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HOME  > Past issues  > 2019 August 21 - 27  > Emperor Hirohito repeatedly justified himself regarding war
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2019 August 21 - 27 TOP3 [PEACE]

Emperor Hirohito repeatedly justified himself regarding war

August 22, 2019

NHK has recently published notes of wartime Emperor Hirohito's remarks that had been kept by Tajima Michiji, the first postwar Grand Steward of the Imperial Household Agency.

According to the notes, Emperor Hirohito wished to express his "remorse" over WWII at a ceremony marking Japan's regaining of independence after the San Francisco Peace Treaty came into effect, but his wish was not fulfilled because of opposition from then Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru.

Hirohito never officially expressed his regret over the war. When asked about his war responsibility at a press conference on October 31, 1975, he refused to answer the question.

The notes also show that Hirohito repeated making remarks justifying himself in regard to the war and that he was supposedly not aware that he had held direct responsibility for the war of aggression as the supreme commander of the Japanese Army and Navy.

For example, regarding the 1937 Nanjing Massacre in which the Japanese military slaughtered Chinese soldiers and citizens, Hirohito mentioned that he had overlooked the event despite vaguely being aware of the Imperial Army's barbarous acts because no one had officially informed him of the incident.

Regarding the 1941 outbreak of war between Japan and the United States, he said to Tajima that he had been unable to stop the war although an "Imperial conference" at which he himself had been present had decided to wage war against the U.S. In addition, he said on December 14, 1951 that he had not been able to do anything about the disorder within the government at the time of the Tojo Hideki Cabinet, according to the notes. Hirohito even shifted the responsibility onto Konoe Fumimaro, the prime minister before Tojo, by saying on April 5, 1952, "It's not too much to say that Konoe started the Pacific War."

Japan continued the war even after its prospect of defeat became increasingly clear. Regarding this point, Emperor Hirohito on March 14, 1952 said that he had not wanted an unconditional surrender and so waited for a good chance, such as after a successful Japanese military operation, before any start of peace negotiations. Because of his indecision, Japan in the last year of the war experienced the Great Tokyo Air Raid, the Battle of Okinawa, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which brought about indescribable agony and destruction. Judging from this remark, it does not seem that Hirohito seriously regretted postponing the surrender.

The notes also reveal that Emperor Showa had repeatedly touched on the need for constitutional revision and Japan’s rearmament, and that Tajima in response had reminded him that the emperor is not allowed to make such political remarks under the postwar Constitution.

The Emperor was an absolute ruler under the prewar constitution but under the postwar constitution, he was supposed to be “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people” and “shall not have powers related to government”. The above-mentioned episode strongly suggests that Hirohito did not realize this change in his status and regarded himself as more or less a ruler even after the war’s end.

Now that the notes have been disclosed, Japan needs to again look into who are to be blamed for the war of aggression and what kind of role Hirohito played. In addition, the full text of the notes should be available to researchers and citizens.

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