The Yamato Dynasty

Throughout the whole of recorded history, the emperors of Japan were viewed as relegated to a subordinate position. First it was a representative of the powerful families in the person of the Shogun. After 1868, the members of the collective shogunate who initiated the so-called Meiji Restoration held the reins of power. In such circumstance, the emperor could never be held accountable for any action perpetrated in his name. At the same time, the desires of legislatures and prime ministers were as nothing beside the presumed wishes of his imperial majesty. Countless efforts to alter the course of Japanese society for good or ill found validation in whatever proposal supposedly reflected the emperor's state of mind. Nevertheless, whatever the assessment, puppet or innocent bystander, the emperor was off the hook—he could not be held responsible. Therefore, when the Showa Emperor Hirohito persuaded the Japanese government to surrender during World War II in 1945, he not only saved his country but the imperial system. The United States government could hardly depose the person who obviated the necessity to mount a costly invasion of the Japanese home islands. Most especially insofar as he was in no way responsible for the war or the conduct of same.

More recent scholarship does not support this traditional view of Hirohito. John W. Dower's magisterial Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (1999) and the equally comprehensive Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (2000) by Herbert P. Bix also depict the wartime emperor as playing a very active role in the decision making process. Admittedly, Sterling and Peggy Seagraves' narration describes the emperor's rote in more incendiary terms. However, this difference may be a reflection of the difference between investigative journalism and historical analysis.