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4.0 out of 5 stars Economic history of U.S-Japanese relations, August 18, 2003
This review is from: The Clash: U.S.-Japanese Relations Throughout History (Paperback)
In THE CLASH by Walter LaFeber, U.S. Japanese relations collide over different visions of Asia. For Americans, Japan represented an opportunity to enter China and satisfy a western global reach built on the extension of Manifest Destiny. Asia stood as a far western American frontier. American commerce and power promised an enlightened deliverance of manufactured goods and a benign pacific paternalism, grounded within the western concepts of unrestricted capitalism and individual rights. For the Japanese, Asia never represented an idea, but a reality. Japan viewed China and other Asian countries through a historical lens encompassing thousands of years. Wishing to protect a harmonious culture and placing itself as a leading actor within Asian affairs, Japan clashed with the United States over a period of 150 years. LaFeber views economics and geo political factors as being the most important factors which shaped U.S. Japanese relations.
Beginning with Commodore Perry and the Five Ports treaty, America and Japan each resolved to satisfy their Asian objectives. America solved the the dilemna of overproduction, while Japan built a military and industrial complex that would place it on equal footing with Western imperial powers. After 1873, American and Japanese interests coalesced around the objectives of an Open China, a British alliance, a prevention of Russian and German colonialism, and acquiescence to American control over the Phillipines and Hawaii. In addition, america recognized Japanese control of Korea through the Taft-Katsura agreement. However, the relationship changed.
With the beginning of the 20th century, a U.S. Japanese clash emerged as Japan took control of Manchuria, asserted itself militarily through the Russo-Japanese War, and lost a British alliance through american post World War I credit. In addition, a world wide depression forced the United States and Japan to advocate total mobilization and a reevaluation of foreign policy objectives. Wishing to achieve a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the Japanese realized that U.S. Asiatic interests prevented Japanese control over Pacific resources. Therefore, Japan opted for a quick military strike against U.S. military forces. For Franklin Roosevelt, a world war provided domestic economic relief and the opportunity to integrate Asia within a US created global capitalist system. The dropping of two atomic bombs achieved American objectives.
Following a devastating defeat, Japan rebounded economically through American economic aid, Prime minister Kishi's move toward a more bureaucratic and central government, and american military conflicts within Korea and Vietnam, which provided substantial trading opportunities for Japanese industry. A reinvigorated and economically prosperous Japan produced another clash due to rising American trade deficits and the failure of Japan to stay politically in step with U.S. policy towards Asia and the Middle East.
After reading THE CLASH, I would agree that economic considerations played arole within the different competing visions of U.S.-Japanese relations. However, I would have liked to have seen more of an emphasis on American and Japanese cultural differences and the role they played in shaping relations. LaFeber hints at these differences with references to a nineteenth century Japanese delegation's observations of American female rights, the 1924 Excluson Acts, the rise of the zaibatsu, the Japanese internment, Truman's bestial comments, and the postwar interaction of American military personnel with Japanese citizens. However, LaFeber never gathers these divisive cultural factors into a cogent thesis.
This is strange , since Lafeber leaves no source unturned. Drawing on a large selection of Japanese and American sources, it would seem that LaFeber had an opportunity to focus on these cultural differences. Writing this book in 1997, LaFeber seems to have taken a modern U.S. Japanese foreign policy perspective which revolves around trade deficits and Asian markets. I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the historical economic relationship between Japan and the United States and its impact on US Japanese relations. However, THE CLASH cannot be the sole source for explaining the different visions of Asia which contributed to a 150 year US Japanese relationship mired in misunderstanding.
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