THE WAGES OF GUILT

MEMORIES OF WAR IN GERMANY AND JAPAN

As in God's Dust (1989), Buruma takes a psychological and cultural voyage into nationalism, guilt, and self-delusion — in this case, of two of WW II's defeated Axis powers. Exploring the cliche that Germany is a culture of guilt and Japan a culture of shame, the author indeed finds that whereas Germany has engaged in a protracted collective mourning over its war crimes, Japan has no war monuments at all except to its own dead. Yet these two societies' chauvinism in this century has been similar, with Japan imitating German racial nationalism just as it imitated German education and industry. In both countries, contemporary pacifism and anti-war rhetoric have a strong anti-American flavor — a case, he thinks, of a failure to come to terms with the past. "Pacifism," Buruma notes, "turns national guilt into a virtue." The book ranges wide and deep in its search for disparate voices in both societies: editors, intellectuals, writers, artists, activists. Buruma's easy familiarity with Japan enables him to dig under the skin of national attitudes in a way that is rare for a Western commentator. When interviewing the Liberal Democratic Party politician Kamei Shizuka, for example, he uncovers typically Japanese phobias about the Jewish "domination" of American public life and the equally common resentment that Americans do not consult Japan before making policy decisions. At the end of the book he compares two towns: Passau, a picturesque town in which Hitler spent his childhood, where surviving Nazi sympathies sometimes lead bakers to make bread in the shape of swastikas; and Hanoaka, a similarly tranquil Japanese place where Chinese slave workers were lynched in 1945. In both places he finds "public indifference to painful truths." All in all, a thoughtful, patiently assembled book that probes carefully and with moral toughness into precisely those painful truths.

Pub Date: June 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-28595-0

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1994

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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