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CIA papers reveal 1950s Japan coup plot

by Joseph Cole­man
ASSOCIATED PRESS [1]

TOKYO — Declas­si­fied doc­u­ments reveal that Japan­ese ultra­na­tion­al­ists with ties to U.S. mil­i­tary intel­li­gence plot­ted to over­throw the Japan­ese gov­ern­ment and assas­si­nate the prime min­is­ter in 1952.

The scheme — which was aban­doned — was con­coct­ed by mil­i­tarists and sus­pect­ed war crim­i­nals who had worked for U.S. occu­pa­tion author­i­ties after World War II, accord­ing to CIA records reviewed by The Asso­ci­at­ed Press. The plot­ters want­ed a right-wing gov­ern­ment that would rearm Japan.

The CIA files, declas­si­fied in 2005 and pub­li­cized by the U.S. Nation­al Archives in Jan­u­ary, detail a plot to oust the pro‑U.S. prime min­is­ter, Shigeru Yoshi­da, and install a more hawk­ish gov­ern­ment led by Ichi­ro Hatoya­ma.

The CIA, in papers released under an act of the U.S. Con­gress to declas­si­fy doc­u­ments relat­ed to Japan­ese war crimes, said the plot­ters were led by Takushi­ro Hat­tori, a for­mer pri­vate sec­re­tary to Hide­ki Tojo, the wartime prime min­is­ter hanged as a war crim­i­nal in 1948.

Two CIA doc­u­ments said the plot report­ed­ly had the sup­port of 500,000 peo­ple in Japan, and that the group planned to use a con­tact who con­trolled a fac­tion inside the Nation­al Safe­ty Agency — a pre­cur­sor to the Defense Min­istry — to help launch the coup.

The files reviewed by the AP strong­ly sug­gest the Amer­i­cans were unaware of the plot until after it had been dropped. The plot was devel­oped after the U.S. post­war occu­pa­tion of Japan end­ed in April 1952, and the CIA files say Amer­i­can finan­cial sup­port for Hat­tori’s group had dried up by then.

Still, the doc­u­men­tary evi­dence of the plot illus­trates the vio­lent poten­tial of the right-wing, anti-com­mu­nist cabal that had worked under the U.S. occu­pa­tion author­i­ty’s “G‑2” intel­li­gence wing in the ear­ly days of the Cold War in the late 1940s and ear­ly 50s. The CIA oper­at­ed sep­a­rate­ly from the G‑2.

“Since the begin­ning of July 1952, plans for a coup d’e­tat have been ini­ti­at­ed among a group of ex-purgees includ­ing for­mer mil­i­tary offi­cers. The leader of the group is ex-Colonel Hat­tori Takushi­ro,” said an Oct. 31, 1952 report, which claimed “this report is the first to men­tion a def­i­nite right­ist plan involv­ing vio­lence.”

“The orig­i­nal plan of the group was to engi­neer a coup d’e­tat, includ­ing the assas­si­na­tion of Prime Min­is­ter Yoshi­da Shigeru on account of his hos­tile atti­tude toward depurgees and nation­al­ists,” the CIA doc­u­ment said.

Accord­ing to the doc­u­ment, Hat­tori col­league Masanobu Tsu­ji talked the group out of the coup, urg­ing it to focus instead on coun­ter­ing the Social­ist Par­ty. The files say the group then decid­ed it would not stage a coup as long as Yoshi­da’s con­ser­v­a­tive Lib­er­al Par­ty remained in pow­er.

How­ev­er, the group still con­sid­ered vio­lence an option, the files say.

“The group is con­sid­er­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of some minor assas­si­na­tion attempt in lieu of a coup d’e­tat,” the Oct. 31, 1952 doc­u­ment said.

Hat­tori and oth­ers had worked under the aegis of Maj. Gen. Charles Willough­by, the anti-com­mu­nist G‑2 chief. Dur­ing the occu­pa­tion, Willough­by was con­sid­ered the sec­ond most pow­er­ful Amer­i­can after his boss, Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur.

Some group mem­bers were con­sid­ered choice war crimes tri­al tar­gets after the war.

Tsu­ji had been want­ed for involve­ment in the Bataan Death March of 1942, in which thou­sands of Amer­i­cans and Fil­ipinos per­ished. Anoth­er group asso­ciate was Yoshio Kodama, a war prof­i­teer and mob boss who was deeply involved in procur­ing mate­ri­als — often ille­gal­ly — for the Japan­ese mil­i­tary machine.

Nei­ther of them was pros­e­cut­ed for war crimes.

The Japan­ese mil­i­tarists joined U.S.-supported mis­sions to spy on com­mu­nists in Japan, infil­trate agents into Sovi­et and North Kore­an ter­ri­to­ry, and recruit Japan­ese mer­ce­nar­ies to pro­tect Tai­wan from com­mu­nist forces in main­land Chi­na, declas­si­fied doc­u­ments show.

The CIA files, how­ev­er, say the oper­a­tions were rid­dled with intel­li­gence leaks, hob­bled by a lack of com­pe­tent agents, and deeply com­pro­mised by rival­ries among the right­ists them­selves. The agents’ top pri­or­i­ties, the doc­u­ments say, were prof­its and an even­tu­al resur­gence of a mil­i­tarist Japan.

The assas­si­na­tion plot detailed in the CIA files came at a dif­fi­cult time for Hat­tori’s group.

The depar­ture of Willough­by from Japan in 1951 as the U.S. occu­pa­tion wound down deprived the right­ists of their lead­ing Amer­i­can patron and pay­mas­ter. Mean­while, Yoshi­da was open­ly hos­tile to Hat­tori’s push for rear­ma­ment.

“The gov­ern­ment atti­tude toward the Hat­tori group has been increas­ing­ly antag­o­nis­tic, and the group has lost influ­ence since the depar­ture of Gen­er­al Willough­by,” said a CIA doc­u­ment dat­ed April 18, 1952.

Yoshi­da was pushed out of office peace­ful­ly in 1954 and replaced by Hatoya­ma, but the ultra­right­ist dream of res­ur­rect­ing a mil­i­tarist Japan nev­er hap­pened. The 1947 paci­fist con­sti­tu­tion bars Japan from war­fare and has nev­er been amend­ed.