Emperor Hirohito, as the infamous leader of Japan during WWII, is a fascinating figure, and therefore one would assume that an article discussing five myths about him would be very interesting. At least that’s what I thought when I saw this post at the HNN. It turns out that the brief article is interesting, but not for its enlightening exposé of the former emperor. Instead, it turned out to be a puzzling commentary that didn’t live up to the hype. The last three “myths” seem irrelevant given the fact that very few people know about or believe in them. What’s the point of debunking myths that no one believes? There may be some Japanese that believe them, but I’m not aware that these are myths of any note in the English-speaking world.
The first two myths are interesting and relevant to the debate over the dropping of the atomic bomb, however, the author of this piece, Francis Pike, doesn’t really achieve his goal of debunking them. Instead his own essay actually confirms the first myth (Emperor Hirohito was a God), unless he’s actually claiming that people believe that he actually was a god. But that is clearly not what he means. He is referring to the fact that during the war many Japanese believed that he was a god. His own essay confirms that this “myth” is actually not a myth: “Japan’s new regime re-emphasized the role of the Emperor as a living God, making it the heart of an ideological indoctrination taught in the new state school education system,” and “the Meiji Constitution granted him absolute power – he was after all enshrined as a God.” So much for debunking the first myth!
His attempted take down of his second so-called myth (Hirohito was simply a constitutional monarch forced into war by his generals) is also unconvincing. He uses several incidences where Hirohito “demonstrated his absolute powers” (which in itself doesn’t actually address the myth), including, most famously, his intervention to end the war in August 1945 as evidence debunking this myth. But all Pike has demonstrated is that Hirohito occasionally stepped beyond the boundaries of his assigned role as a figurehead of the state.