Who’s responsible for the Showa War

Why did Japan’s military and government leaders trigger the Manchurian Incident and then launch the Sino-Japanese War? Why did the nation opt to go to war with the United States and continue to fight recklessly? Wasn’t it possible to end the war before the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

 To find answers to these questions, we, the War Responsibility Reexamination Committee, an ad hoc in-house panel of the Yomiuri Shimbun, delved thoroughly into, combed through and examined histori­cal developments during the period from the early 1930s to 1945—specifically the history of wars waged by Japan. The particular period covers the early parts of the 1926–1989 reign of Emperor Showa, the posthumous name of the monarch known as Emperor Hirohito outside Japan.

 The Yomiuiri Shimbun presented its readers with its findings in a yearlong “War Responsibility” series ending on August 15, 2006, the 61st anniversary of the end of World War II. In this chapter, we comprehensively touch on Japan’s mistakes committed at various key points from the Manchurian Incident to the Soviet Union’s entry into a war with Japan and named those who should chiefly be held responsible for each event; in Chapter 7, we elaborate upon the accountability of those who were so deeply responsible; and in Chapter 8, we summarize a host of historical lessons that we should leave for future generations to learn.

 Our careful examination concluded that Hideki Tojo, who was Prime Minister when Japan entered into a war with the United States, was most responsible for what we, the War Responsibility Reexamination Committee of the Yomiuri Shimbun, describe as the Showa War, a collective name for a series of wars that involved Japan in East Asia and the Pacific during the aforementioned period.

 We found Fumimaro Konoe, the predecessor of Tojo as Prime Minister, was second most responsible for allowing the Japanese military to act on its own.

 On the other hand, given the fact that Emperor Showa behaved within the bounds of a constitutional monarchy system, we reached the conclusion that he was not seriously responsible.

 After the end of the hostilities, the U.S.-led Allied Powers held the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, better known as the Tokyo Tribunal, but Emperor Showa was not indicted as a result of a political decision. Should he have been prosecuted, the Emperor would have inevitably been found guilty owing to his statement to Supreme Allied Commander General Douglas MacArthur that he was willing to take responsibility for the war which would have been regarded as a confession of guilt. On this particular point, our judgment about the responsibility of Emperor Showa, which is based on the rule of law, differs significantly from the expectations of the Allied Powers in the postwar occupation era except for those of the United States and Britain.

 Our conclusions are also far different from the rulings in the Tokyo Tribunal in that we examined the responsibility of many staff officers and high-raking bureaucrats who supported war leaders.

 The Yomiuri Shimbun decided to define the wars in East Asia and the Pacific Ocean as the “Showa War.” This series of wars has been called the Greater East Asia War, the Pacific War, the 15-Year War, the Asia-Pacific War or the Second World War. Each of these titles has some justification, but they are not necessarily appropriate when considering factors such as the sense of resistance against certain ideologies, the period of the wars and the areas where fighting took place.

 These names have been used independently. Some people refer to “that war” or “the latest big war.” As a result, no name has been universally adopted by the Japanese people, even though this year, 2006, marks the 61st year since the war ended. The Showa Era, corresponding to the reign of Emperor Showa, lasted for a relatively long period of slightly more than 62 years from December 25, 1926, to January 7, 1989. The early parts of the era were dominated by wars, and the impact of the wars remained strong in the latter parts of the era. Many Japanese already consider the war in a historical context. We decided to use the term “Showa War,” not out of consideration to Emperor Showa, but because its events occurred during the Showa Era.