The Soviet declaration of war has thrown this diplomatic hideout into a turmoil even louder and more confused than the new bomb. Even those who doubted the persuasive powers of the atom have thrown up their hands. Nobody seems to doubt now that Japan is doomed. The only questions are when and how. Will it be in a week or by spring? Will Japan surrender formally or will she commit national suicide? when these questions are finally answered by events, the solution will appear inevitable; it will seem to those who look back that they should have seen it all the time, that the signs were always there for anyone to read. But now we are still in the forest; there are cryptic marks blazed on the tree-trunks, footprints losing themselves in a tangled thicket, wild unintelligible cries that call to the unseen.
Puzzled and uncertain about the future, we can only look back a little distance along the way we have already come. The diplomats especially, the professionals of power politics, feel easier when they can rake over the dead leaves of mistakes that do not matter any more. Look here, if the Japanese had not forded this river here or if they had gone forward along that valley… A German diplomat insisted on explaining to me where Japan had made a fatal error about the Soviets. If the Japanese, he argued, had accepted the German proposal to join the war against the U.S.S.R. in 1940, the fate of the Axis would have been different. Now Japan had to fight the Anglo-Americans and the Soviets singlehanded as Germany had done and where was that precious non-aggression pact now?
Then a Japanese diplomat took me aside. “The Germans blame us,” he complained, “for attacking the U.S.A. and bringing the Americans into the war. But we are more inclined to blame the Germans for attacking the U.S.S.R. The trouble with the Germans is that they have always been obsessed by fear of Russia.” He sighed and concluded: “Basically the trouble with the Axis was that Japan and Germany could not agree on the enemy.”
In this angry exchange of recriminations nobody seemed to remember the Japanese people who, after all, would perhaps have a say on the matter. All the newspapers had carried in full the Soviet declaration of war with its bland revelation that the Japanese government had actually asked for Soviet mediation in the war.
How were the people taking this hint that the imperial land might be conquered after all, that the Son of Heaven might sue for peace? There was the impact of an “atomic” bomb in the suggestion. For that was all the Japanese had left now: their blind faith in an unconquerable divine destiny, one last faithful ally against the world, one last cave in an earth laid desolate, an old familiar blanket against the cataclysmic flame of a new age.
Stories began to be told in that chattering circle of foreigners. They were cruel sardonic stories, the type of stories that foreigners always tell about the countries they happen to live in, the type of stories that white men in particular like to tell about “natives”. But through the air of amused superiority, tinged with a resentful uneasiness, I could not help but see a strangely appealing picture of this odd fairy-book people, these shabby clumsy and withal gallant peasants with their fantastic readiness to die for a legend, a romantic lie. For that is what the stories told.
Last night, after the news of the Soviet entry into the war, the manager of the diplomatic dry-good store in the village came roaring into the hotel. He was ﬁghting drunk, this small rather conceited corrupt merchant, He and 30 million other Japanese, he cried, were ready to die rather than see Japan surrender. If the worst came to the worst, he wept, he would kill his wife, his children, his neighbors, and any foreigner, any bloody foreigner, who happened to be around. And then he would cut himself open. They all laughed at him and he went to sleep; somehow it was comic to imagine him with his entrails spilling over his shoddy pearls and fake curios.
Earlier a maker of tofu (bean-curd) had been teaching a foreigner how to make charcoal. They got to talking about the new-type bomb and the foreigner asked him what he thought of it. He was a slow conscientious worker and he did not stop puttering about the fire. What was he to say? Well, he decided finally, it was like this. He was an expert maker of tofu. Many foreigners had asked him to teach them the secret of the process. Not all the professors across the seas had ever succeeded in solving it. Now, if these foreigners could not even make tofu, how could they make a bomb that was better than the ones the Japanese make?
There was a visiting manicurist in the hotel, a devout and chatty old woman who had gone to pay her respects before the emperor’s palace every day of her life that she had been in Tokyo.
What did she think, somebody had asked her. would Japan be defeated? She did not think it possible. But the Americans had a new and terrible bomb, the Russians had entered the war, the Japanese where fighting the whole world. Even then, she insisted. The Tenno was divine and he would not abandon his people. Her faith was not so noisy or belligerent but would she be any more eager for surrender? In the face of this determined romanticism, our hopes of the night before for a quick peace, a formal surrender, seemed to shrink and shrivel up.