By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Edward Lewis
Victory is sweet; defeat is bitter. Victory engenders responsibility for the defeated; just as defeat demands fealty to a victor. Japan’s rebirth after WWII proves the point.
John Dower, in “Embracing Defeat”, endeavors to picture Japan’s condition; i.e. the state of its economy and its people, after surrender in WWII. History’s complexity is difficult to capture in words. Dower makes an effort to explain the context of post war Japan by showing Japanese attitude in media reports and literature of the time. The irony of Dower’s effort is that media reports and literature are censored by Allied forces, particularly the United States.
Dower covers the history of an American white wash of Hirohito’s war complicity and responsibility. The American government uses Hirohito, Japan’s WWII Emperor, to make occupation and influence in Japan more acceptable to its population. It became politically expedient to hide Hirohito’s true involvement in Japan’s war plans. Dower reports on post-war trials of Japanese military and government leaders; i.e. Dower writes about trial testimony of Japan’s WWII’ atrocities but his history shows that victor’ justice is not necessarily victim’ justice. Dower addresses the puzzle of whether a leader is fighting for his country or committing a “crime against humanity”. Much of history’s judgment suggests that the trials were unjust to the victims and the accused.
One’s interest is piqued by Japan’s experience after WWII because of the current Middle East muddle. Countries like Libya, Egypt, and Syria are on the verge of cataclysmic government change. Iraqis are further down that track. What is going to happen in those countries? Are there any clues in the great change that occurred in Japan after WWII?
In spite of (partly because of) American military occupation of Japan, financial aid was misdirected and food goods and material were stolen, a black market developed, gangs were created, and corruption thrived (sounds like Iraq). Prostitution became a way of making a living, and immoral behavior became semi-acceptable because of poverty left by war.
General MacArthur assumed the role of “Dear Leader”, treating the Japanese like 12 year olds that were to be taught the ways of Democracy with a capital “D”. This role by MacArthur in post war Japan is accepted by many Japanese because of centuries of Imperial control, exemplified by Emperor Hirohito. Dower also suggests that a large part of General MacArthur’s success is due to
Major Bonner Fellers, a Japanese scholar that predicted Japan’s war several years before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Major Fellers’ respect and understanding of Japanese culture and his influence contributes much to the success of American policy in post war Japan.
Japan’s people, with new-found freedom, were inwardly driven toward a capitalist philosophy inherent in democracy. The Japanese did not abandon their ideas of production, the ideas of small business cooperation to achieve common goals. Those ideas made them a military behemoth in the 1920s. They redirected that belief system toward domestically driven capitalism. Japan became a dominant 20th century economic power.
Nature abhors a vacuum (Spinoza). The centralized governments and economies of Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq will be occupied democratically, autocratically, or some combination thereof when domestic tumult subsides. Japan’s experience suggests that freedom will not be denied but how it exhibits is a mystery wrapped in Middle Eastern histories, beliefs, and practices. Will there be an equivalent “Major Bonner Fellers” to guide America’s policy in the Middle East?