I check up on the Militarian website from time to time to see what they’re saying about one thing or another having to do with wars. As I have pointed out, I spent years and years researching The Great Liars and now and then I can’t resist puffing up like a smarty pants and parading my knowledge with a post others will attack with the savagery of another know-it-all. I know you will forgive me and I thank you in advance.
It is hard to put oneself in the mind of the Japanese nearly three-quarters of a century ago, particularly in light of the need in the immediate postwar period to find exoneration for Hirohito rather than try him as the war criminal he most certainly was. His voice, bearing for the Japanese the authority of 10,000 generations of divinity, that declared surrender caused seven million Japanese to lay down their arms, sparing the allies hundreds of thousands of causalities, perhaps as high as a million, that it would have taken to subdue them and the civilian population prepared to fight to the death. Okinawa had given us a foretaste of what it would be like. General MacArthur was told by his military secretary, Brigadier General Bonner Fellers, that trying the emperor would mean a resumption of bloody fighting. So in a practical sense there really was no choice even though a former prime minister, Prince Konoe, said when he was interviewed by intelligence officers that Hirohito was “the major war criminal,” a claim that one of the emperor’s royal brothers agreed with. Konoe had seen as early as August of 1943 that defeat was inevitable. In his memo to MacArthur, Bonner wrote:
“The attitude of the Japanese toward their emperor is not generally understood. Unlike Christians, the Japanese have no God with whom to commune. Their emperor is the living symbol of the race in whom lies the virtues of their ancestors. He is the incarnation of national spirit, incapable of wrong or misdeeds. Loyalty to him is absolute. Although no one fears him, all hold their emperor in reverential awe. They would not touch him, look into his face, address him, step on his shadow. Their abject homage to him amounts to self abnegation sustained by religious patriotism the depth of which is incomprehensible to Westerners.” Japanese thought the great 1923 earthquake had been caused by the stirrings of a giant catfish far underground. When he got to know them better, MacArthur compared them to a nation of 12-year-olds. The British believed the Japanese possessed a strain of hysteria from what they said were their Malayan origins.
Every Japanese recruit carried the Army Handbook which stressed the five principles laid forth by Emperor Meiji Tenno’s Imperial Rescript to Soldiers, loyalty, courtesy, courage, truthfulness and frugality. Loyalty was his essential duty. “Bear in mind that duty is weightier than a mountain, while death is lighter than a feather.” Courtesy meant that inferiors should regard the orders of those of higher rank with the same respect as if from the emperor.
In Japanese thought society was organized as a pyramid with the emperor and the royal family at the top. Everyone else had his assigned place with women at all levels submissive to their husbands. At the bottom of the Japanese pyramid, were the burakumin (the untouchables). Foreigners, the gaijin, ranked even lower than them and were seen as subhuman and therefore not subject to moral considerations. They were dirt. Japanese were offended by the very smell of Westerners and thought their long noses were hilarious. Admiral Yamamoto spent years as a naval aide in America and admired our industrial might but thought we were a degenerate race weakened by luxury, a viewed that was shared throughout the Japanese military leadership.
After Hiroshima many in the Japanese leadership believed America had shot its bolt and international public opinion would prevent a second atomic bombing. Nagasaki proved them wrong and Hirohito bowed to the inevitable. MacArthur said in the postwar period he could would have his uses as something between a figurehead and a stooge.