TOKYO -- Documents detailing the private postwar views of the late Emperor Showa that have surfaced recently suggest he believed that Japan's failure to clarify responsibility for the 1928 bombing death of Chinese warlord Zhang Zuolin by the Japanese Kwantung Army led to the country's defeat in World War II 17 years later.
"Failure to clarify the issue of punishment over the Zhang Zuolin incident led to the loosening of discipline within the army in later years. The failure to thoroughly bring those involved to justice is the origin of problems that led to the defeat," documents compiled by former grand steward Michiji Tajima quoted Emperor Showa as saying on June 8, 1951.
Emperor Showa -- known in life as Emperor Hirohito -- also repeatedly criticized a series of actions taken by Japan's military, including the bombing attack, for "overthrowing decisions from below in the military."
Takahisa Furukawa, professor of modern Japanese history at Nihon University, said, "His statements reflect his feelings that he did not want to start the war and wished his opinions would have been heard."
In October 1941, Emperor Showa appointed top army officer Hideki Tojo to replace Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, who abandoned his administration after Japan-U.S. negotiations to avert war were deadlocked.
Regarding the appointment, a diary kept by former Cabinet Minister Koichi Kido quotes the Emperor as saying, "It's like 'nothing ventured, nothing gained,' isn't it?"
It has been believed that at the time, the Emperor regarded the appointment as the last remaining card to avert war with the United States.
However, Tajima's records quote the Emperor as recalling, "At the time of the Tojo Cabinet, the disorder (within the government) had already progressed and nothing could have been done."
On Feb. 20, 1952, the documents record Emperor Showa telling Tajima, "I can say there are many things I should reflect on."
With regard to the Nanjing Incident in 1937, the documents show the Emperor said, "I vaguely heard from those other than relevant sources that something terrible was going on in Nanjing, but nobody openly said anything about it. So I didn't pay attention to the matter."
Akira Yamada, professor of modern Japanese history at Meiji University, said, "They (the documents) have proven that information on such a major incident reached (the Emperor) even though it wasn't an official report. There were things that could've been done such as demanding a detailed probe."
Emperor Showa was also quoted by Tajima's records as saying on the same day, "Though this is beyond my purview, (during the war) order was overthrown from below in the military, in the government and among the people, and the brazenness of the military was overlooked. Everyone has such negative things to reflect on, so my wish is for everyone to regret these things so they will not be repeated."
This comment reminds the public of the "national confession of Japanese war guilt" called for by Prince Naruhiko Higashikuni's Cabinet in 1945.
The idea that not only politicians but all the people should reflect on Japan's involvement in the war was common to those in power at the time, according to professor Yamada.