The End of the Japanese Empire

We watched a movie entitled “Emperor,” describing the final days of the Japanese Empire and the US Occupation of Japan in 1945 at the end of WWII.  It is not widely known that a group of extreme militarists attempted to prevent the surrender of Japan by the Emperor Hirohito by attacking his castle in Tokyo and trying to capture him and prevent the recording he had made declaring the surrender from being broadcast.  They failed after several attempts and their leaders who were not killed committed suicide in Japanese fashion.  They wanted Japan to fight to the last Japanese, but the Emperor saw after the atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the destruction of Tokyo in a firestorm that killed over 100,000 persons, that Japan was defeated.

At the time of the Occupation under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the US did not know about this internal fighting and attempt at a coup.  There was a question whether Emperor Hirohito was complicit in the war aims, in approving the attack at Pearl Harbor in 1941 that started the US-Japan war and in the war crimes that the Japanese forces had committed.  Gen. Bonner Fellers was tasked with the decision whether or not to arrest and try the Emperor.   However, it was realized that to do so would mean an uprising of the Japanese population who would fight to the death to protect their Emperor.

The Emperor of Japan was considered to be a God, known as the “Sun-God,” and it was not allowed for anybody to touch him and Japanese were not allowed to look at him.  Even his Ministers were required to avert their eyes and normal people turned away.  Such a condition was beyond the comprehension and experience of Americans, even Generals.  By interviewing some of his Ministers, Gen. Fellers  realized the enormity of the Emperor’s decision, against the wishes of his Prime Minister Gen. Tojo and others to make the recording accepting the conditions of the Allies (although he never actually uttered the word “surrender”).  It was in fact a very brave and unique decision.  When the broadcast was made on Aug 15, 1945, it was in fact the first time in history that the Emperor had directly addressed his people, and even though they could not understand his archaic Japanese dialect, they understood that the War was over.   Taking this into consideration Gen. Fellers recommended to Gen. MacArthur that the Emperor not be arrested and tried.

Gen. MacArthur then met with the Emperor in his home for a “chat.” The Emperor shook MacArthur’s hand and had his photograph taken with him and agreed to assist the Occupation in helping to restore Japan.  The Members of the War Cabinet were arrested and tried and executed for war crimes.  Subsequently the Emperor renounced his God status and became human.  That any people could have believed such nonsense into the twentieth century is indeed astounding.



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