Japan's Leaders: Who Was in Charge of the Pearl Harbor Attack?
The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 was well coordinated, well-planned and no doubt a surprise to the US military that were stationed there. That was the plan, after all. But the attack – and the recovery – could not have been possible without the key players for both Japan and the US at the time.
Japan in particular is renowned for its strict discipline in the Imperial Japanese Army and even before the war, the army was feared by all around the world, both for the brutal treatment of prisoners and those who refused to fight, and for the devotion of its soldiers. This was even more so the case during World War II, epitomized by the 5,000 plus war crime trials that were held. It’s believed that many of the soldiers were so tough on others due to the brutality they faced themselves during their strict training regimes and discipline (including insufficient food and harsh beatings).
So who held the reins?
Emperor Hirohito was the 126th Emperor of Japan and ruled from 1926, right through until his death in 1989 and he is known for the role he played in the lead up to Pearl Harbor. In 1940, Japan sent troops to French Indochina and the US responded by setting up economic sanctions on things like oil and steel. Ultimately, this led to Hirohito consenting to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Hirohito claimed to have been powerless when it came to the war itself, falling behind the generals and admirals. It was on August 15 1945, that Hirohito got on the radio and announced the surrender of Japan.
Once the war was over, he lost all political power and instead remained a simple “figurehead” until he died.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was said to be originally opposed to war against the United States. After World War I he became convinced that the future of war lay with the use of aircraft carriers and planes, believing war would be won by the country that had the best carriers and bombers so he implemented a policy reflecting that belief, which included the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. As karma would have it, he was killed when his plane was shot down by Americans in 1943.
The vice-admiral was Chuichi Nagumo who was known to be aggressive. He commanded the air attack on Pearl Harbor but called off a planned third air attack after realizing there was too high a risk of the US fighting back. Many thought this was a bad move on his part (another attack could have inflicted enormous additional damage) and he lived the rest of his days highly criticized for the move. He killed himself in 1944, when it became obvious Japan would have to surrender.