of the State will not be recognized.8

In July the Far Eastern Commission insisted that only civilians be permitted to hold cabinet positions, and this was eventually accepted. After much debate the Diet adopted the new constitution on August 21 by a vote of 429-8. Five Communists objected to retaining the emperor, who was referred to as “the symbol of the State and unity of the people.” The people are sovereign and elect both houses directly. The lower House of Representatives may over-ride the upper House of Councilors with a two-thirds majority. The prime minister has to be a member of the Diet and is elected by the upper house. Civil rights are expanded to include “minimum standards of wholesome and cultural living,” and the State is obligated to promote and extend social welfare, security, and public health. The right to education is guaranteed along with labor rights and the equality of husband and wife. The judiciary is independent, and the Supreme Court has the power to supervise lower courts and decide which laws are constitutional. The jury system was not adopted. Article 14 ended the titles and privileges of peers, and the Socialists got this to take effect immediately rather than merely banning future patents of peerage.

In October 1946 the Diet passed the Farm Land Reform Law that prohibited absentee landlords. A landlord living in the community could own up to 2.5 acres, and a farmer could utilize a maximum of 7.5 acres and own another 2.5 acres. Government purchased land and sold it to former tenants with 3.2% interest over thirty years. Land transfers were managed by 13,000 locally elected land commissions. In 1947 the Agricultural Cooperative Union Law helped farmers work together in unions. By 1950 about 2,340,000 landowners had sold to about 4,750,000 tenants and farmers 2,800,000 acres of rice land and 1,950,000 acres of upland. The Government also redistributed 600,000 acres of pastureland. The percentage of farmers who were tenants dropped from 28% in 1941 to less than 8%. During the land reform three-eighths of the agricultural land changed owners.

In January 1947 several unions dominated by the Communists threatened a general strike that was to begin on February 1, but MacArthur issued a statement on January 31 saying that it would cripple the movement of food and industry and could not be allowed during “the present impoverished and emaciated condition of Japan.” The Communist newspaper and their literature were censored, and the Japanese were not permitted to visit Communist countries. In April the Labor Standards Law established the eight-hour day, vacation time, sick leave, safety and sanitation protections, accident compensation, and limits on hours and conditions for working women and children. In March 1948 some unions formed the Democratization League that was anti-Communist. In July the Diet passed a law to restrict the right of government employees to strike. In December an injunction was issued to stop a coal miners’ strike. By 1949 more than 6,500,000 of the 15,000,000 industrial workers were in more than 35,000 unions. Also in 1949 a law protected the democratic control of unions in order to prevent Communist takeovers.

The new constitution went into effect on May 3, 1947, and on that day twenty million copies of New Constitution, Bright Life were distributed. The introduction suggested that declaring they would not participate in war anymore was the only way that Japan could be reborn. In the elections that were held in April the Socialists won the most seats with 143, and Katayama formed a coalition with the Progressives, who had changed their name to the Democratic party and were led by Ashida Hitoshi. The problems of food shortages, unemployment, inflation, and labor unrest persisted, and on February 10, 1948 Katayama and his split cabinet resigned. One month later Ashida became prime minister, but in October a scandal caused him to resign. The Liberals had formed a coalition with the Democratic party in March, and Yoshida became prime minister again in October. He dissolved the Diet and held a national election in January 1949. The Liberal party increased their seats from 152 to 264, a majority of the 466 members.

In June 1947 the Foreign minister Ashida told the press that the Japanese wanted Okinawa back. Three weeks later MacArthur argued that the Japanese would not object because Okinawans are not Japanese and because American bases were needed on Okinawa to defend Japan’s security. The Diet had abolished the voting rights of Okinawans in December 1945, and in the burgeoning Cold War the Emperor suggested that the American military occupation could continue in the Ryukyu islands for 99 years.

In 1947 a law decentralized the police by requiring every municipality with a population of more than 5,000 to maintain its own police force. A small national police force controlled by the National Public Safety Commission served rural areas. In an emergency the prime minister could take over operational control of local police, but the Diet had to approve this within twenty days.

By June 1947 the deconcentration and anti-monopoly laws forced 83 zaibatsu holding companies and about 5,000 other companies to reorganize. The next month SCAP ordered the Mitsui Trading Company and the Mitsubishi Trading Company dissolved. Mitsui and Mitsubishi were broken up into 240 different firms. Most executive salaries were limited to 36,000 yen a year, and the very highest could not exceed 65,000. A review board was established that reduced the number of companies to be dissolved from 1,200 to 325 in February 1948. The next month George Kennan, who was developing the containment theory for the Cold War, visited and urged the economic rehabilitation of Japan so that it could be a constructive ally against the Communists. In May business interests brought about a change in policy, and only eleven companies were ordered broken up in August 1949. SCAP decided not to ship Japanese industrial equipment to other nations as reparations so that the Japanese economy could recover. Instead Japan paid cash, and by 1964 Japan had paid six Southeastern nations $477 million.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare tested for tuberculosis and reduced the death rate from 280 per 100,000 in 1945 to 145 in 1950 and 108 in 1951. Immunization reduced the morbidity rate of typhoid fever about ninety percent. In late 1949 and early 1950 the entire population of 83 million was reimmunized for smallpox, and 1950 had only five cases of those returning from Korea. The death rate that reached a high of 29 per 1,000 in 1945 was reduced to less than 11 by 1950.

The Detroit banker Joseph Dodge came from West Germany to Japan in December 1948, and he recommended harsh policies to stabilize the economy. The government workforce was reduced by 260,000 employees to balance the budget. Government subsidies and price controls were reduced. The Reconstruction Finance Bank was closed down, and Dodge set the exchange rate at 360 yen to the dollar. The unemployment and social distress that resulted enabled the Communists to win 35 seats in the Diet in the election on January 24, 1949, though the Socialists lost 95 seats, retaining only 48.

Trials of Japanese War Crimes

The Occupation forces began rounding up suspected war criminals in September 1945. General Yamashita was put on trial for war crimes in the Philippines on October 29. American journalists reported that hearsay evidence was allowed. He had trained attack forces in Manchuria in 1941, and while commanding Malaya he had allowed the secret police to kill 5,000 Chinese merchants in Singapore. Yet Yamashita had been criticized by Hirohito for disciplining officers who allowed atrocities against British troops in Malaya in 1942. In 1944 he prevented US prisoners from being killed according to imperial orders. Yamashita was charged with many atrocities that occurred in Manila that he could not control. He was sentenced to death on December 7, and the US Supreme Court upheld his conviction by a vote of 5-2. Justice Frank Murphy wrote a 32-page dissenting opinion arguing that he had not participated in the atrocities charged nor condoned them. Murphy warned against a “procession of judicial lynchings without due process of law.” Yamashita was hanged on February 23, 1946 near Manila. The trial of General Honma began on December 7, 1945 in Manila. He was the commander in the Philippines in 1942 and was held responsible for the Bataan death march. Once again Justice Murphy dissented because Honma was not directly involved in the crimes. He was executed by a firing squad on April 3, 1946.

On January 19, 1946 MacArthur promulgated the Tokyo Charter of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) which followed rather closely the principles that had been worked out in Nuremberg, Germany defining crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The Far Eastern Commission (FEC) demanded that all its members sit on the Tribunal, and the Charter was modified on April 23. The Americans had tried to exclude the Philippines and India, but they were members of the FEC and were included. Neither Emperor Hirohito nor any members of his family nor anyone who would implicate them was indicted. The United States wanted to learn from Unit 731’s research into bacteriological warfare and chemical weapons, and they gave immunity to General Ishii Shiro and others who had experimented on Allied soldiers. Eventually 5,379 Japanese, 173 Formosans, and 148 Koreans were brought to trial. Many of their rights were violated as all statements were admitted as evidence even though defense attorneys were not present during interrogations.

Twenty-eight Class A war criminals were tried in Tokyo by eleven judges from May 1946 to April 1948. Of the 217 charges, 132 were proved. Count One was the most sweeping and charged that there was a conspiracy to dominate East Asia and all countries in the Pacific and Indian Oceans militarily, politically, and economically. The judgment was 1,781 pages, and the tribunal president William Webb of Australia spent nine days reading it in November 1948. Eight of the judges were in full agreement. B. V. A. Röling of the Netherlands in his concurring opinion disagreed that aggression is an international crime, and he voted to acquit Kido, Hata, Shigemitsu, and Togo. Judge Henri Bernard of France dissented in the belief that the Emperor, the principal author of the war, had escaped prosecution, and so he would not condemn the others. Radhabindo Pal of India believed none of them were guilty because conspiracy was not proven, aggressive war was not an international crime, and the war crimes had not been proven. Pal had been a supporter of Chandra Bose and Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and he argued that the American use of the atomic bombs was as serious as any of the other crimes. He warned that future generations would condemn that “dire decision.”

 The death sentences were appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled on December 20, 1948 that it did not have jurisdiction. The seven men hanged three days later were Tojo Hideki, Doihara Kenji, Itagaki Seishiro, Kimura Heitaro, Muto Akira, Matsui Iwane, and Hirota Koki. Tojo was prime minister 1941-44. General Doihara had Allied prisoners under his command tortured and murdered. General Itagaki withheld food and medicine from thousands of Allied prisoners. General Kimura was vice War minister under Tojo and allowed his troops to commit atrocities in Burma. General Muto was held responsible for atrocities in northern Sumatra and for thousands of murders on the Bataan death march. General Matsui was the officer in charge of the attack on Nanjing that resulted in tens of thousands of murders and rapes. Hirota was the only civilian hanged; as Foreign minister for several years and prime minister he was convicted of waging aggressive war in China and disregarding the laws of war.

The sixteen men sentenced to life in prison were War minister Araki Sadao, Col. Hashimoto Kingoro who was a commander at Nanjing and shelled an American gunboat, War Minister Hata Shunroku who commanded a force in China 1940-44, Prime Minister Hiranuma Kuchiro, Manzhouguo chief and Tojo secretary Hoshino Naoki, Finance Minister Kaya Okinori, Seal Keeper Kido Koichi whose diary provided much evidence, Korea governor-general and Prime Minister Koiso Kuniaki, Guandong Army commander Minami Jiro, Admiral Oka Takesumi, Oshima Hiroshi who was ambassador to Germany, War Minister Sato Kenryo, Admiral Shimada Shigetaro, Shiratori Toshio who was ambassador to Italy, economic planner Suzuki Teiichi, and Army Chief Umezu Yoshijiro.

Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori had signed the declaration of war and was sentenced to twenty years, and Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru received seven years. Diplomat and Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yosuke and Admiral Nagano Osami died during the trial. The erudite scholar Okawa Shumei tried to undress in court, made bizarre statements, persuaded doctors that he was suffering from tertiary syphilis, and was deemed unfit for trial. In prison he wrote extensively on religion and later had several lucid books published. Prince Konoe had committed suicide after he learned he was to be arrested. Tojo shot himself in the chest but survived and was considered the most impressive interlocutor during the trial. He had previously said that his orders were given with the Emperor’s authorization; but after Hirohito provided for his family, Tojo retracted that. By 1956 all the war criminals who had been convicted in Tokyo had had their sentences commuted.

The Class B war criminals were high military officers who were charged with violating the laws and customs of war and being responsible for atrocities committed by troops under their command. The Class C war criminals were tried for crimes against humanity that included mistreating prisoners as well as atrocities. The Class B and C suspects were held to be tried by Allied military commissions, usually where the crimes were committed. Eventually 2,944 were sentenced to prison with 475 getting life terms. The tribunals acquitted 1,018, and 279 were never tried. Of the 984 death sentences the British upheld 223, the Australians 153, the Nationalist Chinese 149, the Americans 140, the French 26, and the Filipinos 17. These trials were completed in the fall of 1949. The Chinese Communists put Japanese war criminals in re-education camps and did not sentence any to death. More than a thousand suspects were tried in Yokohama, and 200 were acquitted; 124 were sentenced to be hanged, and 62 were given life imprisonment.

The Soviet Union may have executed about 3,000 Japanese as war criminals. In the last week of December 1949 in Khabarovsk twelve members of the Guandong Army were convicted for manufacturing and using biological weapons. General Kiyoshi Kawashima testified that fleas contaminated with plague were dropped from planes over Changde. They were sentenced to a labor camp and were repatriated to Japan in 1956.

Tojo himself violated the Field Service Code that had been issued in 1941 when he ordered forced labor by prisoners of war to help the war effort. The worst treatment of prisoners of war occurred in Borneo at Sandakan, where 2,000 Australians and 500 British were being held in September 1943, but only six survived the war. Prisoners who tried to escape were killed, but most deaths were caused by disease and malnutrition. Those able who refused to work were denied rations. At Ambon only 123 out of 528 Australian POWs survived. Of the 60,500 POWs who worked on the Burma-Thailand railroad about 12,000 died. In New Guinea, where more than a hundred thousand Japanese soldiers were stranded without supplies, hunger led to extensive cannibalism of prisoners and others. Perhaps because those soldiers were also victims of the Japanese war machine that abandoned them, only three soldiers out of the fifteen prosecuted for cannibalism were convicted. The Japanese forced about 90,000 “comfort women” to serve their soldiers as prostitutes, about one for every 35 men.

The IMTFE condemned the influence of the Bushido code for causing atrocities; but others have argued that this code had been corrupted as self-discipline and compassion for others were replaced by the zealous loyalty to the Emperor, the state, and the military. The militarist ethics led the Japanese Army to wage total war with little constraint. As a result Japan killed enormous numbers of combatants and civilians. Their army used thousands of pack animals that had to be fed as they lived off the land, leaving little food for the native population. The drug traffic was used to obtain money. Admiral Iwabuchi’s soldiers were accused of running amok while drunk, plundering, raping, and murdering the civilians in Manila in 1944-45. The trials helped the Japanese people realize some of the horrible consequences of their aggressive imperialism and to understand why those efforts needed to be defeated.

Censorship and Kurosawa's Early Films

The Civil Censorship Detachment (CCD) employed 6,000 people to identify and translate questionable material in seventy newspapers, all books, magazines, and radio scripts which were censored before publication. In the four years before it was abolished in late 1949 the CCD examined 330 million pieces of mail and monitored about 800,000 private phone conversations. Their rules ordered publishers not to give censorship any publicity so that the Japanese people would not even know who and what were being censored. Criticism of SCAP, occupation forces, or any of the Allies was forbidden. In 1946 the press was told that occupation costs were to be called “war-termination costs.” John Hersey’s Hiroshima, which was published in The New Yorker magazine in 1946, could not be published in Japanese translation until 1949, and the Americans required that Nagai’s Bells of Nagasaki include an appendix on “The Sack of Manila” by the Japanese in 1945.

Censorship in Japan changed in 1947 as Cold War issues replaced concerns about militarism. By December only two of the 28 periodicals still having prepublication censorship were ultra-rightist while the other 26 were left-wing or progressive. In October 1948 Suzuki Toshisada, the publisher of Japan Review, was threatened with penal service in Okinawa if he did not fire his editor, who resigned.

Film censorship in Japan began as early as 1908, and in 1917 local governments used licensing laws to screen films and eliminate objectionable material. In 1925 Japan passed the Censorship Regulation of Moving Pictures or “Films” that prohibited showing films to those under fifteen years of age and required theaters to keep men and women spectators separated. Completed films with explanatory scripts had to be submitted for approval, and explicit sexual scenes and subversive ideas were suppressed. The 1939 Film Law was based on a Nazi law and was intended to promote “the nation’s cultural development.” Scenes that challenged the royal family, the imperial constitution, the empire, decorum, national morality, and proper use of the Japanese language were forbidden. In 1940 the Ministry of Internal Affairs even prohibited frivolous films, and they urged films showing industrial and food production and people ready to serve.

Under the American occupation on September 22, 1945 the Civil Information and Education (CIE) section began encouraging films about the following subjects: peaceful Japanese life; resettling soldiers as civilians; restoring favor to former prisoners of war; showing progress in industry, agriculture and national life; encouraging labor unions; developing political responsibility with free discussion, respect for rights, and tolerance for all races and classes; and dramatizing those who stood for freedom and representative government. The 1939 Film Law was repealed on October 16, and by then the CIE was already demanding prior censorship of film scripts and projects. On November 16 they banned 236 of the 455 Japanese films produced since 1931. Three days later the CIE announced that films would be forbidden if they were:

1. infused with militarism;
2. showing revenge as a legitimate motive;
3. nationalistic;
4. chauvinistic and anti-foreign;
5. distorting historical facts;
6. favoring racial or religious discrimination;
7. portraying feudal loyalty or contempt of life
    as desirable and honorable;
8. approving suicide either directly or indirectly;
9. dealing with or approving the subjugation
    or degradation of women;
10. depicting brutality, violence or evil as triumphant;
11. anti-democratic;
12. condoning the exploitation of children; or
13. at variance with the spirit or letter
    of the Potsdam Declaration or any SCAP directive.9

Kamei Fumio’s Fighting Soldiers about the war in China had been produced in 1939 with official sponsorship by the military, but it was soon withdrawn for being defeatist. Kamei’s 1946 documentary The Tragedy of Japan was supported by American officials and used government newsreels in Frank Capra’s exciting style to depict how the ruling class led Japan into an aggressive and destructive war. When it began to attract larger audiences in August 1946, GHQ abruptly banned the film. In 1947 Kamei and Yamamoto Kajiro produced the feature Between War and Peace in which a soldier returns from China years after having been declared dead and finds his wife has married his best friend, as in D. W. Griffith’s 1911 Enoch Arden. The film portrays the misery of the war in China, the terrible living conditions in Tokyo with air raids, and the post-war squalor. The Civil Censorship Detachment required that 30 minutes be cut from the film, and no Americans were depicted on screen during the occupation.

Kurosawa Akira (generally known as Akira Kurosawa) was born on March 23, 1910 in Tokyo. He wanted to be an artist; but to earn money he became an assistant director, and the film director Yamamoto Kajiro became his mentor. Sanshiro Sugata in 1943 is the first feature that Kurosawa directed. Based on Tsueno Tomita’s novel and set in 1882, Sanshiro Sugata learns from a master that the art of judo is a spiritual discipline. Kurosawa’s next feature The Most Beautiful made in 1944 is a docudrama about women working in a lens factory for the war effort who come to realize that their leader is beautiful for her spiritual qualities. After exploiting the success of Sanshiro Sugata with a sequel, in 1945 Kurosawa directed The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail, which is based on the Noh drama Ataka and the famous Kabuki play Kanjincho set in the 1180s. General Yoshitsune and his retainers flee through the woods disguised as monks, and to protect his master’s identity his bodyguard Benkei beats him and later apologizes. Battle scenes could not be portrayed because they could not get horses. Kurosawa changed the style of the play by creating a comic porter played by Kenichi Enomoto. This film was suppressed by the militarists as too liberal, but CIE’s Motion Picture Unit banned it for exalting feudal values; it was released in 1952 after the occupation ended. In November 1945 SCAP ordered all four of Kurosawa’s war-time films destroyed, but they survived.

In 1946 Kurosawa directed No Regrets for Our Youth about students who are protesting Japanese militarism in the 1930s. A professor’s daughter Yukie falls in love with Noge, who is imprisoned for five years. They get married, and Noge is arrested and killed for trying to stop the war in 1941. Yukie realizes he had no regrets, and she becomes a farmer. The professor’s students believe that Noge made a great sacrifice.

Kurosawa’s 1947 film One Wonderful Sunday is a romance about two young lovers who spend Sundays together and are happy despite their poverty. In Kurosawa's Drunken Angel (1948) Toshiro Mifune plays a gangster with a bullet wound who goes to a doctor and learns he has tuberculosis. The doctor and a young woman try to rehabilitate the gangster, who is killed by another gangster in a power struggle over territory. Kurosawa said that he made this film to show how silly the violence of gangsters is. The Quiet Duel (1949) is about a doctor who gets syphilis from a cut while operating on a patient. He refuses to marry his girlfriend and discovers that the wife of the man with syphilis has a deformed baby that dies. The doctor tries to make the man take responsibility. The quality of this film was reduced because of the severe strikes affecting the film studios. In Stray Dog (1949) a police detective has his gun stolen and tracks down the thief who commits robberies and murder during the difficult post-war poverty. The theme is that bad surroundings can make men bad, and some act like a mad dog.


1. Quoted in The Rising Sun by John Toland, p. 72.
2. Ibid., p. 836.
3. “The Potsdam Declaration” Department of State Bulletin, Vol. XII, p. 137-138 in The Record of American Diplomacy ed. Ruhl J. Bartlett, p. 672.
4. Quoted in The Making of Modern Japan by Marius B. Jansen, p. 669.
5. Quoted in American Caesar by William Manchester, p. 465.
6. Ibid., p. 491.
7. Quoted in Embracing Defeat by John W. Dover, p. 384.
8. Quoted in Modern Japan by Mikiso Hane, p. 377.
9. Quoted in Mr. Smith Goes to Tokyo by Kyoko Hirano, p. 44-45.

Copyright © 2007 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book EAST ASIA 1800-1949.
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Qing Decline 1799-1875
Qing Dynasty Fall 1875-1912
Republican China in Turmoil 1912-1926
Nationalist-Communist Civil War 1927-1937
China at War 1937-1949
Korea 1800-1949
Japan's Modernization 1800-1894
Imperial Japan 1894-1937
Japan's War and Defeat 1937-1949
Philippines to 1949
Pacific Islands to 1949
Summary and Evaluation


World Chronological Index
Chronology of Asia & Africa to 1800
Chronology of Asia & Africa 1800-1950
Chronology of East Asia to 1950

BECK index