Hirohito, the Imperial Son of Heaven of Great Japan, was held by many Westerners to have been responsible for the war in the Far East. He was a shy and ineffectual-looking man who was more interested in the study of marine biology than in politics and war. The Emperor’s position in the constitution was not powerful: he presided over all cabinet meetings but, according to tradition, he never joined in discussions and merely gave his assent to decisions. He was not associated with any political party or group of men and his ministers would have never asked him his opinion on anything because that would have been embarrassing. The Japanese people loved their Emperor and he was respected as a deity: once the war had begun they felt they were fighting the war for him and would gladly die for him.
Hirohito could see that TOJO’s policy would lead to war and he tried to exert some pressure on Tojo to be more cautious. However when war broke out it was in his name and all proclamations and orders were issued in his name. Tojo, YAMAMOTO, and the other leading figures kept Hirohito informed of the events of the war but he chose to remain in the background. However as the war dragged on and the Homeland was in danger of being invaded, the Emperor, acting on the Marquis KIDO’s advice, decided to speak out. On Hirohito’s initiative Prince HONOYE was asked to go on a peace mission to the USSR. Hirohito saw the situation become even more critical: he witnessed the bombing of Tokyo and the dropping of the two atomic bombs created a profound impression on him. On 9 August 1945 the Cabinet was deadlocked in the discussion on whether to accept the Potsdam Declaration: the main stumbling block was fear over the Emperor’s status after the war. Hirohito was on good terms with his Prime Minister, SUZUKI, and he decided that he was willing to risk his position to facilitate peace negotiations. For the first time Hirohito expressed his views when Suzuki appealed to him and he said ‘I cannot but swallow my tears and sanction the proposal to accept the Allied Proclamation on the basis outlined by the Foreign Minister [TOGO].’ On 14 August the decision to surrender was finally taken and again Hirohito made an emotional speech about the inevitability of peace. The Emperor also made a recorded speech giving the reasons for the surrender which was broadcasted the next day. It was the first time in history that the Emperor had addressed his people directly, and he used the words of his predecessor, the Emperor Meiji, that Japan had to ‘accept the unacceptable, endure the unendurable.’ After the war Hirohito remained on the throne because MACARTHUR realized that to remove him would create bitter anti-American feelings and make it difficult to control Japan. However MacArthur was determined to destroy the Emperor’s divinity and in January 1946 Hirohito made a declaration of non-divinity.