I SAW TOKYO BURNING: An Eyewitness Narrative from Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima by Robert Guillain

I SAW TOKYO BURNING: An Eyewitness Narrative from Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Guillain, longtime Tokyo correspondent for Havas, the French news agency, witnessed the Japanese people's response to news of the attack on Pearl Harbor (consternation in the morning, ""intense satisfaction"" by afternoon) and to the Emperor's speech conceding defeat (dismay one day, ""smiles"" the next); but in between there's little ""eyewitness narrative"" here. Published in France in 1946 and since revised, the book chiefly recounts the course of the war--in terms of how the Japanese people were fooled--and reflects on Japanese traits: i.e., why they let themselves be fooled. Though Guillain has added an introduction stressing postwar changes (discovery of ""an inner voice of conscience,"" willingness ""to show one's intelligence""), his contempt pervades the text--expressed, moreover, in broad distinctions between ""them"" and ""us."" Tojo and his cohorts differed ""from their Western counterparts,"" we're told, mainly ""in their low relief. Why this lack of distinctiveness?"" ""Japanese personalities. . .lack the strength of ours."" And again and again there is the gullible, docile ""herd""--an essentially ""frivolous"" herd, according to Guillain's closing reverie, after the Japanese have once again done an about-face. The news of the war that fills most of the book is old news by now, however timely it may have been in 1946, though some interest inheres still in word of how it was reported (the early victories on holidays, Midway not as a setback, Leyte Guff as a victory). But otherwise Guillain's report of conditions in Japan is very spotty--by comparison with either Thomas Havens' Valley of Darkness or Saburo Ienaga's The Pacific War (both 1978). It's a marginal, graceless book altogether at this date.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 1980
Publisher: Doubleday