A recently discovered memo has revealed that Japan’s military leader during World War II was convinced of a victory against American forces hours prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Japan is a sovereign island country in East Asia, located in the Pacific Ocean. Often called the "Land of the Rising Sun", Japan is a stratovolcanic archipelago consisting of about 6,852 islands. It is renowned for its historical and extensive cinema, rich cuisine and its major contributions to science and modern-day technology.
Japan entered World War II with the attack on Pearl Harbor, an American base in Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941. Its strategic goals were to cripple the U.S. Pacific fleet, capture oil fields in the Dutch East Indies, and expand the Japanese Empire to create a formidable defensive perimeter around newly acquired territory. They had advocated their vision of a Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, and an Asia for Asians to the people of Southeast Asia, who had lived under imperial rule for many years.
Japan surrendered in August 1945 after most of its major cities were devastated by U.S. air raids and two atomic bombings on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were the first and only atom bombs used against another nation in the history of warfare which killed an estimated 200,000 people over a period of several months.
Hideki Tojo was a general of the Imperial Japanese Army and the Prime Minister of Japan for most of the war period. He was responsible for ordering the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was known as “Razor Tojo” for his bureaucratic efficiency, strict attention to detail and loyalty to Emperor Hirohito. Japan’s early victories greatly strengthened his personal prestige. After the war ended, he was tried and hanged as a war criminal in 1948.
A new five-page memo written by Japan’s then Internal Affairs vice Minister Michio Yuzawa was discovered earlier this week by Takeo Hatano, the owner of a secondhand bookstore in Tokyo. The contents of the memo reveal that Prime Minister Tojo was convinced that Japan would win any conflict with the United States. In a meeting with two influential bureaucrats, Yuzawa and Army vice Minister Heitaro Kimura at his office, Tojo stated that Emperor Hirohito was steadfast about ending diplomatic talks with the U.S. and Britain to avoid war. “I’m perfectly relieved. You can say we have already won, given the current situation,” Tojo was quoted as saying in the memo. According to him, the entire military had prepared for the war under strict orders, based on the Emperor’s determination.
“This was a private chat. I think Tojo was saying what he was actually feeling,” said Takahisa Furukawa, a professor of history at Nihon University. The memo is considered exceptional as it portrayed Tojo’s behavior for the first just hours prior to the Pearl Harbor attack. Emperor Hirohito had initially been very concerned about any possible conflict with USA. However, he is said to have calmed down after endorsing the government’s decision to wage war against the Allied powers prior to the attack.
According to the memo dated 11:20 p.m. on December 7 1941, Tojo appeared very optimistic in his conviction that Japan would prevail even before the war had begun revealing his narrow-sightedness. Ultimately, Japan’s loss in the war was determined by a varied number of factors, not excluding war preparations and an Imperial endorsement. “The memo vividly showed Tojo was very happy because the Emperor approved of his preparations,” said Atsushi Moriyam, a history professor from University of Shizuoka. He also pointed out that before the war had begun top government and military leaders had maintained that Japan might be able to win some of the initial battles. However, they were sceptical about maintaining the momentum for the years to come, given Japan’s limited resources. The General had allegedly dismissed these critical logistical issues.
According to Yuzawa’s records, he “was deeply moved and felt honoured” as he engaged in war preparations that would determine the fate of the imperial state. He also stated: “If His Majesty feels any lingering regrets about the negotiations with Britain and the U.S., some of his expressions would look somewhat melancholic. But this cannot be seen anywhere, which is a result of his determination.”
Our assessment is that the consolidation of power by serving as both the prime and army minister might have given a sense of invincibility to General Tojo. We feel that the Pearl Harbor attack was akin to the kamizake that the Japanese soldiers committed fully knowing that they would be annihilated. We believe that it is important for military leaders to be tactful and know when to strategically retreat.