Koki Hirota and Stalin's Declaration of War against Japan

Koki Hirota, Japan's Foreign Minister

Koki Hirota was born on the 14th of February, 1878.  His father was a stonemason.

Adopted into the Hirota family, he graduated from Tokyo Imperial University.  Deciding on a career in foreign affairs, he held several positions including director of the Europe and America Department (in 1923).

He also served as minister to Holland and ambassador to the Soviet Union.

In March of 1936, he became Prime Minister.  He held that position for slightly less than a year.  At the time, Japan's civilian government reportedly had little control over Japan's military

According to governmental records, Hirota had some knowledge about the Japanese army's atrocities in Nanking, China.

During World War II, Hirota tried—ultimately unsuccessfully—to negotiate with the Soviet Union to stay out of the war in the Pacific.  Joseph Stalin, however, declared war on Japan in August of 1945 (between the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Stalin's action ended Japan's hope that the Soviets would continue their non-aggression pact with Japan. It also ended the possibility that a neutral USSR could serve as a mediator between the Allied Powers and Japan. Now Stalin, too, had joined the war.

Because Japan surrendered, soon after the Nagasaki bombing, the Soviets' role in the Pacific theater of WWII was short-lived. It was, however, extremely significant.

Stalin's forces invaded Manchuria, which Japan was occupying, on the morning of August 9, 1945. That was the day after the USSR had declared war on Japan.

The Soviets' surprise attack, known as "Operation August Storm," was effective. Among other things, news of the Soviet invasion into Manchuria caused the convening of Japan's Supreme Council. Its members discussed—for the first time—the Allies' demand of Japan's unconditional surrender.

The Supreme Council's meeting of August 9 began shortly before America exploded its second nuclear bomb over the city of Nagasaki (which took place later on the same day). It followed, however, an early-morning interception of this Soviet-issued message:

With the defeat and capitulation of Hitlerite Germany, Japan remains the only great Axis power continuing the war.

With the rejection by the Japanese Government of the 26 July demand of the United States, Great Britain and China, for the unconditional surrender of the Japanese armed forces, the proposal of the Japanese Government to the Soviet Union with regard to mediation in the Far East loses its basis. In view of Japan's refusal to surrender, the Allied nations have submitted to the Soviet Government a proposal that it join the war against Japanese aggression, in order to hasten the end of the conflict, reduce the number of victims, and contribute to the early restoration of universal peace.

The Soviet Government, fulfilling its obligations to its Allies, has accepted this proposal by the Allied nations and has joined in their declaration of July 26. The Soviet Government considers that a policy such as it has adopted is the only means of expediting the return of peace, freeing the several peoples from further sacrifices and suffering and helping the Japanese nation avoid the dangers and destruction suffered by Germany after her refusal to surrender unconditionally.

For the foregoing reasons, the Soviet Government declares that as of tomorrow, 9 August, a state of war will exist between the Soviet Union and Japan. (See "Soviet Entry into War," MacArthur Reports, Volume 2, Chapter 20, page 708 of the online version.)

After numerous meetings among Japan's high-ranking officials—including input from Emperor Hirohito who wanted his country to end the war—Japan unconditionally surrendered.

Although most Westerners have always believed that Japan surrendered because of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs, there is another point-of-view. Stalin's entry into the war also made a significant difference. C. Peter Chen explains why in the "Epilogue" of his "Manchurian Strategic Offensive" article (maintained at the World War II Database):

Though most westerners believed that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the events that drove Japan to surrender, the atomic bombs were actually only part of the equation. Historians such as Tsuyoshi Hasegawa and Dan van der Vat argued that the Soviet declaration of war was as important a factor, if not more so, in the Japanese decision to capitulate.

During the last months of the war, it had been evident that the Japanese, not knowing the secret agreement for the Soviet Union to declare war on Japan, were seeking Soviet assistance as a neutral power to negotiate surrender terms with the western Allies. With the seemingly neutral Soviet Union suddenly changing face and tearing up the non-aggression pact, Japan suddenly lost its last hope, which affected the Japanese psyche tremendously.

After the war, Hirota was charged with (and convicted of) war crimes. After he was sentenced to death, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court (in a case called Koki Hirota v General of the Army MacArthur).

The Supreme Court held that it had no power to interfere with the proceedings, held in Japan, which had found Hirota guilty. He was executed at Sugamo Prison on the 23rd of December, 1948.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Nov 20, 2019

Media Credits

Image, described above, online courtesy government of Japan via Japan's National Diet Library.  Call number:  Constitutional Government Documents Collection, #1142



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"Koki Hirota and Stalin's Declaration of War against Japan" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Nov 20, 2019.
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