The ANU Japan Institute Seminar Series showcases cutting-edge research by leading and emerging scholars based primarily in Australia and Japan. It aims to promote networking among Japan Studies scholars in the two countries and will feature innovative research on the bilateral relationship.

The emperor, the army, aerial bombardment, and the decisive home-island battle: A reconsideration of Japan’s delayed surrender in World War II

This paper, which locates Emperor Hirohito as the driving force behind Japanese surrender in World War II, presents new historical evidence to support its threefold case that (i) the emperor feared aerial bombardment, (ii) the atomic attacks against Hiroshima and Nagasaki magnified that fear, and (iii) this fear was the driving force behind the emperor’s 'sacred decisions' to end the war and submit to foreign military occupation.

This paper also reconsiders the Japanese army’s volatile opposition to surrender. It examines army officers’ fanatical devotion to a decisive home-island battle against invading U.S. forces, and it argues that Japan’s army officers were animated at least as much by romantic dreams of Japan as a nation-in-arms, as they were by the hope of forcing the Americans to the negotiating table. It allows that Soviet entry into the war against Japan played a role in ending those militaristic dreams; it nonetheless finds that the atomic attacks – and the emperor’s reaction thereto – were decidedly more impactful in compelling the army to lay down its arms.

In making these assertions, this paper takes issue with a series of scholarly consensuses and it also wades into several scholarly controversies. These include: (i) the remarkably durable proposition (attributable to Gar Alperovitz and others) that Japan was defeated and on the verge of surrender long before August 1945; (ii) the insistence (attributable to Herbert Bix and others) that the emperor delayed surrender; (iii) the debate (joined by Asada Sadao, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, and Hatano Sumio) over whether the atomic bombs or Soviet entry into the war caused Japanese surrender; and (iv) the debate (sparked initially by Suzuki Kantarō) over whether Army Minister Anami Korechika was a sincere proponent of the decisive home-island battle, or instead an artful proponent of haragei who professed loyalty to the decisive home-island battle while at the same time undermining the army’s hardline position.


Professor Peter Mauch teaches modern Japanese history at Western Sydney University (Australia). He has authored TOJO (Harvard University Press, under contract) and Sailor Diplomat: Nomura Kichisaburō and the Japanese-American War (Harvard University Asia Center, 2011). He has contributed essays to the Cambridge History of the Second World War (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and The Road to Pearl Harbor: Great Power War in Asia and the Pacific (Naval Institute Press, 2022), and he has published with such journals as Diplomatic History; Pacific Historical Review; Diplomacy and Statecraft; War in History; and the Journal of American-East Asian Relations. He was a consultant for the two-part NHK documentary entitled 'Shōwa Tennō ga kataru' ('Shōwa Emperor Speaks').

Image: A 1971 painting of the last imperial conference by Shirokawa Ichirō (1908-1944). The original is held in the collection of the Admiral Baron Suzuki Kantarō collection. 

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