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In a turbulent world, Akihito was a steady voice for peace

The Emperor of Japan leaves the Kashikodokoro shrine

The Emperor of Japan leaves the Kashikodokoro shrine at the Imperial Palace on April 30, 2019 after performing a ceremony. Photo Credit: Japan News-Yomiuri/Japan News-Yomiuri

Japanese Emperor Akihito abdicated the Chrysanthemum Throne on Tuesday. It was a simple and spiritual ceremony that belied his importance as a champion of global harmony.

He was the son of Emperor Hirohito, who approved the bombing of Pearl Harbor and helped lead the world into the chaos and destruction of World War II. Akihito was not yet 12 when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that led to Japan’s unconditional surrender. Akihito inherited a new monarchy as Allied Forces demanded the institution become totally symbolic, a world of distance from his predecessors’ godlike status. In that new era, he was an unshakable pacifist.

Akihito became a leading moral voice who traveled the world marking the impact of Japan’s aggression. He honored his country’s own dead without excusing the deaths they caused. Educated by an American Quaker, he quickly came to understand the necessity of peace.

Akihito could be modest and unassuming, kneeling while comforting victims of natural disasters and conversing with citizens.

During his reign the monarch was resolute in his peaceful commitments. This has stood in contrast to recent moves by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has pushed for a more unshackled military that has been constrained since the end of the war.

And Japan has not been alone in militaristic moods. The United States and Russia spend billions on their armed forces and eye Cold War-style aggression. Parts of the Middle East remain a battle zone. Terrorists the world over murder innocent civilians, and Western nations become more and more comfortable using drones as weapons as they argue over the principles of a just war theory. More leaders like Akihito are needed to stand for peace and acknowledge the terrible alternative.

“I pray, with all my heart, for peace and happiness for all the people in Japan and around the world,” Akihito, 85, said in a farewell address.

We couldn’t agree more.


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