Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Book Review - Japan's Imperial Conspiracy by David Bergamini

Japan's Imperial Conspiracy by David Bergamini, with an introduction by Sir William Flood Webb

London: Heinemann, 1971                               ISBN 0434066907

What a piece of work this book is. The subtitle on the cover; "how Emperor Hirohito led Japan into war against the West", is what Bergamini sets out to show us in over a thousand closely argued and densely woven pages. Bergamini (who was interned by the Japanese in the Philippines during the war) sets out to show the reader that Hirohito, far from being the puppet ruler of common historical thought, was actually a driven empire-builder, who spent decades preparing his "Strike South" into Asia, attempt to rid Asia of American and British influence and assert Japanese overlordship of the globe. There is no doubt that Bergamini had a fire in his blood to prove his thesis.

Whether he does, even after a thousand pages, is unclear. Even though there are almost one hundred pages of notes, Bergamini often puts his own interpretation on what his sources are saying, sometimes to the point of stating that the sources mean the opposite of what they say. He makes much of the allusive style of the Japanese, and the horror of losing face, to perhaps twist motivations and actions of people to fit his ideas.

So what is his thesis? Basically that Hirohito was fulfilling his grandfather's pledge to rid Japan of Westerners and become a great empire. The two options to do that were to "Strike North", attack Russia and slice off Siberia for a Japanese enclave, or "Strike South", and move into South-East Asia and gain the raw materials there. Bergamini sets up the two factions, and shows that Hirohito early on decided on a "Strike South" strategy, and spent years discrediting the "Strike North" faction by engineering all the coups and assassinations that occurred during Japan in the 1930s. Hirohito then prosecuted the War, not as a puppet-like figurehead, but as a vigorous war leader.

Unfortunately for Bergamini, when he gets to the crucial parts of his thesis, the evidence lets him down. During the various coups in the 1930s, Hirohito did not play the part Bergamini wants him to play, and the general absurdity of his idea that Hirohito would countenance a coup against his government and assassination of his Prime Minister to discredit one faction or another is a bit too much to take.

However, there is a lot of information in this book, and it is a fascinating insight into recent Japanese history. The quick technical advancement of the Japanese nation, which combined with a kind of naivety about world opinion and affairs, is something that characterises the period of which Bergamini is writing.

When it gets to the War (to give an idea of how much space Bergamini commits to the intrigues of Japanese history before the War, the Pearl Harbour attack doesn't appear until page 800), Bergamini is perhaps on surer ground, but still draws some strange conclusions; for instance, he claims that Japanese brutality toward prisoners was a deliberate ploy to try and get the West to sue for peace - now the Japanese may have been naive as to the ways of the West to a certain extent, but it's hard to see how Bergamini can come to the conclusion he does on the evidence he presents.

So what was Hirohito's role in the planning and execution of the War? Bergamini is probably right when he (briefly, given the size of his book), explains how Hirohito escaped charge at the end of the War, and that the 28 "Class A" war criminals sent to trial were carefully picked to ensure that Hirohito's name was not sullied. There is no doubt that Hirohito should have faced court as did other leaders of Japan, he was not a constitutional monarch like George VI, and had much more control over events than has been generally explained. Certainly the Australian Government wanted Hirohito to be tried. The Americans - led by MacArthur - who had to run occupied Japan, knew that they needed a compliant Hirohito to enable that occupation to take place, and to help Japan rebuild herself after the devastation. To a Western outlook, Hirohito cannot have escaped the moral guilt of waging aggressive war, even though he escaped the arms of justice.

I'm not sure if I recommend this book or not. There is certainly a lot of information in here for the student of recent Japanese history, but it needs to be leavened with much other reading.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

Monday, 9 October 2017

Book Review - Stroke of genius by Gideon Haigh

Stroke of genius - Victor Trumper and the shot that changed cricket by Gideon Haigh

London: Simon & Schuster, 2016                ISBN 9781471146800

Stroke of Genius: a phrase that could be employed on more than one occasion to describe the cricket books penned by one G. Haigh. The Cricket War and On Warne are two of the best books I have read on the game: they are now joined by Stroke of Genius.

I suspect that, like me, Haigh's first memory of Victor Trumper would be of seeing the Beldam image "Jumping Out". Stroke of Genius is a book about Trumper, Beldam, that photograph, and so much more. While strictly speaking not a biography of Trumper, we learn enough about his life beyond cricket to know that it was really cricket that was his life.

Haigh unpicks the legend, describing Trumper's run-ins with both cricket and rugby officialdom, and his tenuous business life, which involved runs of debt and insolvency. Haigh also gives us a wonderful history of the development of cricket imagery and action photography, and how Beldam made many advances in this area prior to World War One. In fact if it wasn't for Beldam we wouldn't have many of the iconic Edwardian cricket images at all.

Like all legends, Trumper's has been used by many people to support their cause or beliefs. Lauded  by Cardus and others as the epitome of amateurism, Haigh demonstrates that Trumper was very much the cricket entrepreneur and tried many schemes to make money from his skill. Used as an exemplar of the way Australia plays attacking cricket, Haigh explains that, until Trumper came on the scene, Australian bats were known as dour accumulators. Used by the cricket establishment as a symbol of their tradition, Haigh argues that - like Bradman in his early years - Trumper stood for players rights against the power of the hierarchy. Used by some as a stick to beat Bradman with, Haigh definitively shows them as different cricketers. Trumper's early death in the midst of war helped set the stage for the legend to build.

So it is good that another thing Haigh does very well is bring the reader an idea of just how great a player Trumper must have been. The praise heaped on his playing by those who knew what they were talking about, when brought together, is extraordinary. What struck me is how many who saw him ranked him above Bradman, for his artistry if not for his statistics. So many writers exclaimed that words could not describe his ability. The word " genius" was not in Edwardian times used in the field of sporting endeavours, and yet it was used often in attempting to describe Trumper.

What we do have are the photographs, which if studied closely, begin to give us some idea of his ability. Statistics don't always convey reality, and as Haigh points out, until Bradman came along they did not carry the authority that they do now in assessing the ability of a player. I don't know how many arguments I've engaged in where the stats are used as a final arbiter (...and I still think Mark was the superior Waugh at the crease, no matter what the numbers say).

Trumper must have been a magnificent player to watch. He must have had complete control of his technique, and a wonderful ability to demolish an attack - a cross between Gilchrist, Greg Chappell and the aforementioned Mark Waugh. Haigh has brought the modern cricket lover closer to Trumper, as well as yet again showing us cricket's intricate, sometimes brutal, yet often beautiful, history.

Another tour-de-force from a man who is surely the Trumper of cricket writers.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell