By: Byron McSutton | June 2, 2013 | views
November 10, 1941
From his seat in the President’s office, the Minister of Government Luis Flores observed the entry of the Japanese envoys. The usually affable ambassador Toki Ichimonji looked stern, and he was accompanied –as in the previous meeting– by the recently arrived naval attaché Terumoto Kanada, whose long face looked like the personification of seriousness.
Flores had left behind all the doubts that he had had regarding the decisions made barely an hour before. When the president –the leader– decided something, it was the duty of a good fascist to support him unconditionally. Consequently, he greeted the Japanese somberly, but politely. Circumstances had changed substantially in the last few hours, so that it was now Peru that sought the cooperation of the Empire of Japan. So this is how it feels to make a pact with the devil, he mused. But the enemy of my enemy is my friend, he reminded himself, rather bitterly. The time to look for friends had indeed arrived.
“To what do I owe this invitation, Mr. President?” asked the ambassador once the formalities were done with. “How may the Empire of Japan be of assistance?” There were many things that Flores could object to about the Japanese, but the ambassador’s Spanish was not among them.
“Mr. Ambassador, we want to find out if your government’s proposal still stands,” answered Luis Sánchez Cerro after a moment. Luis Flores kept his eyes on the president. At 52 years old, he still had the vigor of ten years before. Despite his short stature and graying hair, he always dominated any group of men. A fine example of the Peruvian race.
Ichimonji looked at Kanada, who nodded. “Yes, Mr. President, the Empire of Japan and the Imperial Navy are still interested in cooperating with the Republic of Peru,” the ambassador replied.
Luis Flores could see the relief on Chancellor José de la Riva-Agüero’s face. He nodded silently, adjusting his glasses and running a hand over his bald head. Although Riva-Agüero was a solid fascist, Flores disliked his insistence on sporting a moustache in these modern times. Even worse was his aristocratic insistence that he be addressed as the Marquis de Montealegre de Aulestia –but not in the presence of the president, of course– which seemed a complete contradiction of the egalitarian principles of fascism.
“May I inquire, however, as to what prompted this change of heart?” asked the ambassador. Flores discreetly turned his head towards the President and the Chancellor as if to say See? These yellow-skinned monkeys can’t help but be cunning bastards.
Sánchez Cerro nodded at Admiral Héctor Mercado, commander in chief of the Peruvian Navy. Flores had seen how the proud admiral had fallen from the lofty heights of hubris from when the Navy practically took the port of Guayaquil single-handedly, down to the depths of near nervous collapse after the recent incident. At least he had the good sense to maintain his composure now. “Mr. Ambassador, last night we lost contact with the transport BAP Rímac, which was shipping supplies to Guayaquil. One of our patrol planes located the wreckage a few hours ago. As of now, we have not found any survivors. We believe that it was attacked by a U.S. submarine,” said the admiral.
The ambassador and the attaché quickly exchanged surprised words in Japanese. “Mr. President, allow me to express my deepest condolences for the Peruvian lives lost in this treacherous attack,” he said in Spanish. “You can count on the full support of the Empire of Japan to punish this crime by our common enemy.” The naval attaché nodded his agreement.
“If we were to go to war against the United States, what type of Japanese support could we expect?” asked the Army’s commander, Field Marshal Óscar R. Benavides. The rotund, mustached military officer had been promoted to the honorary rank after his role in lightning campaign against Ecuador a few months prior. His taste for medals and showy uniforms offended Flores’s austere aesthetic, but he tolerated it to the extent that the fatherland needed experienced and successful military men such as him.
“Excuse me, distinguished Field Marshal,” Ichimonji quickly replied, “but I was under the impression that you were already in a state of war with the United States.” Benavides blinked rapidly, and Flores could see the Field Marshal begin to redden. He did not know if the reaction was provoked by fury or embarrassment. The Minister of Government crossed his fingers in front of his face to hide a bitter smile. Sons of bitches. Now they’re the ones who’ve got us by the balls.
“But even so,” the ambassador continued before Benavides could respond, “the Empire of Japan will give all the assistance that is in its power to give. In our first meeting, we gave you the scope of the general plan. The specific details can be ironed out in the next few days, once we coordinate with Tokyo and the high command of the Imperial Navy.
“Excellent,” Flores intervened, trying to relieve the tension. “As the plan requires a maximum of secrecy, we have decided to withhold the cause of the sinking of the Rímac. We do not want to tip off the yanks.”
“Will it be possible to keep such important news a secret?” asked Ichimonji.
“Mr. Ambassador, in Peru, only patriotic journalists are allowed to operate; therefore, they will not publish anything that harms the country’s interests. I myself am taking care of the issue,” the Minister of Government answered, with a tone that indicated that he brooked no disobedience when he ordered something done. Those who did not comply would have to answer to him and his Revolutionary Legion. “The truth will become known when it will cause a greater impact.”
Truth was a term that could mean different things for Flores. He would not have been able to keep Sánchez Cerro’s regime as stable and popular as he had in these turbulent times, and overcome so many challenges, had he not had a rather flexible interpretation of the word.
Both the Ambassador and naval attaché nodded. “That’s very good,” replied the ambassador while he appeared to rise. “Now, Mr. President, we should take our leave to communicate with our government. Every hour is vital.”
The President signaled that they wait. “One moment, Mr. Ambassador, please wait a few minutes. We have not finished talking.” Although the abruptness of the intervention made Riva-Agüero raise his eyebrows slightly, Flores smiled inside. If Peru wanted to avoid ending up as Japan’s lapdog, they should get an early start in not letting the Japanese dictate the terms of their alliance.
“We have something we want to show you, which complements the initial Japanese proposal,” continued the president. “Much as you have seen fit to inform us of your plans, we believe that it would be useful if you and Captain Kanada were aware of ours, so that together we might achieve the maximum impact possible.” The naval attaché leaned slightly forward in a gesture that Luis Flores attributed to either interest or condescension.
“Admiral Mercado, Colonel Castilla,” continued the president, “if you please.”
Colonel Castilla, an intelligence analyst and planner, took the floor and began his presentation. Flores looked impassively at the officer who seemed to have come from a university rather than a military academy. His occasional pauses to cough into his handkerchief also made the Minister uncomfortable. Of all our officers, we had to show them Nicanor “Consumptive” Castilla. They had very different ways of looking at things; while Consumptive Castilla looked for convoluted solutions, Flores preferred the application of concentrated force. Furthermore, the colonel’s puerile objections to the impending war, not to mention his stubborn refusal to join the party, made him suspicious in Flores’ eyes.
Admiral Mercado continued with the presentation, giving specific details of what they had prepared for the first hours of the war. Flores could relax somewhat. Mercado was a reliable man, unlike the naval officers purged in 1936.
The Minister of Government smiled discreetly after a few minutes of the presentation. If Kanada had been skeptical at first, he definitely was not by the time Mercado had finished.
“Good!” he repeated a few times before expanding his opinions in Japanese with the Ambassador.
“We will communicate with Tokyo, but Captain Kanada thinks this is feasible. He will be in touch with your staff soon, Admiral Mercado. Your proposal is very bold, which surprised us,” Ichimonji briefly summarized.
Luis Flores subtly sought eye contact with the President. When he did, he nodded slightly and smiled. Very good. It is key that the Japanese know from the very start that neither Peru nor the Revolutionary Union will be their puppets.
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