- Paperback: 688 pages
- Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New e. edition (June 17, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393320278
- ISBN-13: 978-0393320275
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 140 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #16,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II New e. Edition
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“Extraordinarily illuminating.... Dower has deftly mixed history from the 'bottom up' and the 'top down' to produce what is surely the most significant work to date on the postwar era in Japan.”
- Jacob Heilbrunn, Wall Street Journal
“Masterly.... A penetrating analysis of Japan in the aftermath of defeat.... A profound and moving book, the best history ever written of Japan and its relations to the United States after the Second World War.”
- Akira Iriye, Harvard University, Boston Sunday Globe
“Richly detailed and provocative.... For anyone who knows modern Japan, it is an endlessly fascinating explanation of why things work as they do.... A marvelous piece of reporting and analysis.”
- T.R. Reid, Washington Post
“With Embracing Defeat, [Dower] confirms his place as this country's leading chronicler of the Pacific war.”
- Janice P. Nimura, Chicago Tribune
“[A] superb history of Japan's occupation.... Dower brilliantly captures the louche?, squalid, but extraordinary dynamic mood of the postwar years. His interest is not just in the politics, but also in literature, the movies, and popular songs.”
- Ian Buruma, New York Review of Books
“Without question, Dower is America's foremost historian of the Second World War in the Pacific.... A wonderful work of history.... I learned more than I ever would have thought possible.”
- Stephen Ambrose
About the Author
John W. Dower is the author of Embracing Defeat, winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; War without Mercy, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Cultures of War. He is professor emeritus of history at MIT. In addition to authoring many books and articles about Japan and the United States in war and peace, he is a founder and codirector of the online “Visualizing Cultures” project established at MIT in 2002 and dedicated to the presentation of image-driven scholarship on East Asia in the modern world. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
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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.
One of the great advantages of social history is that it lends itself to quantitative, statistical analysis. Surprisingly, Dower hardly ever mentions public polls, and rarely attempts to quantify his observations about opinions as expressed in media articles. His use of economic statistics is only somewhat better. There is an old historian's maxim which goes "don't guess, try to count, and if you can't count, admit that you're guessing". Unfortunately, Dower fails to conform. I think that his analysis is robbed of much of its power because of this.
The central theme of the book is the paradoxes of 'Democracy from Above' - the US enforced an authoritarian rule to make people free. It is' of course an interesting paradox, but Dower's exploration of it is only as good as the specific topics in which he engages.
By far the best part of the book deals with American 'wedge strategy', the attempt to distinguish between the Emperor and the military government headed by Tojo. Most of part 4, dealing with the wedge strategy and the formation of the Japanese constitution are nothing short of breathtaking, as they explore the intrigue and politics of occupied Japan, and of Japan vis a vis the United States and the world. The image of McArthur, strangely aloof from Japanese culture, and yet also admired and dedicated for change, is an intriguing and well realized one.
Also interesting is Dower's report on (and especially criticism of) the War Crime trials. Although I was left unconvinced that the Japanese would have done a better job judging the war criminals themselves, it is a powerful demonstration of the great problematic nature of international law, which is in essence, as Dower calls it, Victor's Justice.
Ultimately, though, it is hard to see a clear plan in the book, and Dower's afterward, in which he attempts to pull everything together, feels shallow (but interesting). In it he for the first time engages fully the economic leap forward Japan took in the 1960s. Dower argues that the key to Japan's industrialization lies in the '15 years war', starting with the commencement of hostilities with China in 1931. Japan in the second half of the twentieth century, having renounced its militarism, came to excel in the other field open to it - economics.
For people who, like me, are trying to understand how Japan became the leading economic power it is today and how other countries could learn from its example. Dower's book supplies no answer. Its failures of narrative prevent it, in my opinion, from reaching the status of a classic. Yet for all its faults, Embracing Defeat is an interesting, informative and readable study of Japan after the war.
When not taking cheap shots on America, the author provides a great deal of anecdotes that paint a sensational picture of what was happening, while providing no clue as to why it was happening. For instance, he gives a lot of stories on the food shortages following the surrender, but no information on what caused them. (eg. How much infrastructure was damaged? What policies contributed to the disorder? Trade? etc?) He also spends a lot of time painting a picture of sinister "black market" activity, rather than accurately contrasting market prices with the juvenile govt price controls and policies. (This is his pervasive Marxist bias in play.)
The last paragraph of the epilogue is revealing: "And to a considerable degree the guided capitalism they promoted succeeded in realizing these objectives. Japan became wealthy. The standard of living rose impressively at every level of society. Income distribution was far more equitable than in the United States. Growth was achieved without inordinate dependence on a military-industrial complex or a thriving trade in armaments."
Equitable income distribution. Military-industrial complex. Nice. I'm sure his MIT colleague Chomsky loved that. If you like reading your history through Marxist-shaded glasses, this book is for you. If not, beware.
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