Hirohito, the Japanese emperor who was one of WW2's greatest war criminals.
Updated: Apr 25, 2022
The Japanese Emperor Hirohito was one of the greatest mass murderers in history, yet to this day no one really seems to mind that. For the Japanese people Hirohito was no regular despot, as Hitler and Stalin were, for them he was a divine being, literally a living god. He was the pinnacle of the Japanese empire, an empire that was resposible for some of the worst war crimes and genocides before and during WW2.
During Hirohito's reign the Japanese army invaded China in 1937, South east Asian countries in 1941, and started a war with the US when it attacked Pearl Harbor. Throughout the war years Hirohito did not use his imperial authority and supreme power to curb Japan's army lust for conquest and war. On the contrary, his enthusiasm and support for the Japanese military effort grew and grew as the war dragged on. Despite efforts to minimize his role in Japan's affairs and military campaigns before and during WW2, Japanese and American historians have also shown that at the center of the Japanese military system was Emperor Hirohito. He was not the hapless prisoner of militarist generals, (the version promulgated by MacArthur and US propaganda in 1945 in order to save him from a war crimes trial) but an all-powerful "divine" warlord, who had helped guide Japan’s genocidal and aggressive war of expansion at every turn. Every operation or invasion or decision the Japanese military and government required his "divine" permission and seal of approval. From bombing Pear Harbor to surrendering to the allies in 1945. He was informed of everything and knew almost everything, there was nothing kept hidden from him as everything needed his imperial seal of approval. For example, Shiro Ishii, the head of Japan’s biological weapons program and Unit 731, claimed to have met with Hirohito twice and that Hirohito approved and supported whatever it was that was presented to him about the entire research program. Unit 731 conducted horrendous medical experiments on an industrial scale on captured civilians and POWs during the war.
Emperor Hirohito delivering a message to Japanese War Minister Hideki Tojo.
People today tend to forget, or just don't know, that Hirohito's Imperial Japan was responsible for war crimes that rivaled, if not surpassed, those of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. It was a despotic murderous regime, intent on expanding, murdering, pillaging and raping anything in its path, all in the name of their divine emperor Hirohito. Imperial Japan invaded Korea, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, The Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, East Timor, New Guinea and Burma. From 1937 and up until its surrender, Japan and its emperor were responsible for unimaginable reign of horror and terror that was inflicted on China and South Asian countries, and for the deaths of up to 20,000,000 people, the majority of whom were Chinese.
Hirohito's enthusiasm and support for the Japanese military effort, grew and grew as the war dragged on. Even as late as August 1945, Hirohito refused to acknowledge defeat, even though it was clear that Japan was losing the war. On August 6, 1945, at 8:16 am, Japanese time, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the world’s first atom bomb, over the city of Hiroshima. Approximately 80,000 people were killed as a direct result of the blast. Even after Japan was nuked for the first time, Hirohito refused to surrender. Three days later, a second atom bomb was dropped on Japan by the United States, at Nagasaki, killing around 120,000 people. Only after the second nuke hit Nagasaki and the news that the Red Army invaded Manchuria did Hirohito use his imperial authority and accepted the allies demands for surrender.
US commander Douglas MacArthur with Hirohito after the surrender of Japan. After the war ended the allies not only did not persecute Hirohito for his war crimes, but he was allowed to stay on as Japan's emperor. General MacArthur, the head of the US occupation of Japan, assured him that he needed his help to govern Japan and so Hirohito was never tried.
The basic calculation and justification for not trying Hirohito as a war criminal was that it was politically useful for the US occupation authorities that he not be tried, as to not stir up the defeated Japanese population, who still revered him as a living god. To put this in context, imagine if the allies occupied Germany at the end of WW2 and Hitler, instead of committing suicide, was allowed to continue to act as Germany's Chancellor. After the war Hirohito maintained his throne as Japan's emperor and lived a luxurious life, his war crimes and the millions of deaths he was responsible for were whitewashed and almost completely removed for the public's memory. Instead of being remembered as a monster on the same level of Stalin and Hitler, he became the face of "peaceful" and "pacifict" post WW2 Japan.
The most disturbing aspect of Hirohito never facing justice fo his crimes is that unlike Hitler's Nazi Germany and Stalin's Soviet Russia ,both of which are recognised worldwide as the evil mass murdering regimes that they were, Emperor Hirohito's Imperialist Japan escaped such worldwide historical recognition, and is even viewed as one of the "victims" of WW2. Bibliography - Duncan Anderson, "Nuclear Power: The End of the War Against Japan." Robert Harvey, " The Undefeated: Rise, Fall and Rise of Modern Japan." Theodore White, "In Search of History."