General MacArthur and the Emperor "If ever a picture was worth a thousand words, it was the image of General MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito standing side by side during their historic first meeting on September 27, 1945. In it, a casually dressed MacArthur towers over the stiff, formally attired Emperor. "What does it say" asks historian Carol Gluck. "It says, I'm MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, and I'm in charge." For millions of Japanese, it brought home in an entirely new way the notion that they had lost the war." General MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito were considered to be two of the most enigmatic figures of the 20 th century.
The ambiguity surrounding their roles in leading Japan before and after the war make one realize how complex (and just plain strange) they actually were. To many of his subjects, Hirohito was the "emperor of heaven," not really a man at all, but the living incarnation of Japan. No matter what you may know about the two men, their lives provide an interesting perspective into how the running and occupation of japan worked. Emperor Hirohito was installed as Crown Prince at the age of fifteen, Hirohito attained what was called the "Chrysanthemum Throne" (don't ask why) in 1926 when his father, the Emperor Yoshihiro died. Because his father had been weak and sickly, Hirohito ruled more in his grandfather's shadow, the great Emperor Meiji, who presided over Japan's ridiculously funny late-19 th-century opening up to the West and modernization. Even before assuming the throne, many web sites that could have been actually made-up say that Hirohito reflected the same fascination with the West, especially after his six-month tour of Europe in 1921, where he picked up a lasting taste for Western food and clothes.
Personally, I have a hard time believing that a vacation when he was nine could have possibly affected hi so profoundly, but it seems to have been shown at least partially true in 1975, when he visited the United States, meeting John Wayne, conversing with President Ford, and receiving a Mickey Mouse watch he supposedly wore for years. In between, however, he presided over one of the largest and most costly military ventures since Hannibal. In the years after the war, the accepted version of events holds that Hirohito was essentially a pawn of the militarists who gained control of the government shortly after he took the throne. MacArthur, convinced he needed the Emperor's help (that is to say, his submission) to run a smooth occupation, played no small part in establishing this version. With Hirohito's quiet manner, love of haiku and marine biology, the image of the peace-loving man who was powerless to stop his country's murderous expansion took hold. But in the decade since his death, a fuller inquiry into what happened has convinced a number of historians that this version, while partially true, is far from exact.
Hirohito's ability to thwart the militarists was definitely limited - he was more a symbol of the state than an actual ruler - but he was not nearly as blameless as his defenders would have it. In his book, Tenno, historian Richard B. Finn sums it up this way: "The decisions that led to the war in 1941 were made unanimously by the cabinet, the emperor was fully informed about them, they were often made in his presence, he knew in advance of the plan to attack Hawaii, and he even made suggestions about how to carry it out." In September of 1945, General Douglas MacArthur, although previously a respected commander in the Pacific and later to be even better known in the U. S. for his exploits in Korea, was about to receive an even greater honor. For the sake of the occupation, and restructuring of Japan, the general was to be referred to as the SCAN, or Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers.
From the start, the Occupation went hand in hand with the name MacArthur. Despite his leadership of a highly successful occupation, MacArthur was not actually responsible for the majority of the restructuring; Planners in D. C drew up most of the process. On August 15, 1945, the Japanese people heard their emperor's voice for the first time, and while he avoided using the word "surrender," his meaning was clear. The emperor was heard far too late (Japan had lost 2. 3 million soldiers and 800, 000 civilians in the war) in the days ahead the emperor did provide a great deal of national unity.
By accepting MacArthur's implied bargain (help me and I'll keep you from being tried as a war criminal) Hirohito did his part to remake Japan along an American model, backing the new constitution, forcibly renouncing his divinity, and trying lead by example as Japan's first supporter of the democratic system. By the time his 62-year reign came to an end, Japan had risen, by means of American industrial replacements (ain't irony fantastic), to become one of the world's richest countries. It was in demonstrating this remarkable capacity for change that Hirohito truly became the living symbol of his people.