A Curious Madness: An American Combat Psychiatrist, a Japanese War Crimes Suspect, and an Unsolved Mystery from World War II

Eric Jaffe. Scribner, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4769-9
Jaffe, a journalist and historian (The King’s Best Highway: The Lost History of Boston Post Road, The Route that Made America), combines the story of his grandfather, American Army neuropsychiatrist Daniel Jaffe, with that of Japanese radical conservative thinker Okawa Shumei in this unlikely story of how of two very different lives intersected to result in one of Japan’s most notorious war criminals of WWII escaping prosecution. The latter figure was an intellectual heavyweight while the former was an anonymous military doctor, but for a few hours, in May 1946, Captain Jaffe examined Okawa to determine his mental fitness to stand trial as a war criminal. Thus, Okawa, who was considered by the American military to be “every bit the madman” and the ideological inspiration for Japan’s militaristic aggression during WWII, was the only top Japanese war trial defendant (and the only civilian among them) to go free. Jaffe’s well-researched, engaging story touches on subjects as diverse as the roots of Okawa’s conservative nationalism and the U.S. Army’s theories and treatments for combat fatigue, but most importantly it reveals the strange ways war can bring diverse lives together for a brief moment to change not only those individuals, but history. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 09/30/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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