What was the role of Japanese Emperor Hirohito in World War II?

After Emperor Hirohito announced Japan’s surrender to the Allies to end World War II on August 15, 1945, many around the world fervently hoped that he would soon be tried as a Class A war criminal for crimes against peace. But this never happened. Instead, General Hideki Tojo and 27 imperial army officers and government officials were indicted, while Hirohito was allowed to remain on the throne and remain in power until his death in 1989.

During those decades following the war, Hirohito portrayed himself as a weak king who had no say in how the war was conducted. Scholars regularly debated this issue, and many agreed that he was innocent. Today experts largely believe that it played a large role in Japan’s role during World War II.

“Hirohito knew exactly what was going on,” says Dr. Anika Colfer, assistant professor of East Asian history at Florida State University. “His innocence was a later fantasy made by America.”

Who was Hirohito?

Michinomiya Hirohito was born in Tokyo on April 29, 1901, the first son of Japanese Crown Prince Yoshihito, who later became Emperor Taisho. Educated in Japan, Hirohito was a microbiologist who later developed an interest in marine biology. In 1921, Hirohito became the first Japanese crown prince to travel to Europe. There, he was particularly fascinated by the freedom and informality of the English royal family.

After returning home, Hirohito’s father retired due to mental illness, and Hirohito was appointed prince to the throne, a role that allowed him to do business in his father’s place. In 1924, he married Princess Nagako Kuni, with whom he eventually had seven children. After his father’s death in 1926, Hirohito became Emperor of Japan. He was 25 years old.

Hirohito’s early era

As emperor, Hirohito was considered a manifestation of God, and thus the nation’s highest spiritual authority, a concept adopted by the Japanese in 1868. He was also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Japan was in the midst of a violent and turbulent period when Hirohito became emperor in 1926 – ironic, given his reign is so named. Shuwa, which means “shining peace” or “enlightened harmony”. And things will get worse.

Although a small pro-democracy movement was just beginning in Japan, militarism was also on the rise. The economy was deteriorating, spoiling everyone’s mood, and Japan and China were in conflict. This Sino-Japanese dispute culminated in the Japanese perpetration of two great atrocities: the Manchurian Incident and the Rape of Nanking. Previously, the Japanese blew up a railway and blamed the Chinese bandits, who used it as a pretext to seize Manchuria and establish a puppet state. In the latter, the Japanese army killed about 200,000 people in and around Nanking, and raped many women. And then, in 1940, the Empire of Japan entered World War II with the signing of the Triple Pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, and formed an alliance with the Axis.

Some historians believe that Hirohito was marginally involved in all of these skirmishes, if at all. And they point out the fact that Hirohito did not want to enter World War II, preferring diplomacy. However, Hirohito eventually confirmed Japan’s plan to attack Pearl Harbor. He also ran a war room within the Imperial Palace, on occasion giving instructions to his military commanders and awarding service decorations to Dr. Shiro Ishii, who led the gruesome medical experiment team during the war as horrific as Joseph’s German team. Mengele.

“Hirohito held weekly military briefings, met with members of the Special Council and had his advisors,” Colfer says. “He was very much a part of it.”

Near the end of the war, when Japanese leaders were arguing about the allies’ unconditional surrender, it was Hirohito who made the final decision to surrender.

Hirohito’s life after the war

If Hirohito was involved, how did he avoid prosecution for war crimes? It was thanks to General Douglas MacArthur, who was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) in September 1945, during the US-led Allied occupation of Japan. MacArthur’s job was to help stabilize the country, and one of his first acts was to decide whether Hirohito should be tried as a war criminal. Despite arguments on both sides, MacArthur decided that he should not be charged and tried. He said Japan would be ungovernable if the Allies sued the Emperor of Citizens and Spiritual Leader.

“It was very important for the Americans to develop a positive relationship with Japan in the postwar period,” Culver says. “If Hirohito went to trial, there was concern that it would lead to divisions in Japan, and the re-emergence of leftists and communism.”

In addition, it was in the interest of the United States for Japan to turn into a democratic bulwark against communism, as the country was besieged by communism in countries such as China and the former Soviet Union. Culver says there has also been some excitement going on.

“We had Japanese-American internment camps in America, but we didn’t have German-American internment camps,” she says. “There was an idea that the Japanese were very different from us, and they had to be treated differently.”

So Hirohito was left alone. A post-war constitution was drafted leaving the monarchy in place but the emperor declared a symbolic position. The idea of ​​the emperor as a deity was denied, and political power was granted to elected representatives. Culver says US officials have begun to rebrand Hirohito as a pacifist and democratic figure.

In 2018, memoirs from Shinobu Kobayashi, the imperial ruler of Hirohito, revealed that the emperor was agonizing over the fact that people were blaming him for atrocities committed by Japan during the war and previous conflict with China. But while he may have felt some real guilt and repentance, his critics argue that Hirohito should not have been abandoned again in 1945.

They say that this decision actually absolved the nation of its guilt in these events. This is part of the reason why Japanese textbooks today omit mention of Japan’s brutality in Asia, and why there is no collective sense of guilt for Japan’s atrocities in World War II, as there is in Germany.

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