Last April, the Japanese held a special national celebration of the 60th anniversary of the reign of Emperor Hirohito. A figure out of the history books, he is, at age 85 not only the world's longest reigning monarch but the most long-lived of all his 124 predecessors in an imperial line that Japanese tradition holds stretches back more than 26 centuries. Scholars are still somewhat uncertain about how to assess the emperor's role in Japan's fateful decisions of the 1930s and '40s that led it to conquest, war and ultimate defeat.
Paul Manning's book, "Hirohito: The War Years," suggests that the emperor played a very active role indeed, that "he plotted with his advisers the invasions of China and Manchuria and the attack on Pearl Harbor. . . ." Unfortunately, this short account is so hazy and unreliable that it sheds little light on the emperor, the Pacific War, or anything else. It is hard in a brief review to do justice to the utter confusion and wild inaccuracies of this book, but here are a few examples. Manning believes that Nanking is in Manchuria and that it was captured by the Japanese in 1932. It fell in December, 1937, during the Sino-Japanese War, a conflict that Manning apparently has mixed up with the Manchurian crisis of 1931-'33. Manning thinks that Gen. Douglas MacArthur commanded the naval forces at the Battle of the Coral Sea and that he was also in command of the Guadalcanal operation. The whole Guadalcanal invasion, Manning explains, took place because MacArthur, fighting the Japanese at Buna in New Guinea, "decided that taking Guadalcanal, a low-lying coral island (sic) about the size of Delaware, . . . would spread Japanese forces into another theater of combat." You have to admire an author who can pack that many errors into so few words. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (not MacArthur) ordered the Guadalcanal operation a good two weeks before the Japanese landed at Buna. It was commanded by Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley who reported to Adm. Chester Nimitz, not MacArthur. Guadalcanal is not "low-lying" but has jagged 8,000-foot hills, etc. etc.