THE PACIFIC WAR: Worm War II and the Japanese, 1931-1945 by Saburo Ienaga

THE PACIFIC WAR: Worm War II and the Japanese, 1931-1945

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Japanese revulsion against their wartime role, pronounced in the late Forties and the Fifties, had eroded by the Sixties to the point that textbooks were taking on a strident, self-justifying tone--and when lenaga's own effort was rejected as ""too gloomy,"" he wrote this history, published in Japan in 1968, in rebuttal. Leftist in tenor but not uncritically so, it is a damning indictment--extensively documented--of Japanese imperialism, discrimination, and barbarity overseas, of official complacency and unconcern, of repression, distortion--and cowed submission. For Ienaga, the failure of the People's Rights movement to successfully challenge the new Meiji government in the 1870s and 1880s set Japan on an authoritarian and militaristic course from which it hardly deviated even in the 1920s, an interpretation at odds with that of other historians; and there will also be objections to his contention--only spottily substantiated here--that, from the 1931 Manchurian Incident on, ""the ultimate objective of the war, including the fighting in China, remained the destruction of communism."" But if Ienaga tends to wax eloquent about the new, Maoist-inspired ""consciousness of the Chinese people,"" he is not wrong in setting ""the strength of Chinese nationalism"" against Japanese expectations of an easy victory. Similarly, his socialist orientation pays off in a detailed and shrewd treatment of dissent and resistance--before and during the war, within Japan and from the outside. (In this war, he notes, ""resistance through the enemy"" was not treachery.) Still, ""legal resistance could accomplish very little, and illegal antiwar activity was limited to sporadic and ineffective protests""--whereas organized resistance appeared through Europe (including, of course, Nazi Germany) and in every country Japan occupied. This touches the crux of his argument, the top-to-bottom failure to appreciate human rights within Japanese society, and makes his book, for Americans (whom he excoriates too), more than another chronicle of Japanese conquest and criminality.

Pub Date: June 30th, 1978
Publisher: Pantheon