Atlantic Cities contributor Jaffe (The King's Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route that Made America, 2010) provides a dual biography of a Japanese nationalist ideologue and the American psychiatrist who examined him at the Tokyo war trial after World War II.
The rise of Japan on a mission of pan-Asian supremacy, culminating in its ruthless militarism during the war, was largely the idea of a “philosopher-patriot” who was never prosecuted at the war trials due to his presumed insanity. The psychiatrist who examined Okawa Shumei in 1946 was the medical officer Daniel Jaffe, the grandfather of the author of this probing work of research. With his familial insight into his grandfather’s own troubled childhood and adolescence with an often hospitalized mother and his cachet that invited the Japanese to speak freely about Okawa with him, Jaffe had access to dark secrets long hidden. Jaffe’s grandfather was a brilliant, taciturn doctor who did not elaborate about his report on Okawa’s condition at the trial, when he caused a spectacle by slapping Gen. Tojo Hideki’s bald head and otherwise acting up; the author hoped to find some confirmation of his grandfather’s diagnosis that Okawa was “unable to distinguish right from wrong” at the time of the trial. Jaffe delves into Okawa’s early association with the Asianist movement, prophesying to Japanese youth about another world war as a means of shaking off the shackles of the West. Okawa gave public talks about the need for resolving the “Manchurian problem” two years before Japan annexed the Chinese provinces in 1931, thus embarking on its militaristic track to world war. While Okawa served as the Japanese military’s “brain trust,” Daniel Jaffe cut his teeth as a combat psychiatrist, tending to shellshocked young soldiers. His experience as a neuropsychiatrist allowed him to recognize Okawa’s symptoms as “tertiary syphilis.”
War criminal or hero? Jaffe reads carefully between the lines to get at the truth.