Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

John W. Dower, Author W. W. Norton & Company $29.95 (676p) ISBN 978-0-393-04686-1
The writing of history doesn't get much better than this. MIT professor Dower (author of the NBCC Award-winning War Without Mercy) offers a dazzling political and social history of how postwar Japan evolved with stunning speed into a unique hybrid of Western innovation and Japanese tradition. The American occupation of Japan (1945-1952) saw the once fiercely militarist island nation transformed into a democracy constitutionally prohibited from deploying military forces abroad. The occupation was fraught with irony as Americans, motivated by what they saw as their Christian duty to uplift a barbarian race, attempted to impose democracy through autocratic military rule. Dower manages to convey the full extent of both American self-righteousness and visionary idealism. The first years of occupation saw the extension of rights to women, organized labor and other previously excluded groups. Later, the exigencies of the emergent Cold War led to American-backed ""anti-Red"" purges, pro-business policies and the partial reconstruction of the Japanese military. Dower demonstrates an impressive mastery of voluminous sources, both American and Japanese, and he deftly situates the political story within a rich cultural context. His digressions into Japanese culture--high and low, elite and popular--are revealing and extremely well written. The book is most remarkable, however, for the way Dower judiciously explores the complex moral and political issues raised by America's effort to rebuild and refashion a defeated adversary--and Japan's ambivalent response to that embrace. Illustrations. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
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