A US soldier offers his hand to a woman leaving a cave where she had hidden with her child, Saipan; ca. 1944.
She isn’t only scared by the war, but also by the Japanese propaganda. The Japanese told everyone that Americans would rape and murder them if captured. According to the PBS Nova documentary, the Japanese government told the citizens that in order to become a United States Marine, you had to murder your parents. American loudspeaker units and American marines offered food and safe passage. But many of the civilians were not interested or were too frightened to listen. Some waded into the sea, some used knives, some borrowed grenades from Japanese soldiers… Most though seem to have used a nearby suicide cliff, where whole families walked off into eternity.
*Here’s footage of the suicides from a documentary (showing a actual suicide and some of the bodies at the bottom of the cliffs):
According to Wikipeida, 22,000 or the 25,000 civilian inhabitants of Saipan committed suicide at the request of the emperor:
Emperor Hirohito personally found the threat of defection of Japanese civilians disturbing. Much of the community was of low caste, and there was a risk that live civilians would be surprised by generous U.S. treatment. Native Japanese sympathizers would hand the Americans a powerful propaganda weapon to subvert the “fighting spirit” of Japan in radio broadcasts. At the end of June, Hirohito sent out an imperial order encouraging the civilians of Saipan to commit suicide. The order authorized the commander of Saipan to promise civilians who died there an equal spiritual status in the afterlife with those of soldiers perishing in combat. General Hideki Tōjō intercepted the order on 30 June and delayed its sending, but it went out anyway the next day. By the time the Marines advanced on the north tip of the island, from 8–12 July, most of the damage had been done. 1,000 Japanese civilians committed suicide in the last days of the battle to take the offered privileged place in the afterlife, some jumping from “Suicide Cliff” and “Banzai Cliff”.
“Before Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Emperor Hirohito criticized plans to go to war with the United States as ‘self-destructive,’ and opposed an alliance with Nazi Germany, though he did little to try to stop the war that Japan waged in his name, according to the long-awaited official history of his reign released on Tuesday.” (Source)
Well, I can imagine that there are some things doctored, but there is definitely some truth behind this. For years, there has been information coming out how the Emperor was hesitant about the war, as well as wanting to surrender well before Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It isn’t out of the question for Emperors/Kings to be ‘taken’ advantage of in times of war. Look at the bombings of England in WWI by Germany, the Kaiser was some-what left out of the loop there.
I am more interested if these texts talk about the war crimes that Japan committed and on what level was the emperor aware of these atrocities, not so much the whole US/Japanese relations. Japan terrorized and murdered millions of people, and that is often forgotten in the western world. And this is a sensitive subject for Japan and countries in its close proximity, mostly because Japan does not admit these things actually happened.
The Emperor was not held accountable what-so-ever for the crimes that were committed in his name; (imagine if Hitler didn’t shoot himself, surrendered, and then set free. That’s how some countries feel about this). In the western world, the German people were held personally responsible for WWII (I’m not saying this was right or wrong, just that it happened), while Japan was more or less ‘forgiven’ after having some higher-ups executed.
To this day, countries still HATE one another because of what happened in this time in history. While in Europe (Western Europe anyways), countries have made great progress in improving the relations between one another.