Sharp rise in war expenditures; Diet gives tacit approval
How was the Diet functioning when the Sino-Japanese War was threatening to escalate? To answer this question, it is necessary to explain a setback in the party-based cabinet system.
In 1932, one year after the Manchurian Incident, Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai was shot to death in the May 15 Incident, an attempted coup led by young officers of the Army and the Navy who held reformist views. After the incident, the Army strongly opposed the continuation of the party-based cabinet system. Retired Navy Admiral Makoto Saito took the prime minister’s post, and the new Cabinet pursued unity among the military, bureaucrats, political parties and the House of Peers. This policy was followed by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Keisuke Okada.
But the Okada Cabinet was hit by political turmoil in February 1935 over whether the Emperor was an organ of the state and by the February 26 Incident of 1936. The theory of the Emperor as a state organ had given legitimacy to parliament-centered politics. But Rikken Seiyukai (Constitutional Party of Political Friends), also called Seiyukai, opposed it in an effort to overthrow the Cabinet. This was reminiscent of the 1930 tactic of Seiyukai, an opposition party at the time led by Inukai, to strongly criticize the government for infringing on the Emperor’s prerogative of supreme command by signing the London Naval Treaty, a disarmament pact many hotheads in the Navy had wanted to reject. Lawmakers thus themselves helped to weaken the power of the Diet.
The February 26 Incident crushed the possibility of reviving party politics. Criticism of the military by such political party figures as Takao Saito and Kunimatsu Hamada is well-known. But the Diet could not escape changes. “Budgetary deliberations lost substance. Draft bills that the government submitted from the 70th Diet session [that was convened in December 1936] began to pass virtually unanimously.”
In July 1937, immediately after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the 71st special session of the Diet was convened. The government submitted a draft budget with 100 million yen added as additional expenses to handle the incident. At the House of Representatives’ Budget Committee, Chairman Naota Kumagaya proposed to omit hearings on the budget, arguing that the Diet was “facing a period of great importance.” All of the Committee members responded, “No objections.” The budget was passed unanimously with the votes of Rikken Minseito (Constitutional Democratic Party), Seiyukai, Shakai Taishuto (Social Masses Party) and other parties including Daiichi Giin Kurabu, Daini Hikaeshitsu and Tohokai.The committee session opened at 10:21 a.m. and adjourned at 10:52 a.m.
A supplementary budget for an additional 400 million yen, submitted after Japanese troops stationed in China started full-scale attacks in northern China, was also passed after one day’s deliberation. The Diet thus encouraged the government rather than restraining it. In early September, the 72nd extraordinary Diet session was convened. Since a special account for extraordinary military spending was established, military expenditures grew at an accelerated pace. Although a huge military budget totaling about 2 billion yen was submitted, there was little criticism from the Diet. Itaro Ishii, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s East Asian Affairs Bureau, wrote in his diary dated September 8: “The Diet session closed today. I wonder how many people are anticipating that lawmakers will one day feel ashamed to face the public because they cleared the additional budget of 2 billion yen without proper examination. Constitutional politics has succumbed to the saber [military power].”
The 73rd Diet session is also worth remembering. During this session, an extraordinary military budget totaling about 4.8 billion yen was passed. A National Mobilization Law was also passed and enacted. The law entitled the government blanket power to control people’s daily lives and overall business activities. Under the law, the Diet would be deprived of its roles. Shakai Taishuto, a socialist leaning party in the Konoe Cabinet, actively supported the bill. Minseito and Seiyukai initially voiced strong opposition to the bill, saying that it violated the Constitution. But in the end they made an about-face and supported the bill. They did so because they feared that Konoe might dissolve the House of Representatives through irritation with the stalemate in Diet deliberations and call a general election launching a new reformist party.
There were two important episodes concerning the process of Diet deliberations on the key bill. One is known as the “Damare [Shut up!]” incident that took place in March 1938. As Lieutenant Colonel Kenryo Sato of the War Ministry’s Military Affairs Bureau was providing long-winded explanations at a Committee meeting, lawmakers hissed at him, “You’d better stop it,” at which point Sato uttered the words “Shut up!”The incident symbolized the military’s high-handed attitude and the declining power of the Diet. A column in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper noted: “Questioning at the Committee went in circles. The Committee was in a gloomy mood. As evening approached, some clever Committee members left for ozashiki [entertainment]. At this point Lieutenant Colonel Sato got mad about the hissing by Committee members and shouted unexpectedly. Such a thing as a government official yelling at [Diet] Committee members had never before occurred in the sanctuary of the Diet.”
The other episode was a speech made by Suehiro Nishio of Shakai Taishuto, who became Chairman of Minshu Shakaito (Democratic Socialist Party) in the postwar era. In his speech on March 16, Nishio encouraged Konoe, saying, “Like [Italy’s fascist dictator Benito] Mussolini, like [Germany’s Nazi leader Adolf] Hitler or like [Soviet Union leader Josef] Stalin, the nation should boldly advance as required.” Nishio was dismissed after he was called up before the Disciplinary Committee.
From the late 1920s, political parties became willing to do whatever they needed to do in order to take power. There were many pro-military lawmakers who compromised with the military and tried to win its favor. After all, the Diet failed to prevent the expansion of the war although it could have done so by rejecting an extraordinary military budget. By so easily accepting government arguments that the war would be over quickly, the Diet continued to allow war expenditures to grow at an increasing pace.