Emperor Hirohito Michi-no-miya (Showa-tenno)
The Japanese refer to him posthumously as Emperor Showa, but everybody else still calls him Hirohito. We saw him as a quaint, little old man who ate bacon and eggs every morning. He wore a Mickey Mouse watch. We knew he was royalty, but we assumed it was only the irrelevant figurehead variety.
It is easy to forget that until 1945, the Emperor of Japan was officially considered to be divine -- the Son of Heaven. The royal family were direct descendants of the sun god. The Japanese took this whole thing very seriously. Accordingly, it was forbidden for his subjects to look at his face, address him by name, or speak to him from a greater height.
When a politician suggested in 1935 that the Emperor was just an ordinary human being whose power derived from the will of the people, it caused a furor. The politican was forced to resign, his books were banned, and an attempt was made on his life.
When it comes to Emperor Hirohito we seem to have a bad memory, particularly where it involves his responsibility for the war in the Pacific. Hirohito was an unindicted war criminal, plain and simple. No, he wasn't a dictator. He did not singlehandedly orchestrate the Japanese war effort. But he was there, every step of the way, receiving regular reports and pushing his generals for victory.
In 1931 Japan invaded Manchuria and unleashed holy terror. There they implemented the "Three Alls" policy: kill all, loot all, burn all. When Nanking fell, Japanese forces launched a merciless campaign against its citizenry, raping and killing by the thousands. Later they set up a chemical weapons unit, which developed cyanide bombs and tested them on civilian prisoners. They also set up a biowarfare unit, which exposed prisoners to typhoid, cholera, plague, and anthrax and then vivisected them without anesthesia to determine their effects.
Hirohito was fully aware of these developments, but never lifted a finger to discourage any of it. Instead of recognizing the inevitability of surrender in early 1945, he signed off on the creation of Kamikaze pilots, who flew suicide missions in the Emperor's name.
After the war, MacArthur decided it was necessary for the recovery of the Japanese nation to maintain continuity in the form of the Emperor. So everybody involved in the War Crimes trials scrupulously avoided any mention of Hirohito. Even the defendants played along, despite the fact that it would have helped their cases to claim that they were following orders. When Tojo told his lawyer that "the subjects of Japan can never say or do anything against His Majesty's will," the prosecutors convinced him not to say that on the stand.
Hirohito fooled us into believing he was harmless and blameless, but only because we told him to.
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