Emperor Hirohito - one of humanity's greatest leaders - by Norman Macrae (written 1989)
Few would have forecast in 1901 that a prince, who was told at birth that he was the direct descendant of a Storm God and a Sun Goddess, would prove to be a bravely ordinary man who would affect uniquely for good the second half of the new century. That is the Emperor Hirohito's legacy
At his accession in 1926, Japan's military advance could not have been checked by any sort of monarch. Had Emperor Hirohito tried, he would have been pushed aside. Japan's entry into world war in 1941 was particularly popular with many Japanese and hundreds of millions of Asians who saw it as likely to end Asia's hated subjection to European colonialism, which it actually did. The Emperor's great service to this century came in 1945, when he claimed it was the consensus of the Japanese that they should unconditionally surrender, which it actually wasn't
Without the Emperor's decisiveness, the war would have continued for a time. At least a dozen nuclear bombs would have been dropped on Japan, at a time when most of the scientists who invented them had no inkling of how far fatal radiation sickness from them could spread ; they do not really know even now. Soviet troops as senior partners to Chinese communists would have swarmed into Asia, imposing a clamp on much of East Asia, just as it was imposed on East Europe.
When Emperor Hirohito declared on the radio that the "war situation had developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage" and that he had therefore resolved to "tolerate the intolerable", he was sticking out his neck at dire risk that it would be chopped off. Emperor Hirohito was ordering action on the basis of a minority view of the ruling establishment, a courage without constitutional precedence. At that moment he ran an almost equal risk of being killed either by fanatic defeated Japanese or fanatically victorious white men.
During the early period of occupation, some Americans and most Australians wanted to hang the Emperor. When Churchill at Potsdam advocated allowing Japan to surrendered with honour, Truman said that Japanese honour now had no meaning, drawing from Churchill the sage view that "well, they have something they are willing to die for, and kill for, and which may mean more for them than it nee do to us". When MacArthur summoned Hirohito to meet him in Tokyo, the little man touched the immensely tall one by insisting with his first sentence that "any blame upon my people devolve wholly on to me".
Churchill had believed in 1918 that robbing Germany of its imperial system was a mistake, "thus creating the vacuum into which strode Corporal Hitler". However, Churchill was no longer in office when the terms of the Japanese armistice were imposed. It is a mercy- partly due to Emperor Hirohito's bearing at his first meeting with Macarthur - that no such vacuum was created in post-1945 Japan. In renouncing war, The Emperor led his country into embracing commercialism
The fruits of that commercialism have transformed Japan during the long twentieth century reign of Emperor Hirohito even more than Britain was transformed during Queen Victoria's long reign in the previous century. Both monarch's presided over te maturing of a great international economic power, but the maturing of Japan is the more extraordinary. Without that bold decision in 1945, Japan could be a radioactive desert, westerners would then be hated throughout Asia, and most rising oriental suns would be in the eclipse of Stalinism
Emperor Hirohito, (1901-1989) is now named Emperor Showa.
Other reports on Japan and region by Norman Macrae include