How Kishi Nobusuke got the US-Japan security treaty

By Mark J. Ravina, University of Texas

In June 1960, Japanese Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke faced a diplomatic and public relations disaster. US President Dwight Eisenhower’s press secretary James C. Hagerty had arrived at Haneda Airport to coordinate the final details of Eisenhower’s upcoming visit, the first-ever visit to Japan by a sitting US president. . And yet, what was seen as the long-awaited triumph of Kishi’s career had turned into a disaster. Read on to find out why.

An image of dignitaries signing an international treaty.
The new US-Japan security treaty would replace the old 1951 treaty (US Department of State/Public domain)

The New US-Japan Security Treaty

The new US-Japan security treaty was to be the high point of Kishi Nobusuke’s career. It would replace the earlier 1951 treaty, concluded while Japan was still under US occupation.

Circumstances in 1960 were different from those in 1951. The new partnership would signal the re-emergence of Japan as a fully sovereign nation and as a trusted partner of the United States.

But things didn’t go as planned. As Hagerty drove from the airport, student radicals and communists broke through the airport fence and surrounded his car. They jumped on the roof, sang the Communist International anthem, chanted “Hagerty go home” and smashed car windows and fenders.

The violence was more theatrical than destructive. The protesters made no effort to get into the car and Hagerty was not injured. But he ended up trapped in a car that was pelted with stones for an hour, until a US Navy helicopter arrived to extract him.

The anti-treaty movement

Hagerty concluded that a presidential visit would be politically unwise and potentially dangerous. It was canceled and 10 days later Nobusuke announced that he would step down as Prime Minister.

The fact is that many factors gave rise to the anti-treaty movement. Factors such as the lure of neutrality, Soviet supremacy in the space race, problems with bases, and Nobusuke’s own past – all of these factors began to push Japanese opinion away from the treaty.

This article comes directly from the content of the video series The rise of modern Japan. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Chaos in the diet

Across the country, rallies and petitions against the treaty were growing, with millions of signatures arriving at the Diet.

In the end, Nobusuke locked himself away. As Eisenhower was due to travel to Japan, the US State Department kept asking if everything was okay. He replied that everything was fine. But on May 19, he called for a vote to extend the Diet’s session time – that extra time would be used to vote on the treaty itself.

The opposition did not have the votes to block the extension, but they believed that public opinion was changing direction. Thus, opponents of the treaty sat in front of the Diet President’s desk so that he could not leave and reach the rostrum. By non-violent and unparliamentary tactics, they blocked the vote until 11 p.m., when the speaker – an ally of Kishi – called the police and had the entire opposition executed.

Japan’s most prominent intellectual, Maruyama Masao, gave a hugely influential speech in the Diet. (Image: Green Frog/Public Domain)

Treaty Approved

The opposition having gone, the speaker called the Diet to order and proceeded to vote to extend the session. The session being extended, a vote was called on the treaty itself. It was approved. Nobusuke had won. It was a classic Pyrrhic victory. Nobusuke had won the battle and lost the war.

The perspective of what had just happened was horrible. The opposition had tried to paint Nobusuke as an unrepentant warmonger, and he gave them the perfect picture: the police physically expelling the opposition from the Diet.

Sentencing Kishi Nobusuke

All major Japanese newspapers have condemned Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke for acting like an autocrat – even the Nikkei, the Japanese equivalent of the wall street journal.

Japan’s leading intellectual, Maruyama Masao, gave a hugely influential speech declaring that the issue was no longer the treaty but Japan’s survival as a democracy. He said, “If you have a shred of reason and conscience, you have no choice but to join us and stand up to erase this stain from Japan’s political history.”

At this point, Nobusuke was politically dead. He didn’t know it yet, but he was finished.

And yet, with Nobusuke’s departure, the anti-treaty movement had collapsed, having achieved a key goal: the defeat of Nobusuke. But, ironically, he had completely failed at the second, the end of the treaty.

Common Questions About How Kishi Nobusuke Got the US-Japan Security Treaty Approval

Q: What factors gave rise to the anti-treaty movement in Japan?

The factors that gave rise to the anti-treaty movement were many, such as the lure of neutrality, Soviet supremacy in the space race, problems with bases, and Kishi Nobusuke’s own past.

Q: Not having the necessary votes to block the expansionwhat did the opposition do?

The opposition did not have the votes to block the extension, but they believed that public opinion was changing direction. Thus, the opponents of the treaty sat down before the Diet president’s office so that he cannot get out and reach the podium. Using non-violent and unparliamentary tactics, they blocked the vote until 11 p.m., when the speaker – an ally of Kishi Nobusuke – called the police and had the entire opposition executed.

Q: What was the response from the media and newspapers?

All major Japanese newspapers have condemned the Prime Minister, Kishi Nobusukefor acting like an autocrat – even the Nikkei, the Japanese equivalent of the wall street journal.

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