Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Review of "The Pacific War 1931-1945." by Saburo Ienaga

 Review of

The Pacific War 1931-1945. by Saburo Ienaga ISBN 0394734963

Five out of five stars

Japanese academic history of Japanese society

 In the Western academic world, the overwhelming majority of analysis of how a society can be molded into a total war machine is concentrated on Nazi Germany. How the people of Germany could be quickly molded into a society that supported a brutal war with genocidal traits.  Comparatively little scholarship has been done regarding how Japanese society was molded by militarists into one that was willing to go to war with literally half the world. This book is an attempt to explain how Japanese society went from one with a constitution, a nearly independent judiciary and political parties into one where the merest hint of opposition to the wars being launched by Japan could lead to arrest and even death.

 Ienaga starts with describing the liberal elements that were a fundamental component of Japanese society in the 1920’s and how they were slowly eroded over time. There was a small, but significant Communist movement in the country as well as many intellectuals that argued forcefully for Japan to adopt a course of cooperation with other nations, including China. He describes how all aspects of the society, down to elementary school instruction, were changed into means whereby racist slurs were leveled against the Chinese. The Chinese were dehumanized to the point where their killing was a noble, honorable task to be conducted.

 Ienaga is open about describing the behavior of Japanese troops when they occupied other countries. While making statements about liberation from the Western colonial forces, the people of the occupied countries learned very quickly that the Japanese occupation was a more brutal and exploitative force than the Western countries executed.

 This is one of the best books about Japanese society and how it changed so that the war that started in China in 1931 and lasted until 1945 could take place. Unlike many other Japanese authors that deny what the Japanese military did to others, Ienaga is honest, forceful and spares no fact.

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