Bonner Fellers Having Canned Corned Beef Meal in Libyan Desert Nov 11 1941
The compelling and meditative film Emperor depicts with fidelity
Bonner Fellers' character and
the complexities of finding the path toward justice and peace.
As Emperor states, it is "inspired by true events."
Many aspects are historically accurate, but it is a creative narrative,
not a documentary of Bonner Fellers' personal or professional life.
Bonner Fellers entered Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, in 1914. He became lifelong friends with Yuri Watanabe, a Japanese exchange student who introduced him to Japanese culture and history, including the writings of Lafcadio Hearn. He visited Japan 4 times prior to WWII. His friendships included included the Hearn family and well-known educator Michi Kawai. In 1934 he wrote an insightful and prescient thesis entitled "The Psychology of the Japanese Soldier." It foresaw Japanese behavior, including Kamikaze attacks, and suggested strategies to address Japanese militaristic tendencies. This study later became one of the manuals for American Officers.
From 1942-1946, Brigadier General Fellers was in the Pacific Theater under General MacArthur. Along with many other assignments, he led the psychological warfare effort against Japanese forces and the homeland. For this he was awarded a second Distinguished Service Medal. The citation reads in part, "Through his outstanding professional ability and resourcefulness, General Fellers contributed in a marked degree to Japan's surrender and the initial success of the military occupation."
During the first year of the occupation he was MacArthur's military secretary and Secretary General of the Allied Council for Japan. Due to his 30 year military experience and interaction with Japan, MacArthur relied on him for advice.
In 1971, Emperor Hirohito conferred on him the Second Order of the Sacred Treasure "in recognition of your long-standing contribution to promoting friendship between Japan and the United States." An accompanying Foreign Ministry document states, "Bonner Fellers, as an officer in GHQ, saved the Emperor from being prosecuted as a war criminal."
An Emperor Visits & A Memo
Fellers was born and raised in Ridge Farm, Illinois, in a Quaker family. His parents owned farmland and a brick kiln. He married Dorothy Dysart of Cincinnati in New York City in 1925. Dorothy accompanied him twice to postings in the Philippines, and also on visits to Japan and China. Their only child, Nancy, was born on the Philippine island of Corrigador in 1930. Bonner maintained and visited farmland in Ridge Farm throughout his life. He died in 1973 and Dorothy passed away in 1981. They are survived by 4 granddaughters and 3 great grandchildren.
Bonner was an excellent writer. One example is Hirohito's Struggle to Surrender published in the July 1947 Foreign Service magazine. The article forms the basis for several scenes in the movie Emperor.
Bonner Fellers with Wife & Daughter
West Point Quarters 1939
Bonner Fellers had 3 tours of duty in the Philippines: 1920, 1929-31, & 1936-1938. In 1936 he helped open the Philippine Military Academy, the Philippines' 'West Point'. He also was the liaison between MacArthur and Philippine President Manuel Quezon. For his contribution to the Philippines defense effort, President Quezon honored him with the nation's Distinguished Service Star.
For his role in freeing the Philippines from the Japanese, including his assignment thereafter as Director of Civil Affairs for the Philippines, in July 1946 Gen. Fellers received a second Philippine Distinguished Service Star from President Manuel Roxas.
Fellers twice crossed the entire breath of Stalinist Russia by land on U.S. government intelligence assignments. In 1936 he traveled west to east, and in 1938 east from west. His 1938 trip lasted 5 months. His experiences helped form his grave concerns about communism.
In 1940-42, Colonel Fellers was stationed in Cairo as military attache and was the American observer of the various military campaigns preceding U.S. entry into the war.
Fellers' orders were to write comprehensive intellegence reports, which were transmitted in code. It was not in his control what code was used. He objected to the
code, but his concerns were dismissed. Unfortunately, Italian spies stole the code book from the U.S. embassy in Rome and shared the information with the Germans. The U.S. military did not in any way fault Fellers.
Upon his return he was promoted to Brigadier General and awarded a Distinguished Service Medal. The citation reads in part, "His reports to the War Department were models of clarity and accuracy. Colonel Fellers, by personal observation of the battlefields, contributed materially to the tactical and technical development of our armed forces."
Fellers reports argued for aiding the British with additional weapons and U.S. landing in North Africa. President Roosevelt admired the reports, met with Fellers on July 30, 1942, and thereafter implemented Fellers' advice to increase support for the British in North Africa and implement an Allied North Africa landing.
As Chief of the Joint Planning Section G-3, Gen. Fellers helped plan the Hollandia operation, which was the turning point in New Guinea with no loss of American lives. Following that he was MacArthur's military secretary and personal front line observer.
In 1916 Fellers left Earlham College to enter West Point by direct appointment of Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon, whose district included Fellers' home town of Ridge Farm, Illinois. He graduated West Point in November 1918, and was the first in his class to attain General rank. He remained in the military until his retirement in 1946.
During 1924-29 he taught mathematics at West Point and in the late 1930's taught English. He attended the Army War College in Washington, DC, and the Command and Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
In 1948 his retirement rank was established as Brigadier General.