War Responsibility and Historical Memory - Herbert P. Bix

War Respo nsibi l i t y and Hist o rical Memo ry: Hi ro hi t o ’s Appari t io n Herbert P. Bix Since the appearance o f Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan in 2000 , the unearthing in Japan o f new info rmatio n o n the As ia- Pacif ic war has pro ceeded apace. His to rical war narratives us ing new do cumentary evidence and drawing o n the ins ights o f vario us dis ciplines co ntinue to appear. Oral his to ry, women’s his to ry, s tudies o f war pris o ners and internatio nal law, even theo ries o f po s twar “reco nciliatio n,” have widened the pers pectives o f Japanes e his to rians . Thanks to the wo rk o f many pro gres s ive his to rians the ethical dimens io ns o f military his to ry are being o pened up and explo red as never befo re. [1] But in no fundamental way have thes e s cho larly ef fo rts altered the picture o f Hiro hito as the activis t, dynamic, po litically empowered empero r who played a central ro le in Japan’s undeclared wars . The fo llowing dis cus s io n recapitulates s ome o f the arguments that I pres ented earlier when analyz ing Hiro hito ’s leaders hip at the po licy level, then go es beyo nd them to addres s pro blems o f his to rical memo ry. [2] The s ame Nuremberg and To kyo principles o f individual and s tate res po ns ibility fo r war crimes , however, info rm this es s ay jus t as they did my bo o k. Int ro duct io n Japan’s wars o f the 1930 s and early 1940 s inf licted o n the peo ples o f As ia and the Pacif ic tremendo us human and material lo s s es . Over ten millio n Chines e died from the ef fects o f the war that began in 1937, with s ome es timates o f actual deaths running twice as high. Within co untries o ccupied af ter 1941 by Japanes e fo rces and later fo ught o ver by the Allies , mas s ive numbers o f combatants and no n-combatant civilians died, including o ver a millio n Filipino s . Tens o f tho us ands o f war pris o ners fell into Japanes e hands . Many o f them died in captivity and many o thers from US “friendly f ire.” Japanes e fo rces detained 130 ,000 to mo re than 140 ,000 civilians fo r the duratio n o f the war. [3] At its end, Japan its elf lay pro s trate, its cities in ruins , its peo ple demo raliz ed. Of f icial Japanes e go vernment underes timates s ay that 3.1 millio n Japanes e died in the As ia-Pacif ic War. Of that number abo ut 800 ,000 were no n-combatant civilians , mo s t o f them victims o f American f ire bombing and atomic bombing in the war’s f inal mo nths . [4] American combat deaths o f abo ut 123,000 in the Pacif ic pale in comparis o n. [5] The individual who o vers aw thes e wars and in who s e name they were fo ught, Hiro hito , was fo rty-o ne-years -o ld when Japan unco nditio nally s urrendered its armed fo rces . Two decades earlier, upo n as cending the thro ne, he had taken the aus picio us reign- title “Showa” (“illus trio us peace”) . But fo r the empero r and his s ubjects , and es pecially fo r the peo ple o f As ia and the Pacif ic, there wo uld be no peaceful times in the two decades that fo llowed. Hi ro hi t o : Japan’s Last Empo wered Empero r In the years between No vember 1921 and December 25, 1926 , befo re the s hy, taciturn Hiro hito s ucceeded his ailing father, the Tais ho empero r, he had been dis played to the Japanes e natio n as the dynamic repres entative o f “yo ung Japan,” the embo diment o f Japanes e mo rality, the pers o n des tined to invigo rate the imperial ho us e. Two years later the Showa empero r and his ento urage s trengthened the mo narchy’s links to s tate Shinto thro ugh year-lo ng enthro nement ceremo nies that mixed Wes tern-s tyle military reviews with nativis tic religio us rites while elevating Hiro hito to the s tatus o f a living deity. Hi ro hi t o ’s ent hro nement po rt rai t Hiro hito ’s enthro nement helped to mo ve Japan in a mo re natio nalis tic directio n. It was bas ed o n the theo cratic myth o f an imperial ho us e who s e des tiny was def ined by the empero r—a human in fo rm but actually a deity ruling the co untry in an uninterrupted line o f s ucces s io n. No matter what pro ject the empero r underto o k, his “s ubjects ” were pres umed and required to be abs o lutely lo yal in “as s is ting” him from below. In news papers and o n the radio the mes s age echo ed thro ugho ut the land that Japan had bro ken with its immediate pas t; it now had a mo narch cas t in the mo ld o f his illus trio us grandfather, Empero r Meiji, who ( in the wo rds o f Hiro hito ’s f irs t imperial res cript) had “enhanced the grandeur o f o ur empire” and never allowed hims elf to be treated as a puppet. Fo r Hiro hito , like mo s t Wes tern heads o f s tate, empire, natio nal defens e, and natio nal greatnes s were primary. Given his s tro ngly The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus In-depth critical analysis of the forces shaping the Asia-Pacific...and the world.