176 Commonwealth Government to Addison

Cablegram 229 CANBERRA, 11 August 1945


Your D.1408. [1] You will have now received our telegram 225 [2] which states our general impression of the very difficult and important problem involved. The essentials are in our view that the Emperor should have no immunity from responsibility for Japan's acts of aggression and proved war crimes, that the Emperor should be personally identified with the acceptance of surrender, and that the future of the Imperial throne should be regarded as a question to be decided later by the Japanese people on conditions to be determined.

The attempted Japanese reservation appears to us to be either a device to preserve the Japanese militaristic structure fundamentally unchanged or an endeavour to provoke disunity of view among the Allied powers. We believe it, however, of the first importance among the war aims against Japan that the present Imperial-Militarist system be not only discredited but completely broken and that clear recognition be given to the supreme Allied authority over Japan.

If the present system remains unaffected the Japanese people will be unable to appreciate their defeat. The visible dethronement of the system is a primary means of shaking the faith of the Japanese in the heavenly character of the Emperor in whose name they have committed many atrocities. Unless the system goes the Japanese will remain unchanged and recrudescence of aggression in the Pacific will only be postponed to a later generation.

At your request and that of the United States Government we postponed publication of the details of the war crimes and atrocities revealed in the report by Chief Justice Webb which is now before the War Crimes Commission [3]. A summary of this is now being made, but in the meantime we would ask you to consult with Lord Wright, the Australian Representative on the Commission, as to the general nature of the evidence. In our view it discloses a deliberate system of terrorism and atrocity which must have been known to the supreme authorities in Japan not excluding the Emperor. It would be a very difficult matter to justify discrimination in this respect as between Hitler and his associates on the one hand and Hirohito and his associates on the other.

For these reasons we are opposed to the acceptance of surrender on the understanding which the Japanese are attempting to attach to the Potsdam terms. Of course a different situation would arise if the Japanese message were interpreted as meaning only a temporary retention of purely formal authority. While the Emperor should be retained at the moment in order that he should be expressly associated with the surrender, it should be clearly understood by the Japanese that this carries no commitment whatever by the Allies and that the person of the Emperor is to be regarded as at the disposal of the Allied Governments in the same way as each and every other person of the surrendering enemy state.

The difficulties we are now confronting are in our submission due partly to the fact that we were not consulted prior to the issue of the Potsdam document [4]. All of us are put in a difficult position because of the lack of personal consultation in these matters, which are of such vital importance to Australia. We are convinced that even the full elaboration of views by telegram is no substitute for frank preliminary consultation.

The Potsdam ultimatum did, however, mean that the only acceptable answer was unconditional surrender, and it appears that the enemy is now trying to impose a condition or else obtain a peace by negotiation. It is inconsistent with well settled policy to agree in advance of surrender to the acceptance of any condition whatsoever.

1 Document 173.

2 Document 171.

3 Formed in London in October 1942. In June 1943 the Commonwealth Govt appointed Webb as a commissioner to inquire into atrocities and breaches of the rules of war committed by Japanese forces in Papua and New Guinea. His report was presented in March 1944. In AWM : 51 [182].

4 Document 163.

[AA : A1838/2, 480/1/12]