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Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II Paperback – June 17, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0393320275 ISBN-10: 0393320278 Edition: 0th

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Embracing Defeat tells the story of the transformation of Japan under American occupation after World War II. When Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Forces in August 1945, it was exhausted; where America's Pacific combat lasted less than four years, Japan had been fighting for 15. Sixty percent of its urban area lay in ruins. The collapse of the authoritarian state enabled America's six-year occupation to set Japan in entirely new directions.

Because the victors had no linguistic or cultural access to the losers' society, they were obliged to govern indirectly. Gen. Douglas MacArthur decided at the outset to maintain the civil bureaucracy and the institution of the emperor: democracy would be imposed from above in what the author terms "Neocolonial Revolution." His description of the manipulation of public opinion, as a wedge was driven between the discredited militarists and Emperor Hirohito, is especially fascinating. Tojo, on trial for his life, was requested to take responsibility for the war and deflect it from the emperor; he did, and was hanged. Dower's analysis of popular Japanese culture of the period--songs, magazines, advertising, even jokes--is brilliant, and reflected in the book's 80 well-chosen photographs. With the same masterful control of voluminous material and clear writing that he gave us in War Without Mercy, the author paints a vivid picture of a society in extremis and reconstructs the extraordinary period during which America molded a traumatized country into a free-market democracy and bulwark against resurgent world communism. --John Stevenson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

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 cultureAhigh and low, elite and popularAare 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 adversaryAand Japan's ambivalent response to that embrace. Illustrations.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 688 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 17, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393320278
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393320275
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,141 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John W. Dower is professor emeritus of history at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His interests lie in modern Japanese history and U.S.-Japan relations. He is the author of several books, including Ways of Forgetting, War Without Mercy, Cultures of War, and Embracing Defeat, which received numerous honors (including the Pulitzer Prize).

Customer Reviews

If your at all interested in WW2 this book is a must read.
J. Elliott
Amidst comparison of the American occupation of Japan to current foreign policy endeavors, Dower's book is exceedingly relevant.
The book is obviously well researched and has a good collection of photographs from the period scattered throughout.
Justin Harris

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

129 of 141 people found the following review helpful By mark selden ms44@cornell.edu on August 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Embracing Defeat is an authoritatively researched and beautifully written account of the U.S. occupation of Japan by a leading specialist on World War II, Japan and the U.S.-Japan relationship. This is a work that pulls no punches. Like no earlier study, it brings to the fore the ironies and contradictions of the era and casts fresh light on several of the great political issues of the era: the making of Japan's postwar constitution, U.S.-Japan relations, the reconstruction of economy and society, the role of Japan in the making of the U.S. order in Asia, and the role of MacArthur. It also offers the first cultural history of the occupation.It is particularly valuable in bringing out Japanese contributions to shaping occupation outcomes. Embracing Defeat is a pleasure to read.Dower takes the reader on a tour that reveals ambiguity, irony, fallibility, vitality, dynamism, messianic fervor, theatre of the absurd, the world turned upside down, fall and redemption, flotsam and jetsam on a sea of self-indugence, cynical opportunism, top-to-bottom corruption, delicacy and degeneration, despondency and dreams, tragedy and farce, boggling fatuity, and carnival, to mention a few of the polarities that run through this beautifully written and astute volume.
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59 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Buckeye on April 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is essential reading for those interested in the history of Japan as well as for those with an interest in how Japanese society came to be what it is today. While I am not qualified to comment on its historical scholarship, it certainly seemed very solid to me - the author's documentation is thorough and impressive and his treatment is painstaking and precise. It certainly rings true.
However, my sense was that the book started off as an excellent read and then began to drag somewhere after the first 200 pages. While I have no doubt that the latter half of the book is as accurate and important a history as the first half, it seemed to make for less compelling reading. The first third or so of the book concentrated primarily on the societal impact of the Japanese surrender and its immediate aftermath - and I found it absolutely fascinating. The latter portions of the book dealt more with political issues, including a very thorough treatment of how the occupying forces (i.e. the US under MacArthur) drafted and pushed through the new Japanese Constitution. Very interesting, but in my opinion not as compelling as the early material in the book.
In summary, if you are interested in the history of Japan and/or World War II this book has to be on your reading list. A very impressive piece of work.
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103 of 115 people found the following review helpful By HARL KOCH on June 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As a company commander in far SW Honshu and Kyushu I would say Prof. Dower's scholarly work widely missed the mark when he attempted to discuss the life of the Army man in Japan. Occupation life in Tokyo and the rest of Japan were entirely different. Dower makes it sound very cushy. He has a photo of a Chief Petty Officer in Tokyo sitting down with his wife and children at family dinner. The Chief has on his full uniform, the children are scrubbed and brushed, the boys wear neckties and behind them are two Japanese maids in kimono and obi. As an officer commanding 200 men, I had no maid, our messhall had no maids, meals were served cafeteria style. Our enlisted men were pampered by Japanese who served as KPs. Instead of peeling potatoes, my men and officers were entirely free to perform training and reconnaissance missions. In that part of Japan I never saw homeless people squatted on the sidewalks, I never saw people who looked starved or in rags, I never saw the labor unions demonstrating. My company lived in the country 40 miles from division headquarters. There were no bowling alleys, there were no movies. We did have an E.M. club with slot machines and on occasion we used those profits to hire a Japanese show, a magician, a very unsophisticated musical with dancers. In a small nearby town in Shimane Ken there was as best described, a Japanese beer joint; this place had no girls but it did have a Wurlitzer juke box and served very cold, excellent Japanese beer that we paid for. After I was in Japan almost a year I was allowed a vacation to Tokyo and to see friends in Sendai. Tokyo was like a different world.Read more ›
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45 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Omer Belsky on June 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
'Embracing Defeat' is a Pulitzer prize winning portrait of Japanese society after the defeat in WW2. It is a wide ranging survey, which, despite some guiding themes, often feels more like a collection of essays than a unified work.

There are, I think, several questions of great interest to the contemporary reader about Japan. One would probably be most interested in learning about how Japan dealt with the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; how Japan turned from a racist, imperialist country into a democratic and pacifistic one; and how Japan not only recovered from the economic devastation of the war, but finally became one of the world's leading powers.

Strangely, Professor Dower seem to give peripheral attention at best to the first and third question, and pays most attention to the second, as well as to minuet study of the interactions between the US occupation force and the Japanese population. He also focuses mostly on the early years of the occupation, up to 1949 or so, as if a chapter or two on the outbreak of the cold war were planned but later discarded.

Much of the book is 'social history' - a depiction not so much of the leading characters and figures, but of sociological and economic trends. All too often, Dower fall into the trap of this kind of writing - describing things that, for any observer with the slightest knowledge of the society, would be patently obvious. Who could fail to anticipate poverty and corruption in a country devastated by war? Given the existence of rationing, every one who ever took any economic course can predict the appearance of a black market. And obviously, a country that lost millions of its young population in war would pay more attention to its own casualties than to those of the former enemies.
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