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Book Review June 29, 2006
Book Review: The Scholar and the Whore
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 2 of 3

Managing to convey the thought processes, assumptions and biases of the Imperial elite is Hasegawa's greatest achievement. Like every decent historian, he starts with the willingness to see that these people had their own way of seeing the world. Sounds simple, but it's not so common among English-speaking historians. If it were, we wouldn't all be so smugly convinced that Japan surrendered because they feared annihilation.

The men in power in Japan in 1945 were very comfortable with the notion of suicide, personal or national; they feared losing face far more than annihilation. So Japan was unlikely to flinch merely because the B-29s could now unleash a more efficient form of death. Even after Germany had surrendered, with every city in Japan aflame and huge US flotillas closing in on the home islands, the Imperial elite insisted that "'Japan is not losing the war, since we have not lost any homeland territory.'"

Hasegawa quotes some truly stunning examples of the Kamikaze spirit among the elite, as when Army Minister Anami announces that the US may have as many as a hundred atomic bombs ready to drop on Japan's cities, then adds that he is absolutely in favor of continuing the war.

Some of Emperor Hirohito's comments are inadvertently comic in their psychotic understatement, as when he concedes that in the event of a nuclear holocaust, "protection of the kokutai would be difficult"-or his admission, in his surrender broadcast on August 15, 1945, that the current military situation was "not necessarily to Japan's advantage."

With delusion rampant in Tokyo, Stalin's envoys had an easy time portraying themselves to Japan's elite as the good cop to America's bad cop. After all, Soviet forces were not actually at war against Japan, and it was always Stalin's policy to keep smiling until the knife was actually deep inside his erstwhile ally's guts. Thus he allowed Molotov to flirt with a succession of Japanese envoys, conveying by the usual nods and smiles the USSR's willingness to serve as honest broker between Japan and America. So, up to the moment Soviet troops overwhelmed Japan's Manchurian forces, Japan was soft on Stalin, hard on Truman.

Stalin emerges from Hasegawa's research as the most impressive figure among the major players. From the start, he intended to punish Japan for its defeat of Russia in 1905, but as long as there was anything to be gained by doing so, he encouraged the Japanese delusion that the USSR had no territorial ambitions in the Far East and simply wanted all parties to find peace. The Japanese elite, hopelessly susceptible to such courtesies and locked in a war to the death with America, developed a hopeless infatuation with Stalin as disastrous as his with Hitler. The USSR ended up with all of Sakhalin Island, the Kuriles, and 600,000 Japanese POWs who came in very handy as slave labor in the GULAG.

Japan was slapped awake by the Soviet Union's declaration of war against it on August 9, 1945. In a poignant scene, Hasegawa describes the way Sato, Japan's ambassador to Moscow, reacted to the news: "With sarcasm shrouded in old-fashioned diplomatic formality, Sato expressed his profound appreciation to Molotov for working with him to keep both countries neutral during three difficult years, insinuating that in reality Molotov had been deceiving the ambassador and the Japanese government for four months: Molotov embraced Sato, and the two bid farewell."

The utter futility of Japan's reliance on formal courtesies shows almost pitiably in the exchange, as Sato attempts to retaliate against betrayal by Stalin's mouthpiece with "sarcasm"-even more pitifully, "sarcasm shrouded in diplomatic formality."

Yet so powerful was the high command's dream of Soviet help that, even as Soviet tanks were overwhelming Japan's Kwantung Army in Manchuria, "the Kwantung Army was instructed by the Imperial General Headquarters to limit action to self-defense," as if this might somehow placate the Soviets. In another twist to this weird tale, Hasegawa notes that it was the most extreme hawks in the Imperial Army who clung most fiercely to their Stalin-is-our-friend delusion, while the doves hoped that the Soviet attack could be "God's gift to control the army."

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