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Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan

av Herbert P. Bix

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
1,0281620,334 (3.77)27
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize In this groundbreaking biography of the Japanese emperor Hirohito, Herbert P. Bix offers the first complete, unvarnished look at the enigmatic leader whose sixty-three-year reign ushered Japan into the modern world. Never before has the full life of this controversial figure been revealed with such clarity and vividness. Bix shows what it was like to be trained from birth for a lone position at the apex of the nation's political hierarchy and as a revered symbol of divine status. Influenced by an unusual combination of the Japanese imperial tradition and a modern scientific worldview, the young emperor gradually evolves into his preeminent role, aligning himself with the growing ultranationalist movement, perpetuating a cult of religious emperor worship, resisting attempts to curb his power, and all the while burnishing his image as a reluctant, passive monarch. Here we see Hirohito as he truly was: a man of strong will and real authority. Supported by a vast array of previously untapped primary documents, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan is perhaps most illuminating in lifting the veil on the mythology surrounding the emperor's impact on the world stage. Focusing closely on Hirohito's interactions with his advisers and successive Japanese governments, Bix sheds new light on the causes of the China War in 1937 and the start of the Asia-Pacific War in 1941. And while conventional wisdom has had it that the nation's increasing foreign aggression was driven and maintained not by the emperor but by an elite group of Japanese militarists, the reality, as witnessed here, is quite different. Bix documents in detail the strong, decisive role Hirohito played in wartime operations, from the takeover of Manchuria in 1931 through the attack on Pearl Harbor and ultimately the fateful decision in 1945 to accede to an unconditional surrender. In fact, the emperor stubbornly prolonged the war effort and then used the horrifying bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, together with the Soviet entrance into the war, as his exit strategy from a no-win situation. From the moment of capitulation, we see how American and Japanese leaders moved to justify the retention of Hirohito as emperor by whitewashing his wartime role and reshaping the historical consciousness of the Japanese people. The key to this strategy was Hirohito's alliance with General MacArthur, who helped him maintain his stature and shed his militaristic image, while MacArthur used the emperor as a figurehead to assist him in converting Japan into a peaceful nation. Their partnership ensured that the emperor's image would loom large over the postwar years and later decades, as Japan began to make its way in the modern age and struggled -- as it still does -- to come to terms with its past. Until the very end of a career that embodied the conflicting aims of Japan's development as a nation, Hirohito remained preoccupied with politics and with his place in history. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan provides the definitive account of his rich life and legacy. Meticulously researched and utterly engaging, this book is proof that the history of twentieth-century Japan cannot be understood apart from the life of its most remarkable and enduring leader.… (mer)
  1. 10
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Really good book, hence the Pulitzer. Simply put the book shows how Hirohito was not an innocent bystander, rather he was the master puppeteer running the show behind the scenes. This is a must read for anyone interested in WWII and Modern Japanese history. ( )
  CMDoherty | Oct 3, 2023 |
This is really my first book on Japanese history... it was really way over my head! Lots of details, names, dates, places, etc. Most of it went in one ear and right out the other side. But still, Bix has a steady argument and provides enough bread crumbs that a novice like myself can track the big picture. To what extent this book is unbiased etc,. I have no idea.

The thrust of the book is that Hirohito played a powerful role in promoting Japanese militarism from 1931 to 1945, but after the surrender MacArthur found it useful to hide Hirohito's role and to paint him as peace loving etc.

This book was first published in 2000, before the real right wing, MAGA etc., movement gained such power in the USA. The parallels with the Japanese right wing are very chilling - glorifying mythical origins etc. Whitewashing history in textbooks to present a heroic picture of the nation.

I hope to read more Japanese history... it will be very interesting to see how my further study will affect my view of the accuracy of Bix's thesis! ( )
  kukulaj | Nov 24, 2022 |
nonfiction-biography/history. Evidence collected so reader can make up own mind about H's role in the war (generally more active than the emperor claimed). A pretty thorough biography but not as compelling a narrative as those by other nonfiction writers (erik larson, etc.). I struggled to keep track of the names (lots of cabinets forming and dissolving all the time, ministers of various orgs were always changing) and Japanese terms, so a glossary and maybe some kind of timeline of principal people of power might have been helpful. ( )
  reader1009 | Jul 3, 2021 |
This is a book about World War II from Japan's perspective. This is an interesting story, but leaves the book with a misleading title.

The book is too long, given all the things that it doesn't cover. The book covers about a century of Japan's history (from the late 1800s to the late 1900s), but it gives almost no background on what else was going on in Japan during this era, or what influenced that era. Without being an expert on Japan's history, I felt like I was left with a lot of contextual gaps.

My point of comparison is Ron Chernow's "The House of Morgan." This too is a very long book that focuses on a similar length of time with an emphasis on a specific family. Chernow gives all the appropriate context, so that the book is more a history of the US during that era. It also is exceedingly readable, where Bix's text felt like more of a slog.

Ironically, I'm left feeling as though the US's decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan at the end of WWII was justified, which is a big surprise to me. World War II was preceded by adamant nationalism and imperialism across the globe. Japan was going to continue fighting WWII to the death, even though they effectively lost in 1944. The bombs helped to humble all parties involved. This is in no way a justification for nuclear war—nuclear war should never be an option. Instead, I'd like to call attention to the fact that global war places leaders in a position of needing to make impossible decisions.

The book opens with a bizarre tirade against the US military. Anger at the US military is justified; it's just confusing why the editors left it in a book that's supposedly a biography of a Japanese emperor.

Whereas I get the sense that it is the English throne's responsibility to serve the people of their nation, Japan flipped this dynamic on its head. It is the people's responsibility to serve the emperor, and the emperor serves his ancestors (a task which is often directly at odds with the needs of his nation).

Much of the book is about Hirohito's responsibility for WWII, and the lack of accountability he faced afterwards. This is understandable within a context of global politics, and the United States interest in not creating revolution in Japan. In other words, Hirohito was our dictator, and therefore he was one of the few Axis leaders left standing after WWII. ( )
  willszal | Oct 4, 2019 |
The author examines the way Hirohito was educated to be staunchly non-self-reflective, and to care for his subjects in an abstract, paternalistic way. After Nagasaki, many people on the world stage were highly motivated to cast Hirohito's war-time role in the best light. Bix examines why this was so, how Hirohito escaped a trial, who benefitted, and how it has caused problems in Japanese political discourse ever since. Bix often criticizes Hirohito's duplicitous tactics and self-effacing passivity, but I am not convinced that anyone raised with such a surreal upbringing could be more self-directed. The author's explanation of post-war US-Japanese politics is brief but enlightening. My only complaint: no glossary of terms included! Without Wikipedia, I would not have made it through the book. ( )
  LaurelPoe | Dec 25, 2017 |
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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize In this groundbreaking biography of the Japanese emperor Hirohito, Herbert P. Bix offers the first complete, unvarnished look at the enigmatic leader whose sixty-three-year reign ushered Japan into the modern world. Never before has the full life of this controversial figure been revealed with such clarity and vividness. Bix shows what it was like to be trained from birth for a lone position at the apex of the nation's political hierarchy and as a revered symbol of divine status. Influenced by an unusual combination of the Japanese imperial tradition and a modern scientific worldview, the young emperor gradually evolves into his preeminent role, aligning himself with the growing ultranationalist movement, perpetuating a cult of religious emperor worship, resisting attempts to curb his power, and all the while burnishing his image as a reluctant, passive monarch. Here we see Hirohito as he truly was: a man of strong will and real authority. Supported by a vast array of previously untapped primary documents, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan is perhaps most illuminating in lifting the veil on the mythology surrounding the emperor's impact on the world stage. Focusing closely on Hirohito's interactions with his advisers and successive Japanese governments, Bix sheds new light on the causes of the China War in 1937 and the start of the Asia-Pacific War in 1941. And while conventional wisdom has had it that the nation's increasing foreign aggression was driven and maintained not by the emperor but by an elite group of Japanese militarists, the reality, as witnessed here, is quite different. Bix documents in detail the strong, decisive role Hirohito played in wartime operations, from the takeover of Manchuria in 1931 through the attack on Pearl Harbor and ultimately the fateful decision in 1945 to accede to an unconditional surrender. In fact, the emperor stubbornly prolonged the war effort and then used the horrifying bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, together with the Soviet entrance into the war, as his exit strategy from a no-win situation. From the moment of capitulation, we see how American and Japanese leaders moved to justify the retention of Hirohito as emperor by whitewashing his wartime role and reshaping the historical consciousness of the Japanese people. The key to this strategy was Hirohito's alliance with General MacArthur, who helped him maintain his stature and shed his militaristic image, while MacArthur used the emperor as a figurehead to assist him in converting Japan into a peaceful nation. Their partnership ensured that the emperor's image would loom large over the postwar years and later decades, as Japan began to make its way in the modern age and struggled -- as it still does -- to come to terms with its past. Until the very end of a career that embodied the conflicting aims of Japan's development as a nation, Hirohito remained preoccupied with politics and with his place in history. Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan provides the definitive account of his rich life and legacy. Meticulously researched and utterly engaging, this book is proof that the history of twentieth-century Japan cannot be understood apart from the life of its most remarkable and enduring leader.

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