|Prime Minister of Japan|
22 July 1940 – 18 October 1941
|Preceded by||Mitsumasa Yonai|
|Succeeded by||Hideki Tōjō|
4 June 1937 – 5 January 1939
|Preceded by||Senjūrō Hayashi|
|Succeeded by||Kiichirō Hiranuma|
|Born||12 October 1891|
Tokyo, Empire of Japan
|Died||16 December 1945 (aged 54)|
Tekigai-sō, Tokyo, Occupied Japan
|Cause of death||suicide by cyanide|
|Political party||Imperial Rule Assistance Association (1940–1945)|
|Independent (Before 1940)|
|Spouse(s)||Konoe Chiyoko (1896–1980)|
|Alma mater||Kyoto Imperial University|
Prince Fumimaro Konoe (Japanese: 近衞 文麿, Hepburn: Konoe Fumimaro, often Konoye, 12 October 1891 – 16 December 1945) was a Japanese politician and prime minister. During his tenure, he presided over the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 and the breakdown in relations with the United States which ultimately culminated in Japan's entry into World War II. He also played a central role in transforming his country into a totalitarian state by passing the National Mobilization Law and founding the Imperial Rule Assistance Association.
Despite Konoe's attempts to resolve tensions with the United States, the rigid timetable imposed on negotiations by the military and his own government's inflexibility regarding a diplomatic resolution set Japan on the path to war. Upon failing to reach a peace agreement, Konoe resigned as Prime Minister on 18 October 1941 prior to the outbreak of hostilities. However, he remained a close advisor to the Emperor until the end of World War II. Following the end of the war, he committed suicide on 16 December 1945.
Fumimaro Konoe was born in Tokyo on 12 October 1891 to the prominent Konoe family, one of the main branches of the ancient Fujiwara clan. This made the Konoe "head of the most prestigious, and highest ranking noble house in the realm". They had first become independent of the Fujiwara in the 12th century, when Minamoto no Yoritomo divided the Fujiwara into five separate houses (go-sekke). Japanese historian Hotta Eri described the Konoe as "First among the go-sekke"; Fumimaro would be its 29th leader. While the average height of Japanese people at that time was around 160 cm (5.2 ft), Konoe was over 180 cm (5.9 ft) tall.
Konoe's father, Atsumaro, had been politically active, having organized the Anti-Russia Society in 1903. Fumimaro's mother died shortly after his birth; his father then married her younger sister. Fumimaro was misled into thinking she was his real mother, and found out the truth when he was 12 years old after his father's death.
Fumimaro inherited family debt when his father died. Thanks to the financial support of the zaibatsu Sumitomo, which he received throughout his career, and the auction of Fujiwara heirlooms the family was able to become solvent.
Fumimaro was not the only talented member of his family: his younger brother Hidemaro Konoye later became a symphony conductor and founded NHK Symphony Orchestra.
At Kyoto Imperial University, Fumimaro studied socialism, translating Oscar Wilde's "The Soul of Man Under Socialism" into Japanese. There, he met genrō Saionji Kinmochi and became his protege. After graduation, Fumimaro turned to Saionji for advice about starting a political career, and worked briefly in the home ministry before accompanying his mentor to Versailles as part of the Japanese peace delegation.
But first, Konoe completed two tasks. With his Geisha Kiku, he fathered an illegitimate child. And in December 1918, he also published an essay entitled "Reject the Anglo-American-Centered Peace" (英米本位の平和主義を排す). In this article, he argued that western democracies were supporting democracy, peace, and self-determination only hypocritically, while actually undermining those ideals through racially-discriminatory imperialism. He attacked the League of Nations as an effort to institutionalize the status quo: colonial hegemony by the western powers. Following a translation by American journalist Thomas Franklin Fairfax Millard, Saionji wrote a rebuttal in his journal, Millard's Review of the Far East. Saionji considered Konoe's writing reckless, but, after it became internationally read, Konoe was invited to dinner by Sun Yat-sen. Yat-sen admired Japan's quick modernization; at the dinner, they discussed pan-Asian nationalism.
During the Paris peace conference, Konoe was one of the Japanese diplomats who proposed the Racial Equality Proposal for the Covenant of the League of Nations. When the Racial Equality Clause came up before the committee, it received the support of Japan, France, Serbia, Greece, Italy, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, and China. However, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson overturned the vote, declaring that the clause needed unanimous support. Konoe took the rejection of the Racial Equality Clause very badly, seeing it as a humiliation of Japan.
Upon his return to Japan he published a booklet where he described his travels to France, England and America, how he was angered by rising anti-Japanese sentiment there, and how government policy in the US discriminated against Japanese immigration. He also described China as a rival to Japan in international relations.
In 1916, while at university, Fumimaro took his father's seat in the house of peers. After his return from Europe he was aggressively recruited by the most powerful political faction of Japan's budding Taisho democracy of the 1920s: the kenkyukai, a conservative, militaristic faction, led by Yamagata Aritomo and generally opposed to democratic reform. In September 1922, he joined them.
The opposing faction was the seiyukai, led by Hara Takashi, which drew its strength from the lower house. Eventually the seiyukai was able to gain the Aritomo's support, and Hara Takashi became premier in 1918. Konoe believed the house of peers should stay neutral in factional party politics, lest a partisan-seeming peerage have their privileges restricted. He therefore supported Takashi's seiyukai government, as did most of the kenkyukai.
However, by 1923 the seiyukai had split into two factions, and could no longer control the government. During the premiership of Kato Komei and his party, the kenseikai, Konoe supported universal male suffrage to forestall serious curtailment of the noble privileges. Konoe believed universal male suffrage was the best way to channel popular discontent and thereby reduce the chance of violent revolution. As the house of peers became allied with different political factions in the lower house, Konoe left the kenkyukai in November 1927.
Like his position in regard to the nobility, he believed that the emperor should not take political positions. In his eyes, a political emperor would diminish the imperial prestige, undermine the unifying power of the throne, expose the emperor to criticism, and potentially undermine domestic tranquillity. His greatest fear in this period of rapid industrialization would become the threat of left wing revolution, facilitated by the petty factionalism of Taisho democracy's political factions. He saw the peerage as a bulwark of stability committed to tranquillity, harmony, the maintenance of the status quo. Its function was to restrain the excesses of the elected government, but its power had to be used sparingly.
The Japanese home ministry was extremely powerful, in charge of the police, elections, public works, Shinto shrines, and land development. The home ministry was also abused to influence elections in favour of the ruling party. Despite having once believed it to be beneath the dignity of a nobleman, Konoe entered into an alliance with important home ministry officials. The most important among these officials was Yoshiharu Tazawa, whom he met after he became the managing director of the Japan Youth Hall (Nippon Seinenkan) in 1921. Konoe and his allies saw the influence of local meiboka political bosses as a threat to Japan's political stability. Universal suffrage had opened the vote to the undereducated peasantry, but local bosses, using pork-barrel politics, manipulated their influence on the government. These officials also shared Konoe's concern about party influence within the home ministry, which had seen great turnover mirroring the political upheaval occurring in the Diet. Konoe's association with the youth hall began two months after the publication of an article in July 1921, where he stressed education of the electorate's political wisdom and morality, and lamented that education only taught youth to accept ideas passively from their superiors. The Youth Corps (Seinendan) was thereafter created to foster a moral, sense of civic duty among the people, with the overall purpose of destroying the meiboka system.
In 1925 Konoe and these officials formed the Alliance for a New Japan (Shin Nippon Domei) which endorsed the concept of representative government, but rejected the value of party and local village bosses, instead advocating that new candidates from outside the parties should run for office. The Association for Election Purification (Senkyo Shukusei Domeikai) was also created, an organization whose purpose was to circumvent and weaken pork barrel local politics by supporting candidates that were not beholden to meiboka bosses. The alliance formed a political party (meiseikai), but was unable to secure popular support, and dissolved within two years of formation (in 1928).
In the 1920s Japanese foreign policy was largely in line with Anglo-American policy, the treaty of Versailles, the Washington Naval Conference treaty, and there was agreement between the great powers over the establishment of an independent Chinese State. A flourishing party system controlled the cabinet in alliance with industry. The great depression of the 1930s, the rise Soviet military power in the east, further insistence on limitations to Japanese naval power, and increased Chinese resistance to Japanese aggression in Asia, marked the abandonment of Japanese cooperation with the Anglo-American powers. The Japanese government began to seek autonomy in foreign policy, and — as the sense of crisis deepened — unity and mobilization became overreaching imperatives.
Konoe assumed the vice presidency of the house of peers in 1931. In 1932 political parties lost control of the cabinet. Thenceforth, cabinets were formed by alliances of political elites and military factions. As Japan mobilized its resources for war, the government increased suppression of political parties and what remained of the left wing. Konoe ascended to the presidency of the house of peers in 1933 and spent the next few years mediating between elite political factions, elite policy consensus and national unity.
Meanwhile, Fumimaro sent his eldest son Fumitaka to study in the US, at Princeton, wishing to prepare him for politics and make him an able proponent of Japan in America. Unlike most of his elite contemporaries, Fumimaro had not been educated abroad due to his father's poor finances. Fumimaro visited Fumitaka in 1934 and he was shocked by rising anti-Japanese sentiment. This experience deepened his resentment of the US, which he perceived as selfish and racist, and which he blamed for its failure to avert economic disaster. In a speech in 1935 Konoe said that the "monopolization" of resources by the Anglo-American alliance must end and be replaced by an "international new deal" to help countries like Japan take care of their growing populations.
Konoe's views were thus a recapitulation of those he had expressed at Versailles, almost 20 years earlier. He still believed Japan the equal and the rival of the western powers, believed Japan had a right to expansion in China, believed that such expansion was survival, and believed that the "Anglo-American powers were hypocrites seeking to enforce their economic dominance of the world."
Despite his tutelage under the liberal-leaning Saionji Kinmochi, his study of socialism at university, and his support of universal suffrage, he seemed to have had a contradictory attraction to fascism, which angered and alarmed the ageing genro. At a costume party before Saionji's daughter was married in 1937, he was reported to have dressed as Hitler. Despite these misgivings Saionji nominated Konoe to the emperor, and in June 1937 Konoe became Prime Minister.
Upon assuming office, Konoe spent the short time between then and war with China attempting to secure pardons for the ultra-nationalist leaders of the 26 February incident, who had attempted to assassinate his mentor Saionji. Konoe retained the military, and legal ministers from the previous cabinet upon assumption of the premiership, and refused to take ministers from the political parties, as he was not interested in resurrecting party government. One month later, Japanese troops clashed with Chinese troops near Peking in the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. Nevertheless, a consensus emerged among Japanese military leadership that the nation was not ready for war with China, and a truce was made on 11 July.
The ceasefire was broken by 20 July after Konoe's government sent more divisions to China, causing full-scale war to erupt.
In November 1937 Konoe instituted a new system of joint conference between the civil government and the military called liaison conferences. In attendance at these liaison meetings were the prime minister, the foreign minister, the ministers of the army and navy and their chiefs of general staff. This arrangement resulted in an imbalance in favor of the military since each member in attendance had an equal say in policymaking.
Prior to the capture on Nanjing, Chang Kai Shek through the German ambassador in China attempted to negotiate, but Konoe rejected the overture. 
After taking Nanking, the Japanese Army was doubtful about its ability to advance up the Yangtze river valley, and favoured taking up a German offer of mediation to end the war with China. Konoe by contrast, was not interested in peace,[neutrality is disputed] and instead chose to escalate the war by suggesting deliberately humiliating terms that he knew Chiang Kai-shek would never accept,[neutrality is disputed] to win a "total victory" over China.[additional citation(s) needed]
In January 1938, Konoe issued a statement where he declared that "Kuomintang aggression had not ceased despite its defeat," that it was "subjecting its people to great misery," and that Japan would no longer deal with Chang. Six days later he gave a speech where he blamed China for the continued conflict. When later asked for clarifications, Konoe said he meant more than just non-recognition of Chiang's regime but "rejected it" and would "eradicate it". The American historian Gerhard Weinberg wrote about Konoe's escalation of the war: "The one time in the decade between 1931 and 1941 that the civilian authorities in Tokyo mustered the energy, courage and ingenuity to overrule the military on a major peace issue they did so with fatal results — fatal for Japan, fatal for China, and for Konoe himself".
Due to a trade imbalance, Japan had lost a large amount of its gold reserves by late 1937. Konoe believed that a new economic system geared toward exploitation of northern China's resources was the only way to stop this economic deterioration. In response to continued US support for the so-called Open Door Policy, Konoe rejected it "as he had since Versailles, but left open possible western interests in southern China." In a declaration on November 3, 1938, Konoe said Japan seeks a new order in east Asia, that Chiang no longer spoke for China, that Japan would reconstruct China without help from foreign powers, and that a "tripartite relationship of . . . Japan, Manchukuo, and China" would "create a new culture, and realize close economic cohesion throughout east Asia."
In April 1938 Konoe and the military pushed a National Mobilization Law through the Diet which declared a state of emergency, allowed the central government to control all manpower and material, and rationed the flow of raw materials into the Japanese market. Japanese victories continued at Xuzhou, Hankow, Canton, Wuchang, and Hanyang, but Chinese resistance nonetheless continued. Konoe resigned in January 1939, leaving the war that he had a large part in making to be finished by someone else, and was appointed chairman of the Privy Council. The Japanese public, which had been told that the war was an endless series of victories, was bewildered.
Kiichirō Hiranuma succeeded him as Prime Minister. Konoe was awarded the 1st class of the Order of the Rising Sun in 1939.
Due to dissatisfaction with the policies of Prime Minister Mitsumasa Yonai later that year, the Japanese Army demanded Konoe's return. Yonai had refused to align Japan with the Nazis; in response, the army minister Shunroku Hata resigned and the army refused to nominate a replacement. Konoe was recalled after Saionji - for the last time before his death later that year - again endorsed him.
On 23 June, Konoe resigned his position as Chairman of the Privy Council, and on 16 July 1940, the Yonai cabinet resigned and Konoe was appointed Prime Minister. Konoe did set out to end the war in with China. But Konoe also deemed political parties as too liberal and divisive, thereby aiding the pro war factions in the military. One of his first moves was to launch the League of Diet Members Supporting the Prosecution of the Holy War to counter opposition from politicians such as deputy Saitō Takao who had spoken against the Second Sino-Japanese War in the Diet on 2 February.
The Imperial Rule Assistance Association (IRAA) was created in 1940 under Konoe as a wartime mobilization organization, ironically in alliance with local meiboka, since their cooperation was required to mobilize the rural population. Konoe's government pressured political parties to dissolve into the IRAA, he resisted calls to form a political party akin to Nazi party, believing it would revive the political strife of the 1920s. Additionally, he worried that becoming the head of a political party would be beneath the dignity of a nobleman. Instead he worked to promote the IRAA as the sole political order.
Even before Konoe had been recalled, the army had already planned an invasion of French Indochina. The invasion would secure needed resources to wage war with China, cut off western supply of Kuomintang armies, put the Japanese military in a strategic location to threaten more territory, and would hopefully intimidate the Dutch East Indies into supplying Japan with oil. The US responded with the Export Control Act, and increased aid to Chang. Despite this response foreign minister Yosuke Matsuoka signed the Tripartite Pact on 27 September 1940 over the objection of some of Konoe's advisors including former Japanese ambassador to the US Kikujiro Ishii. In an 4 October press conference Konoe said that the US should not misunderstand the intentions of the tripartite powers, and should help them to build a new world order. Additionally he said that if the US did not end its provocative actions, and deliberately chose to misunderstand the actions of the tripartite powers, there would be no option left but war. In November 1940 Japan signed the Sino-Japanese treaty with Wang Jinwei, who had been a disciple of Sun Yat-sen and headed a rival Kuomintang government in Nanjing. But Konoe's Government did not relinquish all held territory to Jinwei's government, undercut its authority, and Wang's government was largely seen as an illegitimate puppet. In December 1940 the British reopened the Burma road and lent 10 million pounds to Chang's Kuomintang. Konoe recommenced negotiations with the Dutch in January 1941 in an attempt to secure an alternate source of oil.
In February 1941 Konoe chose Admiral Nomura as Japanese ambassador to the US. Matsuoka and Stalin signed the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in Moscow on 13 April 1941, which made it clear that the Soviets would not help the allies in the event of war with Japan. On 18 April 1941 word arrived from Nomura of a diplomatic breakthrough, a draft of understanding between the US and Japan. The basis of this agreement had been drafted by two American Maryknoll priests James Edward Walsh, and James M. Drought, who had met Roosevelt through the postmaster general Frank C. Walker. The outline of the proposal, which had been drafted in consultation with banker Tadao Ikawa, Colonel Hideo Iwakura, and Nomura, included American recognition of Manchukuo, merging Chiang's government with the Japanese backed Reorganized National Government of China, normalization of trade relations, withdrawal of Japanese troops from China, mutual respect for Chinese independence, and an agreement that Japanese immigration to the United States would proceed on the basis of equality with other nationals free from discrimination.
When Matsuoka returned to Tokyo a liaison conference was held, during which he voiced his opposition to the draft of understanding, believing it would betray their Nazi allies. After arguing that Japan should let Germany see this draft, he left the meeting citing exhaustion, Konoe also retreated to his villa also claiming a fever, instead of forcing the issue. Matsuoka pushed for an immediate attack on British Singapore and began to openly criticise Konoe and his cabinet, leading to suspicions that he wanted to replace Konoe as prime minister. Matsuoka changed the US draft into a counteroffer which essentially gutted most of the Japanese concessions in regard to China and expansion in the Pacific then had Nomura deliver it to Washington.
On Sunday, 22 June 1941, Hitler broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact by invading the Soviet Union. Coincident with the invasion, Cordell Hull delivered another amendment of the draft on understanding to the Japanese, but this time there was no recognition of the Japanese right to control of Manchukuo, the new draft also completely rejected the Japanese right of military expansion in the Pacific. Hull included a statement which in summary said that as long as Japan was allied to Hitler an agreement would be next to impossible to achieve. He did not specifically mention Matsuoka, but it was implied that he would have to be removed, as the foreign minister was now advocating an immediate attack on the Soviet Union, and did so directly to the emperor. Konoe was forced to apologize to the emperor and assure him that Japan was not about to go to war with the Soviet Union. Masanobu Tsuji had planned to assassinate Konoe if peace had occurred with the United States in order for Japan to attack the Soviet Union, who was at war with Japan's ally Germany.
Matsuoka was convinced that Barbarossa would be a quick German victory and he was now opposed to attacking Singapore because he believed it would provoke war with the western allies. After a series of liaison conferences where Matsuoka argued forcefully in favour of an attack against the Soviet Union and against further expansion southward, the decision was made to invade and occupy the southern half of French Indochina, which was formalized in an imperial conference on 2 July. Included in this imperial conference resolution was a statement that Japan would not flinch from war with the US and Britain if necessary. Beginning on 10 July Konoe held a series of liaison conferences to discuss the Japanese response to Hull's latest amendment to the draft of understanding. It was decided that a reply would not be given until the Japanese takeover of southern Indochina was complete, hoping that if it went peacefully, perhaps the US could be convinced to tolerate the occupation without intervention. On 14 July Matsuoka drafted a response — through illness — which said Japan would not abandon the tripartite pact. He attacked Hull's statement which had been aimed largely at him, and the next day he sent the response to Germany for approval. Sending the draft to the Germans without the cabinet's permission was the final straw. Konoe and his cabinet resigned en masse and reformed the government without Matsuoka on 16 July, when Matsuoka did not attend due to illness.
Konoe's third government was formally created on 18 July, with admiral Teijiro Toyoda as foreign minister. The Roosevelt administration hoped that Matsuoka's dismissal would mean Japan was standing down from continued aggressive action; these hopes were dashed when the French government, after being threatened with military action, allowed the Japanese army to occupy all of French Indochina on 22 July. Two days later, the US cut off negotiations and froze Japanese assets, the British, Dutch, and Canadian governments following suit shortly thereafter. The same day Roosevelt met with Nomura where he told the ambassador that if Japan would agree to pull out of Indochina, and agree to its being granted a status of neutrality, Japanese assets could be unfrozen. Roosevelt implied that Japanese expansion in China would be tolerated, but Indochina was a red line. He also expressed how disturbed he was that Japan could not see that Hitler was bent on world domination. Konoe did not take aggressive action in implementing Roosevelt's offer, and could not restrain militarists, led by Hideki Tojo. As minister of war, Tojo regarded the seizure as irreversible due to its approval by the emperor.
On 28 July the Japanese began to formally occupy southern Indochina. In response on 1 August the US embargoed oil exports to Japan, surprising Konoe's cabinet. Finding a replacement source of petroleum was paramount, as the US supplied 93% of Japan's oil in 1940. Navy chief of staff Osami Nagano informed the Emperor that Japan's oil stockpiles would be completely depleted in two years. On 1 August Hachiro Arita wrote Konoe a letter which told him that he should not have let the military occupy southern Indochina while negotiations with the US were still ongoing, Konoe responded that the ships were already dispatched and could not turn back in time, and that all he could do was pray for "divine intervention".
On 6 August Konoe's government announced that it would only pull out of Indochina when the war in China was concluded, rejected Roosevelt's neutralization proposal, but promised not to expand further and asked for US mediation in ending the war in China. On 8 August Konoe requested, through Nomura, a meeting with Roosevelt. The suggestion came from Kinkazu Saionji, the grandson of his deceased mentor Saionji Kinmochi. Kinkazu advised Konoe through a monthly informal breakfast club, where Konoe consulted with civilian elites about policy. Hotsumi Ozaki, who was a friend and advisor to Konoe, was a member of this same breakfast club; he was also a member of Richard Sorge's soviet spy ring.
Nomura met with Roosevelt and told him about Konoe's summit proposal. After condemning Japanese aggression in Indochina, Roosevelt said he was open to the meeting, and suggested they could meet in Juneau, Alaska. On September 3, a liaison conference was held where it was decided that Konoe would continue to seek peace with Roosevelt, but, at the same time, Japan would commit to war if a peace agreement did not materialize by mid October. Moreover, Japan would not abandon the tripartite pact. Konoe, Saionji, and his supporters had drafted a proposal which emphasized a willingness to withdraw troops from China, but Konoe did not introduce this proposal, and instead acceded to a proposal from the foreign ministry. The difference in the proposals being that the foreign ministry's was conditioned on an agreement being reached between China and Japan before troops would be withdrawn.
On 5 September Konoe met the emperor with chiefs of staff General Hajime Sugiyama and Admiral Osami Nagano to inform him of the cabinet's decision to commit to war in the absence of a diplomatic breakthrough. Alarmed, the emperor asked: what happened to the negotiations with Roosevelt? He asked Konoe to change the emphasis from war to negotiation; Konoe replied that would be politically impossible; and the emperor then asked why he had been kept in the dark about these military preparations. The emperor then questioned Sugiyama about the chances of success of an open war with the Occident. After Sugiyama answered positively, Hirohito scolded him, remembering that the Army had predicted that the invasion of China would be completed in only three months.
On 6 September the emperor approved the cabinet's decision at an imperial conference after being given assurance by the two chiefs of staff that diplomacy was the primary emphasis, with war only as a fall-back option in the event of diplomatic failure. That same evening, Konoe arranged a dinner in secrecy with US ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew. (This was somewhat perilous: on 15 August, Hiranuma Kiichiro, a member of Konoe's cabinet and former prime minister, had been shot six times by an ultra-nationalist because he was seen as too close to Grew.) Konoe told Grew that he was prepared to travel to meet Roosevelt on a moment's notice, Grew then urged his superiors to advise Roosevelt to accept the summit proposal.
The day after the imperial conference Konoe arranged a meeting between Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni and army minister Tojo, which was an attempt to bring the war hawk in line with Konoe. Higashikuni told Tojo that since the emperor and Konoe favoured negotiation over war, the army minister should too, and that he should quit if he could not follow a policy of non-confrontation. Tojo replied that if the western encirclement of Japan were to be accepted, Japan would cease to exist. Tojo believed that even if there was only a small chance of winning a war with the US, Japan must prepare for it and wage it rather than be encircled and destroyed.
On 10 September Nomura met with Hull and was told by him that the latest Japanese offer was a non-starter, and that Japan would have to make concessions in regard to China before the summit meeting could take place. On 20 September a liaison meeting passed a revised proposal that actually hardened conditions for a withdrawal from China. At the liaison conference of 25 September, sensing that summit negotiations were stalling, Tojo and the militarists pressed the cabinet to commit to an actual deadline for war of 15 October. After this meeting Konoe told lord keeper of the privy seal Koichi Kido that he was going to resign, but Kido talked him out of it, Konoe then secluded himself in a villa at Kamakura until 2 October, leaving foreign minister Toyoda to take charge of negotiations in his absence. Toyoda asked ambassador Grew to tell Roosevelt that Konoe would only be able to grant concessions at the summit, but could not commit beforehand due to the influence of the militarists, and the risk that any conciliation beforehand would be leaked to the Germans in an effort to bring down the Konoe cabinet. Grew argued in favour of the summit to Roosevelt in a communication of 29 September.
On 1 October, Konoe summoned navy minister Oikawa to Kamakura, where he secured his commitment of cooperation in acceptance American demands, the navy being acutely aware of the long odds of victory in the event of war with the US. Oikawa returned to Tokyo and seemed to secure the cooperation of navy chief of staff Nagano, including Toyoda as foreign minister they formed a potential majority in the next liaison conference. On 2 October Hull delivered to Nomura a statement constituting the preconditions for a summit meeting. Hull made it clear that the Japanese army would have to demonstrate that they were going to pull troops out of French Indochina and China.
At the liaison conference of 4 October, Hull's response was still being processed and could not be fully discussed, Nagano changed his position and now agreed with the army and advocated a deadline for war. Konoe and Oikawa were largely silent, and did not try to bring him back to the side of negotiation, further postponing a final decision. The army and the navy were in opposition to each other and held separate high level meetings each respectively confirming their resolve to either go to war, or pull back from the brink. But Nagano continued to oppose open confrontation of the army, while Oikawa did not want to take the lead as the only member of the liaison conference to oppose war.
Konoe met privately with Tojo twice, in a failed attempt to convince him to a troop withdrawal, and to take the war option off the table on 5 and 7 October. In the 7 October meeting Konoe told Tojo that "military men take wars too lightly." Tojo's response was, "occasionally one must gather up enough courage, close one's eyes and jump off the platform of the Kiyomizu." Konoe responded that, while such a policy was okay for the individual, "if I think of the national polity that has lasted twenty six hundred years and of the hundred million Japanese belonging to this nation, I, as a person in the position of great responsibility, cannot do such a thing". The next day Tojo met with Oikawa, and showed some doubt when he told him that it would be a betrayal of those who had already died in the war for the army to pull troops out of China, but that he was also worried about the many more who would die in an eventual war with the US, and that he was considering a troop withdrawal.
Konoe held a meeting on 12 October with military ministers Tojo, Oikawa, and the foreign minister Toyoda, which became known as the Tekigaiso conference. Konoe began by saying that he had no confidence in the war they were about to wage and would not lead it, but neither Oikawa or Konoe was willing to take the lead in demanding the army agree to taking the war option off the table, Toyoda was the only member willing to declare that the imperial conference of 6 September was a mistake, implying that the war option should be taken off the table, while Tojo forcefully argued that an imperial resolution could not be violated.
On 14 October one day before the deadline, Konoe and Tojo met one last time, where Konoe attempted to impress upon Tojo the need to stand down from war, and accede to US demands for a military withdrawal from China and Indochina. Tojo ruled a troop withdrawal as out of the question. In the cabinet meeting that followed, Tojo declared that the decision of the imperial conference had been thoroughly deliberated, that hundreds of thousands of troops were being moved south as they spoke, that if diplomacy were to continue they must be sure that it would result in success, and that the imperial edict had specifically declared that negotiations must bear fruit by early October (which meant the deadline had already been passed). After this conference Tojo went to see lord keeper of the privy seal Kido, to push for Konoe's resignation.
That same evening Tojo sent Teiichi Suzuki (at that time the head of the cabinet planning board) to Konoe with a message urging him to resign, stating that if he resigned Tojo would endorse prince Higashikuni as the next prime minister. Suzuki told Konoe that Tojo realized now that the navy was unwilling to admit that it could not fight the US. He also told Konoe that Tojo believed the current cabinet must resign and bear the responsibility of wrongfully calling for the imperial edict, and only someone of Higashikuni's imperial background could reverse it. The next day on 15 October Konoe's friend and advisor Hotsumi Ozaki was exposed and arrested as a Soviet spy.
Konoe resigned on 16 October 1941, one day after having recommended Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni to the Emperor as his successor. Two days later, Hirohito chose General Tōjō as Prime Minister. In 1946, Hirohito explained this decision: "I actually thought Prince Higashikuni suitable as chief of staff of the Army; but I think the appointment of a member of the imperial house to a political office must be considered very carefully. Above all, in time of peace this is fine, but when there is a fear that there may even be a war, then more importantly, considering the welfare of the imperial house, I wonder about the wisdom of a member of the imperial family serving [as prime minister]." Six weeks later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
Konoe justified his demission to his secretary Kenji Tomita. "Of course His Imperial Majesty is a pacifist and he wished to avoid war. When I told him that to initiate war was a mistake, he agreed. But the next day, he would tell me: 'You were worried about it yesterday but you do not have to worry so much.' Thus, gradually he began to lead to war. And the next time I met him, he leaned even more to war. I felt the Emperor was telling me: 'My prime minister does not understand military matters. I know much more.' In short, the Emperor had absorbed the view of the army and the navy high commands."
On 29 November 1941, at a luncheon with the emperor with all living former prime ministers in attendance, Konoe voiced his objection to war. Upon hearing of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Konoe said regarding Japan's military success, "What on earth? I really feel a miserable defeat coming; this will only last 2 or 3 months."
Konoe played a role in the fall of the Tōjō government in 1944. In February 1945, during the first private audience he had been allowed in three years, he advised the Emperor to begin negotiations to end World War II. According to Grand Chamberlain Hisanori Fujita, Shōwa, still looking for a tennozan (a great victory), firmly rejected Konoe's recommendation.
After the beginning of the American occupation, Konoe served in the cabinet of Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni, the first post-war government. Having refused to collaborate with U.S. Army officer Bonner Fellers in "Operation Blacklist" to exonerate Shōwa and the imperial family of criminal responsibility, he came under suspicion of war crimes. In December 1945, during the last call by the Americans for alleged war criminals to report to the Americans, he took potassium cyanide poison and committed suicide. His grave is at the Konoe clan cemetery at the temple of Daitoku-ji in Kyoto.
His grandson, Morihiro Hosokawa, became prime minister fifty years later.
|Ancestors of Fumimaro Konoe|
Is It Konoe or Konoye? The name of the new Premier of Japan, pronounced with the stress on the second syllable and a definite sounding of the letter ‘e’ as in ‘let’, is spelled in English as Konoe, according to the officially recognized Japan Yearbook. The full name is Prince Ayamaro [sic] Konoe. Reference to the Premier as Prince Fumimaro Konoye is not incorrect, however.
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