- Historic Sites
The author entered the conquered capital days after the surrender to meet high officers of the Imperial Navy
May/June 1995 | Volume 46, Issue 3
One officer of whom we heard rumors but never interviewed was Rear Adm. Sokichi Takagi, a member of the Naval General Staff secretariat, who from at least the time of Midway had been much concerned about the future. Ordered to produce a study of the lessons of the war to date, Takagi in late 1943 and early 1944 had systematically analyzed the losses so far and concluded that success was impossible and a compromise peace necessary. But his conclusions never saw the light of day; the army was in control, and the fear of assassination was too strong.
Even at the highest levels this was true. Admiral Toyoda told of a meeting of the Supreme War Guidance Council on June 6, 1945, when ending the war had been under active consideration for more than a month. The group concluded that “the nation’s war power was bound to decline very rapidly. [But] that is not to say that anyone there expressed the opinion that we should ask for peace; for when a large number of people are present like that, it is difficult for any one member to say that we should so entreat. So the decision was that something must be done to continue this war.”
Both Germany and Japan kept fighting for more than a year in causes that were doomed; only the logical Italians took the rational way out. Admiral Fukudome had all along thought the outcome was doubtful; with the loss of the Marianas, “I felt that the last chance had slipped from us definitely; [the] fact that I realized that, however, does not mean that it had any effect upon our determination or will to fight.” Similarly, when Admiral Kurita turned back briefly under a heavy air attack while en route to oppose the Philippine landings, Admiral Toyoda ordered him on: “There would be no sense in saving the fleet at the expense of the loss of the Philippines.”
In any event both fleet and Philippines were lost. Still, with its empire divided and its resources cut off, Japan fought on, necessitating very hard campaigns for Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Despite further changes of government in Tokyo and the underlying pessimism (or realism) of numerous senior civilians and naval officers, every setback produced merely statements of defiance and continued resistance, until the atomic bombs fell and the Soviets came in.
But even then the will to fight endured. “I do not think it would be accurate to look upon use of the Atomic Bomb and the entry and participation of Soviet Russia into the war,” said Admiral Toyoda, “as direct cause of termination of the war, but I think that those two factors did enable us to bring the war to a termination without creating too great chaos in Japan.”
Some chaos there was. attempts were made to seize and destroy the recording of the emperor’s surrender statement before it could be broadcast, to suborn parts of the Tokyo garrison, and to kill cabinet ministers. The lord privy seal spent the night cowering in the palace basement; the prime minister got over his garden fence just before the troops came in the front door. There was talk of suicide attacks on the American fleet, and the authorities had a hard time guarding supplies of fuel and ammunition. Also, there were a number of suicides among the military, including the war minister; the commander of the Tokyo military district; Adm. Takajiro Onishi, the founder of the kamikaze corps; and Adm. Matome Ugaki, chief of staff to Admiral Yamamato in the early months of the war, who took off in an airplane and killed himself by crashing into the sea. Both because of his interest as a subject for interrogation and because he had fired on me from the Yamato one morning off the Philippines, I regretted his passing.
These ructions turned out to be mercifully brief, although some Japanese thought it fortunate that bad weather had delayed General MacArthur’s arrival by a couple of days. Had we known about them before our arrival, which we had not, we would have found the general peace and good order that prevailed a bare month later even more remarkable than we did. As it was, our interrogations and search for documents started up promptly, as if they were the most normal thing in the world, and ran in a steady stream, morning and afternoon.