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Book Review

 

Hanneman, Mary L. Japan Faces the World, 1925-1952. (New York: Pearson Education Limited, 2001). 115 pp, $19.20.
 

 

     Japan Faces the World is part of the Seminar Studies in History, which seeks to "clarify complex issues in history without oversimplifying them and to stimulate readers into deepening their knowledge and understanding of major themes and topics." (p. vii)  Hanneman seeks to raise issues, both political and social, surrounding Japan's decision to enter World War II, and in doing so offers the reader a comprehensive and concise summary of those events. 

     Hanneman begins her study in 1925, the year that two important pieces of legislation were passed in Japan: the Universal Manhood Suffrage Law and the Peace Preservation Law.  She rightly points out that while the Universal Manhood Suffrage Law "expanded the Japanese electorate nearly fourfold," the Peace Preservation Law "strictly limited the public's right to engage in free and open political discourse," thereby "encapsulating the contradictions inherent in the Meiji reforms" (25).  However, by choosing 1925 as her starting point, she skirts important issues raised by Japan's participation in World War I; some of which were important factors leading to Japan's involvement in World War II on the side of the Axis powers.  Frederick Dickinson convincingly argues in his monograph War and National Reinvention: Japan and the Great War, 1914-1919 (1999) that the Japanese abruptly found themselves on the "wrong side of global change." (3)  Wilson's censure of German militarism and imperialism as the root cause of the war left Japanese intellectuals and elites feeling isolated as they had forged the foundation of the modern Japanese state on the Imperial German model.  Therefore, at issue (as well as at odds) in the post-World War I era, were Wilsonian ideas of the right of national self-determination and notions of Japanese imperialism.  In this way, the Japanese-U.S. conflict can be seen as having its roots in the immediate aftermath of World War I, an important point that Hanneman misses by beginning her study in 1925.  

     Hanneman's analysis of subsequent periods, however, particularly the 1930s and 1940s (chapters 3-6), when the political parties of Japan were dissolved thus opening the door to military control of the government, Japanese encroachment in Manchuria, the decision to attack Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent war years provides an excellent and easily accessible interpretation of the period forming the backbone of her study.  Her description of Nomura Kichisaburo's (Ambassador to the United States) attempts to avoid war with the United States while Matsuoka Yosuke (Foreign Minister) simultaneously attempted to obtain the "separate and contradictory" diplomatic policy to cement Japanese ties with Germany and Italy in Europe provides striking illustrations of the disunity existent among Japanese political leaders. (64)  This is further augmented by her portrayal of the infighting that occurred between the Army and the Navy throughout the war, e.g., Tojo Hideki's confession that it was a full month before he heard of the Japanese Naval defeat at Midway.  Such examples present an interesting problematic regarding the nature of the Japanese war effort (72-73)  There are, however, some trivial points that, while not compromising the objective of the work, seem curious by their omission.  For example, in her description of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hanneman neglects to mention the failure of the Japanese fleet to neutralize U.S. aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl Harbor which were out on maneuvers that day as one of the failures of the attack. (71)  Similarly, her brief description of the fighting in Saipan provides a description of "10,000 civilians who, like their military counterparts, committed suicide rather than submit to invading forces," when, in fact, it seems that at least some of these civilians were forced to kill themselves by the very military that was ostensibly there to protect them. (75)

   Perhaps the most useful part of this book for students of history is to be found in Part Three (chapter eight) in her assessment of both the war and the subsequent occupation of Japan by the Allies.  Hanneman's treatment of the lingering issues that still cloud the historical record (particularly the still much-debated issues of the emperor's war guilt and the U.S. dropping of the atomic bombs) leaves the reader with a clear picture of the legacy of the war.  Missing, however, from Hanneman's discussion of the emperor's war guilt is the work of historian Herbert Bix, who even before the publication of his Pulitzer prize winning work Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan (2000), made claims that the Showa emperor was ultimately in charge of and responsible for the war effort.  In a contributing chapter to Hiroshima: History and Memory (1996), Bix flatly states that "from the start of the war, the emperor was a major protagonist of the events going on around him." (112).  I want to make clear here that Hanneman is not to be faulted for not endorsing this point of view which is largely based on circumstantial evidence.  It is somewhat perplexing, however, as to why this perspective is not included in her overall treatment of the issue.  For many years, the dominant narrative has been that held by historians such as Edwin Reischauer painting Hirohito as a figurehead while his ministers ran the affairs of state.  Despite the paucity of hard evidence, Bix presents a plausible case that the emperor was responsible for much more than "moral guilt" in prosecuting the war, and it is one that should at least be considered by students studying Japan's involvement in World War II.  Additionally, she makes the valid point that "in order for Japan to find a balanced international role and to secure democracy domestically, it must first address its wartime role in Asia.  Questions about war blame and war responsibility were not aired largely due to the decision to retain the emperor." (114)  This insight could be linked to a much larger issue of war memory on the part of the entire nation whereby the Japanese have come to see themselves as victims rather than responsible agents in the waging of the warŽa view that was profoundly influenced by the Čsanitization' of the imperial slate by the occupation authorities.

     Similar lapses exist in her treatment of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.   Hanneman mentions the fact that revisionist historians have made the argument that the use of atomic bombs was meant more to intimidate the Soviet Union that to end the Pacific War, but she fails to reference Gar Alperovitz's seminal work, Atomic Diplomacy, Hiroshima and Potsdam: The Use of the Atomic Bomb and the American Confrontation with Soviet Power (1965), as being the first to promote this interpretation.  Furthermore, in her discussion of Joseph Grew's (former Ambassador to Japan) argument to ameliorate the unconditional surrender policy formed at Potsdam to give the Japanese assurances that the imperial institution would remain intact in order to procure a faster surrender, Hanneman does not address the possible ramifications that such a decision may have had on the post-war rebuilding of Japan.  Herbert Bix, in the chapter cited above, makes the argument that if the Allies had compromised the principle of unconditional surrender; it is "highly unlikely that Japan's post-surrender leadersŰwould ever have discarded the Meiji Constitution and democratized their political institutions." (111-112) Finally, it would be well worth noting that the occupation policies censored any attempt by the Japanese public to discuss the bombings.  According to historian John Dower in a chapter he contributed to in Hiroshima in History and Memory, no public grieving could take place; no counsel and no support were available for survivors until six and a half years after the fact.  In fact, Japanese medical workers were even prohibited from publishing their findings thwarting the effort of a more comprehensive treatment of atomic bomb survivors. (127) 

     Overall, Japan Faces the World is an excellent treatment of a troubling time in world history.  Hanneman's portrayal of Japan from the post-World War I era through the Allied occupation (1952) is brief enough and concise enough to be easily integrated into a high school or undergraduate curriculum that seeks to illustrate Japanese involvement in World War II, or it could be used in tandem with its companion book, another product of the Seminar Studies in History, Jeffrey Kingston's Japan in Transformation, 1952-2000  for a more Japan-specific class that seeks to understand Japan's role in the modern era.                     

     For either purpose, the book provides many excellent supplements to enhance the student's understanding of the period.  For example, a chronology of events is offered at the beginning of the book as well as two maps, one consisting of the four main islands of Japan and the other illustrating the largest extent of the Japanese empire.  Even more useful is a list of documents provided in part four that could be used to generate discussion of particular wartime events, e.g., the Potsdam Declaration (1945) could easily be used to generate a discussion of whether it was appropriate for U.S. policy makers to hold out for a Japanese unconditional surrender.  It should be noted, however, that the Constitution (1889) and the Imperial Rescript on Education (1889), the two Meiji documents provided, will be of limited usefulness without any relevant discussion of the Meiji period.  A glossary is also provided that allows for easy reference to important terms throughout the book, which should be very useful for students.

 

 

Jerome Klena
University of Hawaii at Manoa

 

 
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