Emperor Hirohito was the leader of Japan through World War II. He remained the emperor from 1929 to 1989. He is especially known as the Japanese emperor who oversaw Japan’s involvement in World War II.
Hirohito initially opposed the Japanese involvement but later came to side with his military advisors. At the end of the war, he announced the complete surrender of Japan to the Allied forces in order to prevent further loss of life.
Emperor Hirohito was born in 1901 in Tokyo. From an early age, he was given an imperial education. He received training in military and religious affairs while also learning how to play the role of an emperor effectively.
In 1921, Hirohito became the first Japanese crown prince to embark on a trip of Europe. This trip significantly shaped his perception of the West. Upon his return, he assumed the role of the Emperor as his father’s health was failing.
When Hirohito became the emperor, democratic forces were on the rise in Japan. However, soon after his ascension, setbacks began for the democracy. Many of these setbacks were largely contributed by a downturn in the Japanese economy.
In 1929, Hirohito removed the Prime Minister of the country. This was followed by the removal, assassination and persecution of several other successors. Finally, the military effectively took over the government and began nominating its own Prime Ministers.
In the 1930s, the Japanese military harbored ambitions to invade China and annex it to the Japanese Empire. To this end, Japan launched a full-scale invasion of China. During this invasion, hundreds of thousands of Chinese were killed and war crimes were committed by the Japanese military.
Emperor Hirohito failed to punish these crimes and bring the military to account for them. This further strengthened the hand of the military junta who would follow this with the debacle of World War II.
Historians are unsure about the extent of power and authority Hirohito enjoyed during World War II. He did sanction the initial strike on Pearl Harbor which pulled the United States into the war. Once Japan had joined the war on the side of Germany and Italy, Emperor Hirohito made significant efforts to keep up the nation’s morale and rally support for the war effort. However, as the war progressed, Hirohito lost touch with reality as the government officials provided him with tailored reports that highlighted Japanese victories and failed to mention the defeats.
By 1945, Japan was lost all its gains in war and was inching towards complete defeat. The Allied forces wanted Japan to surrender to prevent further bloodshed but Hirohito and the military refused. In August 1945, United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Atomic Bombs were dropped by a Boeing B-29 Superfortress bomber, named after Enola Gay. This finally forced Hirohito to surrender.
After the war, some Allied leaders wanted to try Hirohito for war crimes. However, it was unclear exactly how much authority and power Hirohito had in the military affairs of Japan during the war. Consequently, he was not tried for the crimes.