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ITO Miyoji's Movement to Oppose Japan's Withdrawal from the League of Nations

On February 24, 1933 (Showa 8), the General Assembly of the League of Nations voted to censure Japan over the issue of Manchuria, recognizing Japan's special rights while also declaring that China had sovereignty over the region. The League's position "merely meant a restoration to the situation that had existed before September 1931", but given that Japan had already recognized Manchukuo formally through the Japan-Manchukuo Protocol, it was difficult to find a compromise.

The problem had been referred to the nineteen-Nation Committee on 9 December 1932 (Showa 7), and because Japan's weak position was already apparent at that point, by late January of 1933, the clamor to withdraw from the League arose from all sectors of society. It became practically a nationwide phenomenon, involving those from the Government and the opposition parties cutting across ideological left-right divide. Amidst the clamor, however, there was one person who worked against withdrawal from the League of Nations.

ITO Miyoji [image]
ITO Miyoji
From "Kinsei Meishi Shasin.1"
("NDL Digital Collections")

That man was ITO Miyoji, ITO Hirobumi's confidante, one of the drafters of the Meiji Constitution. ITO had found a secure place in the Privy Council since 1899 (Meiji32), and was, after the era of party cabinets in 1918, feared as the "Devil's Gate of the Cabinet." He toppled the 1st WAKATSUKI Cabinet over the issue of the emergency Imperial decree to enable Japan to cope with the world-wide financial depression. He brought the TANAKA Gi'ichi Cabinet to the brink of dissolution over the issue of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 which stipulated the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy. He had kept a low profile after suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of the HAMAGUCHI Cabinet on the London Naval Treaty; and here we have been in opposition to the withdrawal from the League of Nations.

ITO learned over the radio on the night of 6 february that the nineteen-Nation Committee's members had solidified their position not to recognize Manchukuo. He was so distressed that he could not sleep at all that night. When FUTAGAMI Heiji, Chief Secretary of the Privy Council called on ITO on 9 February, he was told to tell the Cabinet about the "danger of withdrawing without a good reason." FUTAGAMI had been Chief Secretary of the Privy Council since 1916 (Taisho 5), and was known as both the "Pillar of the Privy Council" and the "Cancer of the Privy Council."

This was the beginning of ITO's attempt to block Japan's withdrawal from the League of Nations. He spoke to MOCHIZUKI Keisuke of the Seiyukai on 10 Feburary; on the 11th, to the nationalist SUGIYAMA Shigemaru (father of the novelist, YUMENO Kyusaku); on the 12th, to NISHIOKA Takejiro a Seiyukai house of Representatives member; on the 13th, to OKA Minoru, vice-president of the Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shinbun-sha (and father of the political scientist, OKA Yoshitake), and the industrialist YAMASHITA Kamesaburo; on the 14th, to Seiyukai's OKAZAKI Kunisuke (younger cousin of MUTSU Munemitsu). To them to condenned Japan's diplomatic failures, while urging the case for Japan to pursue a military buildup, particularly the need to rapidly build up the submarine force. ITO was not concerned about the issue of the recognition of Manchukuo per se, but instead was more distressed by the military crisis brought about by Japan's international isolation.

Up to this point, ITO's criticisms had focused on the Government's failed diplomacy, but on 14 February he requested ISHIZUKA Eizo of the House of Peers who had called on him to admonish Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal MAKINO Nobuaki that "it is not permissable to withdraw from the League just because of a temporary fit of anger". From that moment, ITO'S movement opposing Japan's withdrawal from the League of Nations began in earnest. On the same day, he requested the diplomat YOSHIDA Shigeru who called on him to tell Foreign Minister UCHIDA to "work through Great Britain to arrange for a year's grace period". Great Britain had been exploring ways to achieve compromise with Japan in order to preserve its own rights in China, and ITO seemed to be pinning his hopes on that. He met his old friend and rival, Privy Councilor KANEKO Kentaro on 15 Febrary and urged him to approach the Privy Councilors, KURINO Shin'ichiro and KURODA Nagashige, to get them to oppose the withdrawal. ITO said that he would also personally contact HARA Yoshimichi and MOTODA Hajime on the matter.

On 16 February, at YAMASHITA Kamesaburo's behest Navy Minister OSUMI Mineo called on ITO, and at their meeting, ITO expounded his opposition to the withdrawal from the League of Nations, saying that Japan stood to lose its mandated territories in the South Pacific. OSUMI responded to ITO's proposal that to seek a year's grace period from the League of Nations, was almost hopeless of success, given that the Japanese Army's Jehol campaign in northern China was impending. ITO then urged OSUMI that he beprepared to resign and oppose the withdrawal. ITO argued his position with House of Peers member KODAMA Hideo (oldest son of KODAMA Gentaro) and TAWARA Magoichi of the Minseito on 17 February. The following day, KODAMA relayed ITO's views to Prime Minister SAITO

OKA called on ITO on the 18th to give him OSUMI's opinions. OSUMI said that even were to resign, it would only result in confusion and discord in the nation, so that he might have to disobey ITO's admonishment. In other words, he could not oppose the withdrawal as ITO had wished. ITO, who had expected the Navy's support was considerably disappointed. War Minister ARAKI Sadao called on the 19th. ITO told him that in the realm of diplomatic policy Japan should have played for time which could have been used to draw concessions from China, and repeated his argument to build up the submarine force. He also touched upon the pending Jehol campaign which is bound to raise problems for Japan so that it would be unwise and rash for Japan to recall its delegates, withdraw from the League of Nations. ARAKI did not seem to express any special opinions, but for all practical purposes, he did not agree with ITO's.

It appears that ITO did not aim only at the Privy Council, but by working on a wide range of influential people in the political and government sectors, ignite the latent anti-withdrawal sentiment. By so doing, ITO sought to influence the thinking of the single person who held the key to the final decision: the Genro SAIONJI Kinmochi. ITO's argument against the withdrawal was that it would serve Japan's interest better to remain in the League and plead its case there. FUTAGAMI had pointed out "In the hard and soft divide, it may be said that the anti-withdrawal position may be designated the hard line." (KURATOMI Yuzaburo's Diary, 15 February 1933). Therefore ITO's aim was not "conciliatory" diplomacy as a "pro-Britsh-American" position.

On 20 February, ITO listened to SAIONJI speak on the radio, and got the impression that he was "blindly following the proposals of the Cabinet". He concluded that, "from top to bottom, they are all so incensed with the League's attitude that they have lost all self-control, and are charging forward withdrawal". He decided that since he had done all he could, having already warned the Prime Minister, not to mention the Army and Navay Ministers, he "resolved not to touch this issue any more in the future," and with this abandoned his anti-withdrawal movement, turning his back on it.

ITO, a proud man, probably disliked having his political pride hurt by a dispute in which he had little chance of winning. This was the final faint and transitory light emitted by ITO whose political life spanned half a century.

Miyoji Ito's diary ( Transcript )February, 1933 (Showa 8)Constitutional Government Documents Collection, #632-1

Miyoji Itho's diary ( Transcript ) February, 1933(Showa 8) Constitutional Government Documents Collection, #632-1[image]
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