... important and provocative ... In evaluating Bix's fascinating book it is well to keep three things in mind. First, studies of Hirohito's reign are still in their early stages. Second, as Bix himself points out, many key documents pertaining to the emperor -- his diaries, his personal correspondence and records of his conversations -- are still tightly held by the imperial household. Finally there are, and probably always will be, differing views of this era ... it is safe to say that while Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan' is sure to stimulate discussion in the United States, its reception in Japan, once the book has been translated into Japanese, is bound to be far more explosive.
Bix’s Hirohito seems as contradictory as other versions of the man, but Bix does at least have a coherent line on his subject which doesn’t rely on demonic conspiracy theories. It is largely the line of the left: the Emperor as a leading agent of reaction against liberal tendencies in twentieth-century Japan. This is persuasive, as far as it goes ... Because Bix goes out of his way to show Hirohito’s active political participation, he is puzzled, and sometimes angry, when the Emperor turns out not to have been active enough. It’s as if Bix wants it both ways ... It is hugely important to insist that the truth be told about the past, as well as the present ... David Bergamini deserves a small salute for having made an initial stab at the subject. Bix has done a much better job.
In this provocative and disturbing work, [Bix] paints a far more complex portrait of Hirohito. Aided by newly available material from Japanese archives, Bix convincingly asserts that the emperor was deeply involved in most aspects of the Pacific war, from start to finish, and he voiced few objections to the most brutal outrages of his military. It is particularly disturbing to see how the cocoon of lies spun around Hirohito has been used by conservative and especially reactionary politicians in Japan to advance their nationalistic agenda. This book will undoubtedly cause a storm of controversy, especially in Japan. However, it is a vital contribution to an ongoing and critical debate.
... a rare achievement: a work that turns established knowledge upside down ... 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.
Bix penetrates decades of 'public opacity' to offer a stunning portrait of the controversial Japanese emperor ... Bix's command of primary sources is apparent throughout the book, especially in the voluminous endnotes. From these sources, the author draws a nuanced and balanced portrayal of an emperor who did not seek out war, but who demanded victories once war began and never took action to stop Japan's reckless descent into defeat. Bix makes Hirohito's later career intelligible by a careful exposition of the conflicting influences imposed on the emperor as a child ... Bix gives a meticulous account of his subject, delivers measured judgements about his accomplishments and failures, and reveals the subtlety of the emperor's character as a man who, while seemingly detached and remote, is in fact controlling events from behind the imperial screen. This is political biography at its most compelling.
... draws on an impressive array of fresh sources ... 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.