“As the earth hardens in the rain, so also the government and the people have grown more united,” wrote the Asahi. It was a rain of fire and steel, a bloody hurricane, that swept the divine land as the diet met in 87th extraordinary session. Flames licked the rubble of the imperial cities. On Okinawa the tragic remnants of a mighty imperial army, lossening their grasp on the ruins of Shuri and Naha, turned heavily, weary with the hopeless combat, upon a new landing in their rear. “It is the eve of the invasion of the mainland,” cried the war minister.
On this ultimate eve the diet was convened. On the 8th it went through the ritual of organization. On the 9th it rose to listen to the emperor, severe in service uniform with the Grand Order of the Chrysanthemum and the First Class Order of the Golden Kite. “Our loyal and heroic officers and men are crushing the formidable enemy…. Our 100 million loyal subjects, braving the ravages of war and bearing the devastation of fire, are devoting themselves to the performance of their duties behind the guns…. We are greatly delighted at all this.”
But the situation of the world had changed “suddenly and unexpectedly”. “There is a steady increase in the rampancy of the enemy, intent on aggression and invasion.” “We rely upon the loyalty and bravery of you, Our people, and share your hardships. and thereby desire to complete the work left by Our ancestors.” “You are to bear Our wishes in mind and deliberate in harmony….”
Not even this grave injunction from the Son of Heaven sufficed to bring harmony to the diet. The session had been called for two days, the 9th and 10th, to consider six emergency measures. Amid a storm of boos and protests the government was compelled to postpone adjournment, first one day to the 11th, then another day to the 12th. It was not till the morning of the 13th that weary old Admiral Suzuki could bow to the empty throne in the hall of deliberation and, having read the imperial rescript, hand it with reverence to the speaker of the house.
Did the diet have a premonition that it would never meet again as the legislature of a great and undefeated empire? Perhaps, for in those four days it fought tenaciously for rights and privileges which had already become memories without significance. It haggled stubbornly with the bumbling government over text and chapter, power and responsibility. It seemed obsessed with the dying desire to appear well before posterity.
The crux of the controversy was the bill providing for wartime emergency measures. No one disputed the emergency. The peers and the deputies knew as well as the premier that “the situation on Okinawa today is very serious and we have come to stage where we have to expect an enemy invasion of the mainland.” They knew as well as the Minister of War that “the general situation in East Asia is not favorable to us” and that late in May the Japanese forces were forced to fall back from the Shuri-Naha line and readjust their front. And they could regret with the minister of the navy that “before the enemy task forces around Okinawa could be annihilated, our land forces were pressed back.”
Nor did the peers and deputies deny that extraordinary measures were required. Starvation must be staved off; arms produced; defenses set up; order maintained. But who would assume responsibility? The executive wished to share it with the legislature while at the same time retaining full authority. Thus it asked the diet to authorize the government to rule by decree and report to a standing committee of the legislature. The diet protested that this was responsibility without authority. If the government wished to retain full authority, then let it exercise the supreme ordinance prerogative of the emperor under Article 31 of the constitution and bear full responsibility. But if the government wished to associate the diet with it in responsibility, then the diet must have more than a report; it must be “consulted”.
On these main lines the debate ran its turbulent course. Was the government asking the abdication of the diet? Was it seeking to overturn the constitution? What was more futile than a “report”? But what was more awkward in an emergency than to “consult”? Negotiation followed interpellation. The new “political party”, the Dai Nippon Seiji Mai, was making its debut and could not begin with a fiasco.
Finally a compromise was reached. The government agreed to “consult” a standing committee of the diet but it reserved the right to act first and talk afterward in case of an unavoidable emergency. The peers and deputies were satisfied and the Times could editorialize with fine fervor: “The effect of this action of the diet is to associate the diet, and with it the people at large, in an inseparably intimate partnership with the government in all measures to cope with the national emergency.”
After they had made their point on the wartime emergency measures law, the peers and the deputies quickly passed the five other bills proposed by the government. The Times summarized succinctly: “Without going into detail the essential effects of these measures can quickly be noted. The passage of the wartime emergency measure bill has given the government full power to put promptly into effect, without further legislative process, whatever measures it considers necessary to deal with urgent matters concerning the production of ammunition and foodstuffs, the disposition of areas affected by disaster, the strengthening of transport and communications, and the administration of banking and financial affairs, in accordance with the emergency situation. In other words the government has been delegaed with extraordinary power to exercise summary authority in keeping with the demands of any situation which may arise.
“The passing of the national volunteer corps bill,” the Times continued, “Has accorded legal status to the volunteer corps [illegible] government arising from among the people. This measure thus makes possible the formal incorporation of the volunteer corps into the official defense organization of the government, on full war footing if the occassion should ever demand it.
“The bills concerning the application of the army criminal law, the army court martial law, and the naval court martial law to members of the national volunteer corps supplement and complete the legalization of the volunteer corps and subject its members to full military discipline and orders in the event of their being called into active service. The various other bills,” concluded the Times, “although more technical and less extensive in scope, follow in the same pattern.”
Yesterday the 14th June the Premier Admiral Baron could at length afford to face the press.
Why precisely had the government courted the bitter debate over the emergency measures instead of having recourse immediately to the imperial prerogative to rule directly by decree?
Because, replied Suzuki, revealing more than he knew, he did not want to give the impression that the state was run by the armed forces. And, with an ingenuous reference to “enemy propaganda designed to alienate the people from the armed forces”, he betrayed a deep apprehension of its effectiveness.
Tojo resigned after Saipan; Koiso, after Yiojima. What did he propose to do under the present circumstances?
[illegible] repeatedly declared and he declared it again, replied Suzuki, that he would serve to the death. Besides he did not view Yiojima and Okinawa with undue pessimism; Japan, he insisted, had won a “moral victory” on Yiojima that more than made up for the loss of the island while Okinawa –well, Okinawa would not decide the war….
But the interview, which was carried at length in all the vernaculars today, rambled and faltered despite the fine brave words. Now, at this final crisis of the empire, “the cross-roads between rise and fall”, the Premier Admiral Baron found in his hands all the powers that a subject could hold under the God-Emperor. But what was he to do with them?
He stared fiercely into the future, under his gray shaggy eyebrows, this omnipotent old man, and he did not know what to do with his omnipotence. Power must be used; it is futile until it is applied; it explodes in the hands of its possessor if it is not hurled in time against the target. But, he must have thought as he fumbled with the stick of dynamite, what on earth could he do with it now that he had it?
Power, full power, “without further legislative process”, to raze a whole coast, to make a streetcar stop where it had stopped twice, to seize every factory in the empire, to put this school girl in an assembly-line and make that mechanic work 24 hours a day. But what was the use of that when there were materials for only three hours a day and when every factory turned to ashes in air raids?
Where was the diet that could grant him one good solid bar of steel? They had not given him the emergency power to make two and add up to a thousand? Why had they forgotten to invest him with the summary authority to order the mountains to yield rice and the mulberry trees to grow sweet potatoes?