740.00119 P.W./11–2345

The Acting Political Adviser in Japan (Atcheson) to the Secretary of State
No. 67

Sir: I have the honor to enclose a copy of a memorandum of conversation between a member of this Office and Mr. Sakomizu Hisatsune, [Page 701] Chief Secretary of the Suzuki58 Cabinet (April 7 to August 15, 1941).

During this conversation Mr. Sakomizu pointed out that the first question taken up by the Prime Minister (Suzuki) was a review of the actual situation of the war; that during the latter part of June the Emperor called an Imperial conference and asked that steps be taken to end the war; that about July 10 an approach was made to the Soviet Government to ask that a special envoy (Prince Konoye)59 be received; that the Japanese had in mind using Soviet Russia’s good offices; that no reply was received from the Soviet Government prior to issuance of the Potsdam Declaration; that certain members of the Cabinet, especially the Prime Minister, Navy Minister60 and Foreign Minister61 said that the Potsdam Declaration was a suitable basis for Japanese surrender if an understanding could be reached that the Emperor need not be “abolished”; that other members of the Cabinet favored acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration only under two conditions, no military occupation of Japan and voluntary recall of all Japanese troops abroad; that on August 9 the Emperor personally directed that the Potsdam Declaration be accepted with the above mentioned understanding and that again on August 14 the Emperor directed that an Imperial Rescript terminating the war be prepared on the basis of the Potsdam Declaration and the reply of the Allied Nations to the Japanese query concerning the ultimate form of the Japanese Government.

In this connection it is of interest to note that Mr. Kase62 of the Bureau of Information informed me recently that it was through his own efforts and those of Marquis Kido, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, that the decision had been reached early in July to send a delegation to Moscow in the hope of persuading the Soviet Government to mediate the war.63 He added that an “urgent” telegraphic message was sent to Moscow on July 14 but that as Generalissimo Stalin left that evening for Potsdam, the Japanese Ambassador64 had been unable to see either Stalin or Molotov. Mr. Kase said that therefore the Japanese were unaware whether Stalin had taken the Japanese proposals with him to Potsdam. However, when it became known that [Page 702] Stalin was receiving Dr. T. V. Soong,65 the Japanese realized that their proposals would not receive Russian consideration.

Mr. Kenneth Galbraith of the Strategic Bombing Survey has informed me that Marquis Kido told members of the Strategic Bombing Survey group that the Japanese Government telegraphed its first proposal to Moscow on June 6, and suggested at that time that Konoye proceed to Moscow.

There are enclosed copies of memoranda of my conversations with Mr. Kase and Mr. Galbraith.

Respectfully yours,

George Atcheson, Jr.
[Enclosure 1]
Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Max W. Bishop of the Office of the Political Adviser in Japan
Participants: Mr. Sakomizu Hisatsune, Former Chief Secretary of the Suzuki Cabinet (April 7 to August 15, 1941);
Mr. Kubo;
Mr. Bishop

Mr. Sakomizu said that at Mr. Kubo’s suggestion he had come to tell Mr. Bishop the details of developments in Japan leading up to the surrender which was announced on August 15. In order that the relationship of personal friendship and close association between the Emperor and Suzuki would be clear, he explained that Prime Minister Suzuki had been the Emperor’s Aide-de-Camp from 1930 to 1936; that Suzuki had been assaulted and wounded in the military revolt or “incident” on February 26, 1936; and that Suzuki had later in 1936 upon his recovery, been made Vice President of the Privy Council, and in 1940 had become President. He said that the relationship between such Prime Ministers as Tojo66 and Koiso67 and the Emperor had been an official one, and that, therefore, with the appointment of Suzuki as Prime Minister, the Emperor was able for the first time since the outbreak of war to express his true feelings through the Prime Minister. Following is Mr. Sakomizu’s narrative:

The first question to be taken up by the Suzuki Cabinet was a complete re-examination of the real situation of the war. The Navy Minister, Admiral Yonai, and Prime Minister Suzuki, working closely together and in complete secrecy from the Army, reached the conclusion that to continue the war would mean utter destruction of Japan [Page 703] and the Japanese people, and would also, each day it continued, be further destructive of world civilization.

During the last ten days of June, the Emperor of his own will and without official advice from anyone, although it was undoubtedly true that he had discussed the matter with the Prime Minister, called an Imperial Conference (Gozenkai). Six persons attended this Conference before the Emperor—the Prime Minister, the War Minister,68 the Navy Minister, the Foreign Minister, the Chief of Staff for the Army69 and the Chief of Staff for the Navy.70 At this meeting the Emperor asked that steps be taken to bring about an end to the war.

In the discussion which followed it was decided that there were two ways in which the Emperor’s wishes could be met:

To open direct communications with the Allied nations, or
To approach the Allies indirectly and through the mediation of a third party or neutral country.

It was decided in the first part of July, around the 10th actually, to make an approach to the Allies through Russia. (It has been learned from another source that Foreign Minister Togo was principally responsible for this decision.) A message was sent to the Japanese Ambassador in Moscow asking Russia to accept a special envoy from Japan. The Russians replied by asking for a full explanation of the purposes of sending such an envoy and of the powers which it was proposed to give to the special envoy. The Japanese replied that they desired to send a special envoy for two purposes:

To improve Russo-Japanese relations, and
To discuss the use of Russia’s good offices in bringing about an end to the war.

The fundamental purpose was, of course, to seek Russia’s good offices in terminating the hostilities. It was decided that Prince Konoye would be the special envoy. (As an explanation of the selection of Prince Konoye, Mr. Sakomizu stated that when Prince Konoye had resigned as Prime Minister in October of 1941, he had promised the Emperor that if he were needed at any time thereafter, he would do whatever he could. Mr. Sakomizu explained that selection of Konoye was rather difficult to explain as it involved a personal promise made by Konoye to the Emperor.)

Before any reply to the Japanese message was made, Mr. Stalin and Mr. Molotov had to leave Moscow for the Potsdam Conference. It was stated that the Soviet reply would be forthcoming upon their return. Although it seemed apparent to the Japanese that obtaining of [Page 704] Soviet Russia’s good offices was hopeless, the Japanese Government nevertheless continued to press Ambassador Sato for an answer.

On July 26, the Potsdam Declaration was issued and was carefully scrutinized by the Japanese Cabinet which came to the conclusion that this Declaration constituted an acceptable basis for Japanese surrender. Although the Army itself had lost confidence in its ability to continue the war, the force of militarism and the momentum which was carrying the war along were like a “bicycle rolling down hill without brakes”: there was no way to stop it and the Army itself did not know how to give up. It was therefore necessary for the Cabinet to discover some development or event on which to capitalize in order to force the militarists to halt and to bring about surrender. At this juncture the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The Cabinet felt that it had found a suitable peg on which to pin its surrender movement; but the Army asserted that the explosion at Hiroshima was not really an atomic bomb but was merely a super-bomb using already known explosives. To settle this argument a scientific staff of experts was sent to Hiroshima. On August 9 the scientists submitted proof that it was actually an atomic bomb. Early on the same morning Russia entered the war.

Prime Minister Suzuki decided that the war must be stopped immediately and that the atomic bomb and Russia’s entry were sufficient “excuse” devices. He went to the Emperor about 8:00 a.m. The Emperor agreed that the war should be brought to an end and on the basis of the Potsdam Declaration. After leaving the palace, the Prime Minister gathered together at 9:30 a.m. the same six men who had attended the Imperial Conference in the latter part of June. (This meeting in the morning of August 9 was not an Imperial Conference). At this time it was decided that:

The Potsdam Declaration could be accepted with the understanding that it does not include abolishing the Emperor, or
That it could be accepted with two conditions:
That Allied troops not occupy Japan;
That Japan be allowed to call back all its soldiers from abroad under its own orders and that surrender not be effected abroad.

The Prime Minister, the Navy Minister and the Foreign Minister favored the acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration with the understanding that the Emperor not be abolished. The War Minister and the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Navy favored acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration only with the above two conditions. There was a Cabinet meeting called the same afternoon, August 9, about two o’clock. The consensus expressed was in agreement with the views of the Prime Minister, the Navy Minister [Page 705] and the Foreign Minister. However, some ministers were not “big enough” to express clearly their own individual opinions and to accept responsibility for those opinions; they merely stated that they would agree with the Prime Minister. No clear decision was reached at the Cabinet meeting and the Prime Minister then went to the Emperor and an Imperial Conference was called at eleven o’clock the night of August 9.

The same six key men and the President of the Privy Council, Baron Hiranuma Kiichiro, and Mr. Sakomizu were present. Baron Hiranuma joined with the Prime Minister and his group making the vote four to three. The Emperor was then told that, as he could see, it was impossible for an agreement to be reached by the conference, that they could not make a decision and that it was therefore necessary for them to follow whatever the Emperor decided. The Emperor then expressed his concurrence with Baron Hiranuma, the Prime Minister and the Navy and Foreign Ministers. Always before it had been the custom for a Conference to reach a decision without directly involving the Emperor—one side or the other yielding so that an agreement could be reached. But, in this instance neither side would yield until the Emperor spoke.

(Mr. Sakomizu described the extreme tension and emotion at this important meeting.) Everyone present was impressed with the feeling that the “curtain” which had heretofore hung between the Emperor and the people was drawn aside, and that for the first time since the Meiji Restoration, the Emperor actually stepped from behind this “curtain” and came directly and personally before the people and on the side of the people. The experience was so intensely emotional that “tears flowed freely”. All present sensed the “great historic importance” of the occasion. By using the figure of a “curtain” between the Emperor and the people, Mr. Sakomizu had reference to the fact that it had been customary for someone or a group to stand between the Emperor and any important action or decision and for that person or group to accept responsibility for the decision or act.

The Emperor went on to give his reasons for his decision (Mr. Sakomizu said that because of the emotion of the moment, he could not remember every word as it had been uttered by the Emperor, but that three points were especially clear.) The Emperor said:

That from the very start of the war, the plans and information of the military had been far removed from the facts of the true situation;
that to continue the war would mean the destruction of the Japanese people and the country and would also be disastrous to world civilization; and
that although it was sad and moving to recall the sacrifices which had been made and the suffering which had been endured, nevertheless [Page 706] the termination of the war in this manner and at this time was in accordance with the will of God and the destiny of the world.

(Speaking parenthetically and as an example of the real feeling of the Emperor, Mr. Sakomizu pointed out that in the original draft of the Imperial Rescript at the beginning of the war, there had been a period after the statement that war with the United States and Great Britain had become inevitable, but that the Emperor had himself inserted the phrase “How far this is removed from my true wishes!”)

The Imperial Conference closed at 3:00 a.m. on August 10 and a telegram to the Allied Nations was dispatched at 7:00 a.m. the same morning. On August 13 at 5:00 a.m. the reply was received from the Allied Nations in which it was stated that the ultimate form of government in Japan would depend upon the freely expressed will of the Japanese people. This reply was hotly debated—certain Japanese insisting that it was only the Emperor himself who could decide the ultimate form of government in Japan, other Japanese insisting that the Emperor’s will and the people’s will were the same thing, and that the Emperor’s will encompassed the people’s will and vice versa. The latter group urged immediate acceptance of the Allied reply.

Mr. Sakomizu himself advised the Prime Minister to follow this course. The Prime Minister already had the same view and at once urged Japan’s immediate surrender. The War Minister and the militarists were unalterably opposed. The Navy was divided with the Navy Minister, Admiral Yonai, on the side of the Prime Minister. Failure of these officials to reach an agreement among themselves made it necessary to hold another Imperial Conference. However, to petition for an Imperial Conference required the signature of three persons; the Prime Minister, the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Navy. The Navy Chief of Staff, Admiral Toyoda, and the Army Chief of Staff refused to sign and it was therefore required that some extra-ordinary means of circumventing their refusal be found. (Ordinarily a signed petition to call an Imperial Conference is submitted to the Emperor before such action is taken.) Prime Minister Suzuki then consulted the Emperor, and the Emperor on his own initiative, summoned the six key officials and all other members of the Cabinet to an Imperial Conference on August 14, at 10:30 a.m.

The War Minister, the Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Navy expressed the view that the Allied reply should not be accepted unless Japanese conditions were met. The Emperor thereupon addressed the Conference and stated that he would express at that point his opinion and that he would require all to agree with his views. He said that his opinion was in no way different from that which he expressed at the Imperial Conference on August 9, that in the future, Japan [Page 707] would entirely be separated from the means to wage war and would be without any arms or armament, and that Japan would in this way enjoy true eternal peace, completely separated from any form of militarism and would thus contribute to world peace as a country enjoying peace not maintained by arms. The Emperor thereupon ordered the Cabinet immediately to draft an Imperial Rescript terminating the war.

Since August 10, Mr. Sakomizu had been working on a draft for such an Imperial Rescript, following the general outline of the Emperor’s remarks at the Imperial Conference on August 9–10. It was therefore necessary merely to insert the additional ideas which the Emperor had set forth at the meeting on the 14th.

(Mr. Sakomizu at this point said he wanted to emphasize two especially important phrases in the Imperial Rescript terminating the war. They were: “Our wish to bring into realization great peace for the benefit of all future generations” and “We are always together with our good and loyal subjects.” He went on to point out that there had been some criticism in the foreign press for the reason that in the first Imperial Rescript there had been no use of the word “surrender”. He said that in drafting he had consciously avoided using the word. He added it should not be difficult to understand the intense emotional feeling under which he and all Japanese were laboring at that time. This depth of emotion made it impossible to use specifically the word surrender which he believed would have detracted from the solemnity and dignity of the document and therefore would have lessened its powerful effect on all Japanese. He was consciously attempting to put as much dignity and force into the document as he could. He added that on September 2, at the time of the signing of the surrender, the word “surrender” was used in the Imperial Rescript and that the Japanese people by then had come to understand the true situation and were prepared for the use of the word “surrender.” In the first rescript he felt that the two words “extra-ordinary measure” actually meant surrender and had so intended.)

The first Imperial Rescript was completed and approved at 11:00 p.m. August 14. The Emperor himself made the decision to broadcast directly to the people.

At this time there was great fear that the Army would attempt some sort of coup d’état. Every effort was therefore made to deceive the rabid militarists. General Anami, the War Minister, also did all in his power to prevent an incident. However, he alone could not have forestalled action by the militarists, and all who favored peace worked strenuously during the week before surrender. (Mr. Sakomizu described his efforts as being like those of a skilled fisherman who plays the fish until it is exhausted.) There were only minor disturbances. [Page 708] From midnight of August 15 until 8:00 in the morning, the Army placed soldiers in the front of all entrances to the Palace and prevented anyone from going in or coming out, in an effort to forestall the broadcast of the Emperor. General Tanaka of the Eastern Defense Command finally went to the gates and personally persuaded the soldiers to depart. Other groups of militarists attacked the Prime Minister’s residence with machine guns. Prime Minister Suzuki’s and Baron Hiranuma’s home were burned by the militarists.

On August 15 at 4:00 a.m. the War Minister committed suicide. (Mr. Sakomizu gave a rather interesting explanation of this suicide. He stated that the War Minister personally had no confidence in continuing the war and wanted it to stop, but because of loyalty to the Army the War Minister felt that he had to be on the militarists’ side and could find no way to put an end to the force of militarism which, as Mr. Sakomizu had said earlier, was like a “bicycle rolling down hill without brakes”. The War Minister therefore felt that in order to “apologize” to the militarists, he had to commit suicide. Mr. Sakomizu added that the War Minister was the only one who truly followed the Samurai tradition of suicide.)

Prime Minister Suzuki who was in poor health and exhausted, desired release from the Cabinet. He felt that it would not be advisable for a Cabinet to sign the surrender and then immediately resign. In view of his health which would not allow him to continue in office for any length of time, Prime Minister Suzuki seized upon the occasion of the suicide of the War Minister as a good opportunity to present his resignation. (It would have been necessary for him to obtain a new War Minister and re-organize his Cabinet had he continued as Prime Minister.) Accordingly on August 15 at 3:00 p.m. the Suzuki Cabinet submitted its resignation to the Emperor.

Note: The following were important members in the government during this period:

Prime Minister Suzuki Kantaro
Foreign Minister Togo Shigenori
Navy Minister Yonai Mitsumasa
Army Minister Anami Korechika
Chief Secretary Sakomizu Hisatsune
President of Privy Council Baron Hiranuma Kiichiro
Chief of Staff of the Army General Umezu Yoshijiro
Chief of Staff of the Navy Admiral Toyoda Soemu

Max W. Bishop
[Page 709]
[Enclosure 2]
Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Political Adviser in Japan (Atcheson)
Participants: Mr. Kase Toshikazu, Bureau of Information;
Mr. Atcheson.

Mr. Kase told me this evening that for some time he had been very close to Marquis Kido, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal. He said that through his own efforts and those of Kido it was decided in higher Japanese Government circles early in July 1945 to send a delegation to Moscow for the purpose of persuading the Soviet Government to endeavor to arrange with the American and British Governments for the “liquidation of the war”. He said that he himself was to be a member of the delegation and that an urgent telegraphic message was sent to the Japanese Ambassador in Moscow early on July 14; that Stalin left that evening for Potsdam; that the Ambassador had been unable to see him or Molotov but had discussed the matter with Molotov’s number two who was very cordial but non-committal and the Japanese therefore did not know whether Stalin had taken the proposals to Potsdam “in his pocket” or whether, if so, he would lay them on the table there. Subsequently, when it became known that Stalin was receiving T. V. Soong, the Japanese realized that Soviet Russia’s “mind had turned to China” and that the Japanese peace proposals would not receive Russian consideration.

George Atcheson, Jr.
[Enclosure 3]
Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Political Adviser in Japan (Atcheson)
Participants: Mr. Kenneth Galbraith, Strategic Bombing Survey;
Mr. Atcheson.

Mr. Galbraith told me this evening that during the afternoon he had been present at an interview by members of his group with Marquis Kido, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal. He said that Kido told them that a telegram was sent by the Japanese Government to Moscow on June 6, 1945, proposing that Konoye go to Moscow to propose peace terms for the Soviet Government to put forth to the Allies but that the Russian Government made no reply.

[Page 710]

(It would be interesting to learn the effect upon Japanese determination to keep on with the war or seek peace of the capture of Guadalcanal, Saipan, Okinawa; Saipan may have been the real turning point.)

George Atcheson, Jr.
  1. Adm. Baron Kantaro Suzuki, Japanese Prime Minister, April 7–August 15, 1945.
  2. Prince Fumimaro Konoye, Japanese Prime Minister, June 1937–January 1939, and July 22, 1940–Octoher 16, 1941.
  3. Adm. Mitsumasa Yonai.
  4. Shigenori Togo.
  5. Toshikazu Kase, Japanese Foreign Office.
  6. For documentation on the exchange with Moscow, see Foreign Relations, The Conference of Berlin (The Potsdam Conference), 1945, vol. ii, pp. 1248 ff.
  7. Naotake Sato.
  8. President of the Chinese Executive Yuan (Premier).
  9. Gen. Hideki Tojo, Japanese Prime Minister, October 18, 1941–July 18, 1944.
  10. Gen. Kuniaki Koiso, Japanese Prime Minister, July 21, 1944–April 5, 1945.
  11. Gen. Korechika Anami.
  12. Gen. Yoshijiro Umezu.
  13. Adm. Soemu Toyoda.