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June 24, 2014

Embracing Defeat: A Book Analysis

Embracing Defeat is probably the most comprehensive book on the domination of United States over Japan after World War II written by John Dower. This book describes the situation of Japan after the defeat in World War II. Japan’s economy was in ruins with a large proportion of her factories and a quarter of her housing destroyed by bombing. Until 1952, Japan was occupied by allied troops, mostly Americans, under the command of General MacArthur.  This book not only tells the in-depth account of negotiations between American and Japanese governments but also reveals the reaction of the people of Japan against this occupation.
               This book of Dower actually covers the material of several books. It has presented so well researched material on the topics of revolution, democracy and postwar situation of defeated nation that Dower may have written separate books on these topics. Thus this is not a single book but a product of several books. It has been usually seen that if so much material is covered in a single book it was not very well presented. This is not the case in this book, all the material is inter-woven so masterly that it makes this book the most comprehensive book on this topic.  This is the reason that this book won Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and Bancroft Award.               Dower presented his thesis by defining the emergence of new ideas and development into the culture of a nation after defeat. Thus this book not only covers history but it also reveals the socio-cultural effects of defeat on a nation. This book is masterly written and tells the story of Occupation from general people’s perspective. This book reveals that there was a good deal of anti-American feeling in some quarters. They thought that United States had tried to impose its own constitution and culture on them. Dower says in this book that allied forces in general and Americans in particular required obedient behavior from Japanese people. For the first three years of domination, Americans aimed to make sure that Japan could never again start a war; Japan was forbidden to have armed forces and was given a democratic constitution under which ministers had to be members of the Diet (parliament). The Americans did not at this stage seem concerned to restore the Japanese economy.  
The theme of the book covers two aspects; first the socio-cultural history of defeat and the second is the reconstruction of Japan. The first theme emphasizes on the first two years of occupation whereas the second aspect of the theme covers the whole book. Dower describes that Japanese responded to the defeat and occupation in different manners. Some only cared about their personal lives and tried to rehabilitate after occupation while others tried to find the causes of this occupation. Dower also describes about the culture of defeated Japan, which had given rise to the “sexual decadence and pornography”.
Dower defines the “cultural history” of Japan by describing the mental state of Japanese after defeat. They were in shock. This state of shock is clearly defined in the book through the social and economic conditions of Japan. But in this misery, people have shown the courage and tried to reshape “their future identity”.  Dower investigates this spirit through the emerging culture of a defeated nation, the changing shape of language and the drive of the nation towards democracy.
Although the book is very well written and comprehensively covers the topic but still there are some gaps present in the research. For example Dower only covers the situation of big cities, especially of Tokyo; and the situation of countryside after defeat has not been discussed in the book. Situation of industrial workers is not covered completely. Dower focused mainly on the urban culture in this book.
Dower writes that black markets flourish in Japanese society after occupation, which was new to Japanese society, this is not completely true. Black markets were started during World War II, when Japanese government set up a food control system, these black markets provided the food and other household consumptions to common people and their percentage is higher than all other countries in war (Havens).
Dower actually discusses the new ideas emerged after defeat but he did not emphasize on the old ideas which were, although not apparent, but remained in the society and re-emerged after some time. This is the main reason that the reader has not seen any discussion about “ultra-nationalist ideas” or “social thought”.
During 1948, the American attitudes gradually changed: as Cold War developed in Europe and the Kuomintang crumbled in China, they felt the need for a strong ally in south East Asia and began to encourage Japanese economic recovery. From 1950 industry recovered rapidly. American occupying forces were withdrawn in April 1952 though some American troops remained for defense purpose. American helped the Japan’s recovery by a series of stable democratic governments, mostly conservative in character, which had the solid support of the farmers who benefited from the land reforms carried through by the Americans. Enjoying plots of their own for the first time they were afraid that their land would be nationalized if the socialists come to power. Dower criticized at the democracy of Japan and called it “ regimen of censored democracy”. He argued that such type of democracy would make Japanese media” less dynamic and diversified as the occupation dragged on” (Dower, p.438). Although he was of the opinion that media, “undeniably were vastly more lively at the end of the occupation than they had been during the war” (p.438)
Dower analyzes American role in Japan’s postwar constitution, crime trials etc. and provides his own conclusion in each case. Most of the Japanese at that time thought that American help was vital. The alliance with United States meant that Japan felt well protected and was therefore able to invest all its strength in reconstruction and rehabilitation. Dower criticizes the postwar constitution of Japan and says that it was drafted by the MacArthur’s staff and Japanese cabinet was compelled to accept it. Dower also describes that Americans were the elites and Japanese were the defeated and were treated like servants. As the postwar constitution of Japan was also drafted by Americans, that is why Japanese democracy during these years became “elite-driven and retained many similarities to prewar Japan”.
Dower also blames that this new constitution had nothing to do with Japanese because it was actually an American document, which was based on the constitution of United States.  Dower also criticizes the crime trials of Tokyo. He says that the crime trials have depicted the “victor’s justice” against the war leaders of Japan, who were punished for wedging the war.
This book is full of information about postwar Japan, social and cultural effects of defeat on Japanese Society, on the lives of common people and the role of United States in occupation’s politics. Thus this is the most comprehensive book, which describes the situation of a defeated nation from defeated people’s perspective.


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