A Nagoya University professor is working on a book about the life of the late U.S. Brig. Gen. Bonner Fellers, who played a major role in absolving Emperor Hirohito (known posthumously as Emperor Showa) of responsibility for Japan’s wartime aggression across Asia.
The movie “Emperor,” currently showing in domestic theaters, portrays Fellers, the main character, as a kind person who was sympathetic toward Japan. But Haruo Iguchi, a professor of international politics at Nagoya University’s Graduate School of Environmental Studies, described him as a “tremendously ambitious man who posed some danger to both Japanese and American governments.”
During World War II, Fellers served as military secretary for Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, and traveled to Japan with him after its surrender in August 1945.
Tasked with investigating the Emperor’s war responsibility, Fellers conducted hearings on Japanese government officials and advised MacArthur to leave the Emperor in place, saying that it would be in the interest of the United States to use Hirohito’s charisma while occupying Japan.
In a memo to MacArthur, he wrote that the Emperor had no authority and that if he was convicted as a war criminal, a general uprising would be inevitable. The Emperor’s name was subsequently stricken from the list of men to be charged as war criminals.
Iguchi said he took interest in Fellers 14 years ago, when he was researching prewar American politics at the International Institute of American Studies of Doshisha University.
Iguchi found out that after World War II broke out, Fellers advised Herbert Hoover, who had served as U.S. president in the early 1930s and still remained influential in the Republican Party, to propose that MacArthur be the vice presidential candidate for the party, and was curious as to how a mere soldier could offer advice to a leading member of the party.
After studying documents on Fellers in the United States and learning that he was closely involved in minimizing the Emperor’s culpability for the war, Iguchi began researching how Fellers affected postwar Japanese society.
Born on an Illinois farm in 1896, Fellers was assigned to the U.S. military’s Office of Strategic Services after WWII started and took part in crafting a campaign of psychological warfare against Japan. The OSS was later to become the CIA.
Fellers then worked under MacArthur as chief of psychological operations to analyze the psychology of Japanese.
Iguchi discovered that as a university student, Fellers met a Japanese exchange student and learned from her about Lafcadio Hearn, a Greek writer also known by the name Yakumo Koizumi who kept a vast collection of Japanese legends and stories.
Although Fellers was a soldier, he was attracted to traditional Japanese culture, his interests ranging from the Emperor to local myths and superstitions. He published a thesis citing Hearn and even met with the author’s family and descendants on a visit to Japan.
However, Iguchi believes that Fellers did not familiarize himself with Japanese culture merely out of curiosity.
“It was a time of war and America was starting to recognize that Japan was a potential threat.” Iguchi said. “Fellers must have thought that being an expert on Japan would be advantageous to him.
“I think he was highly valued by leaders like MacArthur and Hoover because it appealed that he was an expert on Japan,” he added.
While Fellers was working under MacArthur at General Headquarters, he was said to have taken the risk of secretly disclosing MacArthur’s confidential message to the general steward of the then-Ministry of the Imperial Household.
In a message to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, MacArthur wrote that the Emperor’s role in the war was only ceremonial and that Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and other political leaders would be held accountable for all war crimes.
MacArthur was widely criticized for orchestrating the Emperor’s exoneration during the International Military Tribunal for the Far East.
According to Iguchi, Fellers harbored the ambition of making MacArthur U.S. president to return the Republicans to power.
“I hope to portray Japan-U.S. relations at that time by describing how Fellers used his excellent communication and social skills to capture the hearts of people he had set his sights on,” Iguchi said.
Fellers retired in 1946 after finishing his mission at GHQ. He was awarded an Order of the Sacred Treasure Medal, 2nd class, in 1971 and passed away two years later at age 77.
Iguchi’s book is scheduled to be published next spring.
This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Aug. 18.