The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 was well planned. It was no doubt a surprise to the US military stationed there. That was the plan, after all. But the attack—and the recovery—could not have been possible without the people in charge at the time in both Japan and the United States.
The Imperial Japanese Army was famous for its strict rules and harsh punishments. Even before the war, the army was feared around the world. It was known for its terrible treatment of prisoners and those who refused to fight. It was also known for the loyalty of its soldiers, even more so during World War II. After the war, more than 5,000 trials for war crimes were held. It is believed that many of the soldiers treated others so badly because of the terrible situations they faced during their own strict training. They often suffered harsh beatings and were not given enough food.
So who was in charge?
Emperor Hirohito, the 126th Emperor of Japan, ruled from 1926 until his death in 1989. He is known for the role he played during the time leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack. In 1940, Japan sent troops to French Indochina (part of Southeast Asia). The United States responded by no longer selling things like oil and steel to Japan. In the end, this led to Hirohito granting permission for the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Hirohito claimed that he was powerless when it came to the war. He said that Japan’s generals and admirals were in charge. On August 15, 1945, Hirohito made a radio announcement that Japan surrendered—that it gave up and would stop fighting. Once the war was over, Hirohito still held the title of Japan’s Emperor until his death. However, he lost all political power.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was said to be against going to war with the United States at first. After World War I, he became convinced that the future of war lay with the use of aircraft carriers and planes. He believed that war would be won by the country that had the best aircraft carriers and bombers. His military decisions reflected that belief, which included the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. He was killed when his plane was shot down by Americans in 1943.
Vice-Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was known to be tough. He commanded the air attack on Pearl Harbor. Nagumo called off a planned third air attack after deciding there was too high a risk that the US would be able to fight back. Many people thought this was a bad move on his part, as another attack could have caused enormous additional damage. For the rest of his life, Nagumo was blamed for that decision. He killed himself in 1944 when it became clear that Japan would have to surrender.