Emmanuel Gustin's Reviews > Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan by Herbert P. Bix
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Jan 21, 2011

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bookshelves: history_far_east, history_wwii
Read from April 09 to May 07, 2011 , read count: 1

The thesis defended by Bix is, as he states on page 683 of the paperback edition, that emperor Hirohito was "the vital energizing leader of the war." But in this he does not convince. Bix' hostility to his chosen subject and his lack of sympathy for the monarchical institution in any form frequently appear to lead him astray, drawing conclusions that reach too far beyond the available evidence. Crucially, the portrayal of Hirohito as an effective, authoritarian war leader conflicts with the observation, familiar to those who have studied the Japanese war effort between 1931 and 1945, that the Japanese forces operated with an astonishing lack of collaboration or even coordination, indicative of the absence of effective leadership. Even Bix has to concede that as late as 1945, Hirohito's operational suggestions were completely divorced from reality. It's probably more accurate to say that because of the structure of the Japanese state, Hirohito was required to be the "energizing leader", but he was far too weak and hesitant to rise to this role, and thus created a power vacuum at the top.

Bix makes a much stronger case for holding Hirohito morally responsible for a war in which Japanese forces committed frequent atrocities, unmitigated by any attempt of the higher authorities to restrain them. This ethical responsibility exists regardless of whether an intervention would have made any difference, because as Saint-Just remarked, one cannot reign and still be innocent. Sadly, as Bix relates it, the education of the emperor was controlled by courtiers and politicians who molded Hirohito into a pliable and useful political tool, without much moral courage or independence of thought, although dutiful and reasonably intelligent.

This biography certainly is interesting and provoking. It's too polemical to be a definitive biography, and in many places too much based on conjecture, arguably because important archives are still closed to researchers. Nevertless it contains a lot of interesting information, and is worth reading.

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Reading Progress

04/09/2011 page 218
26.0% "All I ever read about the history of Japan suggest that as early as the Heian period, form was separated from function in government, and the real decisions were made informally. The biography of Bix is interesting, but written with a total lack of sympathy for its subject, the quandaries of constitutional monarchy, or Japanese tradition. Too often conclusion appear derived from bias instead of facts."

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