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Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan Paperback – September 4, 2001

3.6 out of 5 stars 108 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 832 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 4, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060931302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060931308
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,665 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Quite by coincidence I happened to come into possession of this work at the same time I received Ian Kershaw's two-volume biography of Adolf Hitler. Hirohito was no Hitler. They never met, and their styles and upbringing were diametrically opposite. Hitler used force of personality to perpetrate his genocide and destruction; Hirohito condoned his own genocide and war crimes from behind a sculpted mask of religion and myth. The eminently argued thesis of author Herbert Bix is that a weak, petty, and selfish man can be just as lethal as a megalomaniac at those perilous junctures in history.
Hirohito's grandfather was the great Meiji, whom readers may remember from high school days as the Japanese Emperor who warred with China and Russia at the turn of the twentieth century and upon whom Teddy Roosevelt kept a wary eye. Meiji did not always win his wars, but he was remarkably successful in creating a schizophrenic self-concept of his nation. On the one hand, Meiji maintained appearances of a modern, westernized world player with an emerging democratic government. At the same time, Meiji rejuvenated an ancient Japanese concept, "kokotai," a term used frequently throughout the book. Kokotai embodied national, religious, and racial unity in the persona of the emperor. While kokotai was a remarkable unifier of the masses, if not the intellectuals, it also promoted tendencies toward xenophobia, racism, militarism, censorship and despotism, all of which would accelerate into the tragedies of the 1930's and beyond.
Meiji's son was a weak and distracted emperor, and thus the hopes of the nation fell upon the young regent, Hirohito. Certainly one of the more fascinating aspects of this work is the education of the young emperor-to-be.
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