A Secret Message from the Showa Emperor
The document poses some unusual problems for scholars. Typed in English, classified “Top Secret,” and covering a little more than three double-spaced pages, it is devoted entirely to summarizing the emperor’s opinions as conveyed through an intermediary. Until the early 1970s, it was in the personal possession of MacArthur’s former aide and personal confidant, General Courtney Whitney, although it is not mentioned in either Whitney’s or MacArthur’s memoirs. Whitney’s papers were turned over to the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia, and declassified in 1978.
The Text of the Memorandum
[Verbatim reproduction of the original English typescript]
He said that the Emperor wanted him to explain the basis for the latter’s remark of a couple of weeks ago that he hoped the Occupation would not be too short. The Emperor felt that there were still many remnants of feudalism in the Japanese mind and that it would take a long time to eradicate them. He said the Japanese people as a whole were lacking in education which was necessary for their democratization and also that they were lacking in real religious feeling and were accordingly easy to sway from one extreme to the other. He said that one of the feudalistic traits was their willingness to be led and that they were not trained like Americans to think for themselves. He said the Tokugawa regime had been built on the theory that people should follow their leaders and should not be given any reason therefor except loyalty. Thus the average Japanese faced a traditional handicap in trying to think for himself. With his instinct to follow rather blindly, the Japanese were now eagerly endeavoring to adopt American ideas but, as witness the labor situation, they were selfishly concentrating their attention on their rights and not thinking about their duties and obligations. Part of the reason for this stems from the long-standing habit of clannishness in their thinking and attitudes. The days when the Japanese people were divided into clans are not really over. The average Japanese considers his relatives as friends whose interests he would pursue, and other people as enemies whose interests do not merit consideration.
He said the Emperor had talked a great deal lately about the lack of religious feeling among the Japanese. The Emperor did not consider Shinto a religion. It was merely a ceremony and he thought that it had been greatly over-rated in the United States. It still had some dangerous aspects, however, because most Shintoists were ultra-conservative and they and ex-soldiers and others who had identified Shintoism with ultra-nationalism had a tendency to cling together. This was dangerous now the Government was without any means of supervusing [sic] them because of its strict observance under orders of the freedom of religion. The Emperor thought that the Shinto elements and their fellow travelers would bear watching because they were anti-American.
The Emperor felt that this was no time to talk about whatever virtues the Japanese people possessed but rather to consider their faults. Some of theirfaults were indicated in the foregoing general outline of the Emperor’s thoughts which had brought him to the conclusion that the Occupation should last for a long time.
He said that the Emperor was very greatly impressed with General MacArthur and what he was doing. I said that General MacArthur was one of our greatest Americans who in his devotion to American and Allied interests at the same time, as the Emperor knew, had the best interests of the Japanese people at heart. I said that we Americans believed that Allied objectives for Japan were in the best interests of the Japanese as well as the world at large and we looked forward to the development of a democratic and economically sound Japan which would respect the rights of other nations and become a cooperative member of the commonwealth of nations.
In response to an inquiry in regard to reparations, I said that General MacArthur is extremely anxious to have this question settled as soon as possible so that the Japanese industrialists could get down to work and produce goods needed for the purpose of paying for imports of food and for consumption in this country. I said that the General and his staff were doing everything they could to hasten the achievement of economic stability in Japan and I added some remarks in regard to the industry and thrift of the Japanese people and the need that they exert their best efforts for improvement of the economic situation.
He said the Emperor appreciated very much the American attitude taken in the Allied Council, and felt that it had a stabilizing effect. But he was nowconsiderably worried over the labor situation in this country and hoped that the coal strike in the United States would be settled soon because the Japanese laborers, in their imitative way and in their selfish seeking of their rights without regard to their obligations, were being adversely affected by the American coal strike.
He said the Emperor had remarked to him several times that the name given his reign–Showa or Enlightened Peace–now seemed to be a cynical one but that he wished to retain that designation and hoped that he would live long enough to insure that it would indeed be a reign of “Splendid Peace”.
He said that the Emperor was distressed over the loss by Admiral Suzuki, whom he had named to head the Cabinet to prepare for the surrender, of not only his Naval pension, which was understandable, but also his pension as a civil official. He had been Lord Chamberlain to the Emperor for a number of years, had done his job well in laying preparations for the surrender and, while his rank as Admiral and wartime status as Prime Minister naturally subjected him to purge, he was not prevented from receiving his pension due him from his position in the Imperial Household. The Emperor was perturbed not only for the sake of Admiral Suzuki personally but also because such deprivations, which were not understood by the Japanese, created anti-American feelings which were not in the interests of the Occupation or of Japan itself.
JOHN W. DOWER is Elting E. Morison Professor of History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
General Whitney to C-in-C, dated 24 April 1946
24 April 1946
GHQ/SCA 民政局文書 GHQ/SCAP Records Government Section;Box No. 2225