Bix on the Monolgues and Hirohito's War Responsibility:

Herbert Bix is much less sympathetic to Hirohito's legacy than Frank Gibney is. For example. Bix argues that although Hirohito took credit for his seidan--his sacred decision--to end the war, Konoe had urged the emperor to end the war as early as February 14, 1945, after military setbacks in New Zealand. But lured by the prospect of a final decisivie battle, Hirohito responded that "since the army and navy are willing to fight the decisive Battle of Okinawa, now is not the appropriate time to end the war." Bix goes on:

So, surrender was delayed. Tokyo was firebombed, the battle of Okinawa was fought, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki mainly because the emperor could not exercise the leadership he needed to end the war. (Journal of Japanese Studies 18:2, 1992, p. 302)

Most of the quoations and commentary below are drawn from Bix's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Hirohito, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, but we should also mention the "Imperial Monologues," about which Bix also writes, and which he sees as an extension of a "campaign to exonerate Hirohito of all war responsibility and rehabillitate his image for a new period of peace and disarmament."

The Monolgues--really Q and A between Hirohito and his subordinates trying to anticipate what MacArthur might ask Hirohito about his role in the decisions that led to war--were published in an abbreviated form in the journal Bungei shunju in 1990. They came about because one of the ministers, Terasaki Hidenari, kept his notes from these meetings and his diary and when he died, his wife, Gwen, an American who could not read Japanese, kept them. She eventually handed them over to Bungei shunju after Hirohito died in 1989. They appeared later in book form along with Terasaki's diary and sold some 140,000 copies.

According to Bix, the "old guard," Shidehara, Yoshida, etc., would present Hirohito as a man who had never known the details of military operations but this is not factual. He knew, for example, all the details about the Pearl Harbor attack as of November 8; on the 15th he saw all the general war plan that existed. He even requested a plan to end the war but there never was one! As historian Akira Fujiwara argues, "the thesis that the Emperor, as an organ of responsibility, could not reverse cabinet decisions, is a myth fabricated after the war."

"Having made his choice," Bix notes, "Hirohito dedicated himself totally to presiding over and guiding the war to victory at all costs." (Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japanp. 439) He regularly became intoxicated by victories in the early weeks of the war. He learned of defeats at the Coral Sea and Midway but delayed informing the army. He became frustrated when Japan began to be on the defensive and was no longer winning startling victories. "Confronted with certain defeat," Bix writes, "he dug in his heels and refused to accept it. Rise to the challenge; make a tremendous effort; achieve a splendid victory like at the time of the Japan Sea naval battle [in the Russo-Japanese War], he told Vice Chief of Staff Admiral Shimada in audience on June 17." When Saipan fell, Hirohito wanted Shimada to order it retaken...but that was not possible. (476)

Some more notes the end of the war from Bix:

Bix argues in the "Delayed Surrender" that Shidehara favored holding out for peace by forcing the US to invade. Probably Hirohito shared this view. Five days after Okinawa, Hirohito withdrew his support of P.M. Koiso, who had replaced General Tojo Hideki, so the Koiso cabinet fell. Hirohito chose his former Grand Chamberlain, Admiral Suzuki Kantaro to lead the next cabinet. So it was only after the disastrous Battle of Okinawa was over that Hirohito became interested in peace. Kido’s diary shows June 8 as the first expression by Hirohito that he was thinking seriously about peace. Kido had a "Draft Plan for Controlling the Crisis Situation." Fighting in Europe was over; Japan was isolated and alone. Kido’s plan was to get the Soviet’s to help.

June 22 Hirohito finally informs the Supreme War Leadership Council of his desire to commence diplomatic maneuvers to end the war.

Joseph Grew, Assistant Secretary of State and former Ambassador to Japan, a man familair with Japanese culture and society, urged the president to make a clear definition of the term "unconditional surrender" so Japan could feel reassured and accept the terms. Grew wrote:

The main point at issue historically is whether, if following the devastation of the March firebombing of Tokyo, the president had made it clear that surrender would not mean elimination of the present dynasty if the Japanese people desired its retention, the surrender of Japan could have been hastened. . .civilian advisors to the Emperor were working toward surrender long before the Potsdam Proclamation, even, indeed, before my talk with the president. The stumbling block was the complete domination of the Japanese Army over the government.

The American side was unclear about exactly what it wanted.

July 26, 1945, Potsdam Declaration issued in the form of an ultimatum. It contained no warning to Japan about the bomb and Grew’s suggestion that the following phrase be included was rejected:

This may include a constitutional monarchy under the present dynasty.

The Japanese government received the declaration on July 27 and showed no inclination to accept. PM Suzuki claimed it was no more than a rehash—yakinaoshi—of the Cairo Declaration** and he intended to mokusatsu—kill it by silence or ignore it. If Hirohito were displeased with this intransigence, surely Kido would’ve recorded it in his diary accounts of his detailed conversations with him. He did not.

Aug. 6, 8:15 am the Hiroshima bomb was dropped. Estimated 100,000 people were killed; perhaps another 100,000 died of radiation sickness over the next 5 years.

Aug. 8, 2 days later, the Soviets entered the war.

After the Hiroshima bombing, Hirohito procrastinated for a full day and a half before telling Kido, shortly before 10 a.m. on August 9, to "quickly control the situation" because "the Soviet Union has declared war today and began hostilities against us." (525)

Aug. 9, the second atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki. Some 80-90,000 people were killed.


We have used the bomb against those who attacked us without warning at Pearl Harbor, against those who have starved and beaten American prisoners of war....We have used it in order to shorten the agony of the war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans.

August 10, Hirohito acts to break the deadlock within the Supreme War Leadership Council and thereby execute his seidan--his sacred decision--which came past 2:00 am on August 10th in a meeting which had begun on the 9th. Years after the war, Hirohito wrote:

I thought by then that it was impossible to continue the war...The main motive behind my decision at that time was that if we....did not act, the Japanese race would perish and I would be unable to protect my loyal subjects. Second, Kido agreed with me on the matter of defending the kokutai. (Bix, 515)


And so the drafting of an Imperial Rescript to end the war began on the 10th. It took 3 days to come up with a draft that was submitted to the Suzuki cabinet.

Hirohito, then, was unprepared to seize the moment earlier and end the war. On Aug. 3, the PM’s Cabinet Advisory Council had recommended acceptance of Potsdam on the ground that US would allow Japan to retain its nonmilitary industries and participate in world trade. "So for ten days, while Hirohito kept himself relatively secluded, the Potsdam Declaration was 'ignored.' The bombs were dropped, and Soviet forces invaded along a wide front from Northern Manchuria to Korea. The Foreign Miister Togo Shigenori, not a dove by any stretch of the imagination, persuaded the emperor that the declaration in itself really signified conditional surrender, not unconditional. though he probably has his own doubts about tht interpretation."

There was another exchange between Togo and Byrnes, Togo asking for the one condition, Byrnes "alluding to the subordination of the emperor's authority to the supreme commander of the Allied Powers, theerby leaving in tact the vitally important principle of unconditioal surrender. However...his reply could also be seen as hinting that the emperor's position might be maintained after surrender." (503-504) Japanese leaders still couldn’t agree so Aug. 14 Hirohito was forced to step in and make the call. He recorded his capitulation announcement and it was broadcast to the nation August 15th. It was a highly dramatic moment as his subjects were told that an important announcement would be made and they all gathered around radios throughout Japan.

The point is, the Suzuki cabinet and the Supreme War Leadership Council never tried to save the people from further destruction. They waited, instead, until the foreign enemies gave them a face-saving excuse to surrender in order to prevent the kokutai from being destroyed by antimilitary, antiwar pressure from within Japan. "The atomic bombs and the Soviet declaration of war were tenyu, gifts from the gods. This way we don’t have to say that we quit the war because of domestic circumstances." (Yonai) It didn’t matter how many hundreds of thousands died as long as the monarchy remained in tact. Leaders were willing to concede all imperial territory, but had to secure the imperial line; they would even would offer up labor as reparations!! Apparently, this idea of interning Japanese POWs as forced labor for the Soviet economy, originated with the Japanese government, not the Russians.

So neither the US’s unwillingness to clarify Unconditional Surrender, nor Truman’s focus on the Soviet threat, were sufficient in and of themselves to account for the use of the bomb. Rather, it was Hirohito’s unwillingness to accept defeat that prolonged the war needlessly. It was a combination of Hirohito’s stubbornness coupled with the determination, truculence and power of Truman that brought about the A-bombs. Knowing they were defeated, yet indifferent to the suffering that the war was imposing on their own people, the Emperor and his leaders stubbornly searched for a way to lose without losing.


From the very start of the Asia-Pacific war, the emperor was a major protagonist of the events going on around him. Before the Battle of Okinawa, he had constantly pressed for a decisive victory. Afterward he accepted the need for an early but not an immediate peace. And then he vacillated, steering Japan toward continued warfare rather than toward direct negotiations with the Allies. When the final crisis was fully upon him, the only option left was surrender without negotiation. Even then he continued to procrastinate until the bomb was dropped and the Soviets attacked. (520)

Bix identifies three missed opportunities:

1. The Supreme War Leadership Council could have sued for peace as early as February when Konoe and Shigemitsu warned that the neutrality pact would not protect Japan from Russia joining in against them.

2. In early June, when the Battle of Okinawa was lost, when their own studies showed them the war could not continue, peace initiatives could have been launched. Foreign Minister Molotov had notified Japan on April 5 that the Japan-Soviet Neutrality Pact would not be renewed; the Germans had surrendered unconditionally on May 7-8 leaving Japan completely islolated--this was a good time to open up direct negotiations with the US and the UK.

3. Again, on July 27-28 when Potsdam Declaration arrived, it was an appropriate time for a response. But pinning their hopes on Konoe’s not yet arranged mission to Moscow, then waiting for a response that would never come, the Emperor and Kido wasted valuable time. (521-522)

In the end, the bomb allowed Hirohito to become a savior; he could play the role of the benevolent ruler who stepped in with his seidan and broke the deadlock and brought peace to war weary Japan. As Bix notes, the two atomic bombs and the entrance of the Soviets into the war presented Hirohito with an opportunity:

Hirohito could now save his suffering people from more suffering by surrendering, and at the same time shed responsibility for having led them into misery and assume an air of benevolence and the mantle of caring. Hirohito did indeed care. Not primarily for the Japanese people, however, but for his own imperial house and throne. (Bix, 523-24)

Was the bomb necessary? The Kyushu invasion casualties were estimated at only 22,576 killed, wounded or missing during first 30 days; 11,000 more in next 30 days. [Takaki's book cites figures of 40,00 killed, 150,000 wounded. (23)] Truman lacked patience and foresight to wait. Japan’s leaders, trapped in a failed and endangered ideology, were willing to sacrifice huge numbers of Japanese in order to maintain their own and their monarch’s power.

Noon, August 15th

Our empire accepts the provisions of the Joint Declaration. He was acting to save human civilization from total extinction by paving the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come.

There was no explanation of what those provisions were, but his next words went on to concede defeat, albeit indirectly, without ever using the word, and to seize the high moral ground from the Allies by declaring that he was acting to save 'human civilization' from 'total extinction' by 'paving the was for a grand peace for all the generations to come.'

But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone--the gallant fighting of our military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of out servants of the State and the devoted service of our 100,000,000 people--the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest. Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

Hirohito reiterated that the aim of the war had been national existence and self-defense (Indeed, we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to insure Japan's self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.), and he never actually uttered the word surrender. He who made the war meaningful and valid for the people of Japan wanted to obfuscate the issue of accountability, prevent expressions of strife and anger, and strengthen domestic unity centered on himself. "Hirohito's surrender rescript was the first text to redefine his new national image as a pacifist, anti-militarist, and completely passive onlooker in the war—none of which he had ever been." (526-27)

Radio announcer Wada Shinken reread the announcement in ordinary language and then commented:

We invited a situation in which we had no choice but to lay down our arms. We could not live up to the great benevolence of the emperor. Yet our benevolent emperor was ready to do whatever no matter what happened to himself. "Who among us can escape reflecting on his own disloyalty?" (527-28)