The foremost Western authority on the life and times of Emperor Hirohito — known posthumously as the Emperor Showa — talked to The Japan Times about the role of Japan’s former “living god” and his place in history in comparison with other powerful twentieth century leaders including Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt and George W. Bush.
In 2000, historian Herbert P. Bix shattered the image of Emperor Hirohito as a mere figurehead who was detached from Japan’s imperialist warmongering in the first half of the 20th century.
Bix argued in Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, which won him the Pulitzer Prize, that the emperor was intimately involved in the decision-making behind his military’s ruthless campaigns. Hence Bix contends, the Emperor bore heavy moral, legal and political responsibility.
Bix explains why Japan will be unable to realize its full democratic potential without re-evaluating Emperor Showa. Bix also explores what lessons today’s world leaders can learn from a study of this enigmatic figure.
At the postwar Tokyo war crimes tribunal, the Allies indicted 28 Japanese war leaders for “crimes against peace,” “violations against the laws and customs of war” and “crimes against humanity,” including the Nanjing atrocities in 1937-38 and the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Seven were hanged.
Bix maintains that Emperor Showa was shielded from trial by Allied commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his staff, who feared communists and wanted to harness the Emperor’s domestic popularity to hasten Japan’s recovery, and so suppressed damning evidence of his war involvement.
In this interview, Bix ranges widely from wartime Japan and the U.S. at war to Washington’s contemporary policies in Iraq.