THERE are indications, so far as a writer in Chungking can gather, that an influential section of public opinion in the United States inclines toward a policy of "hands off the Mikado." This section of opinion cannot be accused of partisan motives, nor can it be reproached for being ignorant of the true conditions in the Far East. If it should prevail, however, incalculable harm may result. A discussion of the differences of opinion as to how the Mikado should be treated could have served no useful purpose in the early stages of the Pacific war; but now that Japan's defeat in the coming months is inevitable frank speaking is timely and necessary.

Among those who have adopted the thesis that the Mikado should be retained is Mr. Joseph C. Grew, the former United States Ambassador to Japan. Mr. Grew is of course a man of wide experience. Before going to Japan he served in Turkey. A republican form of government operated successfully in that country, which for centuries had been ruled by a sovereign who was part and parcel of the religious system of the Moslem world. Solicitous sympathizers the world over had earlier been concerned about what would happen to the discipline of the Moslems if their religious head, the Caliph, disappeared. Kemal Ataturk settled that with little ado by ejecting the effete old man from both his spiritual and temporal jobs. In Japan Mr. Grew had opportunity to obtain first-hand information as to the way the Mikado functions as part of the Japanese political machinery. He has declared publicly that the part of Shintoism which embraces emperor-worship will be an asset and not a liability in a reconstructed Japan.

The thesis of this section of American public opinion is, then, that the principle of the divinity of the Mikado shall exist unimpaired after the war. The corollary of this thesis seems to be a present policy either of avoiding mention of Hirohito in shortwave broadcasts and propaganda leaflets from America, or of referring to him in such terms as to suggest to the Japanese that the United States has a reverent attitude toward him. For the Japanese leaders, the further corollary is that American diplomatic and military forces have been ordered to take no action, verbal or otherwise, against the Emperor.

If these are the facts, then the Mikado and his advisers may certainly draw the conclusion that their enemies are confused as to the extent of the Mikado's responsibility for the unprovoked and aggressive war which Japan has waged against China since 1931, and for the premeditated attack on the United States and Great Britain in December 1941. And out of this evidence of uncertainty, they may conclude that there is indecision in the councils of the United Nations as to the concrete measures to be taken for uprooting Fascism in Japan and destroying all its works.

I take it that there is no uncertainty, however, about two primary principles. The first is that the Japanese people are to be left free to choose their own form of government. The second is that under the principle of non-interference with the internal affairs of a defeated enemy, Japan's choice of a form of government is not to be so free as to leave the possibility of a resurgence of the very Fascist-Bushido power which so many of the sons of China, the United States, the British Commonwealth and Soviet Russia have died to eradicate. That is why I would like to say, as emphatically as I know how, that if there is to be an end of militarism and a beginning of democracy in Japan -- if, in other words, the war with Japan will not have to be fought over at some later date -- the Mikado must go.


The Mikado must go because the imperial idea is the essence of Japanese aggression. Japan's policy after the Meiji Restoration took her along a road which demanded revenues out of proportion to her resources. The swift industrialization of the country produced profound social and economic problems. Industrialization was based on an impoverished and landless peasantry, and its unsoundness was aggravated by enormous expenditures on an army and a navy. The groups in control of the Japanese Government could imagine no solution for these social and economic problems save the conquest of territories belonging to other peoples. These groups were composed of the aristocracy and the large landowners, headed by the Mikado, the big financiers (the foundation of whose fortunes was laid by the indemnity paid by China after the Sino-Japanese war of 1894-5), and the militarists pure and simple.

An empire demands an imperator -- an emperor. The historical fact is that the doctrine of emperor-worship was deliberately conceived and propagated in Japan within comparatively recent years to make possible this imperialist policy. Emperor-worship is not a centuries-old dogma of Japanese religious faith. Prior to the Meiji era the Japanese people regarded their emperor as an unimportant adjunct of their feudalist system. There are probably men in Japan now who remember the days when the Mikado was a political nonentity. Militarism, the power of the military caste, and the institution of the Tenno are inextricably interwoven in Japan. The point which must be stressed and should not be evaded is that the militarists depend upon the Mikado for their existence. Their overwhelming and all-embracing power over the Japanese people stems from the Mikado. The Mikado himself is the very essence of expansionism.

The average pupil in a Chinese school regards the idea of the divinity of a living man as pure nonsense. People who advocate a policy of "hands off the Mikado" actually ask these school children to coöperate in upholding this fairy tale. They not only ask the school children of China and of the other United Nations to pamper the deluded Japanese people by pretending that there is truth in this myth; they ask statesmen -- and the parents of soldiers killed in the Pacific war -- to sanction a policy which validates the naïve yet cunning beliefs of a social caste which plunged the world into catastrophe. This is a plain statement of what the policy advocated by Mr. Grew and others adds up to. The substance of the thesis is so palpably wrong, reactionary and dangerous that it seems to me correct to call it "appeasement." Until 1941 the Japanese policy of imperialist expansion was pursued mainly at the cost of China. Why should we appease the Japanese after their defeat? We could have appeased them by recognizing Manchukuo. We fought them. And Americans are fighting them until their unconditional surrender because Americans know that they are an arrogant, brutal and treacherous nation. The very education based on Shinto and all its chauvinistic trappings has rendered them arrogant, brutal and treacherous.

The pro-Mikado school argues that Shinto, the state religion of the Japanese, has in fact made the masses of the Japanese people believe that their Emperor is a god and that for the sake of realism we must base our program on this actuality. I am disposed to maintain that the Japanese people are not quite so stupid as commonly assumed, and that they themselves will repudiate the emperor myth, given an opportunity to do so. But it is indeed true that in recent years the masses of the Japanese people have been taught that when they become soldiers they become the "four limbs" of the God-Emperor, and that as soldiers they have embraced this doctrine. Thus, they believe that they are the means of Divine Punishment, and that as Divine Soldiers they themselves also become gods. Through their affinity with the Mikado they are in their own eyes a race of supermen -- a greater herrenvolk than the German Nazis.

No one denies that through this deliberately inculcated self-deception the free will of the individual in Japan is repressed, his thoughts controlled and every aspect of his life restricted and regimented. Mr. Grew tells in his book "Report from Tokyo" how the Japanese ruling castes achieved this "hypnotism" of the masses. His summary is pertinent and important: "Long ago, while Germany and Italy were still picturesque agglomeration of petty states, Japan was governed by dictatorship, secret police, élite guards, suppressors of 'dangerous thoughts,' summary courts and hidden executioners. The Tokugawa shogunate, which preceded the present modernized government, was effectively totalitarian and authoritarian." [i] This is a correct description of the machinery which enabled Shintoism to prevail over truth even to the present day. The argument of those who favor upholding the power of the Emperor turns on the assumption that under a peace-seeking ruler Shintoism can be an asset in a reconstructed Japan. Presumably Japan will be a democratic nation. But Mr. Grew himself tells us that Shinto has been developed and maintained through the aid of summary courts, hidden executioners and so on. Its machinery is the very negation of democracy. Brutality is the essence of it. I cannot but agree with the American editorial writer who said: "The notion of using him [the Mikado] usually implies using him to establish democracy by imperial command. And that, perhaps, is the all-time high in the confusion of modern 'democratic' thinking." [ii] If democracy is to be imposed from above by Imperial Rescript, it will have to be backed up by these various instruments which are now used to put the fear of a synthetic god into the minds and hearts of the Japanese people. Would it not be better to try the proper instruments of democracy: rational thought and common sense?

Is the present Mikado the "peace-seeking" ruler who is needed? His advocates suggest that the adventures embarked on by the militarists since 1931 were undertaken without his sanction and possibly against his wishes. It is suggested further that the Imperial General Headquarters is the real power in Japan and that the Mikado is a puppet entirely under their control. Mr. Elmer Davis expressed this thought in the dark days of the Pacific war when he was quoted as saying in a press conference: "There is every evidence to show that he [Hirohito] has had nothing to do with the military for a long time. He is regarded as a god. Attacks against him would be resented, and would serve no useful purpose." [iii] This supposition has been contradicted by certain observers who hold that the Emperor is equally guilty with the Imperial General Staff, which is directly responsible to him. Mr. Edward Hunter reports [iv] that in a broadcast on March 8, 1943, the Japanese Imperial Headquarters frankly stated that the plan of the war against the United States and Great Britain had been submitted to the Emperor for his approval. When the present writer discussed the future of the Mikado in a newspaper article later in 1943,[v] however, a broadcast from Tokyo hastened to deny that the Mikado was responsible for the decision which opened hostilities.

The Japanese Government certainly guides the efforts of the Japanese people against the United Nations by means of Imperial Rescripts. They are issued in the name of Hirohito. In the eyes of the Japanese people he is the "leader-warrior." If Hirohito must be absolved in the eyes of the Japanese people from the guilt for a disastrous war by admitting that he was powerless to correct the errors of his subordinates, what will be the value of the Imperial Rescript for the introduction of democracy by the Will of Heaven? On the other hand, if from our point of view the Emperor is in fact blameless but nevertheless so powerful a force that he must be kept and "used," why was he not able to rally the better elements among his people during the past decade and to check the militarists who were imposing policies of which he disapproved? He did, supposedly, thwart the militarists once. According to reports, the mutiny of February 26, 1936, was suppressed by an Imperial Rescript. The "hands-off-the-Mikado" school cannot have it both ways. The Mikado is either a puppet and is useless for the purposes of democracy; or he is powerful and should have disciplined his militarists. He cannot be both. Either way he is a malevolent factor.


The main hope of those who advocate retaining the Mikado and "using" him is that they will thereby be able to get rid of the militarists the easy way -- that is to say, by a peaceful revolution. They fear the social and political disorders which might take place if the fountain head of Japanese discipline -- the Tenno -- disappeared overnight. They would therefore keep the Mikado in reserve as a puppet for the time when defeat and invasion fling Japan into disgrace, so that he may be used to give authority to civilian leaders who may come forward to establish a government with which the victorious nations could deal. This, I think, was the idea which Mr. C. Burnell Olds had in mind when he discussed Japanese religion in the pages of this review.[vi]

The flaws in this policy are two, and they are fatal indeed. The first is that if any group "uses" the Mikado in the future, it will not be a group of liberals, Japanese, Chinese or western; it will be the group which designed the institution of the Tenno and knows how to use it -- the Japanese expansionists. The second defect of this policy is that it would prevent the Japanese people from taking the government into their own hands. It would, in other words, effectively blanket the possibility of Japan becoming a democracy.

What would be the effect if, after the occupation of Japan by our victorious troops, a representative of the Allied forces should be granted an audience by the inviolate Mikado? After that audience, the Mikado would supposedly issue an Imperial Rescript abolishing the military dictatorship and putting the blame for the defeat and the failure of divine protection for their home islands upon the militarists. Then this representative would retire, and the Mikado, after worshipping at the shrine of his ancestress, the Sun Goddess, would pick up the reins of government and rule in the style of the Meiji Restoration. It does not require any special knowledge of the Japanese people to figure out the mental processes of the awestruck inhabitants of Tokyo who witnessed this miracle. The legend would pass like wild-fire that the God-Emperor, although surrounded by enemies on all sides, was so powerful that, under the cloak of his divine protection, his enemies could not do him harm or diminish his power.

Add to this magnificent demonstration of imperial inviolability the certain fact that the Japanese in defeat will be bitter; that their hatred will be intense and lasting. And remember that the myth of the Divine Emperor is the creation of the militarist caste. What more perfect set-up for plans for revenge could be devised? The progressive elements of Japan who talked in terms of reason and common sense would be overwhelmed by this manifestation of the Will of Heaven. The obscurantist elements who talked in terms of race and mission and mythology would be vindicated. Obviously, they would say, the Emperor whose acts cannot be analyzed or questioned by human minds is planning for the day when Japan will be great again. Sufficient that he is planning in the Japanese way. Democracy by Imperial Rescript would be nothing less than continuation of the old Japanese game of hoodwinking the world.

There is no short cut to democracy. Democracy lies in the will of the people to rule themselves. Its source cannot be the will of a Mikado, whether or not he is thought to be a god. The Chinese people found this out for themselves. For centuries they were ruled by Sons of Heaven. When revolutionary forces, under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen, swept away the Chinese myths, China began her march to democracy. It cannot be otherwise in Japan. A democratic Japan can be born only when the invention of the feudal vassals who took power 76 years ago has been discredited. To destroy the present generation of militarists is not enough; the whole political, educational, and military machinery which enabled the militarists to hypnotize the masses of the people must be destroyed also. That can be done only by puncturing the myth of the divinity of the Mikado. If democratic forces are to be released there must be a revolution. In their fight on Japan the United Nations are firing the first shots in the Japanese revolution. And we should not deceive ourselves with the notion that revolutionary social change can be brought about in a neat and convenient fashion.

I believe that there are progressive and democratic elements in Japan which will welcome the opportunity to free themselves from the shackles of the Mikado and his gangsters. Perhaps the leaders are men who are now imprisoned for their devotion to freedom and truth. We should let them know that the overthrow of the Mikado will be the evidence of their country's readiness for its place in the postwar world.

What kind of Japan do we want? The Cairo Declaration of last November made clear that Japan's 70,000,000 people will have to live upon the islands which have been their homelands through ages past. They will be expelled from all territories they have conquered. In order that these people may not starve, they must have industries as well as agriculture. The industrial plant should be commensurate with the scale of Japan's own natural resources, as supplemented by the raw materials which the Japanese can import in the process of legitimate international trade. The punishment of the Japanese people must be severe and terrible while the war lasts. But certainly neither China nor other countries of the United Nations intend to prolong it.

The demilitarization of Japan can be accomplished only through control of Japanese heavy industry and the chemical industries. The United Nations supervisory commissions can function effectively only if these industries are centralized in some type of state industry. The light industries will need less stringent control, but supervision of some sort will be necessary, at least for a time.

The purchasing power of the Japanese peasantry will have to be raised in order to provide internal markets for Japanese light industries. The markets of China will be open to a fully democratic Japan; but Japan's ability to sell in China will be measured by her ability to buy in China. To increase the purchasing power of the Japanese peasant will require far-reaching agrarian reforms.

The Japanese people will have to choose the measures which will effect this reconstruction of their economy. No clairvoyance is required to see that in the course of this reorganization groups and classes of Japanese which stand close to the present rulers will be deeply affected. They will unquestionably resist these changes tooth and nail. If the Mikado is still available for "use," these are precisely the elements that will make use of him for the maintenance of their power, their wealth and their land. The Mikado himself, incidentally, is the greatest landholder in Japan.

The United Nations may have to give economic assistance to the Japanese people while they are getting on their feet; it is to the advantage of all countries to help them perceive the advantages of a democratic way of life. We must, however, insist on severe and irrevocable military and political settlements. All war criminals must be brought to trial. The evidence will show whether Hirohito should be among them. We shall have to suppress all so-called patriotic societies which might be used to train fanatics for a new war. The secret police must be disbanded and dispersed. The educational system must be altered, so that it trains the youth of Japan in the ways of peace and democracy, instead of turning out fanatical "limbs of the Emperor." There must be universal suffrage. Such a democratic Japan cannot be created until the Mikado has been removed.


There is one further reason why the Mikado must go. China would never cease to believe that a Japan which retained the Mikado and the system of Emperor-worship was dangerous to her peace and security. In her eyes, such a Japan would be comparable to a Germany which was allowed to retain the Führer and the substance of Nazism. And an authoritarian Japan would inexorably evoke an authoritarian China.

To retain the Mikado in Japan would be to strengthen the hands of Chinese reactionaries. The preservation of the Japan of the Meiji Restoration, with its emphasis on sacrifice in battle and imperial sanctity, would mean that Japan had been given another chance to succeed where this time she failed. China would never dare forget that danger. Instead of being able to think of the peaceful development of her own resources, she would be forced to think primarily of arms and of war. The fulfillment of China's own democratic promise would suffer a heartbreaking setback.

The people who want to gamble on their ability to "use" the Mikado are not justified in taking such chances with the future of democracy in the Far East. Democracy, indeed, is on trial throughout the whole world. Would it survive another world war? To the Chinese people the proposal to save the Mikado is simply a signal to prepare for another conflagration.

[i] Joseph C. Grew, "Report from Tokyo." New York: Simon and Shuster, 1942, p. 15.

[ii] "What To Do With Japan." Fortune, April 1944.

[iii] The New York Times, December 10, 1942.

[iv] The Nation, March 4, 1944.

[v] The New York Times, October 10, 1943.

[vi] C. Burnell Olds, "Japan Harnesses Religion in the National Service," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, April 1943.

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  • SUN FO, son of Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Chinese Republic; President of the Legislative Yüan of the National Government of the Republic of China; author of "China Looks Forward"
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