Kirkus Reviews QR Code


Japan in the Wake of World War II

by John W. Dower

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-393-04686-9
Publisher: Norton

An NBCC award winner and expert in the modern history of Japan, Dower (Massachusetts Inst. of Technology; Japan in War and Peace, 1994; War Without Mercy, 1986) absorbingly explains how American forces imposed a revolution from above in six years of occupation that transformed imperial Japan into a democracy. As WWII ended, Japan had lost three million dead, with many more wounded, starving, homeless, and demoralized. Dower has drawn effectively on Japanese academic, archival, and popular sources to capture the atmosphere of flux and uncertainty that followed surrender, including suicidal despair, gratitude toward generous GIs, black-market entrepreneurship, prostitution, and the unleashing of creative energy. The most important change, of course, occurred in politics. In a root-and-branch attempt to destroy Japan’s militaristic culture, the Americans created a constitution that limited the emperor to a symbolic head of state, renounced war as an instrument of settling international disputes, and established such reforms as sexual equality, greater freedom of speech and press, an end to the Shinto state religion, and a free labor movement. Written in six days, the constitution set the stage for unprecedented Japanese freedom, equality, and prosperity. For all their idealism, however, the American forces also acted with little knowledge of Japanese history, censored criticism of the occupation, and treated the losers with condescension. In the Far East counterpart to the Nuremberg trials, American prosecutors excluded testimony about Emperor Hirohito’s responsibility for war crimes and fed the nation’s sense of its victimization without forcing a realization of its culpability for atrocities committed against other Asians. In the greatest irony, by promoting such bureaucratic structures as the Ministry of Trade and Industry, MacArthur merely replaced his own mandarinate with a Japanese version. A turning point in Japanese history, illuminated through diligent research and piercing insight. (80 b&w photos)