Dying For the Emperor? No Way

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US President Harry S. Truman, with consent of his top brass, ordered the atomic bombings of Japan in order to save one million US lives. The Japanese were fascists. They were religious fanatics who worshipped the emperor as their God and were prepared to fight to the death. This was evidenced by the Kamikaze pilots and vicious fighting in Saipan and Okinawa. The annual Hiroshima and Nagasaki commemorations are exercises in blame-shifting and obfuscation; the fact is that WW II in Asia and the Pacific was a war between aggressive Japan and everyone else, and in each case, Japan was the aggressor. Japan attacked the United States first.

~ An average US history professor

What a bunch of post-war revisionist nonsense. The above statement is pure US government propaganda. It contains almost as many outrageous lies as it does individual words. The only part of this statement that is absolutely true is, "US President Harry S. Truman ordered the atomic bombings." This drivel, in many forms, has been repeated again and again to US schoolchildren over these past 60 some years to the point that even some (supposedly educated) US scholars have begun to repeat the mantra. This lie has been so overblown that, recently, the absurd amount of "saved lives" has ballooned from "one million lives" to "two million lives" to even the point where President George W. Bush has stretched it to "millions of lives." At this rate, by the year 2025, the atomic bombings will have saved 20 million lives. America, this is a lie. It’s time you faced up to the truth about the war and the atomic bombings.

When in the history of mankind have people actually fought to their deaths for one man? I propose to you that this has never happened. It’s against human nature to do so. The only people who even made the outlandish claim that the emperor was a living God were a very few Japanese rightists — and Shinto priests (a very minor religion) — who merely used this idea as a means to forward their own imperialist agenda (as well as modern American apologists for the atomic bombings). The average Japanese never thought the emperor was anymore than a man — just like they do today. I would like to end this misconception of the Japanese people. All people — regardless of the political system they are living under — will, however, fight to the death if they believe that they are saving their homes and families. That’s natural human behavior.

Besides the obvious common sense of the preceding two paragraphs, I would like to put every piece of this fabrication to rest — From the idea that the Japanese were suicidal maniacs — To the excuse of dropping the atomic bomb to save one million American lives. Am I a scholar historian? No, I am not. But I do have some unbeatable advantages over just about every US historian who has ever written on the subject: I speak Japanese and I live with the Japanese. The other trump card I have is that there are still a very many everyday Japanese alive and well today, who clearly remember the war, with whom I have spoken.

This is the overall story of World War II from the Japanese point of view. Of course, this is an extremely long subject and it would take an entire series of books to cover it fully — and even with that the debate would continue and the A-bomb apologists will refuse to face facts — but for the sake of convenience for the reader, I will try to keep this as short and simple as possible.

US President Harry S. Truman, with consent of his top brass, ordered the atomic bombings of Japan in order to save one million US lives.

There are two lies in this one sentence. Yes, Truman did order the atomic bombings. Did he do it with the consent of his top brass? No. Did he do it to save one million US lives? No.

Let’s look at the comments of several of America’s top military and civilian commanders at the time; Admiral William Leahy, the World War II Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Douglas McArthur; Brigadier General Carter Clarke; General Dwight D. Eisenhower; and Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy.

First General Douglas McArthur:

Norman Cousins was a consultant to General MacArthur during the American occupation of Japan. Cousins writes of his conversations with MacArthur, "MacArthur’s views about the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were starkly different than what the general public supposed. When I asked MacArthur about the decision to drop the bomb, I was surprised to learn that he had not even been consulted. What, I asked, would his advice have been? He replied that he saw no justification for the dropping of the bomb. The war might have ended earlier, he said, if the United States had agreed — as it did later anyway — to the retention of the institution of the emperor."

~ Norman Cousins, The Pathology of Power, pg. 65, 70—71

General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

"In [July] 1945… Secretary of War Stimson, visiting my headquarters in Germany, informed me that our government was preparing to drop an atomic bomb on Japan. I was one of those who felt that there were a number of cogent reasons to question the wisdom of such an act… The Secretary, upon giving me the news of a successful bomb test in New Mexico, and the plan for using it, asked for my reaction expecting a vigorous assent.

"During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought our country should avoid shocking world opinion by use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives. It was my belief that Japan was, at the very moment, seeking some way to surrender with a minimum loss of u2018face’. The Secretary was deeply perturbed by my attitude…"

Dwight Eisenhower, Mandate for Change, pg. 380

In a Newsweek interview, Eisenhower again recalled the meeting with Stimson:

"The Japanese were ready to surrender and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing."

Ike on Ike, Newsweek, 11/11/63

Brigadier General Carter Clarke (The military officer in charge of preparing intercepted Japanese cables — MAGIC summaries — for Truman and his advisors):

"When we didn’t need to do it, and we knew we didn’t need to do it, and they knew we didn’t need to do it, we used them as an experiment for two atomic bombs."

~ Quoted in Gar Alperovitz, The Decision To Use the Atomic Bomb, pg. 359.

(Once again, considering the above, one has to wonder just where did this idea that the Japanese were ready to fight to the death for the emperor come from anyway?)

John McCloy (Assistant Secretary of War):

"I have always felt that if, in our ultimatum to the Japanese government issued from Potsdam [in July 1945], we had referred to the retention of the emperor as a constitutional monarch and made some reference to the reasonable accessibility of raw materials to the future Japanese government, it would have been accepted. Indeed, I believe that even in the form it was delivered, there was some disposition on the part of the Japanese to give it favorable consideration. When the war was over I arrived at this conclusion after talking with a number of Japanese officials who had been closely associated with the decision of the then Japanese government, to reject the ultimatum, as it was presented. I believe that we missed the opportunity of effecting a Japanese surrender that was satisfactory to us, without the necessity of dropping the bombs."

~ McCloy quoted in James Reston, Deadline, pg. 500

World War II Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral William Leahy:

"I was not taught to make war in that fashion… And wars cannot be won by destroying women and children."

The above proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that many of America’s top military and civilian commanders disagreed with Truman (or didn’t even know about) the dropping of the atomic bomb, and all thought that the A-bombs were unnecessary. It goes without saying that many never considered the absurdist notion that the Japanese would fight to the death for their "emperor God."

(The A-bomb was dropped) to save one-million US lives (?)

No. This is a complete post-war fabrication. As scholar Ralph Raico pointed out in Hiroshima and Nagasaki:

US military planners at the time foresaw the worst-case scenario as 46,000 US casualties.

A typical WWII propaganda poster from Japan; it has no sign of the emperor. It says. Uchiteshi Yamamu: Don’t stop shooting

This proves that the preposterous number of one million American lives saved is a ridiculous post-war belief. The total numbers of all US military killed in World War II stands at 405,000 and that’s for both the Pacific and European theaters. This number of one million lives saved is rubbish akin to the magician pulling a live rabbit out of a hat. The Japanese had no air force or navy and were starving with no food, oil, gasoline, or any other natural resources to keep up the war effort.

The Japanese were fascists. They were religious fanatics who worshipped the emperor as their God and were prepared to fight to the death.

These sentences are completely false. One must understand a bit of Japanese history — and have a bit of common sense — just to see how really outlandish these notions are. Let’s touch on Japanese history first:

The imperial Japanese family returned to the throne of Japan a mere 70 years before the outbreak of hostilities between Japan and the United States. The utter notion that the Japanese nation was prepared to "die for their emperor" is an out-and-out fantasy. The average Japanese did not feel any more affinity to the emperor than the average American feels for their president; or the British or Spanish for their King. Why would they? Japan’s Hirohito had only been emperor for 15 years by the time war started with the United States. His family had been placed back in power only 70 years before. In fact, according to the Meiji Restoration (the movement that returned the emperor’s family to the throne of Japan), the emperor was nothing more than a figure-head of state. In fact, the emperor himself fancied his position along the lines of modern British monarchy and was unwilling to get involved with the day-to-day affairs of running the country.

The Meiji Restoration was a chain of events that led to a change in Japan’s political and social structure. It occurred from 1866 to 1869, a period of 4 years that transverses both the late Edo and beginning of the Meiji Period. Probably the most important foreign account of the events of 1862—69 is contained in A Diplomat in Japan by Sir Ernest Satow.

The leaders of the Meiji Restoration, as this revolution came to be known, claimed that their actions restored the emperor’s powers. This is not in fact true. Power simply moved from the Tokugawa Shogun to a new oligarchy of the daimyo who defeated him.

Emperor Hirohito was the figurehead emperor of Japan. Before him, his father, Emperor Taisho, held that position for a mere 14 years. It is widely rumored that Emperor Taisho had the same ailment that many inbred European monarchs suffered from; namely "being crazy." Now it doesn’t take too much of a leap of imagination to see where the average Japanese Joe — just like Europeans — may have felt some affinity for the emperor, but they certainly were not going to risk their lives for him. So, if this guy was not so revered and respected — as claimed in the west to this day, why then did the Japanese fly Kamikaze planes and fight so hard in Saipan, and Okinawa, etc.? More on the obvious answer to this in a moment.

But first, another point that has been lost on most people from the west in these last 60 years: The idea that the emperor is divine is a strictly Shinto religious belief. Japan was, and still is, a predominately Buddhist country. Buddhist’s do not believe man can be a God. As Albert Einstein wrote:

"Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion of the future: it transcends a personal God, avoids dogma and theology; it covers both the natural and spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity."

Typical war poster regardless of country — Once again, no sign of the emperor — Just an urging to work harder for the war effort

(The Japanese were prepared to fight to the death) This was evidenced by the Kamikaze pilots and vicious fighting in Saipan and Okinawa.

It should be obvious, after reading the above, that even the wartime American military commanders did not believe this story. After many interviews with elderly Japanese, I can tell you why the Japanese fought so hard; and, if anyone can, Americans should be able to understand this: The Japanese fought so tenaciously because there were some people who were brainwashed by government propaganda — Soldiers believed they were fighting to save their families.

In Japan, as with every other country in human history, the most brainwashed people join the so-called military elite. In America today, these people join the Marines, the Green Berets, or some other "Cream of the Crop" military organization. The difference between the Japanese of 1944 and Americans today, is that the Japanese thought they were fighting on home soil. Americans are brainwashed to believe that they are protecting America while fighting on foreign soil. The Japanese stopped this kind of imperialist brainwashing in 1945. The United States has been doing this since 1898 and it continues right up until today. Witness events in Iraq and Afghanistan for proof of this.

As far as Saipan is concerned, many Japanese soldiers believed that Saipan was a part of Japan. Saipan became a part of the Japanese empire in 1918 — It was a convenient "gift" for supporting the allies against the Germans in World War One (Thank you, America and its allies). Okinawa (formerly Ryukyu Islands) became a part of Japan in about 1609. Of course the Japanese fought hard in these places. They were fighting on "home turf" — or so they believed. Regardless, something can be said for the idea that the Japanese soldier was fighting closer to home than the western allies were — The Japanese soldiers considered the Pacific War theater their backyard.

Aside from the militarists in Japan, then, the average soldiers fought only to protect their homes and families. That’s it. And that’s what every Japanese I’ve spoken to has said. In fact, my own Japanese mother told me that people from the southern part of Japan hated the emperor and the militarists because it was the people in southern Japan who were being discriminated against and sent off to do insane things like fly Kamikaze planes (Kamikaze pilots were, by the way, pumped full of drugs before flying on missions — that was the only way they could get those guys to do those missions).

Many Okinawans still to this day hold ill-will towards the emperor and his masters for what happened on their island. All of the elderly Japanese I have spoken to (12 in all) thought it was ludicrous when I told them that Americans were taught to believe that all Japanese would die for the emperor. All the Japanese I spoke to (yes, and these were regular people — not die-hard Marines) were shocked or laughed at this notion.

Mr. Nishikawa, now almost 90, who was a captain in the imperial Japanese navy, said it the best when he replied to me, "We wanted to protect our families and our homes. Sure, it’s a part of Japanese culture to say that we did care about the emperor in front of each other — that’s Tatemae (a kind of little white lie) — but no one really wanted to go to war. No one really cared about the emperor. We were merely told that if we won this war, then we could finally have peace. That’s all we wanted. We were sick and tired of war."

We were told that if we won this war, then we could have peace? This should sound hauntingly familiar to today’s American.

Also, if one understood the true nature of how the emperor — as with all European Monarchs also — was so out of touch with regular people and reality — and had been all his life, you’d understand that emperor Hirohito — as figurehead of state — in a nation that respects the elderly — could have never stopped the generals from going to war anyway.

By the same rationale that the US government propaganda machine today sells American youth and the ill-informed American public on the idea of fighting for "your country," the Japanese military-government did the same exact thing. They all do. That’s the nature of government. If you asked an American soldier if he would die for the president, that soldier would most certainly say, "No!" But if you asked him if he’d die trying to save his family, he’d say, "Yes." What makes you think the Japanese were any different than the Americans? The average person, American or Japanese, were just about the same: Duped by their respective government’s imperialist government propaganda.

I have yet to find one shred of evidence that the Japanese government used this "Fight for the emperor" kind of jingoism in order to motivate the troops, let alone the average population.

A telling story about what the higher echelons of the Japanese military thought about the war comes from a well-known admiral who was known as "The Father of the Kamikaze." Japanese Navy Vice Admiral Takijiro Onishi — the man who came up with the idea of Kamikaze — He wrote in October of 1944:

“Japan must surrender as soon as possible. Now, we lost Mariana Islands, so the U.S can attack Japan by using B-29 from Saipan Island and Chengdu in China. However, we cannot stop their attack because we have no aircraft. Also, all of our oil and aluminum will have been spent within 6 months… we cannot fight anymore, so we have to sue for peace as quickly as we can. However, historically, the U.S is a scary country because many Indians and native Hawaiians were slaughtered. If they come to Japan, we have no idea what will they do; therefore, we have to fight with them at Philippines even if we make a sacrifice of ourselves. The war at the Philippines is the last…"

"Historically, the U.S is a scary country because many Indians and native Hawaiians were slaughtered"? Yes, this is true. American imperial history shows why so many of the world’s people are afraid of Americans to this very day. The final slaughter of the American Indians happened not 50 years beforehand at Wounded Knee; and a coup d’tat in collaboration with the US marines dethroned the royalty of Hawaii in 1893.

The Japanese propaganda machine might have made claims that the Japanese were ready to die for the emperor, but it defies common sense to imagine that, even if they did, this was nothing more than a tool in order to exhort the troops to fight on — and an ineffective one at that. Common sense dictates that what the government says, and what the person on the street thinks is an entirely different story. I suspect, once again, that this is a postwar fabrication created by the United States as a convenient tool for relieving US guilt over atomic bombing war crimes. I would welcome any US historian to prove me wrong by showing me Japanese language documentation of such a propaganda campaign.

In World War II, the average Japanese citizen on the street couldn’t have cared less about the emperor. And there was no way they were prepared to die for him. Die for their family? Yes. Die for the emperor? No.

The annual Hiroshima and Nagasaki commemorations are exercises in blame shifting and obfuscation;

There are two enormous lies in this statement. The annual Hiroshima and Nagasaki commemorations are not exercises in blame shifting and obfuscation. That is purely American right-wing A-bomb apologist propaganda. I have been to a Hiroshima A-bomb commemoration. There was not a shred of blame-shifting. All speeches by guests were either recollections of the day’s events or wishes for a peaceful, nuclear-free future. Here is a report on speeches made at Nagasaki:

Fumie Sakamoto, a junior high school student home for lunch when the bomb struck Nagasaki, spoke to the crowd with resolve and anger. “The world around me was lost in a cloud of dust,” she said, and she ran for shelter in the forest.

“People, clothes ripped and torn, with gaping chest wounds, whose hearts were exposed and could still be seen twitching; people burned so badly one could not tell front from back,” she said. “The woods were full of such people.”

Sakamoto, dressed in a deep purple kimono, her eyes and voice sharp and clear, said doctors had told her she was bound for death and not worth treating. She somehow survived over a “long and painful road.”

“Yet war still persists on this Earth and, far from abolishing nuclear arms, I have heard there are even plans to develop nuclear weapons with new capabilities,” she said. “We have devoted our lives to demanding that there never be A-bomb victims again, but why are our voices not heard?”

Nagasaki Mayor Ichou Itoh chastised the United States for continued nuclear proliferation and Japan for taking cover in America’s nuclear fold.

“The nuclear weapons states, the United States of America in particular, have ignored their international commitments and have made no change in their unyielding stance on nuclear deterrence; we strongly resent the trampling of the hopes of the world’s people.”

Do you see any blame-shifting here? I don’t. I don’t see where they are talking about anything but the horrors of nuclear war and how mankind must abolish these WMD. To state otherwise is ignorant.

…the fact is that WW II in Asia and the Pacific was a war between aggressive Japan and everyone else, and in each case, Japan was the aggressor.

No one doubts that Japan was the aggressor nation over its Asian cousins — mostly China. In fact, until now, 4 Japanese Prime Ministers have officially apologized to China and Korea for the war and war atrocities; the last one being current Prime Minister Koizumi who apologized this year.

Taiwan had become a part of the Japanese empire — or part of Japan — depending on your slant, in 1895; a full three years before the Philippines became part of the US empire (where it remains until this day). But it is impossible to deny that Russia, then the Soviet Union, as well as the United States and several European nations weren’t involved with empire building in Asia. And, in turn, to claim that Japan was the aggressor nation over these western states — in Asia no less — is to be biased towards historical facts. Japan kicked the Russians out of Korea and Manchuria in the Russo-Japanese War of 19041905. This would end (temporarily) Russian imperialist ambitions in Asia. The United States is definitely not free of guilt; the USA had imperialist ambitions in Asia for over 50 years as witnessed by the US colonization of the Philippines in 1898 and the presence of US troops in China as early as 1927.

This was another catalyst for the Meiji Restoration; Japan feared being colonized by the west as the rest of Asia was. Therefore all of Japan had to unite under one government. After unification of the country, one of the very first priorities of the Meiji government was to industrialize in order to escape the same fate as the rest of the Asia continent.

By 1930, Japan was already well entrenched in China and Korea — with US blessings under the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1905. In 1937, hostilities between China and Japan would break out again. Considering that this war took place in China, it is common sense to assume that Japan was furthering imperial ambitions. The other powers involved with empire building in Asia, then, at the time of the start of World War Two were: France, Britain, The United States, The Netherlands, and Japan. To claim that Japan was the sole aggressor in Asia is to completely tell the history of the war conveniently from the victor’s point of view. Or as Gary Wills would say, "Only the winners decide what were war crimes."

If Americans wish to use flawed excuses for justification of the atomic bombings, then allow me to show you how the same sort of logic was used by the Japanese military as an excuse for empire building in Asia. An excellent analysis of this use of flimsy justifications by both sides can be found in A Critical Comparison Between Japanese and American Propaganda during World War II. By Anthony V. Navarro:

It is hardly necessary to say that the basic policy of the Japanese government aims at the stabilization of East Asia through conciliation and cooperation between Japan, Manchoukuo, and China for their common prosperity and well being.

Sure, The Japanese invaded Singapore; they did the same in Malaysia — they kicked the British out. Yes, Japan invaded Indonesia and in doing so kicked the Dutch out. Japan invaded the Philippines too, kicking out the Americans. These places were all attacked around the same time as the attack on Pearl Harbor. But the question that needs to be asked is, "If Japan was the only aggressor nation in Asia, then what were American, British, Dutch, etc., armed forces doing in Asia besides protecting and/or expanding those nations’ empires?"

Japan attacked the United States first.

If you mean that the Japanese bombed the military base of Pearl Harbor, before the US bombed the Japanese, then this is a difficult question to answer (see #1 below). If you mean that Japan committed acts of war against the United States first, then the answer is a definitive, "No!" The United States committed at least two acts of war under international law against Japan before December 7, 1941. They were:

  1. US military pilots — 40 from the Army Air Corps and 60 from the US Navy and Marine Corps — in a clandestine operation organized by and funded by the Whitehouse — flying bombing missions against Japanese forces in the famed Flying Tigers as early as 1937. These people did u201Cvolunteeru201D to fly for the Flying Tigers but they were paid employees of the US government. US pilots flying bombing missions for the Chinese was an act of war under international law by America against Japan. Even with the weak argument that these professional military men were u201Cvolunteersu201D (when they were actually sent by the US government), under international law, a nation is responsible for the actions of its nationals. To claim otherwise is hypocritical and completely irresponsible.
  2. US initiated oil embargo against Japan. This is unquestionably an act of war under international law. The US was also totally hypocritical on this point as they forced the British and the Dutch to uphold the embargo, yet secretly allowed Japan oil from the United States as a way to spy on Japanese shipping. See: Day of Deceit by Robert Stinnett.

Counting the above two, then President Roosevelt had a total of eight plans to incite hostilities with the Japanese. The rest, as they say "is history." There are a great many excellent books and articles on what really happened in World War II. The serious student (and professor) would do themselves and their country good to seek out the truth. Things are not as black and white as US public schooling and US history books would lead us to believe. The true causes of the Pacific War were the clash of the US empire in Asia and the Japanese empire.

There is really nothing that is new to the informed student of history in this article, except for one thing: The idea that the Japanese were fanatics that would fight to the death for their emperor. This is unquestionably a complete and total fabrication. The Japanese people that I spoke to, the people who still clearly remember the war, state uncategorically that this idea is false. The average Japanese — like the average person anywhere in the world — at any time in history — would act in a way that is common to human nature: To fight to the death to protect their families and homes. Only a few brainwashed fanatics in the military would have made a claim such as dying for the emperor. Even more to the point, the Japanese I interviewed were surprised to hear that this nonsense is being taught to American children in school. Where this fabrication initially came from is a good question. I would submit to you that this is also a post-war fabrication by apologists for the atomic bombing war crimes of the United States.

Of course the imperial Japanese Army committed atrocities in Asia. Those are unforgivable. That being said, though, committing atrocities is what all imperial forces do — and have always done. World War II Japanese atrocities were no different than what US imperial forces are doing in the Middle East today. Modern Americans should keep this in mind whenever they attempt to demonize the enemy for American imperialist gains — or to excuse US war crimes.

Mike (in Tokyo) Rogers [send him mail] was born and raised in the USA and moved to Japan in 1984. He has the distinction of being fired from every FM radio station in Tokyo — one of them three times. His first book, Schizophrenic in Japan, is now on sale.

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