According to the author, American Shogun is an attempt to weave the lives of two leaders, General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito of Japan, into a single narrative ‘told from both sides’. Readers, he says, should judge whether he has succeeded. It was never likely to be an easy assignment. MacArthur left behind him a long trail of heavy footprints and Robert Harvey’s book is primarily a cradle-to-grave biography of America’s most controversial soldier, covering his many heroic campaigns, his clashes with Roosevelt and Truman, and his remarkably enlightened treatment of the Japanese as supreme commander of the occupation. What makes the narrative unbalanced is the impossibility of giving anything like equal exposure to the self-effacing, tentative Hirohito, who – in this account at least – seems to have tiptoed through life in a state of bemusement, habitually expressing his wishes in bursts of ambiguous verse.
The two men met only rarely. The Emperor made the first move, visiting the General two weeks after Japan’s surrender. In MacArthur’s terse account, he was deeply moved when Hirohito took sole responsibility for every political and military decision and action of his people in the conduct of war. Others