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Hirohito and War

Imperial Tradition and Military Decision Making in Prewar Japan

Peter Wetzler

Publication Year: 1998

"[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

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

At the end of 1926 the term “Shōwa”—enlightenment and peace—was chosen as the name of Emperor Hirohito’s reign. The irony escapes few, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, as the first half of the era (1926–1989) was marked by disharmony and war. The dispute about the emperor’s role in starting the war in the Pacific, moreover, cast a dark shadow over the period following the fall of Imperial Japan in August 1945 until Hirohito’s death more than forty-three years later.

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1. Introduction

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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 ...

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2. Imperial Navy Planning and the Emperor

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pp. 12-32

Japanese critics of Hirohito and the “emperor system” 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.

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3. Pearl Harbor and Decision Making

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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 analysts’ 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.

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4. Tōjō and the Emperor: Mutual Political Convictions

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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 “the war premier,” 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.

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5. Scientism, History, and Confucianism: An Emperor’s Education

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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.

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6. Ancient Institutions and Foreign Cultures: New Interpretations for Modern Times

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pp. 114-138

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

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7. Hirohito’s First Adviser: Count Makino Nobuaki

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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 Hirohito’s most important prewar advisers. In terms of Japanese domestic politics the first two have been called “liberal constitutional monarchists.”1 They sustained and sometimes pushed the young sovereign to support progressive politics.

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8. Conclusion

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pp. 179-202

The relation between the emperor of Japan’s 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.


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pp. 203-221


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pp. 223-267


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pp. 269-280


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pp. 281-294

E-ISBN-13: 9780824862855
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824819255

Publication Year: 1998

OCLC Number: 45842906
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Hirohito and War

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Subject Headings

  • Japan -- Politics and government -- 1926-1945.
  • Military planning -- Japan.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Japan.
  • Hirohito, Emperor of Japan, 1901-1989.
  • Japan -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
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