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Hirohito And The Making Of Modern Japan Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 22, 2000

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To many, Emperor Hirohito of Japan is remembered as a helpless figurehead during Japan's wars with China and the U.S. According to the received wisdom, he knew nothing of the plan to bomb Pearl Harbor and had no power to stop atrocities like the Rape of Nanking. The emperor was the mild-mannered little man who traipsed with Mickey Mouse in Disneyland and who brought peace through surrender, certainly not "one of the most disingenuous persons ever to occupy the modern throne." Herbert Bix's charged political biography, however, argues that such accepted beliefs are myths and misrepresentations spun by both Japanese and Americans to protect the emperor from indictment. Since Hirohito's death in 1989, hundreds of documents, diaries, and scholarly studies have been published (and subsequently ignored) in Japan. Historian Bix used these sources to develop this shocking and nuanced portrait of a man far more shrewd, activist, and energetic than previously thought. Caught up in the fever of territorial expansion, Hirohito was the force that animated the war system, who, acting fully as a military leader and head of state, encouraged the belligerency of his people and pursued the war to its disastrous conclusion. To the very end, Hirohito refused to acknowledge any responsibility for his role in the death of millions as well as the brutalities inflicted by his forces in China, Korea, and the Philippines. In fact, he worked with none other than General MacArthur to select his fall guys and fix testimony at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials--the emperor trying to protect the throne at all cost, the U.S. acting to ensure control of the Japanese population and the military by retaining Hirohito as a figurehead.

Not surprisingly, this hefty work of scholarship is making waves, as Americans and Japanese reconsider their roles in WWII and its aftermath. By placing Hirohito back in the center of the picture and puncturing the myths that surround him, Bix has effectively asked the Japanese to come out of their half-century repression of the past and face their wartime responsibility. Without doing so, he implies, the monarchy will forever impede the development of democracy. For those interested in Japan's wartime past and its influence on the present, this is fascinating, if lengthy, reading. --Lesley Reed

From Publishers Weekly

Bix penetrates decades of "public opacity" to offer a stunning portrait of the controversial Japanese emperor, "one of the most disingenuous persons ever to occupy the modern throne." Hirohito ascended to the Japanese throne in 1926 (at the age of 25) and ruled until his death in 1989. Bix closely examines his long, eventful reign, concentrating on the extent of the emperor's influence-which was greater than he admitted-over the political and military life of Japan during WWII. Bix's command of primary sources is apparent throughout the book, especially in the voluminous endnotes. From these sources, the author, a veteran scholar on modern Japanese history, draws a nuanced and balanced portrayal of an emperor who did not seek out war, but who demanded victories once war began and never took action to stop Japan's reckless descent into defeat. Bix makes Hirohito's later career intelligible by a careful exposition of the conflicting influences imposed on the emperor as a child: a passion for hard science coexisted with the myths of his own divine origin and destiny; he was taught benevolence along with belief in military supremacy. These influences unfolded as Hirohito was drawn into Japan's long conflict with China, its alliance with the fascist states of Europe, and its unwinnable war against the Allies. The dominant interest of the Showa ("radiant peace") Emperor, Bix convincingly explains, was to perpetuate the imperial system against more democratic opponents, no matter what the cost. Bix gives a meticulous account of his subject, delivers measured judgements about his accomplishments and failures, and reveals the subtlety of the emperor's character as a man who, while seemingly detached and remote, is in fact controlling events from behind the imperial screen. This is political biography at its most compelling. Agent, Susan Rabiner. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; F First Edition edition (August 22, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006019314X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060193140
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #234,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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95 of 106 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Herbert Bix's biography of Emperor Hirohito of Japan is an outstanding work, but it must be read with caution, a critical eye and an open mind. The work is permeated with a sense of Bix's righteous indignation at Hirohito's escape from censure for his part in Japan's role in China and in the Second World War and this seems to color his judgment when facts grow thin and motivations are evaluated.
What Bix contributes to the historical record regarding Hirohito, the Japanese military, and Japan's wars is important and revealing. In Western culture the term "emperor" connotes Rome with a sort of English royalty superimposed on it, a blend of the two greatest empires of the Western world. What gets lost in this merger is the memory that the emperor in the Roman system enjoyed a godhead and that the empire was partly a theocracy.
Theocracy is a missing element in most evaluations of the seemingly insane strategic decisions that governed Japan's entry into, atrocities during, and conduct of World War II. The blind faith that overrode rationality in upper echelons of the Army and Navy makes more sense in the light of the theocratic Shintoist emperor system. Bound up with a system of belief in a state headed by a living god, the racist inhumanity of Japanese atrocities becomes more understandable, but not justifiable. The willingness to "die for the Emperor" in banzai charges and kamikaze flights also becomes more clear.
But where Bix's work raises question marks is in his evaluation of Hirohito's role. While Bix has unearthed an emperor who definitely had a hand in government and the fatal decisions that propelled Japan into war, and bore unacknowledged responsibility for those decisions, he has not necessarily proven Hirohito to be their animating force.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By John Barry Kenyon on September 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This very detailed book needs your determined concentration. It is indeed a meticulously researched account of the life of Hirohito. Bix writes convincingly of the successful attempts, by Americans as well as by Japanese, to ensure Hirohito avoided a trial for war crimes and remained an anti-communist symbol of national unity. He also brings forward a mass of material to illustrate that the emperor was intimately involved in Japan's military policy in the 1930s and early 1940s. Although the general reader is hardly in a position to check first hand all Bix's primary source claims, it is the small details which stick in your mind: the special naval uniform Hirohito wore as Japan attacked the US navy in December 1941 and the private grief he expressed when Tojo was hanged in 1948. Bix has made it impossible for anyone seriously now to regard the emperor as a mere cypher or a victim of war Cabinet decisions. He needed a debunk in the English language and he has gotten precisely that.
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60 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Marvin R. Weatherly on September 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In 1971 David Bergamini, a Rhodes Scholar, who was raised in the Orient and who speaks and reads Japanese, authored, "Japan's Imerial Conspiracy." Bergamini set forth a compelling argument in the role of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito in the planning and guidance of Japan's aggression before and during World War II. Japanese historians and western academia of the time savaged Bergamini; they closed their minds and buried the truth.
Professor Bix has researched and documented the truth of Bergamini's earlier thesis. He does not merely rewrite Bergamini's work but he puts flesh and meat on the bare bones of truth so denounced in 1971. Professor Bix presents the story of Hirohito. A story of deception extending from the Meiji Restoration to the creation of the plausible deniability doctrine of Emperor Hirohito. The Bix work sheds light as to why Japan has refused an apology to China and other of her victims of World War II; to apologize would be a grievious mortal affront to nation's sacred beliefs in the Enperor.
Publishers in Japan have refused to publish, "Hiohito: And the Making of Modern Japan." Japanese in many quarters, including the schools, still maintain the Rape-of-Nanking is but a vicious lie by those who are jealous of Japan. They cannot accept the truth that their Emperor would be a party to the atrocities committed against China and others.
To those readers who seek to fill-in the blank spaces of knowledge dealing with World War II, Professor Bix's work is a must-read. I would only hope that a like work will one day honestly document the excesses of the United States before and during World WarII.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful By "charlesmaruta" on November 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In eyes or minds of most Japanese liberals and lefts, what the author Herbert Bix revealed in this book has "virtually" nothing new. "Hirohito" was no doubt the #1 war criminal responsible for the deaths of many millions. As the author pointed out, the major reason why "Hirohito" escaped from the "war criminal" trials and execution was that General MacArthur (and the American government that supported his Japanese occupation policy) was quite keen to use 'Hirohito" (his spiritual "authority", and not his real political"power") as a tool to suppress most effectively the turmoils in the post-war Japan which otherwise would have been caused by both ultra-rights /millitary heads (against American occupation) and lefts (socialists and communists) against the Japanese establishment.
Like many Japanese lefts, both my late father, who died at 83 in a few months after the "Hirohito"'s death in 1989, and myself long believed that both the "Emperor" (Hirohito) and the "Emperor System" (whether it is merely a "symbol"/"puppet" or not) should have been eliminated from Japan right after the end of WWII to establish the true democracy in Japan. Unfortunately our voice, which was considered only as a "tiny" fraction of Japanese people, has been totally ignored by the ruling conservative parties and governments in Japan for more than 55 years.
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