JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Tuesday, July 29, 2008


I was surprised to learn some years ago after actually reading the famous "Potsdam Declaration", issued in July 29, 1945, that it says nothing about Japan. The public statement released concerning Japan was the "Potsdam Statement", which was issued on July 26th.The confusion is an easy mistake to make. The tone of the "Declaration" and the "Statement" are similar as they were both issued in triumphant from amidst the rubble of a vanquished and occupied Nazi Germany. But where the "Decrlaration" is also a working blueprint for the shape of Europe's future, the "Statement" is pure politics: part a political initiative, part boastful victory display, and part pure posturing for the voters back home. It was signed by the U.S., Great Britain and China, but really it only mattered to the Americans. The Pacific was our war. And in the statement you will find none of Lincoln’s wise magnanimity. It began with a warning, “The might that now converges on Japan is immeasurably greater than that which, when applied to the resisting Nazis, necessarily laid waste to the lands, the industry…of the whole German people…” .
In the 44 months since Pearl Harbor the United States had largely supplied the allied victory in Europe, and at the same time we had built eight new battleships, 13 heavy cruisers, 2 large cruisers, 33 light cruisers, 18 heavy aircraft carriers, 76 light or jeep carriers, more than 600 destroyers and destroyer escorts, plus 4,000 large landing craft and 79,000 small landing craft. The Marine Corp had grown to over half a million men and the U.S. Army to one million men in fighting divisions. And it was this force, supplied in abundance and seeking revenge, which was descending upon Japan in August of 1945.That explained to a degree the haughtily tone in which the U.S. informed Japan that the “Following are our terms. We will not deviate from them. There are no alternatives. We shall brook no delay. There must be eliminated for all time the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest. Until such a new order is established and until there is convincing proof that Japan's war-making power is destroyed …Japanese territory…shall be occupied…Japanese sovereignty shall be limited….as we determine…(and) stern justice shall be meted out to all war criminals…We call…(for the) unconditional surrender of all Japanese armed forces,…The alternative for Japan is prompt and utter destruction.” It could almost have been written by George Bush’s speechwriters.
The Japanese, reading this statement, noted two things; first, the Russians had not signed it, and two, there was no direct mention of the Emperor. But they had also noticed that American propaganda often included hateful images of the Emperor. And the section about removing “...those who have deceived and misled” seemed to the Japanese, and to most American readers, to refer directly to the Emperor. Seventy years later there are still Americans who believe Hirohito should have stood trial for war crimes. But in 1945 the average Japanese would die to prevent him standing trial like a mere mortal.
From the 1890’s on, all Japanese children were indoctrinated in the belief that the nation and the Emperor were synonymous, that Japan began and ended with the Chrysanthemum Throne. According to the Imperial Cult, a brand of the Shinto religion widespread in Japan, the first Emperor had been Jimmu, supposedly born in 700 B.C.E.. He was the child of the sun goddess Amaterasu, whose spirit resided in the dormant volcano Mount Fuji. Her spirit was the mountain, just as the spirit of Hirohito, more properly know to his subjects as “Emperor Showa”, was Japan. Emperor Showa was thus a spiritual leader, closer to a warrior pope than a king. His subjects fought “for the Emperor” but they took orders from lesser men who ran the government, men like Tojo.

Hirohito certainly approved of their wars against China, England and America, but they were not "his" wars. He had not ordered them and was often a mere prop for the war makers. Besides, Japan had a long and ancient history of ignoring or “working around” invonvienent imperial wishes; which was the problem the Emperor now faced in ending the war. Like all Kings and Presidents, he was a prisoner of his office, be it Edo Palace or the White House. And without a free press Hirohito only knew what his staff and advisors told him. And he could only act through them. He, like everyone else in Japan, believed the nation could not survive without the Emperor. And he had come, finally, to believe his throne could not survive unless the war was ended immediately.The Americans agreed, for their own reasons. And on August 11, just one day after the Swiss communicated the Japanese note to the Americans, they replied, again speaking through the Swiss to the Japanese. The Americans were still firm and still boastful. After all they were the winners of this war. “From the moment of surrender the authority of the Emperor and the Japanese Government… shall be subject to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Nations. The Emperor will…authorize and ensure the signature by the Government of Japan…of the surrender terms…The ultimate form of government of Japan shall, in accordance with the Potsdam Declaration, be established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.”
And there, hidden in all that brash macho braggadocio lay the compromise that ended World War Two in the Pacific. The U.S. was telling the Japanese (for the first time) that if they wanted the Emperor, they could have the Emperor, as long as he had no direct authority - something he had never really had anyway. Problem solved.To which the Japanese Government replied as quickly as the stilted etiquette and security of the Palace, politics and diplomacy would allow, on August 14th, and again via the Swiss: “His Majesty the Emperor…is prepared to authorize and ensure the signature by his Government…of the necessary terms for carrying out the provisions of the Potsdam declaration. His Majesty is also prepared to issue his commands to…surrender arms and to issue such other orders as may be required…”Done and done. Now all they had to do was separate the opponents, which would be a bit like separating two amorous porcupines - a very delicate procedure. Tomorrow, the very delicate procedure.
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