×
Capsule Review

Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

In This Review

Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan
By Herbert P. Bix
HarperTrade, 2000, 784 pp. $35.00 Purchase

This book is a rare achievement: a work that turns established knowledge upside down. Bix's detailed review of the life of Hirohito makes clear that the emperor was not a passive figurehead manipulated by war-minded militarists but an active strategic plotter of the Japanese wars of aggression -- and a certifiable war criminal. His postwar denial of personal responsibility for Japan's wartime actions helped legitimize the national amnesia about what had happened during the war. From early childhood on, Hirohito was imbued with martial spirit and visions of imperial grandeur in the tradition of his grandfather, Emperor Meiji, who had expanded the empire through wars with China and Russia. Central to Hirohito's schooling was the history of great imperial conquests and technical instruction in military strategy. Hence, he took seriously his responsibilities as commander-in-chief of Japan's armed forces. Starting with the Manchurian and the Marco Polo Bridge incidents that led to full-scale war with China in 1937, Hirohito had numerous opportunities to check the army and prevent war. But he chose instead to engage in grand strategic planning, including Pearl Harbor and the campaigns into Southeast Asia. After defeat, he blatantly lied about his wartime actions and assumed the figurehead role that the Allied occupation, fearing that his removal would make the country ungovernable, wanted him to play. Bix relies on an impressive number of memoirs and diaries of high-level Japanese officials, which together present the picture of a complex man trained to be an imperialist, not a rubber stamp for Japan's ambitious militarists. The occupier of the Chrysanthemum Throne for 63 years, Hirohito was the longest-reigning emperor in the world's longest-lasting dynasty -- which may soon come to an end if Crown Prince Naruhito fails to produce an heir.

Related Articles

This site uses cookies to improve your user experience. Click here to learn more.

Continue