Haunting voices from a dark, disgraceful past, which afford a stunning and revelatory panorama of Japan's WW II experience. Counting its aggressions in Manchuria and China, Japan (whose death toll exceeded three million) was in constant battle from 1931 through V-J Day. Cook and her husband (History/William Paterson College) spent nearly four years gathering reminiscences from dozens of ostensibly ordinary people who survived the lengthy conflict variously called the Pacific, Greater East Asia, or 15- Year War. Adding just enough background and big-picture perspectives to give coherence to first-person narratives, the authors largely allow their sources to speak for themselves. Among those willing to tell their typically grim stories are combat veterans of campaigns from Nanking to Okinawa; builders of the infamous Burma railway; unrepentant officers; technicians who participated in barbarous medical experiments on POWs; journalists whose dispatches extolling ``victories of the spirit'' owed more to the military regime's police powers than to reality; cabaret dancers; diplomats; and home-front victims of America's incendiary as well as atom-bomb assaults. Also represented are troops who served with brutal occupation forces; the widow of a kamikaze pilot; conscripts trained as human torpedoes; Koreans dragooned into rear-area labor battalions; and those convicted of war crimes. About the only significant groups not included in the wide-ranging canvas are the industrialists who supplied an overmatched imperial war machine and members of resistance groups. Like its Axis partner, Japan tolerated no dissent and was able to command consensus support from an unquestioningly obedient populace that, notwithstanding the disclosures at hand, still appears capable of collective denial when it comes to assuming even regional responsibility for the horrors of a global conflagration. Oral history of a compellingly high order.
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