Bonner F. Fellers, Hirohito’s Guardian General

Brigadier General Fellers had joined MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Command in Australia in late 1943, after having worked for a year in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), predecessor of the CIA. Immediately on landing in Japan (in the same plane that carried MacArthur), Fellers went to work to protect Hirohito from the role he had played during and at the end of the war. Fellers’s overriding goals were to confirm the effectiveness of his own wartime propaganda program, and, at the same time, to shield Hirohito from standing trial.

Fellers conducted private interrogations of about forty Japanese war leaders, including many who would later be charged as the most important Class A war criminals. His interrogations were carried out mainly in visits to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo over a five-month period–September 22, 1945, to March 6, 1946–through two interpreters. Fellers’s activities placed all the major war criminal suspects on alert as to GHQ’s specific concerns, and allowed them to coordinate their stories so that the emperor would be spared from indictment. Thus, at the same time the prosecuting attorneys were developing evidence to be used in trying these people, Fellers was inadvertently helping them. Soon the prosecuting attorneys found the war leaders all saying virtually the same thing. The emperor had acted heroically and single-handedly to end the war. This theme (unknown to them) coincided with Fellers’s goal of demonstrating the effectiveness of his own propaganda campaign against Japan….

MacArthur’s truly extraordinary measures to save Hirohito from trial as a war criminal had a lasting and profoundly distorting impact on Japanese understanding of the lost war.

SOURCE: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, by Herbert P. Bix (HarperCollins, 2000), pp. 582-583, 585

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3 Comments

Filed under Japan, U.S., war

3 responses to “Bonner F. Fellers, Hirohito’s Guardian General

  1. My father, Howard L. Peckham, was a classmate of Bonner’s at West Point. They maintained a close friendship throughout the years, both during sad times and happy times. (For example, Bonner served as a pallbearer at my mother’s funeral and later, during a happier occasion, as an attendant at Dad’s wedding to my stepmother.)
    My recent book, A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham, discusses their friendship.

  2. “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan,” by Herbert P. Bix reads like a conspiracy theory written about a man with god-like abilities. Bix debunks the deity of the Hirohito, but also attributes to him influence only a god could possess. While Bix received the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, the book comes across as a popular polemic with an overwhelming amount of opinionated Bix showing through.

    In a more scholarly work—”Emperor Hirohito and Shōwa Japan, A Political Biography”—Stephen S. Large presents a dispassionate view of the man, his personality and his influence. Hirohito was not a dictator. He was a figurehead monarch. Yes, the constitution of Japan gave him absolute powers, but it also distributed those powers to the cabinet. The emperor cult only goes back to Hirohito’s grandfather, Meiji Emperor. From that time until August 1945, the military ruled Japan by exploiting the mythology of emperor divinity.

    The terrible destruction Japan suffered during the fire bombings and atomic attacks of the Pacific War helped give the Emperor the courage he needed to force the military to surrender. Beyond this—and an action he took and later regretted in 1936 to stop a coup—Shōwa Emperor never exerted overruling power.

  3. Pingback: Bonner Fellers, the “hero” of the WWII drama “Emperor”? | Movie Nation

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