• SHARE

American historian Herbert Bix, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan,” knows Japan and the Japanese well.

Bix, 63, who first visited Japan as a young naval officer, spent half his career in Tokyo before embarking on the “Hirohito” project with a view to writing a political history of Japan set in the 20th century.

“I think you cannot understand the modern world, the world of the 21st century unless we take Japanese history as seriously as we are beginning to take Japanese politics,” Bix, who will be awarded the Pulitzer for nonfiction on May 31, told Kyodo News in an interview.

“There has to be a deeper grasp of Japanese realities,” Bix said, emphasizing the need to recognize Japanese people as individuals and not through stereotypes.

On this premise, Bix — who taught for more than 10 years at Hitotsubashi University and Hosei University in Tokyo — took on the project that eventually became a biography of the monarch, who was posthumously named Emperor Showa after his reign for more than 60 years.

The subject of his book, which came out last year and is expected to be published in Japanese by summer 2002, was “a nervous man,” of average intellect, having “a strong streak of opportunism” and “moral cowardice,” Bix said.

“It’s important that Japanese people, when they read the book, see that he was derelict in the performance of his duties,” he said, emphasizing that while Emperor Showa was “never a dictator,” neither did he lead a true constitutional monarchy in the early Showa Era.

“My argument is that he was educated to retrieve the lost powers — the power that his father, the Taisho Emperor, hadn’t been able to exercise,” Bix said.

Emperor Showa “wanted to reduce and eventually eliminate the power, the voice of elected officials in making national policy. He favored bureaucrats,” Bix said. “War was never central to his character, but he was given a military education and an education in realpolitik.”

Bix also noted that Emperor Showa, like many monarchs, remained to the end ignorant of ordinary people’s concerns and died without apologizing for the events of the war.

“Everywhere I go, I say I’ve described an impunity — the classic incidents of the impunity situation — and that’s a key concept,” Bix said, referring also to his feelings as an American who lived through the Vietnam War era.

“What happens when a head of state has either committed crimes or has been derelict . . . and he’s not investigated and he makes no apologies and he dies and he leaves the scene and nothing is clarified,” he said.

In line with the arguments of Japanese scholars, Bix shows in his book that Emperor Showa escaped trial and probable execution as a war criminal at the end of World War II because of Cold War policies adopted by the U.S. Occupation forces and the effort made by them to ease the political transitions for Japanese people.

Bix, who earned his doctorate at Harvard University on a national defense scholarship, said his anger at U.S. policies in Asia during the Vietnam War shaped his professional life.

As a graduate student, he and his peers established a society of scholars “concerned” about Asia, writing for its bulletin to protest the U.S. war policies that led to the bombing of civilians in Southeast Asia and other such “war crimes.”

One of the projects he plans to undertake in the near future is an examination of American military behavior in Asia, Bix said.

Bix said he also looks forward to re-examining how World War II ended, the relation between that war and the Cold War, and studying Japanese writings on the air raid on Pearl Harbor.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.

SUBSCRIBE NOW