THE WAGES OF GUILT by Ian Buruma

THE WAGES OF GUILT

Memories of War in Germany and Japan
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KIRKUS REVIEW

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 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-374-28595-0
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1994




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