Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II by John Dower

Embracing Defeat:  Japan in the Wake of World War II by John Dower  (2000, 680 pages, 5237 KB)

In order to understand the post WWII Japanese novel, one of my core interests, you have to understand the totally devastating effect defeat in WWII had on the psyche of the Japanese people.   Seconding to having been there and lived through it I can think of no better way to acquire this knowledge than by reading Embracing Defeat:  Japan in the Wake of World War II  by John Dower.   To try to convey the enormity of this consider that the Japanese Emperor, Hirohito, was not considered as God's representative on earth as some might view the Pope, he was seen in the belief structure of Japan as actually being define, being God.  Dower does a wonderful job of describing the reaction of the ordinary person to hearing the Emperor announce on the radio, in a high voice speaking Japanese as it was spoken hundreds of years ago (as if one spoke in Shakespearean English) that the war was over and Japan was surrendering.  Many people threw themselves on the ground in shock, some for shame and other for joy.

I really strongly urge anyone with more than a passing interest in Japanese literature to read this book.   One of the biggest sources of shame to the Japanese men was how the women of Japan prostituted themselves to Americans and how Japanese children quickly came to worship chocolate bearing GIs.    The millions of Japanese soldiers who came home after the war, often to find their families and homes gone, were treated with scorn and often hatred.  The average Japanese very quickly came to see the country as having been lead into a war they could never win by military leaders. The Japanese totally repudiated any sense of guilt for the war.  Dower talks about how MacArthur (who was in fact ruler of Japan from the end of the war up until 1952) wanted to keep Hirohito in power (lots of people, including America's allies, wanted him to be hung as a war criminal-it is clear he either knew of the atrocities or he was an idiot) so he could tell the Japanese people to follow the directives of the Americans.  Because of language barriers, Americans had to rely on Japanese to actually give the orders to the Japanese.

Dower talks about how the need to survive through illegal commerce in the black market greatly corrupted Japanese society, how the pervasive years of hunger left a heavy mark.   He talks about how the Americans did succeed in building a democratic society in Japan.   He lets us see how the Americans ran the country.  Needless to say, with a million plus mostly young service men just out of years of bloody war  now stationed in and ruling Japan, a huge sex industry sprang up to service their needs.   Japan also had to find a way to deal with the millions of returning soldiers.  There were also many foreign workers such as Koreans and Filipinos that the Japanese brought into work as slave laborers.

Dower does talk about whether it was actually necessary to drop the two atom bombs as many felt the Japanese were ready to surrender, partially in fear of a Russian invasion of millions, seeking revenge for the Russian-Japanese war.  Others think, and this was the idea put forth by the propaganda machinery, that each Japanese was ready, 100 Million of them, to die in defense of their country so dropping the bombs saved many more lives than it cost.  Personally I think dropping the bombs was the right thing to do.  The Japanese and Germans were also working on Nuclear weapons and would have carpet bombed their enemies with them if they could have.

Once the war was over, ordinary Japanese actually began to make jokes about the Emperor and some wanted the dynasty ended.  

As a personal note, of this 688 pages books, 300 pages are footnotes and references to texts that substantiate the author's points.  I am starting to see this as a wasteful practice for non-academic books.  I think money could be saved and paper also if instead of  including 300 pages of footnotes, authors put the notes online with a link in the book to the notes so those few people who desire to read 1000 footnotes can do so.


@parridhlantern said...

will check this out.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review. Japanese literature doesn't deal with the legacy of the war (in the way, for example that German literature does), so it's important to have good non-fiction books on the period.