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Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy by Eri Hotta

Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy (2013)

by Eri Hotta

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In depth view of what led up to the war, however it dragged on. Not even sure if it really captured all the reasons why the leaders made the decision they made. ( )
  GShuk | Aug 13, 2017 |
An examination Japanese history, politics, and foreign policy in the year leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It helped clarify a confusing period of history.
Library book. ( )
  seeword | Aug 8, 2016 |
This is a history of what took place among the Japanese decision makers in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is, in a way, a counterpart to Craig's excellent The Fall of Japan, but at the other end of the war. The focus is on the top Japanese leaders, and on the civilian leadership more than the military. This has the effect of slightly playing down the extreme militarism pervading the Japanese Army that did so much to ensure there would be a war, but that's about the only flaw in this otherwise very good book.

The background is set with a brief recounting of the history of modern Japan, and of the actions of the increasingly unruly and aggressive Japanese Army in the 1930s. By 1941 the Americans and Japanese were on a collision course, and the Japanese were faced with backing down or waging a war that most of the top leadership knew could not be won except by a miracle. The unrealistic attitudes of a lot of these leaders is a major theme of the book. The Army could not bear to pull out of China after sacrificing so many soldiers, a feeling that is rather understandable on an emotional level and is no stranger to any American who has read the Gettysburg Address. The Navy could not lose face, and possibly funding, by admitting that all the money that had been spent on the Navy had still been insufficient to make it capable of defeating America. The eccentric Foreign Minister, Matsuoka, who had grown up in the U.S. and graduated with a law degree from the University of Oregon, pinned his hopes on a four-power bloc of Germany, Russia, Italy, and Japan. There was a bit of a problem with that, which became clear when Germany invaded Russia just after Matsuoka signed a neutrality pact with the Russians. Hotta sees a lost opportunity here: Japan would have been entirely justified in denouncing the Tripartite Pact on the basis of Germany's actions, and this would have removed a major obstacle to a rapprochement with the U.S.

The general picture is of Japan blundering its way into war, much as it would eventually blunder its way to peace. There are U.S. blunders, too, of course: Roosevelt could have been more open to a summit with Japanese prime minister Konoe, for example. Still, Hotta emphasizes Japanese mistakes, of which there were apparently plenty.

Thumbs up. ( )
  K.G.Budge | Aug 8, 2016 |
How did Japan decide to enter a war that everyone involved in the decision at the highest levels knew was unwinnable? Hotta’s answer comes from the complex political/military arrangements of imperial Japan, where every decision required multiple rounds of consultation and everyone in a position to say “no” just left that awkward endeavor to someone else. Hotta attributes a small role to Japan’s culture of indirect speech, where certain expressions of opposition could be misinterpreted (perhaps willfully) as support, but the people involved could be open in private and just weren’t willing to take the risk involved of publicly opposing Japanese aggression. I wanted more discussion of the true pro-war militarists, including the radicals who were assassinating public officials they perceived as insufficiently war-prone, because I felt like that was a big part of the story, but Hotta didn’t go into detail about any of the militarists, concentrating instead on the people with the power to prevent the conflict who instead let it happen. ( )
1 vote rivkat | May 9, 2015 |
Many authors have tackled the imponderable: What led Imperial Japan to attack the United States at Pearl Harbor and engage in a war that they had no chance of winning? As author Eri Hotta points out, the Japanese leaders for the most part wanted to maintain the peace, but were afraid of speaking their private thoughts. Even Emperor Hirohito "reigned rather than ruled" and shied away from demands for the peaceful resolution he desired. Wishful thinking and reliance on the power of the Japanese spirit (what about the Yankee spirit? one of the critics asked without an answer) became the rule, and led the acceptance of the impossible as unavoidable. The war in China drove every action by the Japanese and withdrawal from French Indo China and even China was actually discussed. One prime minister who misread the Americans allied the nation with Nazi Germany, with which Japan actually shared little, and Konoe (Konoye), his successor, vacillated in his efforts to avoid war. Even General Tojo, who then succeeded Konoe as prime minister, wanted to avoid war, but in his public persona talked exceedingly tough and aggressive. The result was the hardening of attitudes towards such issues of how long withdrawal from China should take (25-50 years was suggested) and whether a sea war in the Pacific could be won (the cowardly naval leaders refused to firmly say they could not do it). With perfect 20/20 hindsight, we can see how this was suicidal wish fulfillment...Japan turned out 100 Zeroes a month, at our peak, the US turned out 100s in days. The Japanese never had more than something like 36 aircraft carriers, too many of which were never even finished. The US, at peak, turned out one carrier (full-size fleet carrier as well as escort carrier) a week. Other books have faulted the Americans for its diplomatic failures, but Hotta points out the ultimate responsibility was that of the militaristic Japanese government which repeatedly failed to come up with a way to maintain a peace they wanted. An illuminating book. ( )
  NickHowes | Apr 9, 2015 |
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Eri Hottaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Booher, JasonCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307594017, Hardcover)

A groundbreaking history that considers the attack on Pearl Harbor from the Japanese perspective and is certain to revolutionize how we think of the war in the Pacific.

When Japan launched hostilities against the United States in 1941, argues Eri Hotta, its leaders, in large part, understood they were entering a war they were almost certain to lose. Drawing on material little known to Western readers, and barely explored in depth in Japan itself, Hotta poses an essential question: Why did these men—military men, civilian politicians, diplomats, the emperor—put their country and its citizens so unnecessarily in harm’s way? Introducing us to the doubters, schemers, and would-be patriots who led their nation into this conflagration, Hotta brilliantly shows us a Japan rarely glimpsed—eager to avoid war but fraught with tensions with the West, blinded by reckless militarism couched in traditional notions of pride and honor, tempted by the gambler’s dream of scoring the biggest win against impossible odds and nearly escaping disaster before it finally proved inevitable.

In an intimate account of the increasingly heated debates and doomed diplomatic overtures preceding Pearl Harbor, Hotta reveals just how divided Japan’s leaders were, right up to (and, in fact, beyond) their eleventh-hour decision to attack. We see a ruling cadre rich in regional ambition and hubris: many of the same leaders seeking to avoid war with the United States continued to adamantly advocate Asian expansionism, hoping to advance, or at least maintain, the occupation of China that began in 1931, unable to end the second Sino-Japanese War and unwilling to acknowledge Washington’s hardening disapproval of their continental incursions. Even as Japanese diplomats continued to negotiate with the Roosevelt administration, Matsuoka Yosuke, the egomaniacal foreign minister who relished paying court to both Stalin and Hitler, and his facile supporters cemented Japan’s place in the fascist alliance with Germany and Italy—unaware (or unconcerned) that in so doing they destroyed the nation’s bona fides with the West.

We see a dysfunctional political system in which military leaders reported to both the civilian government and the emperor, creating a structure that facilitated intrigues and stoked a jingoistic rivalry between Japan’s army and navy. Roles are recast and blame reexamined as Hotta analyzes the actions and motivations of the hawks and skeptics among Japan’s elite. Emperor Hirohito and General Hideki Tojo are newly appraised as we discover how the two men fumbled for a way to avoid war before finally acceding to it.

Hotta peels back seventy years of historical mythologizing—both Japanese and Western—to expose all-too-human Japanese leaders torn by doubt in the months preceding the attack, more concerned with saving face than saving lives, finally drawn into war as much by incompetence and lack of political will as by bellicosity. An essential book for any student of the Second World War, this compelling reassessment will forever change the way we remember those days of infamy. 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:20 -0400)

Examines the attack on Pearl Harbor from the Japanese perspective.

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