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What Japanese Leaders Really Thought

March 2023
26min read

The leaders in Tokyo alone controlled when the war would end. What were they thinking?

The most basic fact about the Asia-Pacific War is that Japan alone controlled when it ended. Thus, the sharpest lens for understanding and judging these events is through the viewpoints of key Japanese leaders. 

American leaders figured in this story, but fundamentally in a supplementary role. The military and diplomatic tools the US did or did not apply all ultimately aimed to convince the necessary Japanese leaders that the war must end.

[these paragraphs belong in the other essay:]

There is one other critical constituency—the dead. The war Japan launched in 1937 and prosecuted relentlessly for eight years resulted in approximately two million deaths of Japanese combatants and between 1 and 1.2 million noncombatants. Among her enemies, perhaps as many as four million combatants died, overwhelmingly Chinese.

But, by far, the greatest toll comprised noncombatant deaths among other Asian peoples. By a conservative accounting, this included twelve million Chinese between July 1937 and August 1945. Add to this were about five or six million others between December 1941 and August 1945, notably at least 2.7 million people of what is now Indonesia and at least a million Vietnamese who starved to death in 1945. From December 1941 to August 1945, on a linear projection, that amounted to 8,000 deaths per day among noncombatants who were not Japanese, or 240,000 per month. That is the combined Hiroshima and Nagasaki death toll, immediate and latent, every month, or two every three months, depending on the figures you credit for Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

The backdrop to events in 1945 is mass death, overwhelmingly of people who were not Japanese.

Emperor Hirohito

We start at the top.  To the outside world, Imperial Japan presented Emperor Hirohito as the nation’s all-powerful[KF13], supreme ruler.  In person, he was lender[KF14][EG15], bespectacled, and reserved.  His mother, the Dowager Empress, also [KF16][EG17]reminded [KF18][EG19]him [KF20]that she thought his younger brother, Chichibu would make a much better emperor.  Hirohito, with the six members of an inner cabinet of the government [KF21][EG22](known in shorthand as “The Big Six”) comprised the tiny band of individuals who bore solely in their hands [KF23][EG24]the final authority over when and how the war ended—if it did.  

These seven sat atop the most dysfunctional political and military decision-making system among the major World War II combatants.  While the Meiji Constitution of 1888 made the emperor supreme and divine, in practice, he was insulated from personal responsibility for national policy to preserve his aura of infallibility.  Hirohito’s exchanges with his senior civilian and uniformed officials demonstrate that he was intelligent, well-informed, and could pose shrewd challenges to their policies.  But ultimately, he presided, not decided. Repeatedly, the emperor urged actions that his theoretically subordinate officials ignored - most notably, Imperial Army and Imperial Navy officers.
     But the Meiji Constitution’s most baleful provision made the armed forces subordinate to the emperor, not the civilian government.  Eventually, both the Imperial Army and Navy gained the right not only to appoint their respective War and Navy Ministers to the cabinet, but the legal requirement that, if either of these two figures resigned, it would collapse any civilian government.  Thus, the armed forces held and exercised veto power over any government and its policies—like surrender.  
     The bullet provided [KF25][EG26]the armed force another veto power.  Between 1921 and 1936, uniformed assassins, or their civilian supporters, struck down two prime ministers who dared to violate the policy preferences of the armed forces.  Only mistaken identity spared a third.  Assassins also struck down some[KF27] sixty other officials and civilians in the 1930s and 1940s.  Only once in 1936 did Hirohito personally take charge and insist on the suppression of an armed revolt in Tokyo, literally under his nose and involving deaths within his inner circle.  With this record of Hirohito’s customary deference to his military subordinates, the nation’s arms bearers had no true master.  A final stranglehold was that this all-powerful inner cabinet of six could only adopt a policy by a unanimous vote.  At the crucial time, the Foreign Minister, Togo Shigenori, was the only civilian; all the others were current or former admirals and generals.  Thus, ending the war required breaking the Japanese armed forces stranglehold over Japanese decision-making. 
General Anami Korechika
    In January 1945, Japan faced an utterly bleak strategic situation.  The surface fleet and submarine force had been reduced to near impotence.  Allied air power hopelessly [KF28]outmatched the Japanese, both quantitively and qualitatively.  Germany’s defeat loomed in sight.  This would unleash her [KF29]array of far more powerful enemies to focus all their efforts on crushing Japan.  The [KF30]war economy sputtered towards collapse.  No wonder one powerful narrative of subsequent events is “the delayed surrender.”  This maintains that Japanese leaders should have surrendered then, as it would have spared her people [KF31]the overwhelming majority of the deaths they[KF32] sustained in the war.  At least 95 percent of those deaths occurred in 1945, including atomic bombs—[KF33]not to mention the far more massive number of deaths among other peoples[KF34].  From the viewpoint of other Asians in particular, [KF35]the idea that the Americans bore the greatest responsibility for events after January 1945 seems an inversion of reality[KF36]. 
     But Japanese leadership, dominated by the Imperial Army and Navy, resolved to continue the war.  The touchstone of their outlook was that, however materially powerful the US might be, its people and ultimately its leaders lacked the spiritual stamina of the Japanese race.  The Japanese leaders shrewdly calculated that the Americans would attempt an invasion because they were too impatient for a protracted strategy of bombardment and blockade--for which Japan possessed no counter.  If that invasion could be defeated or at least made hugely costly—thanks to Japan’s still-largely-intact army--Americans will would falter, and Japan could still obtain a satisfactory negotiated peace[KF37].
     Deadly-accurate operational and tactical planning graced [KF38]the[KF39] overall strategic vision.  The Japanese deduced from American patterns that the US would occupy Okinawa by mid-1945, and that an invasion of Japan must fall within US fighter-plane coverage from there.  A simple map calculation identified southern Kyushu as by far the most likely target.  A quick glance at a topographic map of Kyushu disclosed the locations of existing or potential air bases.  These air bases, and the naval base at Kagoshima Bay, would be the objectives of the landing to secure these features[KF40] for further operations in the Homeland[KF41].  
     A huge buildup of ground forces and air forces followed.  By mid-year, this totaled between 700,000 and 900,000 men on Kyushu.  They formed fourteen divisions and ten brigades.  By turning the training aircraft establishment [KF42]into kamikazes (suicide planes), [KF43]and preserving existing aircraft and committing to new production, the Japanese assembled a fleet of 10,000 aircraft, about half of which were kamikazes.  
     One other preparation carried dire portents.  In March, the government announced that all Japanese males aged 15 to 60 (who were not already in the armed forces) and all Japanese females aged 17 to 40 were to be members of a gigantic national militia, mobilized for the final battles.  This constituted over a quarter of the erstwhile[KF44] civilian population.  Moreover, it made it virtually impossible to distinguish combatants from noncombatants in Japan.  
     The Japanese christened their strategy Ketsu Go (Operation Decisive).  It had two sequential components.  The first came [KF45]the counter-invasion battle.  This would gain the negotiating leverage that Japan lacked.  There was no need, in fact it would be premature, to formulate negotiation terms before the military component created the necessary leverage.  This basic point is the key to understanding how the dominant Japanese armed forces navigated 1945.
     When the government of Prime Minister Suzuki Kantaro came to power in April, General Anami Korechika became the War Minister, the “most influential and powerful man in Japan in mid-1945,” noted historian Edward Drea.  He was “a trim, assertive, front-line commander,” but his “receding hair line and pencil mustache gave him an avuncular look.”  Above all, Anami personified the ethos of the Imperial Army: spiritual power could triumph over mere material power.  His junior subordinates adored him, yet his loyalty to the emperor, sealed with his tour as the military aide to the throne, foretold divided loyalties that would play out in August.  

President Franklin D. Roose and Admiral Ernest J. King
    Roosevelt set the national war aim in 1943 as the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis powers.  The term combined visions of the absolute defeat of Italy, Germany, and Japan, followed by occupation and fundamental reform to assure an enduring peace.  Lawyers advised American occupation planners that “unconditional surrender” afforded far more scope for reform than the existing international law of military occupation.  Indeed, “unconditional surrender” left no clear outer boundaries for reform.  “Unconditional Surrender” thus was not merely a slogan for victory, but the foundation for an enduring peace.[KF46]
     Devising a strategy to achieve “unconditional surrender” fell to the body later formally known as the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  They first doubted the prospects for “unconditional surrender.”  No Japanese government had surrendered to a foreign nation in Japanese history (by Japanese count, 2,600 years) and no Japanese unit had surrendered in the whole war.  It was not clear that a Japanese government would surrender, or even if one did, whether the armed forces would comply.  This defined the ultimate American nightmare: not just an invasion, but the prospect of a protracted struggle in Japan and wherever Japanese forces stood[KF47].
     Ultimately, the Joint Chiefs produced an unstable compromise on strategy that reflected a fundamental divide between the army and navy.  A political issue created the split: what strategy was most likely to undermine the will of the American people to see the war through to “unconditional surrender.”  General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the Army, saw time as the critical issue.  A protracted final struggle would likely dissolve American will.  Therefore, the army advocated invasion as the quickest means to end the war.
     The Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Ea[KF48]rnest J. King, pirate lean[KF49] and famously tough, was a far-sighted strategist and expert bureaucratic combatant.  He channeled the bedrock navy doctrine evolved over decades of study that invading Japan would be unmitigated folly.  The US could never project an expeditionary force to Japan’s shores that would outmatch the[KF50] millions of defenders.  The inevitable outcome of invasion: [KF51]politically intolerable casualties.  
     The naval doctrine thus advocated a strategy of bombardment (by ship and plane) and blockade.  For centuries, naval blockades formed a fixture of standard strategy, but always under the law and customs of warfare that forbade preventing the passage of food for civilian populations.  In World War I, the British threw out that restraint, and at least a half million Germans starved to death.  It [KF52]produced an internal revolt primarily causing German surrender.  [KF53]The US Navy resolved to follow that example against Japan.  Thus, the navy’s preferred strategy looked to end the war by starving to death enough Japanese (millions, overwhelmingly civilians) to produce a capitulation.  
     In April 1945, the Joint Chiefs formally adopted a strategy to end the war with Japan.  It looked [KF54]to continue the still-gathering efforts at bombardment and blockade and then add the invasion commencing on  November 1, 1945 of southern Kyushu (Operation Olympic).  This was exactly as the Japanese anticipated.   The famously taciturn King distributed a memorandum to his colleagues announcing he only supported ordering the invasion then to create that option in the fall.  He forecast that they[KF55] must come back actually to authorize an invasion in August or September.
     When Roosevelt died, Harry S. Truman became president in April 1945.  [KF56]Roosevelt had not shared with Truman any of the huge pending strategic issues.  Truman had not been informed of the atomic bomb program. He modestly declared his duty was to execute Roosevelt’s legacy.  Once briefed on the atomic bomb program, he learned that Roosevelt had authorized it and had not disclosed it to Stalin.  As historian Barton Bernstein shrewdly observed, from the start of the Roosevelt’s program, the assumption was that, if a bomb could be developed, it would be used.  Because Roosevelt never fully addressed the actual use of atomic weapons, no one could tell Truman that Roosevelt would have broken this momentum.  
     Deeply disturbed by the specter of the costs of Operation Olympic, Truman summoned a meeting of his key advisors.  The memorandum calling the meeting stated the president’s principal criterion was casualties.  At the June 18 meeting, Marshall led off with a brief [KF57]forcefully advocating the invasion.  King appeared to support Marshall, but he chose his words carefully.  He said that any invasion authorized then could be canceled later.  During a broad but not deep discussion, at least four different projections of casualties passed in front of [KF58]Truman.  All these casualty projections would become moot in five weeks.  Faced with the unanimous support of all his advisers, Truman authorized Olympic.  

Sato Naotake
     Several Japanese diplomats and attaches in Europe approached American officials, claiming to represent Japan for purposes of peace negotiations.  Massive decryption of the Japanese radio traffic generated by an electromechanical cipher machine disclosed that not one of these men enjoyed the official backing of the Japanese government.  This was passed on in the daily newsletter, called the “Magic” Diplomatic Summary, distributed to a very select group of American officials, starting with Truman.  (The “Magic” code name stemmed from a former chief of US Army signals who called his code breakers “magicians.”)
     For nearly the first half of 1945, Hirohito supported Ketsu Go.  Then inspectors he dispatched reported large deficiencies in preparations for the vital counter-invasion battle.  Former Prime Minister Konoe urged him to breathe life into the so far [KF59]feeble approach to negotiations to secure Soviet mediation to end the war.   The upshot appeared in a July 13 message intercepted by “Magic” disclosing that the emperor was pressing for a diplomatic initiative to secure Soviet mediation to the end of the war[KF60].  The channel would be the Japanese ambassador in Moscow, Sato Naotake.  
     Polished and assured, Sato was a former Foreign Minister and sophisticated figure in the small circle of Japanese participating in critical decision-making, but was not one of the not final deciders.  He performed officially as the vital conduit for Japan’s only authentic diplomatic demarche towards possible negotiations to end the war.  But, effectively, Sato served as the prosecuting attorney for the Truman Administration by conducting a searing demolition of fl[KF61]eckless Japanese diplomacy.  Sato focused laser-like on two basic issues.  First, Japan must present substantive concessions to obtain Moscow’s services as an intermediary.  Togo struggled with this demand because the “Big Six” could never agree even on such concessions.  He contrived verbiage to meet the request, but Sato’s savage rejoinder condemned this as “pretty little phrases devoid of all connection with reality.”[KF62]
     Then Sato stabbed a rapier into the heart of the initiative: Moscow’s ultimate test of genuine Japanese intentions hinged on specific Japanese terms to end the war.  Sato’s demands also presented American officials with a litmus test of Tokyo’s intentions.  According to Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai, the Navy Minister and member of the “Big Six,” that body [KF63]just once attempted to discuss actual terms prior to Hiroshima.  This discussion collapsed immediately when War Minister Anami declared that he would only discuss terms on the premise that Japan had not lost the war.  Thus, Togo could not answer Sato’s repeated demands for terms.   [KF64]Exasperated by Togo’s evasions, Sato bluntly informed Togo that the only terms Japan could obtain would be unconditional surrender, modified only to the extent of preserving the imperial institution.   Togo’s reply on July 21: That is totally unacceptable.  The serial “Magic” disclosures of these exchanges betrayed the lack of substance in the Japanese diplomatic gesture.  [KF65]

Truman, Marshall, King
    Events now moved at lightning speed.  
     Heavy domestic pressure on the Truman administration demanded some effort to define “unconditional surrender” in a fashion that might induce a surrender.  The Germans in May effectively signed a blank check: their “unconditional surrender” surrender document contained no defined terms whatsoever.  Now, administration figures - notably Secretary of War Henry Stimson - drafted a note containing multiple pledges which the Germans never received, like democratic reforms and a promise that the Allies would hold Japan’s leadership responsible for the war, but not the ordinary citizens. This appeared against a backdrop following German surrender where the “ethnic cleansing” [KF66]of German enclaves in Eastern Europe had killed at least a half million Germans. 
    What to do about the imperial system and the emperor himself emerged as the critical controversy.  Stimson’s draft took the unmistakable overall guise [KF67]as a stern ultimatum, but it incorporated a specific proviso that ultimately the Japanese people would choose their own form of government, and this might include a member of the existing imperial dynasty.  When the Joint Chiefs reviewed the draft, they warned that Stimson’s language about the imperial dynasty housed [KF68]dangerous ambiguity.  The Japanese could read this as promising the continuation of the imperial system, or perhaps that the US was already committed to executing Hirohito.  The chiefs found both interpretations would [KF69]be perilous: one, a nullification of “unconditional surrender” and its foundation for reform, and the other, a godsend to Japanese diehards.  In its place, the Joint Chiefs advocated language that in substance became the final relevant term in the July 26 Potsdam Declaration: “The occupying forces of the Allies shall be withdrawn from Japan as soon as these objectives (demilitarization and democratization foremost) have been accomplished and there has been established in accordance with the freely expressed will of the Japanese people a peacefully inclined and responsible government.”  This presented no prohibition on continuance of the imperial institution or Hirohito if that reflected “the freely expressed will” of the Japanese people.
    Later critics argued that Japan rejected the Potsdam Declaration because it was too severe and contained no pledge to retain the imperial system or even Hirohito’s place on the throne.  In reality, the note [KF70]backfired and bolstered the faith of the “Big Six” in Ketsu Go.   Two of the three members of the “Big Six” [KF71]who were, from the US perspective, the “moderates,” (Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki and Navy Minister Yonai) both read the Potsdam Declaration as admitting already-faltering American resolve.  The unilateral American concession of multiple terms which the Germans never obtained appeared to them[KF72] as only a foretaste of the far more vital concessions a counter-invasion bloodbath would obtain.  It is impossible to believe that the “hardliners,” from the American viewpoint (War Minister Anami and Chiefs of Staff Yoshijiro Umezu and Soemu Toyoda), did gain [KF73]the same encouragement about [KF74]Ketsu Go.
    But, as the US diplomatic strategy played out, shocking intelligence struck a stunning blow to Operation Olympic.   [KF75]Original estimates anticipated just six Japanese divisions on Kyushu and only three in the south where the initial landing was planned.  Marshall had allowed that the Japanese might forward reinforcements after the landing, but that they would arrive piecemeal.  The total Japanese forces eventually assembled might reach 350,000.  The American landing force numbered about 770,000 men in thirteen divisions and the equivalent of another in regimental combat teams.  American forces would also possess a huge disparity in firepower, ground, air, and naval power over the defenders.  This promised a marked superiority in combat power over any defenders the Japanese could muster, and victory at an acceptable cost.  
    But starting from[KF76] July 9, radio intelligence (here [KF77]a combination of code-breaking and traffic analysis) began unmasking the huge Japanese buildup exactly in the planned invasion areas.  By July 25, one intelligence officer said that this intelligence showed the US would be going in a “a ratio of one to one” (attacker to defender) and “this was not the recipe for victory.”  The number of projected defenders, most in place at the time of the landing, rolled up past 600,000, and most of the major Japanese units were identified and placed at the proposed landing areas.  Anyone with merely modest command of military realities would recognize that Operation Olympic now [KF78]promised to be a huge[KF79] bloodbath.
    This radically-changed invasion outlook shocked Marshall.  He sent a cable to General Douglas MacArthur, the senior Army officer in the Pacific and the commander for Olympic.  In light of the new intelligence, Marshall asked whether MacArthur still supported Olympic.  MacArthur replied that he did not believe the intelligence and remained determined to launch Olympic.
     Admiral King pounced.  He recognized[KF80] that the facts now aligned in support of his iron determination to halt any invasion of Japan.  He took the exchange between Marshall and MacArthur and placed it in a message to Admiral Chester Nimitz, the senior naval officer in the Pacific and for Olympic.  King asked Nimitz for his “views.”  But Nimitz back at the end of May had privately informed King, without telling the army, that, in view of the costly and ferocious fight on Okinawa, he could no longer support any invasion of Japan.  
     Then, within twenty-four hours of this message, King warned Nimitz that the Japanese might be seriously seeking peace.  Keenly aware that a message rejecting any invasion would ignite probably [KF81]the single most rancorous inter-service debate of the war, Nimitz paused.  Events then delivered him from this obligation.  The post-war secrecy shroud over radio intelligence dropped.  [KF82]It only began to pull back [KF83]over four decades later. Meanwhile, it [KF84]concealed the full evidence before American leaders in 1945 on [KF85]both Japan’s feckless diplomacy and Japan’s [KF86]deadly accurate military preparations. [KF87]

Emperor Hirohito
    On August 6, the B-29 Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy,” the code name for the first atomic bomb created from uranium, on Hiroshima.  The full magnitude of the slaughter and destruction did not break through to Tokyo until the next morning with the message[KF88]: “the whole city of Hiroshima was destroyed instantly by a single bomb.”  Government radio monitors reported Truman’s public announcement that an atomic bomb had struck Hiroshima.  The leaders of the Imperial Army insisted that the existence of an American atomic bomb must not be conceded without an investigation.  But the Chief of the Naval General Staff (and member of the “Big Six”) Admiral Toyoda argued that the US could not possess more than a limited amount of fissionable material (the essence of what made [KF89]an atomic bomb) which could only produce a few bombs.  Further, he thought that international opinion might prompt the US to cease their use[KF90].  These responses stemmed from Japan’s own atomic bomb program.  That effort produced no bomb, but did equip the top leadership with the knowledge that producing fissionable materials was a very costly and protracted enterprise.  This tells us that no demonstration of a single bomb would have been effective.  The Japanese response to one demonstration would have been “Very interesting. Let’s see two (or more) in a row.”  It also confirms the prescience of leaders like General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project that built the bombs, who maintained that it would require two bombs to end the war - the first to establish the existence of an American bomb and the second to imply (read bluff) that the US immediately had an arsenal of such weapons.  There were actually only two or three bombs available in August 1945. 
     The Hiroshima bomb did galvanize one Japanese leader.  Lord Marquis Kido, officially the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal, but in fact Hirohito’s closest confident, advised the emperor that an atomic bomb had inflicted “extremely serious damage” on Hiroshima and 130,000 casualties.  On the afternoon of August 8, Hirohito met with Foreign Minister Togo.  They gathered[KF91] in a new bomb shelter that the emperor learned he had been taken to for the first time because it was thought to be more resistant to an atomic bomb.  Hirohito stated that the “new weapon” made it “less and less possible to continue the war.”  He charged Togo to “do his best to bring about an early termination of the war.”  
     The Imperial Army fended off Togo’s effort to convoke an immediate assembly of the “Big Six” until the morning of August 9.  During the night before, the Soviet Union launched a massive campaign to overrun Japanese-held Manchuria.  News of this arrived before the meeting, but the initial reports were sketchy and they grossly understated the magnitude of the Soviet onslaught.  The Japanese Kwangtung Army in Manchuria was in a very low state because the array of first-class units had been stripped away to face the American Pacific thrust and the last quality divisions shipped to the Homeland for Ketsu Go.  Imperial Headquarters that morning received reports of the shattering effects of air raids on public morale in the medium-sized and smaller cities, causing near panic in some locales.  The Vice Chief of the Imperial Army, General Torashiro Kawabe, wrote in this diary that news of the Soviet intervention was a greater shock to him than the Hiroshima bomb.  But Kawabe prescribed[KF92] that the Imperial Army must answer this [KF93]by abolishing any vestige of civilian government and proceed to rule Japan through Imperial Headquarters.  War Minister Anami endorsed this action[KF94].  
     As the “Big Six” met, news came of a second atomic bombing at Nagasaki.  Under its procedures, the “Big Six” could only approve a policy by a unanimous vote.  They split 3 to 3.  From the US perspective, the “moderates” or “peace faction” (Suzuki, Togo, and Yonai) were prepared to accept Togo’s proposal to accept the Potsdam Declaration, with the sole reservation that the imperial institution be saved.  The “hardliners” (Anami and the Chiefs of Staff Umezu and Toyoda) insisted on three more conditions: 1) Japan to [KF95]disarm its own forces; 2) Japan to [KF96]conduct “war crimes” trials (called for in the Potsdam Declaration); and 3) there would be no occupation of Japan.  Without occupation, Hirohito’s position would be secure and the Allies would lack the access needed to impose reforms.
     The tie vote proved crucial.  The “peace faction” among the leadership [KF97]seized upon this to convene an Imperial Conference (one before the emperor), where, for only the second time in his almost two-decade tenure as emperor, Hirohito might impose his will and not just rubber-stamp a policy advanced by his civilian or uniformed subordinates.  [KF98]The conference commenced[KF99] just after midnight.  Most of it followed the ritual recitation of positions of various members of the “Big Six.”  [KF100]Most notably, General Umezu told the emperor that Soviet intervention was “unfavorable,” but it did not negate Ketsu Go.  Umezu was correct.  The Soviets possessed enormous ground and tactical airpower on the Asian continent, but they lacked the sea lift to transport a huge invasion force to Japan.  Finally, Prime Minister Suzuki called on the emperor to provide his decision.  Hirohito announced that he endorsed Togo’s proposal.  The full cabinet ,including the “Bix Six,” voted to approve the emperor’s recommendation and give it legal standing.  
     But then, the nascent surrender was imperiled.   The Foreign Ministry message stated that Japan had accepted the Potsdam Declaration on the understanding that it did not “prejudice the prerogatives of His Majesty as Sovereign Ruller.”  This has been quite wrongly interpreted as only a request to preserve the Imperial Institution with a “symbol” [KF101]emperor.  As historian Herbert Bix and Japanese historians warned[KF102], this was a demand to preserve the monarchy and place [KF103]the emperor superior to the occupation authorities.  In other words, it would grant Hirohito veto over the occupation reforms.  
     Fortunately, US State Department officials recognized the true import of this language.  The response became known as the “Byrnes Notes,” after Secretary of State Jamese Byrnes.  Its key passage stated: “From the moment of surrender, the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese government to rule the state shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied powers.”  There would be no opportunity for the emperor or the Japanese government to block occupations reforms.  Then the [KF104]note also repeated the Potsdam Declaration that “the ultimate form of government of Japan shall . . . be established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.”
      To the “hardliners,” the “Byrnes Note” was unacceptable because it failed to confirm explicitly the preservation of the Emperor and the Imperial Institution.  Now, Hirohito would have to intervene a second time.  Kido’s diary for[KF105] August 13 confirmed Hirohito’s exact thinking.  Even if the Americans wanted the Imperial Institution to continue, Hirohito explained, it would still be extinguished if it was not supported by the Japanese people.  Therefore, he believed the proper course was to submit the fate of the imperial institution to the Japanese people.  In other words, nineteen days late[KF106], Hirohito was prepared to accept the Potsdam Declaration’s formula for selecting Japan’s postwar government in[KF107] the “freely expressed will of the Japanese people.”  On the 14th, [KF108]Hirohito reaffirmed his revolve that Japan must surrender.  The “Big Six” and the government fell in line.
Why Did the War End?
    Ultimately, Japanese leaders decided when and how the war ended.  But [KF109]this required two steps.  First, someone with legitimate authority had to decide that Japan would surrender.  The Suzuki government on its own never agreed to surrender.  Nor do we know for sure when it ever might have surrendered—assuming that it was not abolished following Soviet intervention.  Hirohito thus became that critical legitimate authority.  He first articulated his decision to Togo on August 8, before Soviet intervention or Nagasaki.  His own words show that the Hiroshima bomb had moved him from the sidelines.  In his statement at the Imperial Conference on August 10, he gave three reasons:  First, his loss of faith in Ketsu Go.  Second, he cited the conventional and atomic bombings.  Third, he spoke of the “domestic situation.”  Over the next several days, he only identified Soviet intervention once, and then [KF110]in conjunction with the atomic bombs.  When he wrote a letter to his son, the crown prince and next emperor, which he never expected to become public, he likewise made no reference to the Soviets.  He said that the Japanese had regarded the British and Americans too lightly and exalted fighting spirit while ignoring “science,” which by then stood as [KF111]another euphemism for atomic weapons.   
     On August 15, in his radio broadcast to the Japanese people, Hirohito pronounced that “the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage.”  This was in deference to Anami, who committed suicide rather than betray Hirohito over the surrender decision.  It [KF112]went almost wholly unrecognized as a covert claim for history that Ketsu Go might have worked.  Then, Hirohito intoned that “the general trends of the world have all turned against (Japan’s) interest.  Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is indeed incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives.”  Not only did the emperor never use the word “surrender” in the broadcast; he presented Japan’s decision as a noble sacrifice to save the world from destruction and lead it to a great peace.  There was no direct reference to Soviet intervention, nor any acknowledgement of what the war [KF113]had inflicted on other peoples[KF114]. 
     Controversies of [KF115]his real motivation and the armed forces [KF116]curiously reduce these[KF117] to just two: atomic bombs or Soviet intervention.  The omission of the “domestic situation” from even consideration is baffling.  Historian Noriko Kawamura (Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War, 2015) [KF118]argues that it was the singular most important reason in Hirohito’s decision and the ending of [KF119]the war.   And I would add [KF120]not just “domestic situation,” but also Ketsu Go.
     The bland term “domestic situation” camouflaged the stark terror among civilian and military leaders that the Japanese people were approaching a revolutionary state that might not only topple the government, but also carry down Hirohito and the whole Imperial institution.  Generally, the timing of a revolt appeared to be likely in the fall, [KF121]especially if the rice crop failed, as it did.  It was the cumulative product of the population’s desperate daily life due to shortages of food and other material items, and the despair from the blatant demonstration [KF122]that Japan’s armed forces could not defend the country.  These [KF123]overwhelmingly stemmed from American campaigns of bombardment by air and sea and the blockade[KF124].  
     From at least July onwards, Hirohito regarded his trusteeship of the imperial institution and the obligation to preserve it as his highest duty.  The notion that the imperial institution would forfeit its legitimacy with the Japanese people loomed as more disturbing than even surrender and occupation.  [KF125]He was not alone.  Former Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, Foreign Minister Togo, and senior army and navy officers expressed such fears.  Chief of Staff of the Army Umezu and his deputy General Kawabe both cited collapsed public moral as dictating an end to the war.  Navy Minister Yonai flatly called the atomic bombs and Soviet intervention as “gifts from the gods” because they would cover up the real reason for surrender: the “domestic situation.”     [KF126]
     But Hirohito’s decision would not suffice without compliance of the armed forces.  Great emphasis has been placed on an attempted coup d’état in Tokyo the night of August 14-15.  The reality is that this hastily contrived effort by a small band of junior-grade conspirators had no real chance of success (in important part due to Anami).  [KF127]Far more threatening was the immediate response of two [KF128]of the three major overseas commanders in China and the Southern Area (basically, Southeast Asia and parts of the Pacific).  They flatly informed Tokyo that they would not comply with the surrender.  They commanded between a quarter and a third of all Japanese under arms, and were finally brought into line by the emperor’s personal representatives.  The extremely ill-conceived Soviet attack on the Kurile Islands (north of Japan) with very modest forces (the only kind that Soviet sea lift permitted) sparked another extremely tense moment.  Because they targeted an obvious [KF129]and well-defended island, for the first day, the outcome of the battle hung in the balance.  The local commanders ignored orders from Tokyo, even one from the emperor, to cease resistance.  For a time, the terrifying specter appeared that a “victory” over the Soviets there would commence [KF130]an unraveling of compliance with the surrender in the armed forces.  No wonder Yonai told post-war interrogators that his most anxious movements [KF131]came in the days after the emperor’s decision.
     Finally, this brings us back to Ketsu Go.  The most diehard Japanese soldiers and sailors staked the nation’s future on the premise that, by defeating or inflicting huge casualties on the initial American invasion, Japan could still obtain an acceptable end to the war[KF132].  As Prime Minister Suzuki told American interrogators shortly after the war, this conviction drove the “Big Six” uniformed members until the atomic bombs were dropped.  These [KF133]demonstrated that the Americans would not need to attempt an invasion, but would just fall back on bombardment with such devices. If there was no American invasion, Ketsu Go was bankrupt and all the [KF134]military could offer was collective national suicide.  Cabinet Secretary Hisatsune Sakomizu added[KF135] another effect of the bombs.  The abiding conceit of Japan’s arms-bearers was that Japanese fighting spirit was unmatched.  The bombs, however, provided a psychological sop because they preserved the conceit that the armed forces were not overcome by any earthly force, but only by the supernatural power of atomic weapons.  
     Far from advancing with a confidence in imminent victory at low or minimal American cost, from the start of 1945, American leaders faced the bleak prospect—as the Joint Chiefs pointed out in April—that it might not be possible to obtain the surrender of a[KF136] Japanese government, and even if a [KF137]government surrendered, Japan’s armed forces might not comply with that decision.  The Joint Chiefs observed that there was no historical precedent for either event.  Then, American leaders learned through radio intelligence that the Japanese were not seriously considering surrender via diplomacy in July.  By the end of that month, they grasped [KF138]that the contemplated invasion promised to be a nightmare far beyond their worst fears.  Without “unconditional surrender,” the occupation reforms to secure an enduring peace would not be obtained[KF139].  The Potsdam Declaration backfired spectacularly in stoking the resolve of the hardliners in Ketsu Go, but in the end, it threw a lifeline to Hirohito who ultimately enforced his decision to surrender on its promise that the Japanese people could choose their own form of government.  
     Because of the intransigence—or [KF140]paralysis--of Japan’s leadership, there was no way to end the war without horrific cost.  [KF141]Time was death to masses of noncombatants [KF142]who were not Japanese.  The cost of the invasions as planned had become unthinkable.  The alternative of blockade and bombardment aimed to kill millions of Japanese, mostly noncombatants.   Who should pay the costs for ending the war?  You [KF143]cannot coherently maintain that Japanese noncombatants[KF144] must[KF145] be spared from harm, while ignoring the mass death of noncombatants who are[KF146] not Japanese.  There was no cost-free path to ending the war.  
     When the end abruptly came through a series of highly contingent events, it was most of all a tragic and miraculous deliverance[KF147].  And that is the way we should [KF148]see it: not to be celebrated, but understood as a tragedy with no possible happy outcome.  If you want to find a celebration of the outcome, try the People’s Republic of China or any number of other Asian countries[KF149]. 
[KF1]Shouldn’t there be a hyphen here?
[KF3]This is a strong, concise opener.
[KF5]How about “civilians” instead of this rather formal word?
For me, the use of the feminine pronoun to refer to nations is a bit strange, since it’s men who almost always launch and fight wars.

[KF7]Why not “soldiers”?
[KF8]See above.
[KF9]How about “in the nations attacked by Japan”? 
[KF10]How about “Additionally, there” here?
[KF11]over time
[KF13]Did palace PR present him as such to non-Japanese? I think it’s more accurate to say that he was hardly represented at all in Japanese propaganda, since it was always the intent to shield him from accountability and to make it seem that he was following his constitutional role as a non-decider. 
As you know, this entire matter is quite complex.

[KF18]often told?
[EG19R18]Simply "told" might better
[KF21]It seems too soon to jump from his childhood to his role as wartime monarch.
I think more on his character and upbringing would be good, and that should include his love of marine biology.

[EG22R21]Something this sentence belongs above the Emperor Hirohito section to explain that we are going to look at each of the six.
[KF23]This can be simplified to “had.”
[KF25]Not clear
[EG26R25]I understand what he's trying to say, but yes this is very unclear.
[KF28]How about “massively” or “totally”?
[KF31]the nation
[KF33]Not needed
[KF34]those whom Japan attacked
[KF36]Can this be stated more emphatically?
[KF37]You might specify that this meant retaining as much of its stolen territory and resources as possible.
[KF38]Hmmmmm ….
[KF41]home islands
[KF42]This is too formal and not clear.
[KF43]Not necessary
[KF44]Can this be cut?
[KF45]would be
[KF46]This is interesting and important.

[KF51]I think “would be” is better here.
[KF53]This is not clear to me. It needs to be elaborated on, backed up.
[KF54]“aimed” is more lively and active.
[KF56]This can probably be deleted.
[KF57]How about just “by” here?
[KF58]were shared with
[KF59]Can be cut
[KF63]The Supreme War Council?
[KF64]For your final version of these essays, can you create only a single space at the end of each sentence? Is there a simple way to format it that way? I’m a doofus, technically.
[KF65]I think this crucial section should begin with the point that anti-bomb critics have always claimed that Japan was seriously seeking a negotiated surrender via the Soviets, which of course has always been bullshit.
[KF66]By whom?
I think “the Soviets’” should replace the “the” here.
[KF67]This is not so clear.
[KF72]those men in Tokyo
[KF75]Too much space
[KF77]Can be cut
[KF79]How about “horrendous” here?
[KF80]How about “knew” here?
[KF81]How about switching the word order here?
[KF82]Your meaning here isn’t clear.
It’s too early to discuss post-war secrecy here, I think, and I don’t get the use of “dropped.”
[KF87]This section doesn’t work for me.

[KF89]How about “essential to make” here?
[KF90]the use of such weapons
[KF92]Why not “insisted”?
[KF93]this situation
[KF97]Can be cut
[KF98]But Kido’s diaries and Bix’s book show that Hirohito had in fact often micro-managed the war.
[KF100]war council
[KF102]have made clear
[KF104]“The” is sufficient here.
[KF106]This needs to be clarified.
[KF107]according to
[KF108]Sorry. This must be lower.
[KF109]Not needed
[KF110]that was
[KF112]That line
[KF113]Why not “Japan’s military and scientists” here?
[KF114]How about “Japan’s millions of victims in the 14 countries it had invaded” here?
[KF116]This needs to be more precise.
[KF117]these what?
[KF118]Not needed
[KF119]Why not “to end” here?
[KF120]How about “It was” here?
[KF121]Can you provide evidence that any such revolt had begun in any, even a planning, fashion?
[KF123]These what?
[KF124]I think you should describe this and its effects early on, Rich.
[KF125]Was this really some kind of sense of high duty to the nation, or more of a matter of ego?
Based on my reading of Bix’s and other books, it seems clear to me that he was not only a militarist committed to the nation’s vast and merciless imperial aims, but that he really didn’t give a shit about his people.
Yet he continues to be cast as either passive or somewhat-involved, but not malevolent.
[KF126]I consider this one of the best things to use against the sanctimonious opponents of the bombs.
[KF127]I think this should either be cut or explained, not just mentioned.
[KF128]Their names and positions?
[KF132]Defined as what exactly?
[KF133]Little Boy and Fat Man 
[KF135]referred to?
[KF138]“Knew” would be much better here.
[KF141]How about “loss of lives” here?
[KF145]had to
[KF148]I’m not a fan of telling readers how they should see things.
[KF149]Why not name several here, instead?



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