The World War II Multimedia Database

For the 72 Million

The Japanese Emperor Showa in World War II

In 1926, the second “restoration” of the Imperial Japanese throne occurred. The Showa, or peace, era, would be anything but peaceful. Emperor Hirohito was a gentle man who preferred marine biology to international politics. His reign would last longer than any other national leader of World War II.

The position of Emperor is an enigma to western minds. It”s not as if the Emperor is the same as the English King or even Emperor Napoleon. Power did not rest with him, although he could and often did influence the ruling class. The Japanese Emperor also was the subject of right—wing hysteria; if he not live up to their vision of a proper Japanese Emperor, they would remove him by assassination.

The Imperial Japanese Majesty’s picture was carried in all ships, and went with the first lifeboat when the ship was sunk. The symbol of the Emperor, a Chrysanthemum, would prevent any ship from being sunk by gunfire in firing practice at the end of its useful life until the symbol was removed. The symbol would be stitched into uniforms and headbands, and his name would be invoked time and time again by the military leadership and the rank and file.

On the battlefield, the American propaganda led their soldiers to believe that Japanese soldiers died with the Emperor”s name on their lips. Actually most Japanese men called for their wives or mothers just like the Americans. But it was a powerful image that helped to explain the mass suicides that the Americans encountered prior to Iwo Jima. Except for occasional mention, Allied propaganda tried to avoid painting the Emperor as demagogue on the level of Hitler, because Allied command was worried that if the American public thought the Emperor should be removed, the Japanese would never surrender.

Hirohito was instrumental in ending the war. His intervention and subtle calls for surrender convinced the cabinet that it was time to cease hostilities. In a complex series of discussions with the cabinet members who favored continued resistance, the Emperor was able to communicate his desires without causing the government to plunge into chaos. A group of officers did attempt to breach the Imperial Palace grounds to assassinate the Emperor, in the Emperor”s name, and continue the war. They were stopped, and the coup failed.

Hirohito remained Emperor until his death in 1989. Several right—wing Japanese groups were agitated by his death, but the nation as a whole mourned the passing of the last World War II leader to die.

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