Prosecutors at the Tokyo war crime trials in 1945 closely looked into the delay in delivering the U.S. president’s letter to Emperor Hirohito on the eve of war, apparently to establish that the foreign minister was to blame for failing to stop Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, according to Japanese diplomatic records declassified Thursday.
The International Prosecution Section at the Allied Forces’ General Headquarters appears to have believed that if President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s telegram, sent two days before the start of the Japan-U.S. war in 1941, was delivered promptly to the Emperor, he could have called off the attack, the records showed, citing a Foreign Ministry official questioned by the IPS.
Roosevelt sought to avert war by sending the letter dated Dec. 6, 1941.
“I address myself to Your Majesty so that Your Majesty may, as I am doing, give thought in this definite emergency to ways of dispelling the dark clouds,” he wrote.
“I am confident that both of us, for the sake of the peoples not only of our own great countries but for the sake of humanity in neighboring territories, have a sacred duty to restore traditional amity and prevent further death and destruction in the world,” the letter said.
The coded telegram arrived at Tokyo’s telegraph office around noon on Dec. 7, and was delivered to the U.S. Embassy at around 10:30 p.m. that day. The Emperor is said to have not received the letter until the early hours of Dec. 8, just before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
In the records, the ministry official recalls that the prosecutors seemed to have been collecting evidence to show that the foreign minister at the time, Shigenori Togo, bore responsibility for starting the war.
Togo, convicted as a Class-A war criminal, was sentenced to 20 years in prison at the Tokyo war crimes tribunal.
According to the document, the questioned Foreign Ministry official said the IPS apparently suspected that the Emperor’s receipt of the letter was delayed because the ministry, which had obtained a copy, was taking time to report it to the military as it prepared for war. The official denied involvement in delaying the delivery.
According to the diplomatic records, dated Aug. 1, 1946, two IPS members came to the Foreign Ministry to interrogate two officials, who worked at the ministry’s telegraph bureau on the eve of the outbreak of the war.
The IPS was set up on Dec. 8, 1945, at the GHQ, which ran the Allied Occupation until April 1952 to promote Japan’s democratization and demilitarization.
Separate diplomatic documents declassified the same day showed that Japan strongly urged the United States to approve the early release of or reduced sentences for Class-A and other war criminals held at Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison after regaining its sovereignty under the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty.
After the treaty took effect in April 1952, the handling of war criminals fell to the Japanese government, but for their release, Japan needed the approval of the United States and its allies that won World War II.
Japan asked that the criminals be freed against the backdrop of growing nationalism and hopes for a change in U.S. policy toward Japan amid the tensions between capitalist and communist countries during the Cold War.