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Japan in the Wake of World War II, Book Review Example

Pages: 5

Words: 1391

Book Review

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the wake of World War II

Introduction

Any country that faces bitter defeat, as a result of a war or other major conflict, has the awful task of reconstruction and regaining national pride. John W. Dower addresses this subject matter with regard to Japan at the end of the Second World War. He produced his book entitled ‘Embracing Defeat: Japan in the wake of world war 11. (Dower). Most of the accounts of the Japanese defeat have been portrayed from the viewpoint of the victors i.e. the USA and its allies. This book looks at this from the Japanese perspective and the author demonstrates incredible depth of research in the presentation of his findings. He looks at the concept of a defeated nation that was left hopeless and exhausted. How the people sought to regain their identity and national pride in the aftermath of a terrible war.

The book is the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize National book award, the Bancroft award and a number of other literary honours. This gives evidence of the literary acceptance of the book and international standing.

Book Summary

The author provides the use of twin narratives as a theme to tell the story of the book. The first theme relates to the socio-cultural history of Japan based upon the first two years of the occupation. The second theme examines the reconstruction and political reforms with specific reference on the rehabilitation of the Emperor and reinstallation of national pride, the build of the new constitution and the Tokyo war crime trials. These narratives are difficult subject matters given the different degrees of polarity i.e. the positive and negative themes. Despite these difficulties the author masters the craft of interweaving the themes and demonstrating the congruity between them.

Defeat was a terrible thing to happen in Japanese culture because of the loss of face and awful shame brought upon the people and the Emperor. The author demonstrates the awful shock and despair of the people and the subculture of defeat. He highlights how black market conditions and gang warfare developed taking advantage of the injection of luxury goods and materialism imported from the USA. It created a sub culture of urban decay, sexual exploitation and a new breed of violent criminal gangs. Despite all of the negativity many of the Japanese people were attempting to reconstitute their lives by tackling issues of social displacement, regaining their sense of identity and developing their aspirations for the future.

The author also explored the transition of languages and how these changed from the old regime to the new one. Many of the words were given new meaning and interpretation. These linguistic bridges were intended to help Japan transform into more of a democratic society and facilitate integration into western world philosophy and ideology.

The author highlighted how the Japanese intelligentsia did a ‘U’ turn after the end of the war and readily embraced concepts of democratization. It was the concept the repentance and remorse from the war had to be taken with extreme gravity and seriousness. As such the mistakes of the past should not be permitted to happen again in the future. As such it was important to embrace new ideas and concepts in support of that goal.

Critical Analysis

Most of the account is extremely well narrated but there are a number of gaps that would have been worthy of further consideration. The first relates to how Dower focused his attention mainly on the Cities and urban life of the postwar Japanese people. He hardly mentions the rural picture and the hardships faced by the peasant people. They would have a different story to tell and as such the narration would have benefitted from some comparative analysis. Equally the industrial workforce received little attention. A great deal of the infrastructure and factories were destroyed by US bombing towards the end of the war. This created a great deal of displaced people and unemployment. As such these urban problems entered only the margins of the analysis.

The author also tends not to focus too much on the historical culture and traditions of Japan. He breaks with the past and focuses more on the sensitivities of the new reformation that is underway. The two are however inextricably linked and one influences the other. As such the continuity theme is not well demonstrated in terms of how traditional values and taboos changed and how they fed into crime control systems. An example is how prostitution was viewed as a comfort system for the Japanese soldiers in the war and how this neatly transcended into the post war situation of sexual exploitation and prostitution.

As such the long standing prostitution was given a make-over in order to make it acceptable to a post war period and created an explosion in the trade for deviant behavior around the Cities of Japan. In addition the author focuses on the emergence of a huge black market condition in Japanese society. This was slightly under emphasised as this was a massive shock to Japanese society. This perpetuated from the situation towards the end of the war where the Japanese economy had literally become dependent upon the success of the black market economy. This set the scene for the end of the war in terms of providing an environment that was conducive to crime and gang warfare.

With Dowers emphasis on the new and emergent ideas of postwar Japan he does not pursue the linkage concepts with the influences of the old regime. The old ultranationalist ideas had not vanished from the scene and later these would re-emerge in distinct and powerful ways. These issues are not really discussed in the narrative. The review of political history is highly focused on the first two years of occupation. It focuses on the Douglas MacArthur approach of running a neo-colonial system in Japan. This system pushed the concept of democratic reform and in this sense the politicians did little in helping Japan to rebuild its sense of identity and national pride. This later created a counter-revolution where the Japanese reversed this and started to address the concept of nation building.

Overall the book has been extremely well researched and offers a detailed but broad insight into the political reformation and reconstruction of post war Japan.

Personal Reflection

The book is very interesting and informative read on a complex set of subject matter and would be of great benefit to those people who plan on living or working in Japan. It does well in exploring many of the cultural aspects of Japanese society. Japanese culture has historically seemed baffling and difficult to comprehend for westerners. This equally mystifies some of the behavioural aspects of the Japanese. This book helps to place many of these mysteries into context and how Japan transitioned from a feudal society, to that where the Emperor was at the centre of the political world and ultimately to the transition towards democracy.

The Meiji Restoration is enshrined in the history of Japan. This took place in the period 1868-1912 and brought an end to the feudal system in the country. It was intended to bring Japan in line with the rest of the civilised world in terms of technology, culture/art, technology and political science. The Meiji document consisted of two main parts: (1) The Charter Oath and (2) The Imperial Rescript. The document was designed to reinstate the power and position of the Emperor of Japan. It was based upon a Prussian Model and consisted of some 76 articles in 7 Chapters (2500 words) and the Rescript in about 1,000 words.

Final Verdict

The following list provides a summary of the final verdict of the book and summarises the key attributes of the book.

  • A very good and informative read on this subject area
  • Highly regarded as a fine piece of research – Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Fine use of twin narratives focusing on two specific themes
  • Good explanation of transitionery goals and path towards democracy
  • Good focus on the first two years of occupation
  • Historical links are explored
  • Provides an understanding of the importance of Japanese culture in the historical and post war contexts
  • Illustrates the different socio-political considerations between that of Japan and the west i.e. USA, Europe
  • Provides an illustration of how the MacArthur Neo-colonial approach initially restricted development
  • The rehabilitation of prostitution in post war Japan
  • The emergence of black market economies, threading through from the latter years of the war
  • Influence of gangs and creation of a new crime problem
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