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A plea for no excuses

“The army and navy were nominally subordinate to the emperor. But if Hirohito had attempted to defy the hard-liners during the years before and after Pearl Harbor, it is likely that the palace would have been physically attacked, as indeed it was in August 1945. He himself might well have been overthrown. Like most surviving monarchs of his time, Hirohito perceived the preservation of the imperial house as his foremost duty. A belief in the precariousness of his own position, in a society dominated by unyielding samurai, does much to explain his passivity. If this merits some sympathy from posterity, however, it cannot command admiration. While he deeply desired to be a conscientious monarch, Hirohito proved a fatally weak one, who cannot be absolved from the crimes of both commission and omission carried out in his name. He allowed others to wield executive authority in a fashion which wrought untold death and suffering, and he cannot have been unaware of the military’s bloody excesses. Two of his brothers, for instance, attended screenings of an army film depicting Japan’s biological warfare experiments on human subjects at Unit 731 in Manchuria.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Published inMax HastingsThe Second World War

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