By Chet Yarbrough
HIROHITO AND THE MAKING OF MODERN JAPAN
By Herbert P. Bix
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Herbert Bix’s book revises a mistaken impression that the Emperor of Japan during WWII was a pacifist fence sitter during the “great” war. Earlier histories inferred that Hirohito was controlled by Japanese military leaders during the war.
Bix documented Emperor Hirohito’s deep involvement in the decision to attack Pearl Harbor and his daily involvement in military decisions to prosecute the war.
The author reveals a conspiracy of silence that included both America’s General MacArthur and the six Japanese generals that were tried, convicted, and hung for “crimes against humanity”. Bix recognizes that some Japanese politicos and foreign leaders demanded Hirohito’s acknowledgement of war crimes but the prevailing sentiment of the Japanese population was to preserve Hirohito’s reign.
The conspiracy of silence emanates from MacArthur’s desire to use Hirohito (as propaganda) to make American occupation of Japan more acceptable to the Japanese population. Japan’s war generals, like Tōjō, are silent because of their loyalty to the emperor and the desire to preserve centuries of Japanese monarchial tradition.
Bix builds his argument by explaining the circumstances of Hirohito’s education. Hirohito received history and political lessons from Japanese tutors that taught the history and politics of the Russo-Japanese war. Japan’s victory reinforced the importance of an island nation’s acquisition of raw materials for growth and expansion. Hirohito was very well-educated in the politics of the day. He studied international law with his tutors. He knew the tenants of the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War and chose to ignore them.
Bix recounts interviews and observations from the emperor’s critics and contemporaries. Even comments from Hirohito’s brother confirm the emperor’s deep involvement in decisions made by the Japanese military leadership during WWII.
Emperor Hirohito assumed a mantle of divinity (even though he probably did not believe it) during the war. The remnants of that belief system, though repudiated by Hirohito after the war, helped quell the resistance of Japanese citizens to American occupation and political revision of Japan’s government.
Not unlike America’s blind eye to German Nazis in its quest for scientific achievement, MacArthur uses Hirohito to insure peaceful American occupation and secure future maintenance and installation of military bases on Japanese territories.
Hirohito lived into the 1980s as the titular leader of Japan. His reign was ended by natural causes. He successfully managed a transition from Japanese war Emperor to peace-loving figure-head, a reign of 60+ years. His son succeeded to the throne.
Emperor Akihito to the right is the son of Emperor Hirohito. He wrote a speech in 2003 to apologize for the war but the speech was never delivered.