The warlords gave Japan’s answer to the Potsdam ultimatum at 5 p.m. yesterday. A special communique from imperial headquarters announced that “our army and navy preparations to cope with the enemy’s invasion operations are being steadily strengthened.” The somber implication is that Japan will fight to the end.
However the furtive hope of a bargain is not necessarily dismissed. The communique, in going on to summarize losses allegedly inflicted on the Americans last month, may have intended to define Japan’s bargaining position. Admitting “fairly great damage” to cities, factories, aircraft and vessels, and “damage” to air bases and military facilities, IJN claimed having show down 43 large planes (including 29 B-29’s) and 175 carrier-borne planes. In the Okinawa area, from January to July 31, two carriers, one cruiser or destroyer, two destroyers, two transports, and three other warcraft, were claimed sunk. Japanese submarines, it was also alleged, had sunk two transports while three American submarines had been destroyed. Even admitting Daihonei’s figures the totals were not such as to terrify the Americans. Last night more than 500 B-29’s were again over Japan.
Nevertheless the choice seems to have been made. If the Americans persist in the Potsdam declaration which, according to the Mainichi today, “goes much further than what an ordinary victory would entitle a party to in war,” then the Japanese will “steadily strengthen” their preparations against invasion. On the other hand an unspoken alternative remains: if the Americans wish to spare themselves the sacrifices of an invasion, then they might content themselves with the fruits of an “ordinary victory”, whatever that may be.
Wondering once again how the Japanese felt about this choice that had been thrust upon them, I remembered a conversation with a young Japanese diplomat a month ago. We had been chatting over a midnight cup of bitter yellow tea in a narrow hotel room and it was almost time for bed. I had not seen him for more than a year and we had had many things to talk about.
On an impulse I asked him: “What do you think of the war?”
“I think we have lost it,” he answered.
“So you would be in favor of Japan making peace?”
“No,” he replied unexpectedly.
But if Japan has lost the war, I expostulated, what was the use of fighting on?
He studied me quizzically, a good-looking young man with black hair brushed back neatly.
“Oh, I see,” I fished. “You believe in bargaining, in fighting on for better terms.”
He gave a deep chuckle. “No, that is what the army is doing. That is what they have been doing for the past two years. No, I want the war to continue because the people haven’t suffered enough.”
“Not enough?” I protested.
“Not enough,” he said with a gesture of inexhorability. “Let them suffer. Let them learn what it is to start a war. Let them learn so hard that they will never start another war. Then we Japanese will really have something. We will be ready then to kick out these army bastards and build a good Japan.”
He made sense to me then, good hard cruel sense. Sometimes he still does.