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Hirohito: THE WAR YEARS by Paul Manning (Dodd, Mead: $16.95; 255 pp., illustrated)

August 03, 1986|Ronald Spector | Spector, professor of history at the University of Alabama, is the author of "Eagle Against the Sun: The American War With Japan." and

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.

Yet all this pales in comparison to the author's discussion of the forced relocation of the Japanese from the West Coast in 1942. (Don't ask me what this has to do with Hirohito.) According to Manning, the evacuation was all due to the advice of one Frank Schuler, whom he describes as a brilliant U.S. intelligence operative at least the equal of Richard Sorge. After Pearl Harbor, Schuler "received a call from the White House asking if the Japanese in the United States were a danger. 'Some are, some are not. But how can you tell the bad from the good?' " replied this expert on the Japanese. There upon, says Manning, President Roosevelt "concluded that in preparing for a two-front war, he could not tolerate the distraction of a fifth column which had worked its way into the Japanese communities on the West Coast." Leaving aside the importance of "Frank Schuler," who up to now has escaped the attention of the history books, the fact is that the Office of Naval Intelligence and the FBI were confident that they could tell the loyal from the disloyal Japanese and that the disloyal were a small minority whom they could easily identify and round up. They said as much in several official reports that ever since have been no small source of embarrassment to those involved in the decisions on forced relocation.

Although thoroughly unreliable as history, this book should prove a great source of entertainment to World War II buffs who can have a fine time trying to spot all the errors and omissions on each page.

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