Hirohito: Obsessed with His Past?

Hirohito’s European and American visits [in 1971 and 1975, respectively], together with his various press interviews, helped the Japanese people to reengage with the long-buried question of his war responsibility. But for Hirohito the foreign tours and the interviews had no such effect. For him, the event that triggered a confrontation with the past was more personal. Certain reminiscences on the war by his brother, Prince Takamatsu, had appeared in the February 1975 issue of the popular journal Bungei shunjû. Hirohito seems not to have learned about the article until January 1976. Interviewed on the war by journalist Kase Hideaki, Prince Takamatsu implied that he had been a dove and Hirohito a reckless hawk. He told of the incident on November 30, 1941, when he had spoken to his brother for five minutes, warning him that the navy high command could feel confident only if the war lasted no longer than two years. Takamatsu also recalled warning his brother to end the war right after the Battle of Midway. And he told how, in June 1944, he had shocked a meeting of staff officers at Navy General Headquarters by telling them that “Since the absolute defense perimeter has already been destroyed … our goal should be to focus on the best way to lose the war.” Finally, Takamatsu revealed that he and Prince Konoe had considered asking the emperor to abdicate prior to surrender.

Learning of these disclosures, Hirohito grew very upset. He felt his brother had gone too far. What could he do to save his reputation as emperor? For the first time since he dictated his “Monologue” and, with Inada Shûichi and Kinoshito Michio, made the first “Record of the Emperor’s Conversations” (Haichôroku), Hirohito returned to the task of setting the historical record straight. The project to record the events of his reign and define the place that he would occupy in history focused on his role during the years of war and occupation. It quickly turned into a consuming interest that haunted him for the rest of his life. By nature the least self-reflective of men, Hirohito became obsessed with his past.

SOURCE: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, by Herbert P. Bix (HarperCollins, 2000), pp. 677-678

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