For we were young and we had wings
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Emperor Hirohito of Japan
In 1937, Japanese troops committed the war crime that is now known as the Rape of Nanking (the then Capital of China, now known as Nanjing). The duration of the massacre is not clearly defined, although the violence lasted well into the next six weeks, until early February 1938. During the occupation of Nanjing, the Japanese army committed numerous atrocities, such as rape, looting, arson and the execution of prisoners of war and civilians. A large number of women and children were also killed, as rape and murder became more widespread. The death toll is generally considered to be between 150,000 and 300,000.
Hirohito reluctantly supported the war against China (1931-32) and the invasion of Manchuria in 1937. However, he approved the attack on Pearl Harbor that led to Japan and the United States being drawn into the Second World War.
When the promised quick victory over the Allies did not take place, Hirohito became critical of the political leaders and this led to the removal of Hideki Tojo on 18th July 1944. After the loss of Okinawa Hirohito called on his ministers to seek a negotiated end to the conflict. However, his government refused, claiming that Japan and Germany could still win the war.
The American-imposed Japanese constitution reduced the emperor to a ceremonial role. On 1st January 1946, Hirohito made a formal statement where he explained that the role of the emperor in Japan had changed. He explained that the ties between himself and the Japanese people had always involved "mutual trust and affection". He went on to say: "They do not depend upon mere legends and myths. They are not predicated on the false conception that the Emperor is divine and that the Japanese people are superior to other races."
Other reforms introduced by General Douglas MacArthur encouraged the creation of democratic institutions, religious freedom, civil liberties, land reform, emancipation of women and the formation of trade unions.
After the war Hirohito retained the affection of the Japanese people and showed that the Japanese monarchy was indeed modernized when he gave permission for Crown Prince Akihito to marry a commoner. Hirohito, who was a notable marine biologist, died after a long illness on 7th January, 1989.
After atom bomb were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Hirohito called a meeting of the Supreme Council on 9th August, 1945. After a long debate Hirohito intervened and said he could no longer bear to see his people suffer in this way. On 15th August the people of Japan heard the Emperor's voice for the first time when he announced the unconditional surrender and the end of the war. Naruhiko Higashikuni was appointed as head of the surrender government.
Hirohito, the grandson of Emperor Meiji, was born in Japan on 29th April 1901. His father, Emperor Taisho, came to power in 1912.
In 1915 Hirohito was tutored by Kimmochi Saionju, the former prime minister of Japan. As a young man he became very interested natural science and marine biology.
When Hirohito visited Europe in 1921 he became the first Japanese prince to travel to the west. He spent some time in Britain and had meetings with George V.
Hirohito became emperor on the death of his father in December 1926. He therefore became the 124th emperor in direct lineage.
Under the constitution of Japan the Emperor could not act except on the advice of his ministers and the chiefs of staff. However, when a group of officers in the Japanese Army led a military coup against the political leaders in February, 1936, Hirohito ordered his senior advisers, against their wishes, to put the rebellion down.
As a result of Hirohito's action, the ringleaders were executed.
Some Allied leaders wanted Hirohito to be tried as a war criminal but General Douglas MacArthur head of the occupation forces, refused, arguing that Japan would be easier to rule if the emperor remained in office.