The in­com­plete le­gacy of Pearl Har­bor.

Em­peror Hiro­hito was never held re­spon­si­ble for the at­tack

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By Thomas V. DiBacco Thomas V. DiBacco is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus at Amer­i­can Univer­sity.

Af­ter 75 years, there are still so many sto­ries about the at­tack on Pearl Har­bor by the Ja­panese on Dec. 7, 1941, in­clud­ing the tragic loss of more than 2,300 Amer­i­can ser­vice­men, the de­struc­tion of 18 ships, the loss of over 150 air­craft and even the ele­ment of sur­prise on that Sun­day morn­ing. As re­vealed years later by Adm. Gene Larocque:

“At first I thought the U.S. Army Air Corps was ac­ci­den­tally bomb­ing us. We were so proud, so vain, and so ig­no­rant of Ja­panese ca­pa­bil­ity ... . It took a long time to re­al­ize how good these fel­lows were.”

Even more sur­pris­ing, in ret­ro­spect, is the tem­pered treat­ment the bad men of the Ja­panese the­ater re­ceived in terms of of­fi­cial Amer­i­can char­ac­ter­i­za­tion and pro­pa­ganda af­ter that area of World War II emerged. Rather quickly, af­ter Ger­many de­clared war on the United States shortly af­ter the Ja­panese at­tack, the de­mo­niza­tion of Adolf Hitler and Ben­ito Mus­solini be­came wide­spread in posters — and even in song, as il­lus­trated by band­leader Spike Jones’ 1942 pop­u­lar ditty, “Der Fuehrer’s Face.”

But Ja­pan’s vil­lains, es­pe­cially Em­peror Hiro­hito, got the soft touch, in­duced by the wide­spread view in Amer­i­can govern­ment cir­cles that the top leader was re­ally only a fig­ure­head who needed to be sup­ported so that at war’s end, he could lead his peo­ple to ac­cept their fate. The real en­emy, in this think­ing, was the mil­i­tary, led by Min­is­ter of War and Prime Min­is­ter Hidecki Tojo.

Even shortly af­ter Pearl Har­bor, high-level Amer­i­can of­fi­cials knew that Hiro­hito not only ac­cepted, even en­cour­aged, the mil­i­tary ini­tia­tives of Tojo but had long been a war­mon­ger, es­pe­cially in his con­fronta­tions with China, re­plete with the use of chem­i­cal weaponry. Of course, ev­ery fight­ing Amer­i­can sol­dier in the Pa­cific the­ater viewed Tojo with the ut­most hate, be­gin­ning with Tojo’s oft-quoted state­ment: “When re­flect­ing on it to­day, that the Pearl Har­bor at­tack should have suc­ceeded in achiev­ing sur­prise is a bless­ing from Heaven.”

The tor­ture that the Ja­panese vis­ited on Al­lied soldiers is sui generis in the an­nals of modern war­fare, and the TV pro­grams on the Amer­i­can He­roes Chan­nel de­voted to com­par­ing the in­hu­mane treat­ment by Ger­many, Italy and Ja­pan are shock­ing re­minders of the un­be­liev­able depths of Ja­panese cru­elty, too hor­rid — in­clud­ing can­ni­bal­ism — to de­lin­eate.

To be sure, there was a coun­ter­part in Ja­pan to the Nurem­berg tri­als deal­ing with the Nazis that cap­tured world at­ten­tion, even a movie star­ring Spencer Tracy, but the In­ter­na­tional Mil­i­tary Tri­bunal for the Far East was a ma­jor re­treat from a rea­son­able con­cept of jus­tice, no mat­ter that Hiro­hito’s words in sur­ren­der­ing put the blame on the Al­lies:

“In­deed, we de­clared war on Amer­ica and Bri­tain out of our sin­cere de­sire to in­sure Ja­pan’s self-preser­va­tion and the sta­bil­ity of East Asia,” said Hiro­hito in his un­apolo­getic na­tion­wide speech on Aug. 14, 1945. “More­over, the en­emy has be­gun to em­ploy a most cruel bomb, the power of which to do dam­age is, in­deed, in­cal­cu­la­bly, tak­ing the toll of many in­no­cent lives.”

Only seven Ja­panese gen­er­als, in­clud­ing Tojo, ac­cord­ing to the tri­bunal, were sen­tenced to be hanged. The many com­plicit in the de­ci­sions close to the em­peror were not charged, and not a few his­to­ri­ans credit Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur, who over­saw the pro­ceed­ings, as Hiro­hito’s best de­fense strate­gist. Only Aus­tralia was in­sis­tent on pros­e­cut­ing the em­peror.

The only at­tribute that Hiro­hito had to give up was his di­vin­ity. He was treated as head of state un­til his death in 1989 and was roy­ally re­ceived by Queen El­iz­a­beth II, Ger­ald Ford — even Ronald Rea­gan.

Worse, Hiro­hito never had to ac­knowl­edge war guilt. In fact, the op­po­site in­ter­pre­ta­tion was un­abashedly touted: If the em­peror didn’t take blame for start­ing and pros­e­cut­ing the war, then his peo­ple were like­wise ex­on­er­ated. And it would be the United States that would carry the bur­den of war guilt, through its em­ploy­ment of two atomic bombs.

Try ex­plain­ing this tor­tured logic to the fam­i­lies that lost their loved ones in the wake of Dec. 7, 1941.

If the em­peror didn’t take blame for start­ing and pros­e­cut­ing the war, then his peo­ple were like­wise ex­on­er­ated.


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