Higher than Heaven: Japan, war and everything
By Tony Barrell and Rick Tanaka
Private Guy International: 1995. 304 pp., $35
Reviewed by Heidi Pegrem
"This book is called Higher than Heaven because that's where a lot of people who make decisions which affect the rest of us imagine their mandate lies", write authors Barrell and Tanaka.
On the first page they give the example of the Australian government deciding to rename the day that commemorates the end of the second world war in the Pacific as Victory in the Pacific Day instead of Victory over Japan Day. As well as tickling the ribs of Japanese conservatives, this "attempt to correct history with a phrase" would seem somewhat suspicious to Asian nations where, due to the immediate resumption and extension of imperialist interests by superpowers other than Japan, the end of the war was not a simple "victory" and "where insecure feelings about Australian ambitions in the region are keenly felt".
Higher than Heaven is a clearly written exploration of Japan's role in the second world war and beyond, covering a broad range of issues including the usefulness of the emperor in contributing to the "stability" of postwar Japan, Japan's "miraculous" economic recovery and its remilitarisation, the Cold War and the New World Order.
The book also debunks the myth that the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to "shorten the war" and "save lives".
Japan's leaders were attempting to negotiate a settlement and even prepared to surrender before the atomic bombing. However, the US was demanding "unconditional" surrender.
Japan never surrendered unconditionally. Its leaders would have surrendered in the weeks before Hiroshima on the condition that the emperor be retained, and the US was aware of this. Japanese generals were not overly concerned with the suffering caused by the atom bombs, and after they were dropped, the retention of the emperor was still a condition of Japanese surrender — this time happily accepted by the US.
Higher than Heaven argues, backed up by very substantial evidence, that the real reason was the USA's desire to display its military power to the world, but especially to the Soviet Union. During the war US propaganda made Emperor Hirohito out to be "Japan's Hitler" (and in the book there is strong evidence to suggest this was actually almost the case), so much so that at the end of the war a Gallup poll showed 75% of US citizens believed Hirohito should be hanged. However, it suited the ruling class in both the USA and Japan to keep the emperor.
Higher than Heaven has an original style and insightful contents. It details unsparingly the atrocities of war, contrasting these ironically with dashes of film and pop music trivia. It explores in depth and calls into question the stereotypes of Japan and the Japanese which are still prevalent, in different forms, today. It also touches briefly on the wars in the Gulf, Vietnam, Korea, Bosnia, Chechnya and more.
[Orders for the book can be faxed to (02) 212 1732.]