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Hi Blog. On the eve of the 70th Anniversary of the end of WWII-Pacific, a little tangent:
On display at Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii at Manoa are original copies of Japan’s Imperial Rescripts declaring war and surrendering. I think they make interesting reading in terms of the narrative they embed themselves within. Have a look:
Text (courtesy Wikipedia):
By the grace of Heaven, Emperor of Japan [Emperor Shōwa], seated on the throne occupied by the same dynasty from time immemorial, enjoin upon ye, Our loyal and brave subjects:
We hereby declare War on the United States of America and the British Empire. The men and officers of Our Army and Navy shall do their utmost in prosecuting the war. Our public servants of various departments shall perform faithfully and diligently their respective duties; the entire nation with a united will shall mobilize their total strength so that nothing will miscarry in the attainment of Our war aims.
To ensure the stability of East Asia and to contribute to world peace is the far-sighted policy which was formulated by Our Great Illustrious Imperial Grandsire [Emperor Meiji] and Our Great Imperial Sire succeeding Him [Emperor Taishō], and which We lay constantly to heart. To cultivate friendship among nations and to enjoy prosperity in common with all nations, has always been the guiding principle of Our Empire’s foreign policy. It has been truly unavoidable and far from Our wishes that Our Empire has been brought to cross swords with America and Britain. More than four years have passed since China, failing to comprehend the true intentions of Our Empire, and recklessly courting trouble, disturbed the peace of East Asia and compelled Our Empire to take up arms. Although there has been reestablished the National Government of China, with which Japan had effected neighborly intercourse and cooperation, the regime which has survived in Chungking, relying upon American and British protection, still continues its fratricidal opposition. Eager for the realization of their inordinate ambition to dominate the Orient, both America and Britain, giving support to the Chungking regime, have aggravated the disturbances in East Asia. Moreover these two Powers, inducing other countries to follow suit, increased military preparations on all sides of Our Empire to challenge Us. They have obstructed by every means Our peaceful commerce and finally resorted to a direct severance of economic relations, menacing gravely the existence of Our Empire. Patiently have We waited and long have We endured, in the hope that Our government might retrieve the situation in peace. But Our adversaries, showing not the least spirit of conciliation, have unduly delayed a settlement; and in the meantime they have intensified the economic and political pressure to compel thereby Our Empire to submission. This trend of affairs, would, if left unchecked, not only nullify Our Empire’s efforts of many years for the sake of the stabilization of East Asia, but also endanger the very existence of Our nation. The situation being such as it is, Our Empire, for its existence and self-defense has no other recourse but to appeal to arms and to crush every obstacle in its path.
The hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors guarding Us from above, We rely upon the loyalty and courage of Our subjects in Our confident expectation that the task bequeathed by Our forefathers will be carried forward and that the sources of evil will be speedily eradicated and an enduring peace immutably established in East Asia, preserving thereby the glory of Our Empire.
[Added to Wikipedia entry, with different date: “In witness whereof, we have hereunto set our hand and caused the Grand Seal of the Empire to be affixed at the Imperial Palace, Tokyo, this seventh day of the 12th month of the 15th year of Shōwa, corresponding to the 2,602nd year from the accession to the throne of Emperor Jimmu.” (Released by the Board of Information, December 8, 1941. Japan Times & Advertiser)]
Japanese original in thumbnail (click to see full size):
COMMENT: I’m always intrigued by the formality of documents like these. One would have thought that a declaration of war would simply state, in essence, “We declare war on you, so kindly get your citizens and diplomatic missions out of our lands and prepare yourself for the loss of life, territory, and resources.” It’s interesting that they have to offer a series of justifications, as if persuasion is necessary (aren’t declarations of war unilateral, regardless of whether the other side understands why they’re about to be attacked?). It’s also interesting that the justifications being offered are, a) we had no choice because we were victims of Allied subterfuge all around us, b) we are victims of machinations to stop us from doing what we wanted to do abroad, and c) we were the peaceniks here, not you unconciliatory jerks. Declaring war is the only means left for Japan’s survival. Now, nearly three-quarters of a century later, undercurrents of Japan’s current narrative about WWII still reflect these tenets (e.g., here, here, and here).
And one more thing: Look at the photo and note who’s signing it. Aside from the usual suspects, there’s KISHI Nobusuke, a Class-A War Criminal. How the hell did he escape execution for doing something this public and then go on to be a Postwar Prime Minister?
Now let’s consider the Imperial Rescript signaling Japan’s surrender in 1945 (the Gyokuon Housou, read in part by the Emperor and broadcast on August 15, 1945; photo of document:)
Text (courtesy Wikipedia):
To Our Good and loyal subjects:
After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in Our Empire today, We have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.
We have ordered Our Government to communicate to the Governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that Our Empire accepts the provisions of their Joint Declaration.
To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of Our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by Our Imperial Ancestors, and which We lay close to heart. Indeed, We declared war on America and Britain out of Our sincere desire to secure Japan’s self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from Our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandisement. But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by every one — the gallant fighting of military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of Our servants of the State and the devoted service of Our one hundred million people, the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest. Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is indeed incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, it would not only result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization. Such being the case, how are We to save the millions of Our subjects; or to atone Ourselves before the hallowed spirits of Our Imperial Ancestors? This is the reason why We have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of the Powers.
We cannot but express the deepest sense of regret to Our Allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the Empire towards the emancipation of East Asia. The thought of those officers and men as well as others who have fallen in the fields of battle, those who died at their posts of duty, or those who met with untimely death and all their bereaved families, pains Our heart night and day. The welfare of the wounded and the war-sufferers, and of those who have lost their home and livelihood, are the objects of Our profound solicitude. The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all ye, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictate of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable.
Having been able to safeguard and maintain the structure of the Imperial State, We are always with ye, Our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity. Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion which may endanger needless complications, or any fraternal contention and strife which may create confusion, lead ye astray and cause ye to lose the confidence of the world. Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith of the imperishableness of its divine land and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibilities, and the long road before it. Unite your total strength to be devoted to the construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitudes; foster nobility of spirit; and work with resolution so as ye may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep place which the progress of the world.
Japanese original in thumbnail (click to see full size):
COMMENT: Even more intrigue, as the word “surrender” was never used in the document. Just a capitulation that Japan will do what their enemies told them to do. But then we go on to the boilerplate justifications all over again that Japan engaged in war for self defense, not because of any territorial ambitions, but rather because we subjects emancipated ourselves with Japan’s assistance. Only now we have the new spin of victimhood as “general trends of the world” turned against Japan and somebody dropped “a new and most cruel bomb”. So out of respect for our dead and our ancestors, and for the greater peace (not to mention the safety and maintenance of the Imperial State), we leaders of Japan have decided that you subjects should stop fighting. Not that we did anything wrong, of course. Or even surrendered. So, all ye survivors, put all that behind you and work towards, again, enhancing the innate glory of the Imperial State. Therein lies the roots of the “Japan as postwar victim” narrative, only now with The Bomb woven in.
Fast forward to the present day: The Showa Emperor goes on to live a long and unquestioned life, many of the ancestors of the ruling elite are still in power (as you know, current PM Abe is Kishi’s grandson), and resurgent are Japan’s rightist revisionist views as the last remaining surviving Imperial Subjects of that era wink out due to old age.
The point is, the designers of these documents have managed to keep their legacy alive to the present day. That’s why they are interesting: Upon reading, the Rescripts don’t resonate as the “What the hell were they thinking?” sort of thing when horrible ideas are consigned to the ash-heap of history. In fact, they don’t seem all that out of place at all. “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” doesn’t seem to apply here. Which is, quite frankly, scary. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito