John Dower's comprehensive study of the years during which the Japanese lived under American-led occupation is undoubtedly the masterwork from which many PhD studies have derived. It's a fascinating account of a devastated people wrestling with Japan's responsibility for the horrors that occurred before and during WWII's conflicts in the Pacific.
There's too much here to describe in detail. I'll highlight some points that I found particularly intriguing and capstone them with a general observation: This massively researched book offers a splendidly balanced account not only of the political side of defeat but also the social side of defeat.
On the social side:
--It is fascinating to read about the extent to which the Japanese read themselves, even when they were on the verge of starvation, in the post War years. Books, newspapers and magazines played a huge role in nourishing and drawing together a defeated people<br />--Dower is fair-minded and clear in exploring the Japanese people's sense of bewilderment at losing the war. Their leaders told them they were winning...over and over again...for years...so defeat was totally disorienting.
--Both the rural populace and the fire- and nuclear- bombed urban populace are duly addressed. The rural populace lived in essential ignorance and found itself vaulted upward in terms of national importance as Japan faced post-war food shortages. Yes, millions of rural folk participated in the war effort, but during the war, and afterward, relatively few came back...and were in any condition to give an accurate account of what had happened.
--The social glue that held Japan together, i.e., the emperor and his court, really was a relatively new phenomenon, less than a hundred years old in its current form.
--The Japanese adapted ingeniously to the requirements of the Occupation: providing prostitutes, housing, and subtle measures of linguistic misdirection and misinformation when it suited them.
-Could any proud country not secretly believe it had been "betrayed" and that in some sense a handful of imperial advisors, military leaders, and industrialists were the ones "responsible" for Japan's war effort and its defeat? Of course not.
--The Japanese took one particular lesson from the U.S.'s use of the atom bomb: they were laggard in science and engineering. As we have seen in the sixty years thereafter, the Japanese have remedied much of their deficiency, but of course they do not have nuclear weapons, only nuclear power plants.
--Japan was then, and remains, home to large populations of Koreans, Chinese, and other Asian peoples. Said folk were not then, nor are they now, fully protected by the rights accorded Japanese citizens.
On the political side:
--Post-war planning both within Japan and among the American-led occupation (read: MacArthur et al) revolved around "saving" the emperor from being blamed and being forced to step down...and/or being tried as a "Class A" war criminal. The thinking was that the entire society would crumble into anarchy without some continuing form of imperial guidance, albeit symbolic. The account of Hirohito in this book certainly makes clear that he was quite culpable, had long been involved in war-planning, and was a rather remote, somewhat self-deluded individual--nothing like a Western "leader" in the Churchill, FDR, etc.
--The war crimes trials that sentenced a relative handful of ranking Japanese to execution or imprisonment were slapdash. Sometimes all eleven judges were on the bench,hearing testimony; sometimes only seven were on hand. Many of the judgments rendered could be turned slightly to incriminate other national leaders (both within Japan and in other capitals). Translation and interpretation often were deficient. This was an exercise in justice that some of the non-U.S. jurists found appalling, starting with the fact that the U.S. had already decided the emperor must not be held accountable.
--There are a few chapters on the making of Japan's post-war constitution and its remarkable provision that Japan will not engage in war or maintain a defense establishment. As you probably know, Japan does have an entity called the Japanese Defense Force. This is something that essentially emerged with U.S. encouragement as the Cold War got colder and the U.S. welcomed some strength on the island of the "100 million" (Japan's approximate population).
--The Japanese constitution is more liberal and protective of rights than the U.S. constitution.
--The conservatives were the shrewdest and longest-lived of Japan's political actors in the post-war era. (Only recently has a party other than the Liberal Democratic Party held sway in Japan's parliament.)
--For years after accepting Japan's unconditional surrender, General MacArthur almost never traveled in Japan, met Japanese citizens, or took advice from experts close to him--many of whom had no Japan expertise to draw on. (They were "functional" experts; not Japan experts. If they were Asian experts, they tended to have focused more on China than Japan,) He lived in splendid isolation from his own proconsular dominion.
--It is quite amazing how pro-American Japan quickly became. Was this caused by U.S.-fostered democratization? It would be difficult to deny that, partly because prior to defeat in WWII Japan was such a stratified, rigid, closed society (even within the ranks of the "pure" Japanese.) The U.S. and others pushed open a lot of doors through insistence on democracy, citizens' rights, etc.
In sum, this is the kind of long historical book that is interesting in particular because it gives so much weight to the social realities, not just the political realities. It is a sweeping study. But you have to be interested in Japan to enjoy reading it. Otherwise it would be too rich in detail and fine distinctions to hold your interest. In other words, it's not for everyone.
Causes Robert Earle Supports
World Wildlife Fund