Since Hirohito left virtually no writings that would have given substance to his views, Bix has had to look closely at the diaries left by those who dealt with him, and at an avalanche of other documentation, much of it in Japanese, and from this infer a character for Hirohito. There are some direct quotations but they are rare. My favorite bits so far: (1) the overview of Hirohito's education and the review of his teachers; (2) the degree to which the military in Japan in the 1930-40s was completely out of control; (3) the subject's maddening penchant for vacillation; (4) the final damning word on his complicity in the crimes of his nation; (5) the view of across the board governmental dysfunction. It's an astonishing story. Hirohito was left to sanction his army's wild and murderous caprices at home and abroad after the fact, or risk looking inept. When he finally steps out of the shadows to disperse the rebellion by his young army officers in 1936Only when Japan's young army officers rebel in 1936 and kill those advisors closest to him--it is believed he is manipulated by them--does he take action. He issues an order for the rioters to disperse and has 17 of them hanged. Hirohito almost always worked through intermediaries. So this issuance of such a direct imperial order is a shocking moment in the book. It is also utterly out of keeping with H's character. Right now, midway through the book, it's 1937 and the Japanese army has just entered Shanghai. The war is starting in earnest. My only problem with the text so far is that Bix does not tell us what the various personnel involved day to day with Hirohito looked like. This is such a simple thing, and here it would have helped the reader to remember them the next time they appeared in the text. But all Bix gives us about these individuals is their political positions. So they tend to blur together. No question, this is quibble. Bix has done an astonishing job. Highly recommended. (N.B. There's another book, this one by David Bergamini called JAPAN'S IMPERIAL CONSPIRACY, which has been pretty much debunked over the years. Bergamini was interned during the Second World War and consequently had an axe to grind afterward. His conclusions are therefore suspect. He did not possess the scholarly apparatus that Bix has. Yet Bergamini is a fine writer who does an excellent job with the individual profiles: Konoe, Saionji, etc. One could easily read Bergamini's just for the individual profiles as a helpful adjunct to the Bix text.)
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This book, while it took a while to get going, really did provide a good, complete look at Hirohito. The author started with the emperor's education and grooming to be a real absolute monarch. This part felt a bit tedious to me, and probably could have stuck less at certain points that more concerned Meiji and Taisho, but it does a good job of setting up how he came to hold the beliefs he held.The next part, where he takes over the throne and plays a big role in the application of power, is the part that comes as the biggest surprise, and is given the largest part of the book. It shows Hirohito's desire to increase his empire, but not explicitly come out and state it. He generally took a militarist line, and when the military acted up, tended not to overly censure them. In all arenas, he acted in a way to increase his power if he could; since he had less direct control over civilian affairs of state, and wanted to cater to the military movement that used him as a nationalist-fervor generating device, he ended up taking positions that led to full-scale military takeover of the government, helping to end the nascent Taisho democracy movement.Further, it's clear that he didn't really care about military or social order, as long as ultimate success accrued to him and the empire. When officers acted on their own or countermanded orders, as long as they succeeded, they ended up being rewarded with imperials rescripts or higher positions. If they acted against his interests, however, or if they failed, then the fall could be very steep.As the war expanded, eventually he went for expanded war against Japan's traditional allies, the US and Britain, largely because they were curtailing the efforts of Japan to expand the empire. While it seems that he was initially hesitant, he came to the point where he was largely happy starting the war, and remained so for the first several months, when things were going well. Bix argues convincingly that the unexpectedly rapid success, with everything going according to plan or better, led to overreaching on the part of Japan and Hirohito, who felt that they should keep expanding rather than consolidating the gains made. If they had turned to defense in early 1942, rather than looking to take a bit more and deal a decisive defeat to the US, the war could have ended up differently.Bix points out that the only one ever in command of all the military information was Hirohito, and yet he was the one who refused to give up and to push for a decisive final battle up until the end, despite knowing that they had less and less chance of any success. He changed military orders to be more aggressive, thus sealing the doom of many battles. It's not that he had no working knowledge of tactics; it was more that he felt that, with great Japanese spirit, they could overcome the odds, as had happened in the Russo-Japanese War under Meiji.Postwar, Hirohito moved to make himself seem indispensible in keeping the country together, collaborated with MacArthur and other Americans to make sure that he was not held culpable for the entry into the war or other military decisions, and tried to reframe himself as a symbol of peace. The extent to which the Tokyo trials of war criminals were engineered to leave him out, I was already rather aware of from Dower's Embracing Defeat, but this went into more detail. Bix claims that the trials felt incomplete because there was an emperor-sized hole at the top of the hierarchy that no one was willing to address, and I can see this.Even after the 1947 constitution consigned him to a symbol of Japanese unity, Hirohito always longed for more power, and agitated behind the scenes for reform, or at the least for an unofficial advisory capacity, for much of his life. He also, even at the end of his life, sought to keep his name out of war responsibility, although he could not quite accomplish it. Still, he avoided it for much of his reign, which in itself is an accomplishment.Bix's narrative is well-written, although a bit tedious at the beginning and a bit skimpy at the end. He jumps around a bit timewise in the narrative to make points sometimes, and that left me confused on some occasions, but overall, it came across cleanly, and it does really show the unifying theme of Hirohito's reign to have been a desire for political and diplomatic power for the monarchy; the more of it, the better. Anyone interested in modern Japanese history, this one is worth it.
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