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A portrayal of how and why Japan waged war from 1931-1945 and what life was like for the Japanese people in a society engaged in total war....

Title : The Pacific War, 1931-1945 : A Critical Perspective on Japan's Role in World War II (The Pantheon Asia Library)
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ISBN : 9780394734965
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 316 Pages
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The Pacific War, 1931-1945 : A Critical Perspective on Japan's Role in World War II (The Pantheon Asia Library) Reviews

  • Chin Joo
    2018-11-12 05:23

    To many, the Pacific War is geographically limited to the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean, extending furthest south to the Coral Sea and west to the Philippines. It is also chronologically limited to the period between 8th December 1941 and 2nd September 1945. To the Japanese and Chinese however, the Pacific War extends to China and Southeast Asia and started on 18th September 1931, when the Kwantung Army invaded Manchuria. This distinction is important: to many Americans, Pearl Harbor was a sneak attack, requiring a full retaliatory response. To the Japanese, it was the outcome of the sanctions that the USA placed upon them, and having no  way out, they had to attack the USA in the hope they would sue for peace. These sanctions were put in place in step with the escalation of Japan's conquest in China, leading to the most drastic embargo of oil as Japan invaded Indochina, which could be traced back to Japan's actions in China. To the Japanese, the Pacific War is a 15-year war and their ultimate near-devastation is to be traced to 1931, which is why the characters that appear in Japanese and Chinese literature on the war is a lot more colourful and well-developed than the fleeting mention that they get in Western literature.This book by Saburo Ienaga is a survey of the events leading to Japan's ultimate defeat and the conditions in Japan throughout that period. The author's motivation is to educate the post-war generation about Japan's recent past, and more importantly, to counter the resurgent right-wing narrative in Japan. In doing so, not only did he discuss the military and cabinet decisions, he also provided a view into the controls the military put place to ensure that the populace remained docile and abiding and would not raise any objections to the military's adventures. In the 1920s and throughout the 1930s, militarism was pervasive and this started to make inroads into schools through systematic perversion of the school curriculum as well as the increase in imperialistic-mindedness of the teachers. There were those who tried to resists, but by 1940, there was largely no more open dissent (pg. 117) and even the "intellectual community not only caved in under pressure but accommodated with alacrity to the new order" (pg. 121). This being the case, and with the constant bombardment of news of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy scoring victories after victories over any adversaries, it became impossible for the Japanese civilian to know the truth. The author's main concern was that there never seemed to be a time when the post-war Japanese society evaluated Japan's history in the early part of the 20th century. War memories started to fade and there are even signs that the war apologists were beginning to make a come back. Indeed, there were even people who advocated the reassessment the war because excessive emphasis on war responsibility "would produce a guilt-ridden nation," (pg. 253). And as if to prove his point, Inenaga published a draft of a Japanese history textbook for high school based on his New Japanese History. The draft was rejected by the Ministry of Education in 1952 because they did not like the way he depicted certain events, this resulted in him bringing a lawsuit to the ministry.I cannot claim to be a scholar in Japanese literature on the War, but I observed a few interesting perspectives on Emperor Hirohito from the few works I have read. The right-wing perspective is that the Emperor might have a role in starting the war, but it was a just war and he did the right thing. Among those who disagree with the war and admitted to the atrocities of the Imperial Japanese Army are two different views. One is that the Emperor had no choice and was not really in control of events. Respected academic and author, Kazutoshi Handō is of this opinion. The other perspective, to which this author subscribed, is that the Emperor should bear the responsibilities and at the end of the war, with everyone suffering the most difficult conditions, and the myth of the Emperor shattered, people were ready to indict him had the Allies so decided. Finally, there are those who chose to side-step the role of the Emperor. This is an interesting issue for further exploration and I hope that the book I'm currently reading would help to shed some light.As a small volume, it is impossible for the author to go into enough details of any events or any aspect of the lives of the Japanese. I started reading the Chinese translation of the book and found it hard, mainly because of the style that I'm not used to. The English translation is much easier to read but seem to lack a certain depth. However, those who are interested in getting one Japanese perspective (a left-leaning one) of the Pacific War will find this book useful.

  • William
    2018-11-30 06:29

    Japan's role in World War II is pretty hard for an American to understand, given the gap in culture and language between the US and Japan. It is even harder for the Japanese to understand their own war history, given the preference for denial and forgetfulness over enlightenment and remembrance when it comes to WWII. Saburo Ienaga wrote "The Pacific War: 1931-1945" as a reminder of the brutal folly that it was, roughly coinciding with the 30th anniversary of Japan's invasion of China.Americans date the conflict from Dec. 7, 1941, overlooking the fact that Japan started its Asian expansion at China's expense (again) in 1931. Indeed, China would become to Japan what Russia was to Nazi Germany--an undefeatable sink hole that tied down the bulk of the army for much of the war, long before the Americans entered the picture.While Ienaga critiques this period from a left-wing point of view, his work is no less valid given his explanation of Japanese culture at the time. Notions of racial/nationalist superiority, coupled with propaganda, compulsory military training, tremendous pressure to conform to society's (ab)norms and unquestioning obedience to authority created a nation psychologically mobilized for war. Leaders were heedless of sacrifice, even willing to fight on regardless of civilian losses at home and military losses abroad. Japanese culture was so strange to Americans that they might as well have been fighting space aliens. Nothing in American culture could explain the kamikaze, the banzai charge, or the the stubborn willingness to fight to the last man. Death was preferred before dishonor, and nothing was more dishonorable than surrender. Ienaga explains the brutal logic that pounded this faith in the human spirit over material strength, but in the end courage could not stop bullets and shell splinters any better than flesh. Ienaga traces the trajectory of Japan's fascist failure, starting with the Army invading Manchuria without the knowledge of the civilian leaders back in Tokyo. Democracy is extinguished at home by assassinating moderate leaders, all the while with the Army and Navy exercising a veto over cabinet selection under an authoritarian constitution. Cooler heads could not prevail. Colonies are conquered. Peoples are brutally repressed. Resources are ruthlessly extracted, from Manchuria, Korea, China, and later southeast Asia and the Phillipines. Dissidents are crushed. Ienaga only fits in a chapter about the American War. Much of Japan's war was against China (externally) and any citizens at home who had second thoughts about the war. Ienaga notes that he wrote his history as a warning, to make sure Japan never again submits meekly to an authoritarian leadership that disregards the welfare of the people in favor of the power of the state. We accept Japan today as a parliamentary democracy, but to Ienaga it is a sham democracy masking one party rule by a seldom elected government. The author wants his countrymen to know better than to go down that path again. For the American reader, Ienaga provides a cultural explanation that finally makes sense. It is still Japanese, but it is understandable.

  • Mbfitzmahan
    2018-12-10 03:40

    The Pacific War, 1931-1945 : A Critical Perspective on Japan's Role in World War II, is an important addition to the study of Japanese history. However, this book is more importantly, a tribute to its author, Japanese historian, Saburo Ienaga. Much of his professional career, Ienaga fought the Japanese government’s attempt to block his critical writings on the history of modern Japan. Ienaga placed the blame for the outbreak of the Pacific War fully at the feet of the Japanese government’s prewar policy to control information. He wrote: “The prewar state kept the populace in a powerful vise: on one side were the internal security laws with their restriction on freedom of speech and thought; on the other side was the conformist education that blocked the growth of free consciousness and purposive activity for political ends.” Ienaga argued that to avoid the repetition of the sins of the past, each generation must be well educated in uncensored studies of history. I feel that we would all do well to remember this warning. Political massaging of history is not new. In fact, this process of manipulating history is a part of history itself. However, incomplete and biased reporting of history must be viewed for what it is. Gaps in history are as dangerous as fabrications in history. Transparency of information is necessary for good scholarship, for good history and for the advancement of humankind.

  • AskHistorians
    2018-11-26 02:34

    A rare translated text by a Japanese historian, showing perspectives of the common Japanese of the war. This book received a fairly controversial reputation in Japan after several attempts by the Ministry of Education to censor certain parts.

  • Robert Brightwell
    2018-11-17 05:46

    This is the first World War II history I have read from a Japanese author and it brings a perspective to the conflict that is missing in western histories. The author's main thesis is that the "Pacific War" is primarily a struggle between Japanese Imperialism and Communism. With this in mind he sees the events in China, particularly in the 1930's, as the most crucial. It is during the discussion of these events the author betrays his sympathies with the Communist cause. Later, as he recounts the limited roll of resistance movements in Japan, he refers almost exclusively to Communist groups as the source of the resistance. In his post war summary his anti-imperial and Communist sympathies are on full display as he expresses his contempt for the United States and it actions during the occupation as well as the US-Japanese military alliance to hedge the expansion of Communism in Asia. The author casts the roll of the US in the post war period as being essentially the same as the Japanese Imperial roll of the 30's and 40's.

  • Sarah Crawford
    2018-12-09 05:42

    The author, Saburo Ienaga, a Japanese, starts off the first chapter by noting that there were few opponents of Japan's imperialistic war on China, and they never had the numbers or the political strength to stop the war.One writing in 1823 called for Japan to make the entire world “provinces and districts” of Japan, so there were some that were looking towards Japanese expansionism over a hundred years before the China “incidents.”The book says that the Japanese attempts to get its own colonies in the Asian areas wasn't really any different from what was being done by the Europeans and by America in the same area and the argument has its merits.1869: Publishing regulations passed.1873: Newspaper law passed, restricting freedom of speech.1875: Libel Law, for same purpose.1880: List of books favorable to democracy is compiled, and the books are prohibited from use as textbooks.1890: Assembly and Political Organizations Law1893: Publication Law1900: Public Order Police Law1908: Criminal code. “”A commander who allows his unit to surrender to the enemy without fighting to the last man or who concedes a strategic area to the enemy shall be punishable by death.”1909: Another Newspaper Law.1925: Peace Preservation Law”The internal security laws were primarily intended to prevent discussion or factual reporting about three areas the authorities deemed sensitive: the monarchial system and public order, the dignity of the imperial family, and public morals. An additional objective was control of information about military and diplomatic affairs.”1925: Active duty military officers are assigned to all schools from the middle school level up (minus girls' schools); military training becomes part of the school routine.The book notes that civilians were not the only ones not being told the truth. “Everything related to Japan's military strength was classified.” Even cabinet ministers and senior advisors were denied adequate information to make decisions on.1928: Chang Tso-lin was the warlord who controlled Manchuria. His train is blown up by the Japanese army.1931, Spring: “Proposal regarding the Problems of Manchuria and Mongolia” is written, calling for staged incident so Mongolia and Manchuria could be occupied.1932, March 1: The new state of Manchuko is proclaimed.The “Shanghai Incident,” in response to the Chinese boycotting Japanese goods. In the 1930's, the author writes, the military did what they wanted to do and paid little if any attention to what the Emperor wanted.1941: Elementary schools are renamed national schools.1941: Field Service Code: “Do not be taken alive.”1941: Peace Preservation Law is amended to allow “preventative detention” of political activists, and indefinite detention of political prisoners.1941: National Defense Security Law: important government business like cabinet meetings are declared “state secrets”, with severe penalties for obtaining or revealing such classified information.1941 (?) Provisional Law for Control of Speech, Publications, Assembly and Association: Political groups, political meetings, and publication of newspapers and magazines must get prior approval for their activities.1941, March: Basic Concepts of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere is published by the Imperial Rule Assistance Association. It says: “Although we use the expression 'Asian co-operation,' this by no means ignores the fact that Japan was created by the Gods or posits an automatic racial equality.”1941, April: Basic Necessities Control ordinance started a rationing system for rice, fish, vegetables, condiments and clothing.1942: Special Law on War-time Crimes is enacted.1943: Middle schools are required to use government textbooks, no longer having the right to choose their own textbooks from a longer list.1943: Special Law on War-time Crimes is modified. “To disseminate information during wartime which will harm public order for the purpose of interfering with national administration or public order” becomes a crime.1943: The Cabinet Information Bureau bans 1,000 songs, mainly American and British.1943: Factory Law Wartime Exemption: Women and children are “permitted” to work more than eleven hours a day. The two rest days a month were rescinded.1943: Deferments for students in universities, technical college and higher schools are ended.1944, April: Steel guitars, banjos and ukeleles are outlawed due to their “foreign influence.”Other termsGuadalcanal defeat: “Transfer of forces.”Atomic bomb: “A special bomb.”Japanese MilitaryThe author notes that men in the Japanese military did not get as good meals as did American troops, that their equipment they had to carry was heavier, and:”Military education, training, and the daily routine of barracks life at the squad level was an unending stream of humiliation and rough treatment.”He adds that physical abuse of trainees was commonplace. The side effect of training men to become “vicious fighters” was then tendency to be brutal to others, including civilians and POWs. The “Three Human bombs of the Shanghai Fighting” story is about three men that “died heroic deaths in a valiant assault on the enemy.” The truth apparently was that the three men were engineers planting explosives and one of the fuses was too short, blowing up all three men in the process.Problems that the military encountered in planning included under-estimating US production capabilities and under-estimating the British and Russian military abilities, and over-estimating the German military abilities. Short term, of course, both Germany and Japan were triumphant militarily, but they both lost in the long term.The author writes about how, late in the war, the Army was drafting middle-aged men and physically unfit men and not even giving them guns. ”Rape was an accepted prerogative of the Imperial Army.”ReligionState Shinto became a nationalistic creed. Officials of the Salvation Army, the Holiness Church and other sects were arrested.Resistance by Civilians in General”Every aspect of life was so regimented and controlled that no one could plan a treacherous act worthy of the death penalty.””The populace remained silent, unable to learn the facts or discuss politics or the war.”Pearl HarborThe book is another one that says that the Japanese fully intended to inform the US that they were at war before the attack on Pearl Harbor, but the embassy staff had trouble getting the rather long message decoded, and they didn't manage to finish until after the attack was actually started. So, technically, Pearl Harbor wasn't supposed to be a “sneak attack,” but even if they had informed the US in time it would have been at most a few hours or even a few minutes before the attack took place.Atrocities”Japanese forces committed atrocities against the Chinese everywhere in the combat zone.”The author says that around 41,000 Chinese were taken to Japan as slave laborers. Of these, about 1,000 died en route, and another 6,000 died at work sites. In Osaka, in June, 1945, a senior army officer said that it would be necessary to kill all infirm old people, the very young, and the sick due to the nationwide food shortage.A ship, the Awa-maru, that was sunk by the US, had been guaranteed safe passage. The author notes that the action was illegal, but the ship had also been loaded with tin and other prohibited war goods.Unit 731 and the use of poison gas in China is also discussed.”The atrocities committed by the Imperial Army and Navy attest to the moral degeneration of the ruling elite.”The mass suicide of civilians on Saipan is discussed

  • David
    2018-11-21 22:32

    I'm fascinated by all the lies and the way they pile up and pile up. It's like reading about Nixon's administration.Bits:"The situation got so bad that even Premier Konoe, who had a good personal relationship with the military, was reduced to asking the emperor what was going on.""Although Tojo Hideki was both prime minister and an active duty general, for example, the navy did not inform him of the defeat at Midway till a month later."A Japanese propaganda campaign in China had the message "Same script, same race. Destroy communism, restore peace." "Passengers on streetcars were required to stand and bow reverently when passing the Imperial Palace or Yasukuni Shrine. The conductor used to say, 'We are now passing the Imperial Palace. Please bow.'"In China, "'every single horse fit for army duty has been blinded.'"On the retreat in China and Korea: "'The Imperial Army's front line troops and the Kempeitai, riding in trucks and ox carts, overtook the (many Japanese) refugees and knocked and kicked them out of the way so they could escape.'""The jushin shared Konoe's dread that if the war was not ended, domestic unrest might sweep away the throne and everything else with it. This was their reason for ending the war. Not to save the Japanese people from more allied air raids and naval bombardment; not even to avoid a last-ditch ground battle across the crowded home islands. Japan's leaders showed a supreme indifference to the suffering and despair of the populace to the very end. That callous determination was unshaken by two atomic bombings. The "national polity" took precedence over the people."Teikoku Bank robbery of 1948 is interesting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadamic...

  • Joseph
    2018-11-29 06:35

    Phenomenal Account of the Pacific WarVery rarely does one get to consider war from alternate perspectives, though Saburo Ienaga's book provides just that. Written from a critical Japanese perspective, Pacific War provides insight into the true depth of the atrocities committed by all sides in the Pacific theater of World War II. I highly recommend this book to any students of history, or those with an interest in WWII.

  • Tim Robinson
    2018-12-04 01:27

    Saburo Ienaga argues that Japan’s war ran from the Manchurian Incident in 1931 through to the Japanese surrender in 1945 without a significant break or change of policy. War with Britain and the US in 1941 was a side show. The real war was always in China.But Ienaga also maintains that anti-communism was the driving force in the minds of the Japanese military. The War was therefore the war against Mao ; Manchuria a bastion against Stalin; the Pacific theatre a mere diversion ; the Japanese Empire in Southeast Asia a mere accident. This surely cannot be true.Ienaga is a peace campaigner and he therefore portrays the war as a folly, a crime and a disaster. It was all those things, but by leaving out the heroism and the action he makes the war much less interesting. That makes for a disappointing and unbalanced read.The way the military controlled the civilian government was very interesting. Anyone who wanted to be Prime Minister needed to appoint a cabinet, and that meant he had to appoint a Minister of Defence. But the Minister of Defence had to be a serving officer, which meant he could only be appointed with the approval of the military. If the armed forces command disapproved of a Prime Minister, they had only to announce that no officer was willing to be Minister of Defence, and that brought down the government.Not only did the army bully the civilian government, but didn’t even keep them informed. One civilian minister did not find out about the Japanese defeat at Midway until a month later. Another didn’t find out about the defeat at Leyte Gulf until after the war was over!But the Japanese top brass didn’t have things all their own way. The invasion of Manchuria was agreed policy, but the timing was decided by local commanders acting on their own initiative. This insubordination was never prosecuted. Military strategy, even foreign policy, was decided by young hot-heads in the field. The government just followed along. Aggression was always rewarded, caution was always punished. In retrospect, it is remarkable that Japan never had a proper dictator, not even a Churchill or a Roosevelt. In theory, the Emperor was the source of all authority. In practice, no one was really in charge. By contrast, Hitler kept the Wehrmacht under civilian control and all military and policy decisions were taken in Berlin.To accept the American oil embargo in 1941 would mean defeat in China, and it was easier for the Japanese military to open a new front than to accept defeat on the old one. No one was at all certain of beating the United States at sea, yet no one dared to say that it couldn’t be done. War with the US was the logical next step. Japan would muddle through somehow. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour therefore corresponds to Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union: a fatal broadening of the conflict in response to disappointing progress on existing fronts.Ienaga says the human rights abuses by the army were a natural consequence of the human rights abuses within the army. Officers despised the NCOs, who bullied the regular troops, who beat the raw recruits, who murdered, robbed and raped the conquered peoples. The attitude that might is right – the only right – permeated the whole of Japanese society. This is a plausible explanation. What Ienaga does not say is that the whole concept of “rights” is of Western origin and had never been a part of the Japanese tradition. Instead, the Japanese had privileges (granted and revoked by the Emperor) and good manners (which only applied to equals and superiors). It seems that Confucian benevolence and Buddhist compassion did not have strong roots in Japan.

  • Jack
    2018-12-07 01:29

    The Pacific War. I had visions of Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Iwo Jima, and other terrific island campaign battles. Not the case for this book. China is the majority combat subject of this book. Later, the author discusses how the populace was motivated by the ruling military elites, was fed propaganda, and overall a dormant automaton that followed Imperial orders. Also discussed are the few glimmers of protest against a hostile Imperial government. The author discusses why he names this text the Pacific War, but I am not sure I agree about his name choice because of the aforementioned reasons.What I do like and agree with are his discussion points. The Greater East-Asian War (more fitting name for his book) started in 1931 when Japan took over Manchuria creating the puppet state Manchukuo. At the time of Japan's surrender, Japan had been at war for fifteen years. Our war with Japan was a tiny subset of a very long Japanese war with China. What is also discussed is the hostility and terror the Japanese inflicted upon their new subjects. The claim the Japanese used for fighting against European colonialism was only a façade since all conquered territories simply became Japanese colonies. Very interesting.I went looking for a book on the Pacific War but found quite a bit more.

  • Jessica
    2018-11-30 23:22

    I love an historian who is unafraid of political motives... Saburo Ienaga, a renowned Japanese historian, wrote a textbook that included the atrocities that took place between 1931 and 1945 at the hands of the Japanese. His textbook, however, went through tremendous revision at the hands of the government and the atrocities were left out. Ienaga uses this book to tell the story he was unable to tell in the classroom. Pacific War does not lack for descriptions of Japanese war atrocities and he does not want the Japanese public to forget its past.This is not a typical World War 2 book. Ienaga is a social historian and his focus, thankfully, stays away from battle details and military strategy. (I'm no military historian either!) He provides an intriguing explanation for why the Japanese public and civilian government did very little to prevent the war. But spends more time discussing the details of the atrocities that took place at Japanese hands and how the war impacted the Japanese public. A worthwhile read... a good addition to any historian's World War 2 collection.

  • Michalyn
    2018-11-21 05:42

    A fascinating look at World War II from an "insider's" perspective--the book was first published in Japan for Japanese readers. Saburo's strength is his ability to give a sense of the internal struggles taking place in Japan at the time, but his weakness is his tendency to be too polemical. If you're looking for an unbiased account of both the situation in Japan as well as international dynamics this is not the book, but it's still a lively read and valuable if only for its different perspective.

  • Will Corvin
    2018-12-03 23:39

    I could feel Saburo Ienaga's deep regret while reading this book. He does a great job of illustrating Japan's role in the war - especially when considering the atrocities committed. This book is a great rallying cry to remember the misdeeds of WWII Japan, and a great resource to understand the Pacific War from a relatively naive American like myself (Ienaga also does a great job of pointing out the US's misdeeds as well).

  • Sara Thompson
    2018-11-17 23:34

    Honestly my least favorite book so far. I read it a long time ago for a college course. I have disliked it since. However I blame a lot of that on translation. I does deserve a second read to see if that was what it was that bothered me. It also does have a lot of really good facts you won't forget. It may not be all that bad, just wasn't my cup of tea at the time. I think a second read is in need.

  • Kumiko
    2018-11-15 01:25

    Ienaga writes in a more pessimistic tone than most do when writing about their countries. But he lived through these times and has a negative view of what he experienced, so it shows. The good thing is that he is not afraid to hide the bad events that happened during the Pacific War that the Japanese Government choose to leave out in their history books.

  • Rob Roy
    2018-11-13 06:26

    For those who love to read about World War II, this book is a must read. Instead of retelling the same facts that we’ve read and heard over and over, Saburo Ienaga tells the Pacific War from the Japanese point of view, with chilling frankness. This is not revisionist history, but rather a frank portrayal of a nations wrongs both to others and to its own people.

  • morning Os
    2018-12-01 00:25

    Ahhh! so easy to read in japanese.I don't really know how to rate this one so ignore my three stars. -- it has a clear political message (which kobayashi yoshinori hates); as a result it lacks some nuances; but it is a classic piece.

  • Amber
    2018-11-12 03:42

    This is a rare criticism of Japan's role in World War II by a Japanese scholar. He brings up some great points and covers a wide array of causes of the war, including both military and societal impetus. However, he sometimes goes into too much personal lamenting or condemning for my taste.

  • Tricia
    2018-11-28 23:22

    Very interesting, but a hard read.

  • David
    2018-12-08 01:30

    read while keeping in mind the author's far left POV, otherwise a good cautionary tale of government run amok

  • Cliff
    2018-11-17 01:22

    Great book, I would recommend this for any buff of ww2. A unique perspective.Cliff

  • Joe
    2018-12-03 03:43

    A very interesting read for those interested in Japan's role in the war.