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The Pacific War, A Book Review

Discussion in 'The Pacific and CBI' started by belasar, Jul 24, 2011.

  1. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

    May 9, 2010
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    The Pacific War - 1931-1945 A Critical Perspective on Japan's Role in World War II by a Leading Japanese Scholar. By Saburo Ienaga Pantheon Books, New York 1978, 316 pages, Amazon New: $11.96, Kindle: $8.95, Used $ 1.50

    As I sit here typing this is a difficult book to pin down. Written by a Japanese scholar with some 50 books to his credit, Ienaga is a self proclaimed pacifist. This book written in the mid 1960's was his responce to a perceived growing blindness by the Japanese people to their recent militiristic past. In his view the US of the 1960's was little different from Japan of the 1930's and was leading Japan back to its martial past. Judging from his writing it does seem clear that his politics are some what left of left. Still there are worthy elements to this work.

    This book is more of a social history of Japan at war rather than a military history of its conquests and defeats, indeed the portion covering the actual fighting between Japan and the west only lasts a few pages. Divided into two parts, it trys to tell why Japan went to war, and its effect upon Japan.

    Part 1, Why was the war not Prevented?

    In part one Ienaga attempts to explain why the Japanese people could not prevent Japan's march to war. In his view this was due to 3 interelated factors. First is due to the Meiji Constitution of 1888 which granted both powerfull police powers to the state and a Military answerable only to the Emperor and not to the civilian government. The military had a defacto veto over the civilian goverment as they could have the Army or Navy minister resign from the cabinet whenever they felt threatened, thereby causing the government to fall. No new minister would be 'available' untill civilian policy had changed. The Police could and did ruthlessly crush any resistance to Japan's expansionist policy by claiming it was Communist subversion.

    The second factor was the Japanese Education system, or rather the lack of it. The average Japanese was to be taught only enough to be fuctional in his or her place. Higher education was greatly restricted. The average Japanese was not expected to think, but rather to believe what they were told by those above them. Which brings us to the 3rd factor, Propaganda. From childrens readers to national newspapers the ordinary person was subjected to a virtual flood of race hatred of other asian nations and the west. For the Japan of the 1930's the only good 'chink', was a dead one.

    There seems to be the belief of Japanese expansionists that it was China's fault for Japan's occupation. Had China been strong enough to resist, Japan would have behaved! Nor was war with the west a last minute thought, Japanese 'neo-cons' were looking at war with the US and Britain as not only possible, but inevitable, if not desirable as early as 1908.

    Part 2, The Conduct of the War and the Result

    For Japan WWII was a 15 year war that began in 1931, but it roots start even earlier. The aquistion of Korea and Taiwan was needed to protect and supply the Home Islands. Manchuria was needed to protect and supply Korea and the Home Islands, North China was needed to protect and supply Manchuria, Korea and the Home Islands, Central and south China were needed to supply and defend the previous conquests. Indochina was needed to supply and defend the rest with finally the attacks on the west intended to finally secure the defence and natural resources Japan 'needed'. Each new conquest was supposed to solve the problems of the previous one, but of course only added new ones.

    Ienaga spends a fair bit of time discussing Japanese literature, possibly to prove that Japan was more than an war machine in this period. He also looks at dissent which seems to have taken three main forms. The first is graffiti in public areas, mainly restrooms. "Perfect Silence'" where a person does nor resist the government but refuses to work for the goverment, such as newspaperman quiting his paper and taking up poetry, or a scientist/scholar retiring to work his garden. Lastly some of the upper middle class exchanged privately published newsletters and magazines, but they had a vey limited circulation.

    At times his prose is quite dense, and I could have done without his listing of non-war related books and poems written during the period which ran to 2 pages. Also some Americans might find his assessment of the Atomic bombings being no different than say the Rape of Nanking or Unit 571. Still I will reccomend this book to those who would like to learn something different about the Pacific War and the Japanese perspective on it from someone who lived it.

    PS. Japan cannot seem to come up with a name for their war. The Pacific War, The Great Asia Co-prosperity War, and the 15 year War are used interchangably, with none seeming to accurately reflect it. Personally I have trouble with the 15 year war, 1945 - 1931 is 14 years by my count, I'm just saying.....

  2. LRusso216

    LRusso216 Graybeard Staff Member Patron  

    Jan 5, 2009
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    It is 15 if you count all of 1931 and all of 1945.

    Anyway, a sterling piece of writing and analyzing.
  3. syscom3

    syscom3 Member

    Mar 18, 2008
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    Indeed it was.

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