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5 Myths About Emperor Hirohito

AFP/Getty Images This undated picture taken in Tokyo shows Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

On the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in World War II, separating the legend from the history

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Myth 1: Emperor Hirohito was a God

After the overthrow of the Japanese Shogunate in 1868, the four southern tribes, the Satsuma, Choshu, Saba and Tosa, sought to embed the legitimacy of their new regime by the re-promotion of an eighth century myth that the Japanese Emperor was a God. The myths were set out in two official chronicles, the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters: AD 712) and the Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan: AD 720).

The powers of the Emperor did not survive as power shifted to the Shogun system and until 1868 the Imperial Japanese family continued to exist largely in obscurity and often in relative poverty. As often happens with revolutionary regimes, a new national identity was required to justify and embed the country’s new military rulers. An infant Emperor Meiji was adopted as the new order’s figurehead and self-justification. 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. The Japanese Army took this further by the simultaneous incorporation of Bushido (the military scholar code) into its military programs. Thus the overthrow of the Shogun was portrayed less as a revolution and was characterized instead as the Meiji Restoration, a title that gave moral justification to a successful armed insurrection.

Myth 2: Hirohito was simply a constitutional monarch forced into war by his generals

In March 1946, some nine months after the Pacific War had been brought to an end, Emperor Hirohito made a testament about his role in the war. In a bizarre scene, Hirohito had a single bed set up on which he lay in pure white pajamas on the finest soft cotton pillows. In eight hours of statements, the Showa Tenno no Dokuhaku Roku (Emperor’s Soliloquy: his post-war testament) Hirohito absolved himself for all responsibility for the war by claiming that he was a constitutional monarch entirely in the hands of the military: ‘I was a virtual prisoner and was powerless.’

This was a lie. Although by convention Hirohito behaved as a constitutional monarch, the Meiji Constitution granted him absolute power – he was after all enshrined as a God. On three separate occasions during his rule he had demonstrated his absolute powers; in 1929 he forced the resignation of his prime minister; in 1936 he overruled his military advisors to insist on the harshest treatment of the young officers involved in the coup d’etat known as the 26 February Incident in 1945; and finally in August 1945 he overruled his advisors by insisting on a Japanese surrender. Hirohito had the power to stop Japan’s military adventurism in the 1930s but chose not to. As his former aide-de-camp Vice-Admiral Noboru Hirata conjectured, “What [his majesty] did at the end of the war, we might have had him do at the start.”

Myth 3: Hirohito was a peace-loving scientist only interested in ocean mollusks

After the Pacific War, General MacArthur’s propaganda machine as well as the Imperial court went into overdrive to convince the world that the Emperor was a peace loving man, a scientist, whose main interest was the study of hydrozoa, microscopic jellyfish. Hirohito was indeed an avid gentleman scientist. However he was also a young man with an interest in the minutiae of military activity. He had a war room built underneath the Imperial Palace in Tokyo from where he could follow Japan’s military adventures in detail. Even the military hierarchy complained at the level of resources needed to update the Emperor. Throughout the war, he mainly wore a military uniform and to celebrate great victories he rode a pure white charger in parades in front of the Imperial Palace. Furthermore, although the Emperor’s court papers were destroyed before the Allies could seize them, it seems clear from contemporary accounts that as Japan’s war situation deteriorated, that he became increasingly shrill in his criticisms of the military, and more insistent on his own strategic suggestions.

Myth 4: Hirohito did not know about the Rape of Nanking and the genocide in China

The Rape of Nanking was widely reported in the Japanese Press, even relaying in gory detail a competition between officers as to who could cut off most Chinese heads. Hirohito could not have been unaware of these reports particularly as his own family was closely involved in the atrocities in China. His own uncle, Prince Asaka had commanded the Japanese troops at Nanking. As a reward Hirohito gifted Asaka a pair of silver vases and they also resumed their regular games of golf.

In a genocide that killed 20 to 30 million Chinese, the Emperor’s relation, Field Marshal Prince Kanin, gave the authorization for the use of gas. Prince Mikasa, Hirohito’s youngest brother, even visited Unit 731 in Manchurian where live vivisection and other experiments were carried out on Chinese and western prisoners. Although unproven, it seems highly unlikely that the inquisitive Hirohito would have been uninformed by his relatives of these activities conducted by the Japanese Army. Like Hirohito, all the imperial family was excused prosecution at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal.

Myth 5: Hirohito apologized for Japan’s war crimes in the Pacific War

It is variously reported that Emperor Hirohito offered to give a formal apology for Japanese war crimes including the attack on Pearl Harbor. Supposedly MacArthur, in order not to undermine the Tokyo War crimes trials refused to allow this. However if Hirohito had really wanted to issue an apology to the nations of Asia and to the United States he could surely have done so by handing a press release to the international press. In 1975, when asked about the “responsibility for the war,” Hirohito replied, “I can’t comment on that figure of speech because I’ve never done research in literature.” It is an obfuscation that is fully reflected in the Japanese post-war historiography taught in schools and universities.

Francis Pike is a historian, journalist and specialist in Asian economics, politics and history. He is the author of Empires at War: A Short History of Modern Asia Since World War II (2009). His latest book is Hirohito’s War: The Pacific War, 1941-1945 (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).

TIME United Kingdom

Prince George, Age 2, Tells Everyone He’s 3

Prince George
Mario Testino/Art Partner In this handout image supplied by Mario Testino/ Art Partner, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge, who celebrates his second birthday.

"He thinks he's older," Kate Middleton said

Seems like someone’s already sick of the terrible twos.

Prince George, who turned two on July 22, has already tired of the age and is (wrongly, but amusingly) informing others he is actually three.

The royal tidbit came to light on Sunday when George’s mother, Kate Middleton, met two-year-old Freddie Wilson at the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing’s headquarters in Portsmouth, England, People reports.

“Hello Princess, my name is Freddie Wilson,” Freddie, a precocious tot, announced. When Middleton asked Freddie how old he was, he answered, “I’m three,” without any hesitation, according to Freddie’s mother, Wendy Maxwell.

When Maxwell jumped in to admit that Freddie was actually just two, Middleton said, “George says that. He thinks he’s older.”

TIME royals

Celebrate Prince George’s Birthday with the Cutest Photo Yet

Royal Baby #1 turns two on Wednesday

On the eve of Prince George’s second birthday, parents Prince William and Kate Middleton shared an adorable photo of Royal Baby #1.

Prince George birthday
Mario Testino—APPrince George with his father, the Duke of Cambridge, in the gardens at Sandringham House, Norfolk, England, on July 5, 2015.

The picture, which features a toothy grin from both father and son, was taken at Princess Charlotte’s christening on July 5 at the Queen’s Sandringham estate.

“This photograph captures a very happy moment on what was a special day for The Duke and Duchess and their family,” a spokesman for Kensington Palace said. “They are very pleased to share this picture as they celebrate Prince George’s second birthday.”

TIME royals

Prince William Just Dropped a Hint About Another Royal Baby

Could No. 3 be closer than we think?

Prince William joined the rest of the working world on Monday, starting his new job as an air ambulance helicopter pilot. But the Duke of Cambridge is confident that his career aspirations, along with the recent arrival of baby Charlotte, will not stretch him too thin.

“I like the challenge,” he told Sky News in an interview released Monday. “It’s been obviously fantastic and she’s been a little joy of heaven.”

But William did admit that the addition of Charlotte made things at home hectic at times. “It’s more responsibility looking after two little ones, especially when George is around as he’s a little monkey,” he said.

Still, it seems Kate is holding up just fine, with William praising her as doing “an amazing job as a mother.”

Prince William injected a little royal modesty when asked if it is going to be difficult to leave his family for work every morning.

“No more difficult than everyone else has to do,” he said.

But it might get increasingly difficult, as he alluded to a potential third royal baby.

“We’ve only just had the second one,” he said. “[But] you never know what’s going to happen in the future.”

TIME royals

Prince William Starts Job as Air Ambulance Helicopter Pilot

Prince William
WPA Pool—Getty Images Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge as he begins his new job with the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) at Cambridge Airport on July 13, 2015 in Cambridge, England.

The flying prince

LONDON — Britain’s Prince William started his new job as an air ambulance pilot on Monday.

William, whose title is the Duke of Cambridge, will donate his salary from the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA) to charity.

He will be tasked with flying victims of car crashes and people suffering heart attacks to the hospital. Regular landing areas for the team include private gardens, parking lots, beaches and roadsides.

“We’re looking forward to him being part of the team,” EAAA chief executive Patrick Peal said when William’s role was announced. “It is a very close-knit crew with the pilot operating…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

Read next: Meet Princess Charlotte’s Godparents

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TIME royals

See an Adorable New Photo of Princess Charlotte

The Duchess of Cambridge holds Princess Charlotte in the Drawing Room at Sandringham House

A photo posted by Kensington Palace (@kensingtonroyal) on

The Kensington Palace Instagram feed put up a new photo of Kate holding her little princess Thursday morning, and the photo had already received over 9,000 likes just 15 minutes after posting.

Charlotte was born May 2, 2015. She was christened on Sunday at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, England, providing the first glimpses at the royal family—Will, Kate, George, and their new princess.

TIME royals

Prince William and Kate Middleton Enjoy Afternoon Date at Wimbledon

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (L) and Prince William (R), Duke of Cambridge attend the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships in London on July 8, 2015.
Alex Broadway—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (L) and Prince William (R), Duke of Cambridge attend the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships in London on July 8, 2015.

With the children at home

Prince William and Princess Kate left the kids at home on Wednesday for a soggy afternoon date at Wimbledon’s Centre Court. (But hey, no kids!)

The parents of Prince George and Princess Charlotte – who just celebrated Charlotte’s christening on Sunday – were in the stands to watch local favorite Andy Murray play his quarter-final match against Canada’s Vasek Pospisil. (The score is currently 3-1 to Murray.)

Sitting in the royal box on a rainy afternoon, Kate – sporting new, shorter layers around her face – wore a $384 cardinal red Cayla Long Dress from LK Bennett, as she and William, in a suit and tie, watched the grand slam event after arriving in a Jaguar.

When the rain stopped play after 15 minutes, William and Kate chatted with other members of the royal box, including William’s aunt Sophie, Countess of Wessex, ex-Wimbledon champion Billie Jean King and Prince Albert of Monaco.

Also in attendance: William’s cousin, Zara Phillips, and David Beckham, who brought along his 12-year-old son Romeo.

William and Kate, both 33, are avid Wimbledon fans and have played tennis against each other since their student days at St Andrews University – even using a public tennis court in her hometown of Bucklebury.

They also plan to upgrade the tennis court at their country home, Anmer Hall, to include an AstroTurf surface, copper beach border and surrounding oak trees.

Kate’s sister Pippa Middleton, attended the tournament on Monday, and her mom Carole and mother-in-law Camilla had a friendly meet-up there on Friday.

This article originally appeared on People.com

TIME royals

See the First Pictures of Princess Charlotte With the Royal Family

Princess Charlotte was set to be christened Sunday, providing the first glimpses of the whole royal family together—Will, Kate, George and Charlotte

TIME royals

Meet Princess Charlotte’s Godparents

The people who will mentor the princess

Princess Charlotte is to have guidance from the longtime friends and family members Prince William and Princess Kate have chosen to be her godparents.

Charlotte, 2 months, was set to be christened at Sandringham’s St. Mary Magdalene church (the same church where her late grandmother Princess Diana was christened) on Sunday, but amid all the preparations, the list of godparents was kept under wraps leading up to the big day.

Read on to learn more about the godparents, who were announced a few hours ahead of Charlotte’s official christening.

Tom van Straubenzee: Overlooked last time, he and fellow Prince William pal James Meade were key ushers at William and Kate’s 2011 wedding, conducting the fun speech that was a foil to Harry’s more straightforward toast. (The buddies also did a “double act” show at William’s 21st birthday party bash at Windsor Castle.) Van Straubenzee, who is married to Melissa Percy – her parents own the Northumberland estate that doubled as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films – attended Ludgrove prep school with Prince William.

Read more at People.com

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