on 22 November 2002
Few countries have been through a set of social changes as quickly and dramatically as Japan under the US military occupation. After living there for several years in the nineties, I realised how crucial these years were: I wondered how a very militarised nation with a very subtle culture became the economically vibrant open state with a rather cutesy popular culture. In other words, how the cult of the emperor, say, was replaced with the cult of Hello Kitty. Also, the current political and business leaders of Japan went through their formative years at this time and the occupation's impact casts a long shadow over modern Japan's entire cultural life: one that is very rarely discussed, even inside the country.
Dower sets out to describe the political and social changes in a comprehensive way, rather than to answer the questions that I had. In doing so, he sets a new standard, not only in Japanese history, but for social history generally. He describes how the country's politics, high art, popular culture, economics, legal system, and social relations in the family and the workplace were altered by the occupation policy, very often in ways the occupiers neither intended nor expected. Also he describes the ways different groups in Japan subverted or altered these changes.
As a book, it was even quite moving, describing how people managed to survive a very difficult time, and how they used the opportunities offered to them to create a new society and a new national culture.
With the occupaton of Japan being put forward today in Washington as a model for a post-Saddam occupation of Iraq, this book is even more timely: not only for those interested in Japan or in social history, but also for those interested in US foreign policy and its impact on the rest of the world.
on 29 November 2000
The rapid and peaceful transformation of Japan after World War Two from a ravaged, war-torn country to a successful, propserous nation whose economy ranks number 2 in the world today is a subject, or more accurately, a phenomenon, that is often overlooked and taken for granted. Yet, this was, at that time, by no means a foregone outcome, and indeed many Japanese feared that their American occupiers would unleash revenge upon them for Japan's wartime atrocities. This in essence is what John Dower's book is about. In clear and easy-to-understand language, refraining from confusing technical and historical jargon, Dower shows how this process was undertaken by the Americans, and essentially how it was viewed and experienced by the Japanese themselves. Ranging from a vivid description of the desperate situation that Japan found herself after the war to the intriguing question of why the Emperor was allowed to keep his place on the throne and the persistant issue of Japan's war-time responsibility, this book guides the reader by the hand through a period in history that was extraordinary and unprecedented. Even if one has little interest or background in Japanese or American history, "Embracing Defeat" is a marvellous book to read as a novel, testimony to the fact that it won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction writing.
John Dower won the Pulitzer Prize and the 1999 National Book Award for non-fiction in America for this book so you do not need me to tell you that this is a magnificent work. Nevertheless, it may be useful to review what you will find in the book and what is not covered. This book concerns itself with the cultural and political landscape of Japan from 1945 to 1952. It does not deal with any military action or describe the devastated cities or the scenes to be found in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. 'Kyodatsu', or the state of exhaustion and despair in the country after defeat is well described and also the widespread shame, and feelings of betrayal of the people by the military government. The very rapid flowering of books, magazines and cinema under the new liberal rule of the Americans and the emergence of junk magazines as well as high quality literature and re-emergence of left-wing writers is treated in detail. The ironic slow re-imposition of censorship by the Americans as the Cold War gets under way and the growing disenchantment with occupation is fascinating. Much space is given to the reasons and methodology of saving Emperor Hirohito and his exclusion from the Tokyo War Trials.
The analysis of the opposing roles of the Americans under General MacArthur and the Japanese Government in the drafting and adoption by the government of the new 'non-belligerent' liberal constitution is most interesting and reflect upon the current world situation.
This is a dense and hugely well researched book that owes a lot to Dower's knowledge of the Japanese language and will well reward the reader's efforts.
on 29 March 2005
The great strength of this book lies in the combination of its breadth, its scholarship and the way Dower questions the many cultural presumptions behind attitudes to Japan. While it is an academic book, it is incredibly readable - I couldn't put it down and finished it in 2 days. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Japan, WWII, or in the sociopolitical and cultural context of occupation (pertinent given the current approach in Iraq)
on 27 December 2010
'Embracing Defeat' is a Pullitzer Prize winning book charting the years immediately following the Japanese surrender in World War II. It looks at several aspects of Japanese society including the arts, politics, economy and the media but I felt the best chapters of this were those which detailed the relationship between Emperor Hirohito and GHQ. He does a good job in separating the "official line" from the truth and details the lengths to which GHQ protected the Chrysanthemum throne
The book is immaculately researched and although this is the first book I have read by Dower I felt that he had a deep understanding of Japan and Japanese culture. Towards the end of the book we start to see glimpses of the author's true feelings towards some of the rank hypocrisy that grew from the "expediency" caused by the Korean War and the chapters on war crimes and the Tokyo trials have a personality that doesn't appear in earlier parts of the book.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in this field.
on 20 June 2004
Having married a Japanese woman I have spent a considerable amount of time trying to understand Japanese history and culture as I am aware that our children will have a shared identity. We are surrounded by cultural references to the Japanese which are negative and demeaning, while social and historical analysis of Japan is often written on the assumption that Japanese people are in some way different - either super human or inhuman and almost always unfathomable. Being married to a Japanese woman John Dower could not fall into this trap and the the combination of his incisive historical analysis and inherent empathy for the Japanese people make this book truly refreshing to read since, at all times, whether in respect to the defeated Japanese or the occupying Americans we are reading about fellow human beings. This book is truly well balanced and enormously interesting to read. Thank you John Dower for providing me with a book rich with information and stories that I constantly quote from when trying to make those around me understand a pivotal period in Japan's past. A book I will want my children to read.
on 28 December 2012
This is a very difficult book to read, as it goes into the psyche of the Japanese and their reason for entering the second world war. I was interested in the book, having been captive as a child, with my mother, for 4 years In a Japanese concentration camp on Java, Indonesia. I found it interesting to read about the US efforts to bring the Japanese to accept an 'honourable' defeat
on 11 April 2001
John Dower, whose wife is Japanese, has spent the last thirty years researching the American Occupation which followed World War II. Here he consolidates the sterling work laid down in such books as War without Mercy into a compelling and incisive study of occupied Japan. Unmissable for any student of Twentieth Century history.
on 20 January 2013
As a resident of Japan over the past 12 years, I have been meaning to read this book for a long time and I am delighted I finally got around to it. Over the years there have been many aspects of Japanese ideas and opinions on this most sensitive of subjects which I didn`t understand. Many of these issues remain current to this day.
All of my questions and many more are comprehensively answered by Mr Dower`s painstaking and thoroughly researched work. I knew the US influence on post-war Japan was strong, but quite how strong, pervasive and longlasting (for good and ill) is staggering. Mr Dower has written a gripping and human account of a tumultous period of history.
on 26 March 2013
It is going to be very hard to beat this history of the over six years post-war occupation. Dower ranges over every area of life: politics, economics, popular culture, literature..and there are some very funny bits like Japanese newspapers being forbidden to mention (American) censorship and the Japanese PM unofficially requesting anti-war demos outside his residence so as to counter American pressure to send troops to Korea...