THE JAPANESE EMPEROR
Formerly Chief Secretary to
The Emperor's Role at the Time
The Pacific War broke out despite all efforts exerted by the Emperor to prevent the calamity. Nevertheless, His Majesty's devotion to international concord was such that from the very moment hostilities began his mind was directed constantly toward the restoration of peace.1
As early as February 1942, when our forces were about to capture Manila, the Emperor instructed Premier Tojo to lose no opportunity in bringing the war to an end.
I believe it was in February 1944 that His Majesty began to grapple with the problem of peace as the most urgent issue confronting the Empire. I recall one day after the war ended the Emperor, speaking to us, his entourage, reminisced: "From the time our line along the Stanley Mauntain Range in New Guinea was penetrated, I was anxious for peace, but, we had a treaty with Germany against concluding a separate peace; and we could not violate an international commitment. This was a dilemma that tormented me."
In February 1945, after the fall of Manila, the Emperor summoned individually, and on different days, Baron Wakatsuki and several other ex-Premiers and also Count Makino, former Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, and asked for their views. Though they all favored peace, I understand none had any concrete suggestion.
It was toward the end of May, 1945 when the Yamato, our newest and biggest battleship dispatched to save Okinawa, was sunk and all hope was gone in naval warfare that General Umezu, Chief of the Army General Staff, informed the Throne of the impossibility of land operations to recoup our reverses at the Yunnan and Burma fronts. His Majesty was then resolved to seek peace at all costs.
In order to bring hostilities to an end, however, it was necessary to pursuade the officers and men, who were determined to fight to death, to lay down their arms. Here was a most delicate task. One false step would bring domestic turmoil to the country threatened with an imminent enemy invasion. The fall of Saipan, defeat on Leyte, and the loss of Okinawa had convinced the military leaders, as well as all the Cabinet members, of the pressing need for terminating the war-still they were at loss as to how to go about it. In the face of the nation's volcanic temper at that time, no one dared to voice his honest opinion or do anything that might arouse the suspicion of his entertaining such an opinion. At this juncture it was His Majesty who urged the Government to sue for peace.
The Supreme War Direction Council meeting be-
fore the Emperor on June 8, 1945, passed on the "Basic Policy Draft for Future Direction of War" which declared the official decision of the Government to continue the war. His Majesty was deeply shocked when this decision, in utter disregard of the developments at the front and situation at home, was adopted by the Supreme Council presided over by Premier Suzuki, who enjoyed Imperial confidence to the fullest degree. The Emperor wished to demand the Government as well as the military leaders to reconsider. But extraordinary caution was required for this. The Emperor was most reluctant to give out his personal opinion in the form of a command, for that would contravene the practice of our constitutional government and might produce grave repercussions. Herein lay the difficulty. The draft of the Basic Policy Draft for Future Direction of War contained an accurate description of both the war situation and the domestic conditions of the country, of which the impossibility of continuing the war was an obvious conclusion. Yet the document, by an amazing twist of logic, ended in advocating the continuation of war. At the June 8 conference the Emperor, though he made no comment, sensed the inconsistency at once. He desired to leave the matter to be threshed out at another meeting. Thus, with the consent of the Premier he called the Supreme War Direction Council meeting on June 22, at which he proposed peace.
"This is a critical moment," said His Majesty, "permitting no hesitation, nor delay. Despite the Basic Policy Draft adopted at the Supreme War Direction Council meeting on June 8, you will consider the question of ending the war as quickly as possible." To advocate peace, as His Majesty did in those days of frenzied chauvinism, was an act which required an extraordinary resolution involving a grave risk even on the august person of an Emperor.
What impressed those of us who were close to the Emperor was the steadfast and determined way His Majesty followed his own conviction. Thanks to the Imperial admonition, the Government was now moving toward the termination of hostilities. But as to the time and method and also the terms of peace, there was a wide divergence of views between the Cabinet and the military. The Premier and Navy Minister Yonai and Foreign Minister Togo were conspicuously active in working for peace, but the role of the Emperor, who openly and covertly gave constant encouragement and support to these men, should not be forgotten.
The government wavered until the very last minute. It was at the Imperial conference of the Supreme War Direction Council of August 14 that the Emperor himself pronounced his decision in favor of immediate acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration. Thus, did our nation emerge from eight long years of warfare to hail the dawn of peace. At both conferences, August 9 and 14, His Majesty, summarizing in a lucid fashion the general situation relating to the war developments on land and sea, the extent of air raid damage, the defense of the home islands, the munition production, and food supply, expounded why Japan should stop fighting and surrender. He was most deeply concerned not only over the sufferings of his subjects, which were being intensified each day, but also over the enormous waste in lives and property our futile resistance was causing our adversaries. These sentiments are partly revealed in the Imperial Rescript issued on the termination of war. I know well how heavily these matters weighed upon the mind of the Emperor throughout the war years.
Emperor's Efforts for Pre-
The Pacific War was terminated by the decision of the Emperor. Why then had it not also been possible to prevent war by Imperial judgement ?
This question is asked frequently abroad and even among our own people at home. The question arises out of ignorance of His Majesty's ceaseless endeavors toward peace and also from misunderstanding the position of the Emperor in the Japanese government.
The first part (1926-36) of the Showa Era witnessed great changes in Japanese thought and economy. The economic depression that followed the First World War oppressed heavily the lives of our people and engendered extremist movements both to the right and to the left. It was an era of political instability when the military clique raised its head and our foreign policy took on a markedly aggressive character.
His Majesty is a man of conviction who believes firmly in peace and it is no exaggeration to say that
all his efforts throughout the 20 years of his reign were devoted to the preservation of peace. In order to bring out this fact concretely it is necessary to explain the following points:
In the following pages I venture to state the facts as I remember them with respect to these points.
The Government and the Military
His Majesty's endeavors for peace had never been completely successful and to explain why, it is necessary to describe the relationship between the military and the Government.
From the beginning of the Showa Era (1925) the economic depression, and especially the sorry plight of the farming communities had brought on confusion and unrest. Radical ideologies affected young officers in the Army and Navy, breeding a spirit of defiance and revolt against their superiors. In 1931, the year of the Manchurian Incident, there occured the so-called "March Incident" and "November Incident," in which they made unsuccessful attempts to stage a coup d'etat to seize the Government. In the March Incident, officers at higher levels were involved, revealing how deeply the canker of recalcitrance had eaten into the heart of the Army. Both incidents were carefully hushed up, all information being withheld from the public, and even from the Government. They were not reported to the Emperor. None of the culprits were punished. The situation grew from bad to worse. On May 15, 1932 Premier Inukai was shot by young Navy officers. On the 26th of February, 1936, a mutiny was staged, in which the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, the Grand Chamberlain, the Premier, the Finance Minister and other important personages were either killed or wounded. Throughout these turbulent years His Majesty did everything to restore order and discipline in the armed services. To cite a few instances as I recollect them; in July 1929 the Tanaka Cabinet resigned under Imperial reprimand for its failure to carry out the Emperor's special instructions to track down and punish the Army men responsible for the murder, in the preceding year, of the Manchurian war lord, Chang Tsolin. In 1931 the Emperor warned the War and Navy Ministers against the interference of the military in government and diplomacy. War Minister Minami, in pursuance of the Imperial wishes, dispatched a special emissary to Manchuria. The emissary arrived in Mukden on the very eve of the outbreak of the Manchurian Incident. Before and after the May 15, 1932 Incident, and immediately prior to the February 26, 1936 mutiny, the Emperor warned the military leaders against interference by soldiers in government affairs, and called for strict enforcement of discipline.
At the time of the February mutiny it was the Emperor who in the midst of unspeakable confusion ordered the suppression of the uprising, and saved the country from an impending catastrophe. When the Army was showing a sympathetic attitude toward the mutineers and trying to make patriots of them, the Emperor pronounced them to be "rebels" and issued a strict command to the War Minister to suppress them. When Home Minister Goto, who was then acting as Premier, came to present the letters of resignation of his Cabinet members, the Emperor urged him to "use all efforts to suppress the rioters and to unite the Cabinet for the restoration of order." Unfortunately, the Cabinet was too weak and helpless. To the Deputy-Chief of Army General Staff, Sugiyama, who reported on the partial promulgation of martial law, the Emperor inquired if he had completed plans for suppressing the rebel force, and cautioned him against abuse of martial law by the military. The War Minister recommended to His Majesty, through His Majesty's Chief Aide-de-camp, the formation of a temporary cabinet calculated to humor the rebel officers, who were then demanding the establishment of a military government under the War Minister. The Emperor rejected the proposi-
tion, saying "I have already ordered the Government to suppress the rebels." Despite repeated demands from the Throne, the War Minister hesitated to act. The Supreme Military Council, which was ordered to take the matter in hand, could reach no decision. Finally, the Emperor summoned his Chief Aide-de-Camp. "If nobody can stop the rebels," said His Majesty, "I will go myself. Fetch the Imperial standard, and follow me." Overawed, the Army leaders decided upon a punitive action, and the rebellion was put down completely on the 29th of February.
Notwithstanding the complaint voiced among young Army officers, the Emperor always treated the political affairs and military affairs on an equal footing. For the disposition of the former he relied on the advice and assistance of the ministers of state; and for the latter, on the counsel of his chiefs of staff namely the Chief of the Army General Staff and the Chief of Navy General Staff. But whenever the recommendation of the military advisers ran counter to the policy of the Government, he reserved his approval. For instance, when at the outbreak of the Manchurian Incident in September 1931, a contingent of the Japanese Army in Korea crossed the border into Manchuria to reinforce the Kwantung Army without an Imperial Command and against the Government's policy of non-extension of hostilities, the Emperor did not give post facto approval on the arbitrary action of the Commander of our Korean forces until the Government had sanctioned an appropriation for this troop movement. Again, on the occasion of a Soviet-Japanese clash at Chang-ku-feng on the Soviet-Manchurian border, when the Chief of the General Staff recommended to the Throne the dispatch of reinforcements, His Majesty who had been advised by the Foreign Minister of the Government's opposition, disapproved the measure.
It may be noted that the Imperial Rescript on Japan's withdrawal from the League of Nations contains the sentence:
"We command that all public servants, whether civilian or military, shall faithfully perform his appointed duty...."
This was inserted at the express wish of the Emperor. It differs somewhat from the passage in the Imperial Rescript issued on the occasion of his accession to the Throne, which reads "with the civil service as the warp and the military as the woof." In the light of the political background as described above, the intention of the Rescript is clear and was to warn the military against trespassing upon the sphere of civil government.
Some time after the war's end His Majesty spoke to his entourage of his difficult position in those years as follows:
"I was greatly worried over the possible consequences of the reckless behavior on the part of the young Army hot heads. I seized every opportunity to caution the military leaders, but because of the spirit of insubordination and defiance pervading the ranks, their words were of no avail. But I could not very well speak directly to officers on the lower echelons. That would destroy the very structure of control and direction. Here was my problem. Among my trusted advisers there were many who strove day and night to curb the excesses of the military, however, these men had either to lose positions of influence, or even to sacrifice their very lives.
The Manchurian Incident and
The Manchurian Incident of 1931 was aggravated and expanded in scope by the Japanese forces on the spot against the policy of the Government.
The Emperor was alarmed at the talk of the so-called strong foreign policy of solving by force the problems of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia prior to the outbreak of the Incident. He took up the matter with the then Premier Baron Wakatsuki.
"You are settling these problems," remarked His Majesty, "of Manchuria and Mongolia on the basis of Sino-Japanese amity, I hope."
The Premier at once relayed the Imperial words to his Cabinet, and the Government's policy for amicable solution was reaffirmed.
But scarcely a month had elapsed before the Incident started on September 18, 1931. The conflagration spread to Shanghai where a violent anti-Japanese movement flared out. In February 1932,
the newly formed Inukai Cabinet was obliged to dispatch an Army contingent to rescue the Japanese marine corps which was threatened with annihilation by a superior Chinese force.
The consensus of both Government and private circles in Tokyo was: "Our armed forces, once on foreign soil, are beyond the control of the home Government, and hostilities are likely to expand into an all-out war between Japan and China."
However, contrary to these gloomy forebodings, General Shirakawa, Commander of the Expeditionary Force, after a series of fierce battles had succeeded in driving the enemy from around the International Settlement, proclaimed a cease fire order to all his forces, much to the chagrin of his staff officers who wanted to pursue the fleeing Chinese. It was May 3rd, the very day on which the League of Nations was scheduled to deliberate on the Shanghai incident.
This dramatic event had a background which was then not known to the world. General Shirakawa, appointed Commander of the Expeditionary Force, went to the palace to take leave of His Majesty. Calling the General to his side the Emperor discoursed on the international situation.
"This is entirely my personal wish," said the Emperor, "But when you have achieved the purpose of restoring peace to the Settlement, I hope you will hold back your troops and never let them march into the interior."
It was this Imperial wish which the General, as a loyal warrior, carried out to the letter, although by so doing he incurred the displeasure of the Army.
When the next March 3rd (1933) came around, the General was dead. The day being the Dolls Festival Day, His Majesty sent to Mrs. Shirakawa the following poem:
Japan's withdrawal from the League of Nations was, needless to say, not His Majesty's desire. With the return of Lord Lytton and his party to Geneva in October 1932, the Commission Report was made public. The Emperor, being opposed to the Army's scheme for an independent Manchuria, considered that the Lytton Report should be accepted inasmuch as it recognized Japan's legitimate rights and claims in Manchuria, while sustaining China's suzerainty over the territory. He would have therefore conveyed his view to Premier Saito and instructed him to reconsider the Government's unyielding attitude, but for the advice of Prince Saionji and Count Makino. It was the carefully considered opinion of these senior statesmen that it would be improper for His Majesty as a constitutional monarch to intervene in matters of foreign policy which had been decided upon by the Government and duly reported to the Throne by the Premier.
On March 27, 1933, when the Japanese Government notified the League of Nations of Japan's withdrawal from the League, an Imperial Rescript was issued. Considering the wish o f the Emperor, the Rescript laid special emphasis on His Majesty's unchanging devotion to the cause of international peace and harmony. This was intended as a warning to the nation against the tide of anti-foreignism arising with its withdrawal from the League.
Matsuoka, Japan's delegate to Geneva, returned to Japan after the break with the League of Nations, and said: "From the moment I had received the Imperial Command and left Japan, I was always aware of what was expected of me by His Majesty, which certainly was not our withdrawal from the League. I do not understand why I, who have failed in this important mission, should be welcomed back like a victorious general by a segment of the public." The Emperor's sentiments are well indicated in this remark of Matsuoka.
The Jehol expedition of 1932-33 became a subject of discussion by the League of Nations. The Emperor thought of a plan of calling an Imperial conference. It failed to materialize because Prince Saionji held the view: "From the behavior of young officers these days, there is little hope for the success of such a plan. After all, it would be best to let the Premier assume the entire responsibility for coping with the current situation."
The China Affair started in 1937 by the Army on the spot as was in the case of the Manchurian Incident. The Emperor, deeply concerned over the
trend of the conflict spreading from North China to Central China, contrary to the Government's avowed policy of non-extension of hostilities, conveyed his wish to Premier Konoye to call an Imperial conference and establish a basic national policy for the restoration of peace. The Premier, however, hesitated for various reasons to carry out this Imperial wish.
From the first conference which was called under the First Konoye Cabinet on January 11, 1938, to discuss China policy following the failure of the peace negotiations through the intermediation of the German Government to the last conference of December 1, 1941, which decided upon war with America and Britain, Imperial conferences were held eight times. But these conferences were purely ceremonial, as they did nothing but adopt formally, in the Imperial presence, the decisions that had already been reached at the Liaison Conference between the Government and High Command, independently of the intentions of the Emperor. Such being the case, the conferences, instead of providing an occasion to restrain the military, served rather to advance the cause of their aggressive policy.
From the beginning to the end the Emperor was determined to prevent war. Words fail me to describe His Majesty's anxieties and endeavors in this respect. As one who personally attended him, I find it painful to recollect the momentous developments of those days leading to the Pacific War.
It was at the Imperial conference of September 6, 1941, that the Emperor counselled for peace, by reciting the famous poem of the Emperor Meiji:
This episode, which was mentioned in the policy statement of Premier Higashikuni before the post-surrender Diet, is minutely related in the memoirs of the late Prince Konoye.
On the eve of the September 6th conference Premi er Konoye reported to the Throne on the draft resolution on the agenda. The Emperor was shocked to discover that the draft resolution contained a paragraph calling for a decision to declare war with the time limit set at the first part of October. He demanded a revision, but the Premier could not accede. Therefore, His Majesty summoned the Chiefs of the Army and Navy General Staff and obtained assurance to the effect that the High Command considered the resolution to give diplomatic negotiations priority over war. His Majesty caused both the Government and High Command to confirm the same assurance.
As stated before, an Imperial conference was strictly a formal affair, and it proceeded like a ceremony with the Premier presiding and the Emperor taking no part whatsoever in its deliberations: However, on this occasion His Majesty, breaking the custom, took the floor and made clear what he wanted. Nevertheless, the draft resolution was adopted without a word of amendment.
Now why did the Emperor approve this resolution to which he had openly declared his objection? From the days of Meiji it had been an unwritten law that the Emperor would approve any decision of the Government, never would he veto it. His Majesty adhered firmly to this constitutional usage as his own personal creed. As a matter of fact this practice was, I am sure, the most appropriate means of safeguarding monarchy from falling into dictatorship and fitting it into the system of a constitutional government.
With the stagnation of the Japanese-American conversation and the approach of the date set for decision to fight, the Konoye Cabinet resigned en bloc on October 18, 1941. War Minister Tojo, who wrecked the Konoye Cabinet by his warlike stand, received the Imperial command to form the successor cabinet. This has invited criticism from various quarters. Let me explain!
Under the old constitution of Japan the selection of a Premier was made, as a matter of established custom, through the recommendation of the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal who was constantly in attendance upon the Throne to tender advice and assistance. Marquis Kido, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, who at this fateful juncture had to recommend a new Premier, took, needless to say, every possible care and caution. As Chief Secretary to the Lord
Keeper of the Privy Seal I know well the circumstance General Tojo's selection. Marquis Kido believed that a man who could successfully cope with the situation at that critical moment had to meet the following two conditions:
After careful consideration the Marquis came to the conclusion that no one but General Tojo could meet these qualifications. So, with the approval of the senior statesmen he recommended Tojo as Premier.
As for the first condition Marquis Kido had been assured of General Tojo's view that war with America and Britain must be averted as long as the Navy Minister lacked confidence in the war (the fact that he did lack it had been ascertained by Kido from a reliable source).
With respect to the second condition Tojo himself had told His Majesty that in case the Japanese-American negotiations succeeded, he would suppress even at the risk of his life any dissatisfaction within the Army. Moreover, the War Minister had demonstrated his power when he forced the resignation of the Army Commander, a Division Commander, and a Brigade Commander for the forcible landing of troops in French Indo-China, contrary to the instructions from Tokyo. It was these concrete facts which convinced the Marquis of the reliability of General Tojo with regard to his control over the Army.
On the day War Minister Tojo was commanded to form a new cabinet, Marquis Kido conveyed an Imperial message to both War and Navy Ministers stating: "In deciding upon the fundamental line of national policy, you will, without being bound by the decision of the September 9 Imperial conference decision, conduct a wider and deeper study of the situation at home and abroad and exercise utmost care and prudence." This message, in order to ensure accuracy, was drafted first in writing (I myself wrote the draft), and was read aloud to the ministers by the Marquis. His Majesty's intention was evident: "Give up your war decision, and work single-heartedly for peace!"
On October 18, 1941, the Tojo Cabinet came into being. The new Premier in conformity with the Imperial message made earnest endeavors toward the success of the Japanese-American negotiations. Unfortunately his efforts failed and war was declared, frustrating the hopes of His Majesty. But the Emperor strove to the last minute to prevent the war.
It was early in November 1941, as I recall, that the Emperor happened to hear about the Premier turning cool toward the Japanese-American negotiations. He asked Tojo if he was conducting in earnest the negotiations with the United States. Tojo replied in the affirmative.
On November 29, 1941, His Majesty summoned to the palace ex-Premiers, political leaders, the President of the Privy Council, as well as the Premier and principal ministers of states for an informal discussion. His Majesty had first suggested to the Government to call such a meeting, but when the Cabinet declined, the Cabinet members and the senior statesmen were called separately, to meet at the same time, and talk matters over in an informal fashion. The meeting was designed by the Emperor to serve as an opportunity for the senior statesmen to speak their minds and moderate the stiff attitude of the Government.
The Emperor has since told me directly, "Most of the senior statesmen were opposed to war. Unfortunately, their opinion was abstruse and could not hold down the Cabinet members who cited figures to support their contentions."
On the morning of November 30, 1941, the day after the above-mentioned palace meeting, the Emperor heard from his Brother, Prince Takamatsu, attached to the Navy General Staff, that the Navy lacked confidence in a war with America and Britain. If true, that would be an absolute reason not to fight, or at least it would serve as a starting point for a move against war. The Emperor immediately asked the Premier to postpone the Imperial conference, scheduled for the following day. It proved to be the last of such conferences preceding the declaration of war. At the same time he summoned the Navy
Minister and the Chief of the Navy General Staff and inquired about the prospects of the naval operation. They replied that as Navy leaders they had full confidence in their plans for naval warfare. Thus on December 1, 1941, the Imperial conference attended by all members of the Cabinet, the Chiefs of Army and Navy General Staffs and the President of the Privy Council, was held, presided over by Premier Tojo. War with America and Britain was the final decision.
The message of President Roosevelt, his last attempt at preserving peace, reached Tokyo on December 7, 1941. But it was 15 minutes past midnight when a copy was delivered by Ambassador Grew to Foreign Minister Togo, who reported its contents to His Majesty at 0300, December 8. At that time it was 0730, December 7 in Honolulu, or some 20 minutes before Japanese naval aircraft reached Pearl Harbor. In Washington it was 1300, just the hour of appointment for Ambassador Nomura to deliver the last memorandum of the Japanese Government to Secretary of State Hull. In point of time it was no longer possible to call off the movements of Japanese land and sea forces which had already started on a gigantic scale.
Foreign Minister Togo, who had apparently conferred with Premier Tojo before coming to the palace, advised His Majesty that no reply was necessary. He departed after obtaining the permission to transmit a brief Imperial message to the American ambassador. This, I believe, was done.
Concerning the above episode His Majesty said to me later, "I wished to answer the personal cablegram from the American President, but I was persuaded not to do so by Foreign Minister Togo who told me I had better not send a reply because hostilities would start on the 8th, changing the situation completely."
According to what I was told by Ambassador Kurusu, who was invited to a banquet given by Premier Tojo soon after his return on the exchange ship in the summer of 1942, the conversation at the table had turned to the subject of President Roosevelt's message, and the Premier remarked, "If the American note of November 26 had not been as harsh as it was, and if the President's message had arrived earlier, war would have been impossible."
If, indeed, there had been a few days' time, as Premier Tojo said, the Emperor would not have desisted from cooperating in the peace proposal of the President.
The Emperor once told his entourage: "Before doing anything I have made it my rule to rely on the advice of my counsellors, and never to reject such advice. Only twice in my life have I acted on my own initiative, once at the time of the February 26 Incident, 1936, and again at the time of surrender."
The Emperor personally ordered the suppression of the rebellion attending the February 26 Incident because, with the Premier beseiged by rebels, the Cabinet had ceased to function. The Army leaders were all so upset that they did not know what to do. His Majesty's close advisers, the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal had been killed, the Grand Chamberlain seriously wounded, and there were none near him to shoulder the responsibility for assisting and advising the Throne. The Emperor had no alternative but to assume the direction for handling the emergency. There can be no question of the constitutionality of his action in that case.
At the time of the termination of the war there existed both the Government and the High Command. But both had lost their functions as the supreme organs of state to advise and assist the Throne. In this respect the situation was similar to that of the February 26 Incident. That is to say, on the question of accepting or rejecting the Potsdam Declaration, opinion was so hopelessly divided among the leaders of the Government and the High Command that the Premier asked the Throne for a decision.
The Emperor's attitude was consistent throughout and the fault lay with the Premier and other leaders of the Government and the High Command who were found wanting in the discharge of their duty to advise and assist the Throne in the affairs of state. In fact, it was for exactly this reason that the Suzuki Cabinet resigned en bloc immediately following the Emperor's radio address on the termination of war.
Afterwards, the Emperor told the Minister of the Imperial Household Ishiwata: At that time I was
convinced of the necessity of ending the war. What worried me was that if the Government and the High Command had come to an agreement and the continuation of the war had been decided upon as the policy of state, I would have had to approve the decision against my personal conviction. To my great relief, the decision was left to me."
Now at the outbreak o f the Pacific War the situation was totally different. In this case the Government and the High Command, which were responsible for tendering advice and assistance in these respective spheres of political affairs and military matters, had agreed. The policy of the state was decided upon and the Emperor could do no other than approve the decision in accordance with the constitutional usage. Prior to that fatal moment His Majesty, as described already, had done everything he could as a constitutional monarch to avert the war.
Adherence to the constitution was set down by the Emperor as the first principle of government. At every change of cabinet he would enjoin upon the new Premier strict observance of the constitution. This might appear all too proper for comment. It had however, a great significance at the time of his reign, when radical ideologies were sweeping over Japan. We owe it to His Majesty that we were able to preserve, somehow, our constitutional government through those years during which dictatorship and force prevailed in some quarters of the world. Years in which Japan itself saw the political parties become powerless and open threats to brush aside the parliamentary government itself.
"The King reigns but does not rule." This English proverb was literally translated into action by His Majesty. The principle under the old constitution that the Emperor shall always rely on the advice and assistance of his ministers in all matters of state, had established a rule that the Emperor was not to exercise the veto as an imperial prerogative. His Majesty had an occasion early in his reign to confirm his faith in this unwritten law.
In July 1929 Premier Tanaka, as I said before, resigned after having received an Imperial reprimand. On recollecting the episode years afterwards, His Majesty said to us: "There I went too far; I was young. It gave currency to such annoying rumors as 'palace intrigue' or 'senior statesmen's block, which were invented by the military and the rightists, and which had a bad effect upon government. This bitter experience has taught me to be always on guard against exceeding my limits." His Majesty's attitude toward the constitution was born of a profound reflection on his responsibility as sovereign and his ceaseless self-discipline and self-restraint from wilful and arbitrary action.
In his Memoires Prince Konoye appears to blame the passive attitude of the Emperor for the inability of the government to stop the war. This is a most regrettable mis-statement on the part of the Prince who had failed to live up to his own responsibility as Premier.
As I have already said, His Majesty expressed his opposition to the view of the military at the Imperial conference of September 6, 1941, and prodded the Government on to peace efforts. If Prince Konoye had shown a greater zeal for peace he would have been able to obtain His Majesty's support and hold down the military.
Again, if, at the Imperial conference of December 1, 1941, which decided upon war, there had been a single member of the Cabinet standing against war, it might have given the Emperor an opportunity to do something to avert war. But that conference attended by all ministers of state as well as the Chiefs of the Army and Navy commands unanimously decided on war. As head of the state having a constitution and parliamentary system it was unthinkable of the Emperor to veto this decision.
By respecting the constitutional function of the Government the Emperor did not mean to evade his responsibility as sovereign. Nor was he blindly bound by the letter of the constitution. He only conformed to the tenet of constitutional government, which rejects dictatorship and absolutism.