The conscious decision by both American and Japanese policymakers to ignore Emperor Hirohito’s role in Japan’s aggression during World War II continues to have an effect today, Binghamton Professor Herbert P. Bix told the Harpur Forum during a recent meeting of the group.
The issue of sovereign immunity for heads of state will continue to be an issue into the 21st century, Bix told the gathering of campus and community members. His presentation was titled “The Impunity Question: From Hirohito to Milosevic.”
Bix, who won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction for his book, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, contends that Hirohito was personally and actively involved in Japan’s aggressive war policies during World War II. After the war, with complicity of the Truman administration and the Japanese ruling elites, Hirohito avoided prosecution or investigation and continued to hold a position of honor.
Bix, professor of history and sociology, said American policymakers gave Hirohito “a virtual political pardon” in the pragmatic belief that he could be helpful in the effort. A consensus developed that placed the blame for Japan’s aggression on the military and minimized the emperor’s role. “I’m not saying that he was absolved, but his role was never adjudicated,” Bix said. “He refused to abdicate or apologize. This decision to grant impunity to a head of state created more problems than it solved.”
In Japan, Bix said the decision promoted a history of deceit and distortion for the Japanese public about his role in the war and prevented a full normalization between Japan and its neighbors.
In the world community, Hirohito’s ability to walk away from responsibility raises questions about the role of other leaders from Pinochet in Chile, who was able to do the same, to the decision to prosecute Slobodan Milosevic for war crimes in Bosnia.
Developed in 1977, the Harpur Forum is an organization devoted to strengthening the bonds between Binghamton University and the Southern Tier community. The group has more than 325 members and serves business, professional and community leaders in surrounding areas through its Community Forum Breakfast Speaker’s Program, which features nationally known authorities speaking on timely topics throughout the academic year.