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Hirohito and War

Hirohito and War: Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in Prewar Japan

Peter Wetzler
Copyright Date: 1998
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  • Book Info
    Hirohito and War
    Book Description:

    "[Wetzler] concludes that Hirohito participated fully in the decision-making processes that led to key events, from the Manchurian Incident, through the attack on Pearl Harbor, to the decision to surrender. He argues that like members of other decision-making bodies, Hirohito was able to prevail on some occasions but not on others, and that he shares responsibility for the decisions and should not be singled out for blame. The book's greatest virtue is its balanced approach to a topic that has been and will continue to be hotly debated." --Choice "An important addition to studies dealing with Hirohito and Japanese political history of the Showa era." --American Historical Review

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6285-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    Emperor Hirohito (1901–1989) was the titular head of the Japanese government when the Imperial Army set up a puppet state in Manchuria in 1931–1932, when the war with China began in 1937, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and other targets in Southeast Asia without warning in late 1941 and early 1942, when Japan surrendered unconditionally in 1945, and when he visited Disneyland in the United States many years later. Of course, ʺtitular headʺ meant different things to different people before and after the war. Accordingly, the debate about Emperor Hirohitoʹs accountability for imperial government decisions and military...

  5. 2 Imperial Navy Planning and the Emperor
    (pp. 12-32)

    Japanese critics of Hirohito and the ʺemperor systemʺ have long pointed out his obvious legal responsibility as official chief of state and commander in chief of the armed forces.¹ The Meiji Constitution, promulgated in 1889 and in force until shortly after the end of the war, made the emperor of Japan a living god—the pinnacle of the spiritual and political hierarchy. It is absurd, therefore, to argue against his legal responsibility for Japanʹs aggression in China and the Pacific.² Apologists for Hirohito emphasize his function as a constitutional monarch. They argue that practically speaking he knew little about the...

  6. 3 Pearl Harbor and Decision Making
    (pp. 33-60)

    The decision to start a war with the United States and its allies by attacking Pearl Harbor and a number of other bases in Southeast Asia, by surprise, was long in coming. It was a decision, contrary to many analystsʹ opinions, in which the emperor took part. Documentary evidence shows this conclusively. In Chapter 2, some of these documents from the Imperial Navy were introduced. We also have numerous records from the Imperial Army, which were not all destroyed as was thought for many years.¹

    The preservation of army records after the war, unlike those from the Imperial Navy, was...

  7. 4 Tōjō and the Emperor: Mutual Political Convictions
    (pp. 61-81)

    Tōjō Hideki (1884–1948) was prime minister of Japan from October 1941 to July 1944.¹ For the Allied Nations he was ʺthe war premier,ʺ and he was treated accordingly after the war. Tōjō was hanged as a war criminal on 23 December 1948, the birthday of Crown Prince Akihito, the present emperor.

    During his long tenure as prime minister Tōjō appeared to have a special relation with the emperor. Although Hirohito appointed him to office with reservations, he soon gained the emperorʹs trust and the emperor supported him, despite mounting criticism, until the very end. Some say it was Tōjōʹs...

  8. 5 Scientism, History, and Confucianism: An Emperor’s Education
    (pp. 82-113)

    The Shōwa emperor acted in prewar times not as a British constitutional monarch but as the head of the Japanese imperial line and the Japanese imperial state. In discussing his activities with respect to military planning it was indicated that they were consistent with his early education and training. In effect I am painting a picture of the prewar emperor that is different from conventional portraits. Having sketched in the foreground—the emperorʹs role in prewar military decision making—it is time to address the background that provided the context for this role.

    Hirohito was first confronted with Japanese imperial...

  9. 6 Ancient Institutions and Foreign Cultures: New Interpretations for Modern Times
    (pp. 114-138)

    Hirohitoʹs teachers of ethics and history, Sugiura Shigetake and Shiratori Kurakichi, employed pseudoscientific methods in handling ancient Japanese history and Chinese culture. Here Sugiuraʹs lectures are examined once again, this time with special emphasis on his treatment of foreign influences on Japanese culture.

    Throughout Sugiuraʹs teaching program, emperors were singled out to illustrate moral lessons. Of a total of 154 lectures, however, only one took a member of the imperial house as its main topic. This was the talk on the leader of the Taika Reforms, Crown Prince Nakanoōe no Ōji (626–671), who later became Emperor Tenji. The Taika...

  10. 7 Hirohito’s First Adviser: Count Makino Nobuaki
    (pp. 139-178)

    Makino Nobuaki (1861–1949), along with Saionji Kimmochi (1849–1940) and Kido Kōichi (1889–1977), is generally acknowledged as one of Emperor Hirohitoʹs most important prewar advisers. In terms of Japanese domestic politics the first two have been called ʺliberal constitutional monarchists.ʺ¹ They sustained and sometimes pushed the young sovereign to support progressive politics. Makino and Kido were in a position to do this because of their proximity to the crown prince and emperor officially; Saionji had an unofficial but no less important position in the body politic.

    Makino was imperial household minister (1921–1925) and lord keeper of the...

  11. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 179-202)

    The relation between the emperor of Japanʹs personal convictions and his participation in prewar decision making is a perplexing question. Many separate Emperor Hirohito from the emperor system, exonorate the former, and condemn the latter. Others convict and condemn both—based on systems of ideology (communism, socialism, capitalism) or Western legal concepts that had little to do with the realities of his personal or official existence. Much has been said about English constitutional monarchy; but Hirohito was the emperor of Japan, not the king of England. Although his authority and limitations were defined in the Meiji Constitution (based on Prussian...

  12. Appendixes
    (pp. 203-222)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 223-268)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 269-280)
  15. Index
    (pp. 281-294)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-295)