By Ben Schapiro
"Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II" has been filling my all to few idle moments. The first 250 pages were compelling and overwhelming. In one book is revealed the Japan Sakai Saburo returned to and the depth of detail possible only in printed format. This book can be enjoyed for both its subject and the exquisite detail in which John Dower renders the portrait of post war Japan. Actually its a motion picture as he covers the full period of the occupation. The perspective is (so far) is purely Japanese and man in the street Japanese at that. This is social history done like it should be, must be if it is to be at all useful and enlightening.
No long discourses on the role of the occupation authorities, but lots of interesting revelations on how the Japanese decipher and responded to the demands and requirements of the victors. That aspect of Japanese character that seems to want to take its lead from outside cultures, almost a mimicry, is explored in the adoption of democracy from above and yet it's given the curiously Japanese twists that align the new with old traditions.
The failure to understand the amount of suffering is explored as well. Well that's not completely right. Apparently much of Japanese society understood the horrible things their army and navy did. Yet this understanding lacks an outlet in a culture without a tradition of helping others especially strangers. Submerged in a sense of their own victim hood they failed to respond to the past's aggressions and are still marked by that today.
The Level of detail is at times too much almost Lundstromesque. There is a lot to be learned about this culture in this book - literature, economics (black and otherwise), sociology, radio, culture in turmoil that ties the future to some parts of the past, even race relations it's all in here. If there is a blueprint for how the world would react to a benign alien occupation this is it.
Some of the points are developed very subtly. The failure (in western eyes) to respond positively to the suffering they caused in other countries and the development of their own victim hood is built up slowly over several sections. It may be treated more forcefuly in a chapter not yet read. The biggest disappointment is the next to last "What do you tell the dead when you lose?" but to be frank I'm not sure why. Perhaps I've hoped for one chapter that would delve into a detailed Japanese reconstruction of what went wrong with the war. Maybe they just never did that?
What I find myself longing for now is a companion volume that will bridge the gap from the Japan of 1950 to the Japan of today. That society has undergone some considerable change (more slowly this time) since the end of the occupation, it's dangerous to extrapolate from the end of this amazing book.
Those who fail to study history are doomed to never get the joke.