Friday, November 18, 2005

A Review: Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
Dower, John W.

This book is highly recommended not only due to its numerous awards and accolades, but because Dower reveals the merit of competent research which always provides enough evidence for glimpses of the overall issues, and disparate viewpoints. His own conclusions on the matters of Japanese economic, social, and political reforms following Japanese unconditional surrender are very interesting.

There are few parallels to the Japanese surrender in contemporary history. Perhaps the analysis offers insights into the current situations faced in more dramatically regionalized and fractionalized post-Gulf War Iraq for example. Dower illustrates the uniqueness of the victor's position and that of the vanquished.

The opening sequences of "Embracing Defeat" put a human face upon the tragedy of Japan's wartime exploits. A useful reading of Modern Library Chronicles #11: Inventing Japan: 1853-1964 by Ian Buruma previews and reviews the finely detailed traumas inflicted on Japanese society as a result of the military micro-management of all aspects of society prior to and during the expansion of the economic sphere of Japanese imperialism. An expansion that by Dower's account left few responsible or accountable following surrender.

By confirmation and interesting note, Ian Clark notes in "Globalisation and Fragmentation" that Japanese influence filled a void which the British left following WW One.

This book readily reveals the intricacies and challenges in any attempt to reform, reshape, and rebuild a society from pulverized military destruction. However the paradoxes also mount and build, complex interconnections remain, especially in the legacy of democratization and reforms courtesy of SCAP and Macarthur.

That these heavy-handed and autocratic methods largely succeeded as basis for reform are credited to the largely militarist nature of Japanese political hierarchy at that time, and a dubious selectivity on the part of US occupation administration, namely, the exoneration of the Emperor from blame, public reprimand, reprobation, or censure.

Perhaps as symbolism he could be no more useful a significator of progress, as his salvation came about, because so many were willing to shift blame and responsibility to others for more productive incoherency of legacy, purpose, and potential gain. It seems all parties profited from the survival of the monarchy as a figural martinet.

It was also clear from the start that representational justice was not an issue. The show trials and executions were performed with very little hope for defensive manuevers. So too, little representation among the judges could be revealed among citizens of occupied nations. But since the trials were not really about justice, but retributions, there should be little complaint. Unfortunately the complaint appears to be that figureheads were removed, mottos were changed, but the old guards, and many old ways remained in place.

New information to this reader, and startlingly brutal, is the food rationing and smuggling which ensued under American occupation during the early years of the occupation. It seems the profiteers were often the same industrialists and entrepreneurs who managed to squirrel nearly the entire commodities base of a military, highly engineered, highly organized economy into the black-markets, either under the noses of, or with the complete complicity of American occupiers.

I am never quite convinced of Dower's stand on this issue. But it smells much like "Oil for Food" in some way, even similarly as some leopards may rarely change their spots, another "Smaller Emperor" remains standing in the present at the UN.

The feminisation of Japanese culture by a conquering and overbearing American occupation force is particulary evident in this historical documentation of the evidence. It is sadly repeated many times over by conquering forces and the Japanese themselves are no strangers to a legacy of making servility a prime focus of domination in their wartime exploits.

However Dower correctly implicates many of the results of American influences in the undercurrent of rebelliousness and its influence, or lack thereof, in democratic reform. While at one hand, the same ideological principles used to support Japanese expansionism were then subverted to the causes of occupation led democratic social reform, so too the blackmarkets, sex and literary subcultures of katsutori reveal their parts in the scene and setting changes of concrete social change.

So too the immense and extensive controls upon media, public debate, demonstration, union, and communist forces by the US and Macarthur also played a significant role in the artistic or silent protest of totalitarianism and the authoritarian nature of occupation ideals.

It cannot be disputed that the US reforms were designed and led from a perspective of superiority whether economic, social, cultural and political. This was not the first democratization process influenced by the US or with such a perspective of Asian inferiority. However it is enlightening to note how well Dower notes the absence of Japanese experts from the decision making process either in the US or in Japan.

So much of the process was dictated by men and scholars with heavy agendas and no real understanding of the local people on the ground. So it is quite amazing that any good can be attributed to the occupation process in terms of cultural reprogramming. Even if that was a stated goal, the support for the conservative, thus formerly militaristic elements of Japanese society certainly appears a stronger note of question.

The underestimation of Japanese industrial and economic capacities are noted well, especially as Macarthur's own stance, that Japanese society was akin to a "twelve year old boy" while German and European societies were far more aged. But there are other studies which prove that Taylorism was well implemented even prior to WW one, that scientific methods and industrial capacities were highly evolved, and extremely efficent, particularly in the military industries. Japanese quality and processes in the export trade markets were early sacrificed to military production.

In this area, Dower could have provided much more rich detail, in particular, his review of Joseph Dodge and Bell Laboratories personnel such as Deming could have been more illuminated to distinguish how far from fact was general US perspective on Japanese productivity and potential for export growth.

Certainly the section on democracies was most interesting to me, mostly because the underpinnings of the Japanese constitution are so completely foreign to Japan. Dower makes the outstanding conclusion that the overall effects of US occupation created a stylized Japanese culture of self-censorship. He posits that those aspects of Japanese culture most associated with the Japanese as norms and values of their particular culture might more easily be originated to US democratic designs and restrictions in the early stages of Japanese occupation democratics. It remains to be seen how the Iraqi constitutional debate will play out, but it appears far too clear that the same rationale has been applied.

All of which culminates in a peek at Japanese society which, for many reasons, continues to appear oblivious to its causes and effects in inter-Asian history, continues to mourn its own losses more highly than its victims, remains ideologically isolated, and appears ponderous on the road to continued economic development. Dower makes a great case to examine the overall notion of victor-inspired reforms and loser-inspired concessions.

His case on Japan is truly worth reading as it really sheds light in many directions and appears to reveal much more than it obscures. It is a history which takes its relevance from ongoing and fascinating reconstruction efforts globally. Too bad he so readily blasts cross-cultural studies and the precepts of Kluckhohn, Hofstede, and the MBI Model in business. But he has provided a window into a highly contextualized and well cross-culturally defined book on the aftermath of Japanese military folly.

Now will he publish any unfavourable reviews of his acclaimed book?

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