A lengthy exploration of the role of Emperor Hirohito in 20th-century Japanese politics that draws on an impressive array of fresh sources.
Bix (Social Sciences/Hitosubashi Univ.) has written what is essentially a 700-page indictment of the Japanese emperor, arguing that he should bear more blame, responsibility, and consequences than he has for Japan’s aggression in the first half of this century. Far from being a detached figurehead and tool for Japan’s militarist factions, Hirohito was closely involved behind closed doors in all facets of Japanese politics, especially its military forays. “From the very start of the Asia-Pacific war, the emperor was a major protagonist of the events going on around him,” Bix writes. In this portrayal, Hirohito played no small part in the rise of nationalism, Japan’s aggressiveness in Manchuria, the disastrous prolongation of the war against the Allies (leading to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings), and Japan’s ongoing struggle to display adequate repentance to the rest of the world. The author has intentionally made his subject complex to debunk “the myth of Japan as tightly unified and monolithic state.” Though the writing is glib, the result is a trying puzzle of multitudinous pieces that requires some fortitude on behalf of the reader. Bix’s research is thorough, but, as he points out, Hirohito left little documentation behind and his peers have been loath to write badly of him. The author, therefore, had to rely a great deal on reading between the lines. For example, Bix immediately comes to surmise that Hirohito’s abilities had been doubted when his teachers went out of their way to priase the emperor’s speaking abilities. He nestles his speculations firmly between facts, however, and in the end is very convincing.
A deeply satisfying immersion into modern Japanese history that also serves to warn against facile approaches to the machinery of states.