Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Peter Mauch's "Sailor Diplomat"

Peter Mauch is Lecturer in International History in the School of Humanities and Languages at the University of Western Sydney.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Sailor Diplomat: Nomura Kichisaburo and the Japanese-American War, and reported the following:
This book, as the title suggests, constitutes a diplomatic-naval biography of Nomura Kichisaburo. He originally caught my interest because he served as Japan’s ambassador to the United States at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack. He also happened to be an admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy, and he was serving as foreign minister when World War II broke out in Europe. After the war, he re-emerged as spiritual godfather of Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Forces. All of this means that, for those with so much as a passing interest in Japan’s disastrous war with the United States, Nomura is an immensely important figure. Happily for me, he also turned out to be an intensely interesting – even likeable – character.

I should note that this book received a huge boost from Nomura’s surviving family, who granted me full access to the admiral’s papers. His papers had hitherto been off-limits to scholars; I had them to myself for twelve months. They are now stored in the National Diet Library (which is, roughly speaking, the Japanese equivalent of the Library of Congress). The papers include diaries, memoranda, and letters, and compelled a major rethink of many key issues in Japanese-U.S. relations either side of World War II. I trust I have done them justice.

Now, to p. 99: it draws on a memorandum from Nomura’s abovementioned papers to examine his thoughts on (1) Japan’s ongoing war in China, (2) Japan’s uneasy relationship with the Soviet Union, and (3) Japan’s attitudes towards the German-Italian Axis. The page makes apparent that Nomura is expressing these thoughts in late September 1940, just after he was first approached regarding the foreign minister’s post. It also makes apparent that he is addressing Prime Minister Abe Nobuyuki, War Minister Hata Shunroku, and Navy Minister Yoshida Zengo – three men with whom Nomura would work closely over the ensuing months.

My only disappointment with p. 99 is that it makes no mention of Nomura’s thoughts on Japan’s fraying relationship with the United States. The Japanese-U.S. relationship was, after all, the central theme in Nomura’s life. It is also, not at all coincidentally, the central theme in this book. The good news is that the book doesn’t keep readers guessing on this score. It receives treatment on p. 100.
Learn more about Sailor Diplomat at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue