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U.S. mulled using emperor in wartime propaganda

U.S. psychological warfare experts intended to use the emperor as a “symbol of peace” in propaganda warfare in June 1942 — six months after Japan bombed Hawaii and triggered the war with the United States — to baffle Japan’s military authorities, according to declassified documents obtained by Kyodo News.

The scheme was outlined in a secret plan compiled by the Psychological Warfare Branch of the U.S. War Department. One of 11 propaganda objectives in the plan was “to use the Japanese emperor (with caution and not by name) as a peace symbol.”

A 35-page final draft of the “Japan Plan,” dated June 3, 1942, was signed by a colonel who served as chairman of the Joint Psychological Warfare Committee at the War Department.

The documents, which belonged to the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, were declassified in 2001 and found at the U.S. National Archives by Tetsuro Kato, a political science professor at Hitotsubashi University.

Previous studies had suggested that the emperor was first referred to as a “symbol” of the Japanese people’s unity in a memorandum of the U.S. State Department in December 1942.

Another declassified document showed that Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the U.S. supreme commander in the Allied occupation of Japan after its surrender in August 1945, knew of the Japan Plan. He wrote a memorandum on it on Aug. 5, 1942, but did not touch on the part concerning the emperor.

The existence of the Japan Plan documents could provide an important clue about the origins of the postwar system in Japan. The postwar Constitution, drafted by the United States, stipulates the emperor as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people.”

The Japan Plan raised four policy goals in a propaganda war — to interfere with Japanese military operations and to injure Japanese moral; to weaken and slow down the Japanese war effort; to discredit and overthrow the Japanese military authorities; and to split Japan from its allies and from neutrals.

The plan said in a “special and cautionary suggestion” that the emperor, who was the focus of national worship in Japan, is a symbol “honored as are national flags in the West — which can be used to justify political and military action.”

“It is possible to use the emperor symbol (not his name) in justifying criticism of the military authority and in strengthening the case for a return to peace,” the plan said.

“If this is done, it will also have the partial effect of causing widespread skepticism about the godhood and infallibility of the emperor, which in itself will damage the political stability of Japan,” it said.