MOSCOW. (Anatoly Koshkin for RIA Novosti.)
One of the "mysteries" in the history of Japanese diplomacy is whether Tokyo knew that Stalin had promised Roosevelt and Churchill at the Yalta conference that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan.
Most Japanese historians insist that Tokyo did not know about this decision until the end of the war, and that consequently Japan had hoped until the very last moment that Moscow would act as an intermediary and set up peace negotiations with the United States. However, there are certain indications that Japanese intelligence did in fact know about the agreements reached in Yalta.
Yuriko Onodera's memoirs were published in 1985. Yuriko was married to Lt. Col. Onodera, an intelligence officer who worked at the Japanese Ground Forces General Headquarters. During the war, Yuriko traveled abroad with her husband, in particular, to Scandinavia, where she worked as a cryptographer and was privy to classified information. In her book she says that shortly after the Yalta conference, a London-based agent, a Pole by nationality, who was working under the pseudonym Ivanov, reported that the Big Three had agreed that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan. Onodera recalls: "I encoded this message with a heavy heart, and then sent it to Tokyo."
It is possible that the Japanese leadership obtained this information even earlier, immediately after the end of the Yalta conference. It can hardly be a coincidence that on February 14, 1945, that is two days after the end of the conference, the influential Japanese politician Prince Fumimaro Konoye, three times Japanese Premier, rushed a classified report to Emperor Hiro Hito, which urged him to "end the war as soon as possible." With undisguised concern, he said the main reason why the emperor should make this decision was the threat of "Soviet intervention."
Konoye wrote: "Regrettably, it seems to me that our defeat in the war is inevitable... Although defeat will certainly damage our national political system... a military defeat alone will not pose a particular threat to the very existence of our state system. In this regard, the biggest concern is not so much losing the war, as it is the Communist revolution that could follow in its wake."
"Having analyzed the situation, I have come to the conclusion that both the domestic and international situation are rapidly moving our country toward a Communist revolution. Externally, this is manifest in the unusual activity of the Soviet Union... Although formally the Soviet Union advocates non-interference in the domestic affairs of the European countries, in reality it is interfering most actively in their internal affairs and is trying to gain mass political support for the Soviet model. The Soviet intentions in East Asia are just the same... There is a real danger that the Soviet Union could interfere in Japan's internal affairs in the near future."
This document suggests that Konoye knew about the Soviet intention to intervene against Japan. The main gist of the report was that Japan should surrender to the U.S. and Britain before the Soviet Union entered the war, because "the general public in these countries have not yet started to demand a change in our political system."
On February 15, 1945, Japanese intelligence heads told the Supreme War Council: "the Soviet Union intends to acquire the right to vote on issues pertaining to the future of East Asia." Intelligence officers warned that by spring the U.S.S.R. might annul the neutrality pact and join its Allies in the war against Japan. Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu told Emperor Hiro Hito a day later: "The days of Nazi Germany are numbered. The Yalta conference has reaffirmed the unity of Great Britain, the U.S., and the Soviet Union." He advised the emperor not to set much store by the neutrality pact. General Hideki Tojo also warned the monarch that there was a 50-50 chance the U.S.S.R. would attack Japan.
There is evidence that Japan was gravely concerned by the information it had received about Stalin's intention to help the Allies in the Far East. On February 15, 1945, the Japanese Foreign Ministry sent its Consul General in Harbin, Miyakawa, on an urgent mission to the Soviet Embassy in Tokyo, with the clear aim of obtaining additional information about the Yalta summit. Although the Soviet Ambassador Yakov Malik said that the summit had concentrated on European affairs, this did little to assuage the Japanese fears.
Honoring its Yalta commitments, the Soviet Union soon began transferring troops to the Far East. This did not go unnoticed by the Japanese leadership, which regularly received intelligence about the redeployment of Soviet troops. For example, in mid-April 1945, military officers from the Japanese Embassy in Moscow informed Tokyo: "Between 12 and 15 trains are traveling along the Trans-Siberian Railway every day... The Soviet Union's entry into the war against Japan is inevitable. It will take about two months to transfer 20 divisions or so." The Kwantung Army headquarters reported the same information.
By the beginning of summer it was becoming increasingly unlikely that the Japanese government would be able to prevent the Soviet Union from entering the war. On June 6, 1945, the Supreme War Council heard an extremely pessimistic analysis of the situation: "The Soviet Union is taking measures to prepare the diplomatic ground for possible military intervention against the Empire. At the same time, it is stepping up its war preparations in the Far East. It is very likely that the Soviet Union will go to war against Japan... The Soviet Union could enter the war against Japan in summer or in the fall."
In the light of the above evidence, claims that the Japanese government did not learn the details of the Yalta agreements until after the war are unconvincing and should not be accepted as historical fact. These claims were made when Japan launched its campaign for the return of the "northern territories," that is, the South Kuril Islands that were transferred to the U.S.S.R. after the war.
Those who claim that Japan was in blissful ignorance about the Yalta agreements are trying to prove that when the Japanese government agreed to surrender, it did not know about the Allied decision to give the Kuril Islands to the Soviet Union. But when the Japanese government was trying to prevent the Soviet Union from entering the war, it was prepared to "voluntarily" return these formerly Russian territories to the Soviet Union. It could be argued that Tokyo came up with this idea because it knew what Stalin wanted.
The Soviet Union declared war on Japan four months after denouncing the neutrality pact. The Japanese leadership had sufficient time in these four months to surrender. This would have been the correct decision. It would have averted both the Soviet involvement in the war and the dropping of the atomic bombs. Blame for the failure to prevent the Soviet entry into the war rests primarily with the Japanese militarists who were willing to fight to the last man. Therefore, it is reasonable to say that the Soviet decision to enter the war in the Far East saved millions of Japanese lives, and this should not be forgotten.
Anatoly Koshkin is Doctor of History, Professor at the Oriental University
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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