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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Book Review: Japan's Longest Day

日本のいちばん長い日

Japan's Longest Day, by The Pacific War Research Society

longest-dayThis is a much more interesting exploration, given the rather dry name of the book’s authorial group, than one might expect. It covers the 24 hours between noon on August 14 and August 15, 1945, when Emperor Hirohito announced over national radio Japan’s imperial decision to accept the Potsdam Proclamation unconditionally, surrender to Allied forces, and end WWII. This broadcast not only concluded 15 years of martial action and aggression throughout the Pacific region by Japan and marked the nation’s first military defeat. It also stunned the entire populace, perhaps mostly so for transmitting the decidedly mortal and shockingly diminutive voice of their emperor, delivering its high-pitched message through the plebian airwaves for the first time in history.

The authors go to great lengths to make the book a compelling drama, and they mostly succeed, as they follow hour-by-hour the wrenching decisions of the emperor and his cabinet, an attempted coup by one wing of the military, and the grisly murder and suicides of some of the nation’s highest-ranking officers. Occasionally, their attempt at concluding each chapter with a cliff-hanger falls short or feels stale, but for the most part, this book is captivating. It offers a fascinating window into Japanese warrior mentality and national pride as they collided with the end of the Second World War, evoking how chilling and touching both could be, and how tragic and disturbing was the destruction wrought on the shores of every nation touched by the Pacific War.

Tracy Slater, PhD

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