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HOME  > Past issues  > 2020 October 28 - November 3  > What does wartime ‘Emperor organ theory incident’ teach us today?
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2020 October 28 - November 3 [POLITICS]

What does wartime ‘Emperor organ theory incident’ teach us today?

October 30, 2020

Akahata ‘current’ column

In the Imperial Diet in wartime Japan, a scholar was condemned for presenting a theory that, from an ultranationalist point of view, misleads the general public and causes harmful effects on the society.

The scholar was Minobe Tatsukichi, an eminent authority in constitutional law at that time. He came up with a theory on the Constitution of the Empire of Japan, in which the country was likened to a legal entity and the Emperor was deemed as the highest “organ” of the entity. This theory was labeled as ideologically dangerous on the grounds that it denies the Emperor’s status as the supreme ruler and damages the national polity of Japan. Minobe faced persecution by the imperial government and all of his books were banned. He was ousted from public offices, prosecuted for lese majesty, and even targeted for right-wing violence.

Amid the storm of oppression, free speech and academic freedom were restricted, constitutionalism was paralyzed, and the government began to exercise its power without limit, which later led Japan to the catastrophic war. This is what writer Yamazaki Masahiro warns in his book on the so-called Emperor organ theory incident.

The postwar Constitution guarantees academic freedom. Does Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide know that this stipulation is based on the hard lessons learned from wartime history? By posing this question, Japanese Communist Party Chair Shii Kazuo in the Diet meeting criticized PM Suga for unjustly interfering in the selection of the Science Council of Japan members.

Shii also said that it is rude for Suga to reject nominees without explanation and by overriding government position regarding the SCJ Act in the past. Stressing that this problem is a matter that has an affect on all people in Japan, Shii said that the government that oppresses critics has no future.

Back in wartime, Minobe made a counterargument against the Imperial military’s pamphlet which urges the general public to do everything to cooperate in the war. He wrote, “How can you expect a rapid advance of culture from people who are placed under a slave-like situation? Personal freedom is the father of creativeness and the mother of culture.”
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