I could hardly believe this when I read it! In mitigation I confess that hitherto my knowledge of the Japanese side of WWII was not at all detailed and I had swallowed whole the 'MacArthur Myth' that Hirohito was a rather ineffectual puppet in the hands of a ruthless military clique. Also, I believed that this cabal at the heart of the Japanese government in the late '30s and early '40s was so inflated with arrogance and ambition that all strategic commonsense had deserted them. I nearly fell out of my chair when I read this:
"Six months before Pearl Harbour [my emphasis] Hirohito had had the Naval General Staff make a study of war prospects. When the results were submitted to him, he had ordered that the study be made again by a seperate group of staff officers. The second analysis corroborated the conclusion of the first: that Japan could wage war successfully on the United States of America for eighteen months, or until June of 1943. After that Japan must negotiate a peace or she would gradually lose everything." (*)
Apparently, from the capture of Singapore in February 1942, Hirohito nagged his ministers to take any opportunity to cut a peace deal; he even despatched two seperate peace missions, one Navy, one Army, to Switzerland in order to keep contact with American diplomats. They quickly discovered, to their chagrin, that the Americans had no interest in a peace deal because they were perfectly confident of final victory.
So the Japanese knew at the highest level and from their own analysis that they would lose the war - and yet they still went ahead. It beggars belief and even a passing contemplation of the millions of dead and injured that were to ensue is enough to make grown men weep.
(*) Japan's Imperial Conspiracy by David Bergamini, Heinemann, 1971