Thursday, July 09, 2015

"will he give him a stone?" - The Only Imperial Family Prime Minister of Japan


The Only Imperial Family Prime Minister of Japan

Naruhiko Higashi-kuninomiya (1887-1990) was the only imperial family member of Japan who became prime minister.  He assumed the office of prime minister from August 17 to October 9, 1945, while the Imperial military surrendered to the US on August 15, 1945.  Naruhiko Higashi-kuninomiya was one of key figures who took the helm of Japan in the difficult time immediately after WWII.

Though the Emperor announced his decision for the surrender by radio to all the Japanese people and Imperial troops stationed in and outside Japan, some extreme Imperial Army officers were still determined to fight till their death.

To persuade those die-hard officers, the Emperor and his aids thought it was necessary to appoint an imperial family member as a successor of prime minister admiral Suzuki who resigned after the Suzuki Cabinet successfully unified opinions of the Imperial Government for acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration to surrender.  No matter how bigoted those jingoistic military officers were, they would obey the order for surrender issued by a prime minister who was a clear deputy of the Emperor, thought the Emperor and his entourage.

Indeed, the Empire of Japan still had millions of soldiers and 3,000 military planes when the Emperor expressed his will to surrender in August 1945.  There was a possibility that a military coup could occur in Tokyo.    

Prime Minister Higashi-kuninomiya did his best.  So, it was his Cabinet that signed on the instrument of surrender on the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945.  But, he resigned in a month after the historical event.

It was because he thought he lost the trust of General MacArthur.  It was about handling of the famous picture of the Emperor and General MacArthur taken when the Emperor visited the US embassy in Tokyo to see General MacArthur on September 27, 1945.

The Higashi-kuninomiya Cabinet thought it was not appropriate to allow newspapers to show the picture to the general public.  The Emperor looked like a civilian without wearing military clothing he had usually put on during and before WWII.  But he was in formal dress, while MacArthur wore casual military clothing.  The picture simply told that the Emperor was not a sacred man but a defeated man.  It must have been so shocking to the general public, thought the Higashi-kuninomiya Cabinet.  They tried to forbid Japanese newspapers to present the picture.  But, the General Headquarters of the allied forces led by General MacArthur forbade the Japanese Government to forbid publishing of the picture.  So, Prime Minister Higashi-kuninomiya decided to resign.

Higashi-kuninomiya was a general of the Imperial Army during WWII.  He was familiar with General Tojo who was prime minister when the Empire decided the execution of the Pearl Harbor Attack in 1941.

One day before the Pearl Harbor Attack, General Higashi-kuninomiya met with General Tojo to persuade him to stop launching war against the US.  Higashi-kuninomiya told Tojo his experience in Paris when he had been in an overseas assignment in France between 1920 and 1927.

In Paris Higashi-kuninomiya talked with Georges Benjamin Clemenceau, a former prime minister of France.  Clemenceau told him that the US was preparing for war against the Empire of Japan.  Higashi-kuninomiya was surprised, saying that Japan never considered a possibility of making war against the US.  But, the old French politician said, "Japan is not good at diplomacy, and Japanese are quick-tempered.  If the US Government should drive the Imperial Government into the corner, the Imperial military would start war.  The US must surely take this strategy.  But, American industrial power far surpasses Japan's.  If a war broke out between the two countries, Japan would surely lose.  Therefore, Japan must be patient to avoid the war."

However, Prime Minister General Tojo said that he could not withdraw Imperial troops from mainland China (which was requested by the Roosevelt Administration) and it was just a difference of opinion between him and Higashi-kuninomiya as to the prospect of the coming war between the Empire and the US.

According to one theory, there was a possibility that the Emperor and his advisers would appoint Higashi-kuninomiya as prime minister before the Pearl Harbor Attack instead of naming General Tojyo for the position.  But, it is said that some advisers thought it was not appropriate to have an imperial family member take responsibility for making war against the US and the UK.  Accordingly, General Tojo took the bold course of opening war with the US and the UK with consent of the Emperor in December 1941.

Naruhiko Higashi-kuninomiya

Emperor and MacArthur in newspaper on September 29, 1945

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Mat 7:9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?