Of course, the American side is only half the story, and perhaps not even the most important half. What of the Japanese? What made them finally surrender even after two atomic bombs did not? More than seventy-five years later, Emperor Hirohito remains an enigmatic figure, wrapped in veils by palace courtiers who venerated him as a deity. He revered his ancestors, but he was, in truth, a very mortal being who was not sure which frightened him more—the American B-29 bombers or his own rebellious army officers.
Fortunately for history, a proud, brave, stubborn man, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo, did more than any other person to bring Japan's ruling Supreme War Council to accept surrender in the apocalyptic spring and summer of 1945. I draw on unpublished diary entries provided by his grandsons to tell his story here as well.
Though Stimson and Spaatz never met Togo—and probably knew very little, if anything, about him—these three men became unlikely partners in averting a cataclysm of death beyond anything the world has ever seen or, one hopes, will ever experience. It was a close-run thing.
"The terrible," "the awful," "the diabolical"
Henry Stimson, The Secretary Of war, is known for his resolute personal integrity. As a New York lawyer in the early 1900s, he had "stood outside the Wall Street group," as he once explained it, and "did not adopt the methods of the others." He could, and did, turn down clients he thought were likely to be found culpable, no matter how large their potential fees. "I can just hear the gates of the jail clanking shut behind you," he told one group of corporate investors who had come with a scheme to evade the antitrust laws. Stimson has always cared more about his own probity and public service than about amassing wealth. Nonetheless, he is wealthy.
Stimson is a nineteenth-century gentleman contending with the forces of twentieth-century global warfare. He is not lacking in confidence. He is a devout Christian and an equally ardent practitioner of power politics. When the contradictions gnaw at him, he is determined not to show it. Though rich from representing clients with private wealth, he served as a trust-busting prosecutor for President Theodore Roosevelt, as an unapologetic colonial administrator and negotiator for President Coolidge, as secretary of state to President Hoover, and as secretary of war twice—first for President Taft, and now for Franklin Roosevelt.
In Washington, Stimson lives in a spacious, airy, architecturally unremarkable house called Woodley, set on eighteen acres of grass and woods, high on a hill above Rock Creek Park, a couple of miles from the White House. In 1929, newly appointed to be secretary of state in the Hoover administration, Stimson bought Woodley for $800,000, a small fortune at the time.[*1] He was able to afford the house because, on the advice of a shrewd cousin, he had sold his overvalued shares before the stock market crashed in October of that year.
Stimson enjoys Woodley in part because the house comes with a stable for horses. Once he had mounted chargers with hard mouths and ridden to the hounds. Now, at the age of seventy-seven, he guides a Tennessee walking horse into the park, trotting along for ten or twenty miles some evenings, "refreshing rides," he writes in his diary.
In his high-ceilinged bedroom at Woodley on this, the first night of March 1945, Stimson cannot sleep. He takes a sedative, though he does not want to. He does not drink alcohol, and he prefers treating his various ailments, real and imagined—a bum leg, a sore hip, a nervous stomach, an aching tooth—with regular exercise. In addition to a riding stable, Woodley has a platform for deck tennis and, for those evenings when Stimson is truly worn out, a clipped green for tossing lawn bowls.
Stimson has not slept well for many years. He is habitually an insomniac. He was sleepy on the day of Pearl Harbor and sometimes struggles not to doze off at councils of war at the Pentagon. Now, after four years of willing himself to build and oversee the most powerful military force in the history of mankind, his eyes are pools of fatigue.
With short bangs parted in the middle and old-fashioned suits buttoned to the top, Stimson looks like a frumpy schoolmaster. His posture is always erect, as if he is standing at attention, on alert. He has been, in a manner of speaking, on guard almost all his life.
His mother died when Stimson was only eight years old. Grief-stricken, his father had taken refuge in his work, as a doctor at a New York hospital. Stimson was sent to live nearby with his grandparents and a maiden aunt. At the age of thirteen, he was dispatched to boarding school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts.
The school known as Andover was, in the 1880s, anything but posh. Boys were charged with removing their own wastewater, and the dormitories stank. Football was the newly popular sport, but Stimson was narrow-shouldered and slight. He preferred to hunt small animals with a shotgun in the surrounding woods. He chased ever bigger game as a young man, sometimes hunting grizzly bears alone.