Date of Award

Winter 3-2020

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of arts (BA)


Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Julie Nicoletta

Second Advisor

Mary Hanneman

Third Advisor

William Burghart


This paper discusses and reexamines Emperor Hirohito’s degree of responsibility in Japan’s military aggression in China during the late 1920s and 1930s to the attack on Pearl Harbor in the United States during World War II. Scholars have long debated the extent of Hirohito’s role as a warmonger due to his ambiguous position as a head of state and the lack of primary evidence displaying his actions and thoughts on the war. This paper will utilize the Constitution of the Empire of Japan of 1889 (informally known as the Meiji Constitution) which delineated the emperor’s supreme position in the government along with primary sources by Hirohito’s aides and ministers referencing his thoughts on the war situation and Hirohito’s personal statements. Scholars, particularly from a non-Japanese perspective, support the interpretation that Hirohito was legally responsible for the war effort, based on the evidence of the articles stipulating the emperor having divine authority and supreme command over the military. In reality, his powers were limited to a ceremonial role due to the political body structured by the oligarchs who had established the Meiji Constitution. From a personal aspect he was opposed to Japan’s war efforts, but he was unable to use his influence to prevent the outbreak of the war as he was compelled by his top advisors, ministers, and military leaders to limit his role to a ceremonial one and to support the war from a national aspect as he thought it would serve the country’s best interests.