- 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: 3.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (114 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #470,090 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan Paperback – September 4, 2001
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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 --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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This is one of the strongest points of this book, from a purely scholarly point of view. Bix excels at the task of teasing meaning out of oblique statements (either by Hirohito or by his aides), out of social and political context, speeches and legal documents, newspaper reports and photographs. I enjoyed intensely the reasoning of his investigative mind, the logic he brings to bear on known events, in order to construct a very plausible, if rather disturbing portrait of Hirohito, both as a private man and as a leader. Unfortunately two major drawbacks follow from this. The first is that Bix feels compelled to overwhelm the reader with detail as he marshals evidence for his statements. Speeches, newspaper reports, even writings by Japanese scholars on a variety of subjects (for example the nature of the Meiji constitution or the meaning of kokutai) are quoted at length to the detriment of the readability of this volume. Secondly, I felt that on a number of occasions, Bix – for lack of more reliable sources – tends to attribute to the Emperor or to those around him thoughts and ideas taken at face value from his (and their) public statements. As someone who studies politics and closely follows American election campaigns, I remain unconvinced that statements meant for public consumption necessarily reflect a politician’s real opinion or reveal much of anything about their state of mind.
That said, Bix makes a convincing argument that contrary to the image of Hirohito as a powerless “constitutional” monarch who had to bow to the decisions made by others, the Showa emperor gradually but surely gathered in his hands most of the reigns of the state and through both action and inaction, through voicing opinions or withholding them became, over time, an almost absolutist ruler. This, of course, meant that he was personally responsible for Japan’s wars in China as well as for the decisions to join the Tripartite Pact with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany and to, eventually, go to war with Britain and the United States.
Moreover, Hirohito’s personal involvement made Japan’s war that much more savage through his refusal to countenance retreat thus impelling Japanese soldiers to fight bitterly to the end, through repeated urgings of his commanders to re-take lost territory even when that was patently unrealistic, through, ultimately, sanctioning a whole philosophy of warfare based on suicide (kamikaze) attacks.
One of the most sordid aspects of Hirohito’s personality emerged as World War II drew to an end and the issue of Japanese surrender became more and more urgent. Even as thousands upon thousands of Japanese fighting men continued to die in what, at that point, had become an obviously lost war, even as the US dropped the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki causing untold destruction, death and suffering, and even as the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, the major sticking point for declaring capitulation remained, for Hirohito and the loyal sycophants around him, the preservation of the monarchy as an institution and of Hirohito as Emperor.
One of Bix’s most significant contributions is to demonstrate that by clearing Hirohito of war crimes in the belief that retaining him as the Emperor will counteract a spread of Communism (this was the main idea though General MacArthur had other reasons as well), the United States prevented a thorough soul-searching of Japanese elites and the Japanese people in general on the issues of war responsibility and war guilt. Bix claims that, to a significant extent, this stunted Japanese democracy at its very inception and that it has prevented its unfettered development and expansion.
Most of these arguments I found convincing and I believe Bix’s contribution to understanding Japanese history is really significant.
Before I conclude, I will lay out two of the main problems I have with the book. First, despite much effort by Bix, I find Hirohito’s persona still largely unresolved in my mind. I am not sure what kind of person he was, how he treated his family, or his friends (if he had any). I remain uncertain whether the grandiose motives attributed to him by Bix (for example, trying to live up to the legacy of his grandfather, Emperor Meiji) are really valid, or if he was motivated throughout his life by nothing more than a lust for power and some sort of Napoleon complex (given his slight stature and squeaky voice). The context Bix has provides is, indeed, rich. But at its center, the Showa emperor remains largely elusive, largely a blank. Secondly, because this is meant to be a study of Hirohito, the focus on him and on the imperial institution necessarily detracts from a fuller understanding of the overall institutional context of Imperial Japan. We do not learn much about elections, or the main political parties, or anything in the way of how the Imperial Diet functioned day-to-day. We learn nothing about how the Army and Navy were constituted and how or why an institutional conflict emerged between them. In short, the figure of the Emperor is used like a lantern – it illuminates only those who came in contact with him. This makes for a rather bewildering – and unsystematic – array of personalities whom Bix introduces, but whose exact prerogatives and institutional roles remain largely irrelevant to the main narrative. In itself, that is not necessarily a problem. But given that Bix’s main thesis – that Hirohito in essence overwhelmed all other institutional constructs created by the Meiji constitution and ended up as a near absolute monarch – an examination of the institutional context of the monarchy would have been, I think, warranted.
I come away from this book with a much deeper and much improved understanding of a crucial period of Japanese history. Bix has convinced me on many points of his argument and has certainly illuminated the ways in which the Showa emperor was personally responsible for much of the suffering inflicted on Asia and on his own people between 1931 and the end of the Second World War. An enthusiastic four stars!
I had read a lot about our "Naval War in the Pacific" and Guam still had many war scars, and at least one Japanese holdout in the "boonies".
I had also read that allowing Hirohito to remain emperor in Japan was tandamount to allowing Hitler to remain chancellor in Germany after the war.
But this is the first book I've read written which describes the Japanese view of the war. Hirohito was a fascist dictator just like Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini, but due to the "pragmatic" views of MacArthur and the other allies, he was allowed to spread the notion he had always been a pacifist, and that he, like the Japanese people at large, were only passive victims of the "militarists".
Hirohito is now long dead, but the issue of "war guilt" is still very much alive. We live in rapidly changing times, and this book is an excellent preparation for seeing what will happen next.
The Kindle edition lacks both the photo section and the four maps that are in the paperback. These are features that usually do not turn out particularly well in Kindle editions, but I think they still should have tried to present them or admitted right up front that they are not included. The inclusion of the prefaces to three Asian editions does not make up for this missing material.
The more serious problem, one that I've encountered in some other Kindle editions, is that although the endnotes are present, the note numbers are not activated. There is no easy way to check out the text of a note. I just find this unforgivable. The only good thing was that it forced me to concentrate on the main text and not get bogged down reading notes.
For a simple reading of the text, the Kindle is the easy way for my aging hands to deal with this book. For a serious reading of the text with regular examination of the notes and maps, the physical book is the only way to read it.
As for the content, I found the early chapters slow-going, close to boring. Only after Hirohito becomes emperor and we reach the early 1930s does the book gain some life. Anybody expecting a detailed biography is going to be disappointed as apparently that level of information is just not available. Hint to readers confused by all the Japanese names: most times you can concentrate on the first name given which is the family name and not confuse yourself trying to remember the personal name, too.