Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Corregidor, MacArthur, and Japan's New Emperor

This article first appeared in Medium on May 6, 2019.
Staged picture of the Surrender of Corregidor


The 77th Anniversary of the day Corregidor fell was May 6, 1942. It is a history that shadows every Japanese Golden Week and especially last week’s imperial succession ceremonies.

From December 29, 1941 to the end of April 1942, despite incessant Japanese aerial, naval, and artillery bombardment, the men and women on the fortress Island of Corregidor in Manila Bay, which consisted of the 4th Marine Regiment and combined units from the United States Army, the US Navy, and Filipino soldiers, resisted valiantly, inflicting heavy enemy losses in men, ships, and aircraft.

The last week on Corregidor was brutal. The Japanese celebrated Emperor Hirohito’s April 29th birthday by intensifying their shelling. By week’s end, the island’s infrastructure was destroyed, bombing incessant, water scarce, and the invasion begun. The siege of Corregidor had succeeded.

Fearful of a complete annihilation of the more than 12,000 Americans and Filipinos on Corregidor and the three nearby island forts, Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright surrendered all on May 6, 1942. The rest of the Philippines were surrendered over the next month after the Japanese threatened to massacre all the POWs and civilians on Corregidor.

Seventy-seven years later, the 1942 fall of Corregidor still matters. It set the timetable for the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) in Japan General Douglas MacArthur’s punishment of Japan’s militarists. And thus, it set the Abe Government’s timetable the abdication for Emperor Hirohito’s son, Emperor Akihito, on April 30, 2019 and the ascension of his son, Naruhito, to the Chrysanthemum Throne on May 1, 2019. Abe wanted to expunge an ugly history that MacArthur wanted to embed.

As noted, April 29th was Emperor Hirohito’s birthday. It was a sacred day in wartime Japan. General MacArthur ended that practice and humanized the Emperor. After the War, this date became a holiday to appreciate nature called Greenery Day. In 2007, soon after anti-Japanese riots in China, Greenery Day was replaced by Showa Day to again remember Emperor Hirohito and his reign called Showa. Greenery Day is now held on May 4.

It was no coincidence that General MacArthur chose the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal to begin and the indictments for Tojo and other war criminals to be read on April 29, 1946. MacArthur, commander of all US Army Forces in the Far East, forced to escape Corregidor, remembered bitterly his abandonment of his troops and the fall of Corregidor. MacArthur wanted the Japanese also to feel his loss and to forever associate Hirohito with war crimes. In turn, the Tribunal proceedings began on May 3, which in 1947 the new Japanese Constitution came into effect.

It was also the same thinking that led MacArthur to have General Hideki Tojo and six other Class-A war criminals hanged on December 23, 1948. This day is now-former Emperor Akihito’s birthday and long celebrated as the national day for Japan with Embassy parties worldwide. Akihito, however, is forever reminded of the date’s other history.

MacArthur did not want the Japanese to ever forget what they suffered from their loyalty to their monarchs. And he did not want the emperors to forget the consequences and responsibilities of this power. MacArthur wanted to translate the reverence the Japanese had for their emperors into a deep respect for peace.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has different goals. By sandwiching the Imperial abdication and ascension in between the important dates of April 29 and May 3, Prime Minister Abe hopes to diminish if not erase their historical significance. This is what he means when he declares that he wants to “end Japan’s postwar regime. Abe believes he must and can free Japan from these embedded reminders of the war and all that it wrought. The Prime Minister believes the Japanese people should remember the war years as a happier, simpler, and prouder time.

Yet, in his hubris and revisionist history, Abe misses that MacArthur is still setting down the markers and forcing the timetable in Japan. By maneuvering around MacArthur’s touchstones, Abe simply emphasizes them. They are now the brackets sanctioning imperial succession and the rule of law.

MacArthur’s war history will again loom large over the October 22nd formal coronation of Emperor Naruhito. October 20th, will be the 75th Anniversary of MacArthur’s promised return to the Philippines and the beginning of its liberation from Japanese rule. The last, largest and finally decisive naval battle between the US Fleets in the Pacific and the Japanese Combined Fleet was fought in the Philippines’ Gulf of Leyte from October 23–26, 1944.

Emperor Naruhito, who studied history at Oxford, is likely aware of this history. His father, Emperor Akihito, held his coronation on November 12, 1990, 42 years to the day that General Tojo was sentenced to death. Naruhito’s challenge is to be true to the MacArthur’s lessons and to administering the peace, which is the literal, albeit not official Abe government, translation of the Reiwa Era.

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