Written from Japanese sources – Japan 1941

” In all four seas all are brothers and sisters.
Then why, oh why, these rough winds and waves? “

This poem was read aloud by Emperor Hirohito in an imperial conference to approve the attack on Pearl Harbor . The poem was written by his late grandfather Meiji. { p 176}. Ms Hotta posits that this was a pacifist lament and expressed his desire to avoid war.

In her view, Hirohito opposed war and kept urging political and military leaders to pursue diplomacy, but in the end reluctantly acquiesced. { p 175}. Unfortunately, the evidence presented by her is scanty. A more thorough analysis of the culpability of Hirohito is presented by Bix in his excellent Hirohito and the making of modern Japan.

The strength of this 323 page book is that it is written from the Japanese perspective , based on many Japanese sources, not available in the English language . It sought to explain who and what brought Japan to attack Pearl Harbor. { p 21}.

Ms Hotta starts with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and describes the joy and exhilaration of the ordinary Japanese upon hearing the news over the radio.

Hotta writes very well. The story flows briskly. She is not afraid to pass judgments on the folly of Japanese leaders like Prince Konoe Fumimaro Prime minister from June 1937 to Jan 1939 and from July 1940 to Oct 1941.

This book has excellent pen portraits of Konoe, Matsuoka the Foreign minister and Yamonoto the mastermind of the attack on Pearl Harbour etc.
This book could, however, have been better. There is no bibliography. A major irritant is the lack of indication in the text that there is an end note reference to a particular sentence. A reader is forced to constantly turn to the back of the book to see if there is an end note reference. I trust such irritating attempt to be stylish will be abandoned by vintage books.

Some important or significant assertions are not supported by end notes. Thus the reader is not sure if the assertion is the author’s view or not, and the probative value of the assertion is compromised .

Ms Hotta has presented evidence to try to explain why Japanese leaders entered a war knowing they will lose. She explained this from the narrow lens of the preceding 8 months leading up to the decision to attack Pearl Harbor. { p 13}.

Having finished her book I can’t help but disagree. Readers looking from a longer perspective from the attack on China in 1894 to the occupation of substantial parts of China, the annexation of Korea in 1910 and the spread of ultra-nationalism in Japan { set out in detailed in Hirohito’s war by Francis Pike} would know that the Japanese leaders then were following in the footsteps of the British empire to conquer Asia. They hope that with Germany winning the second World War the US will be forced to accept peace terms. Hence the decision to strike the first blow, without a declaration of war.

In Yamamoto’s Views on the Preparation of War he “argued that if he could wipe out the US Pacific Navy in one swoop, the US might accept a truce…” ( page 169 Hirohito’s War by Francis Pike 2016 Ed).

I highly recommend this book to readers keen on a Japanese perspective.

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