Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering: Japan in the Modern World

Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering: Japan in the Modern World

by John W. Dower

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“A series of astute academic essays on the forging of postwar Japan” from the winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, and Bancroft Prize (Kirkus Reviews).
Remembering and reconstructing the past inevitably involves forgetting—and nowhere more so than in the complex relationship between the United States and Japan since the end of World War II. In this provocative and probing series of essays, John W. Dower—one of our leading historians of postwar Japan and author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Embracing Defeat—explores the uses and abuses to which this history has been subjected and, with deliberation and insight, affirms the urgent need for scholars to ask the questions that are not being asked.
Using E. H. Norman, the unjustly neglected historian of prewar Japan, as a starting point, Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering sets out both to challenge historiographical orthodoxy and reveal the configurations of power inherent in scholarly and popular discourse in Japan and America. It is a profound look at American and Japanese perceptions—past and present—of key moments in their shared history. An incisive investigation of the problems of public history and its role in a modern democracy, these essays are essential reading for anyone interested in postwar US-Japan relations, as well as the broader discipline of history.
“A set of serious, cautionary reflections from a superb historian.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595588111
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 12/09/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 482
Sales rank: 371,553
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

John W. Dower is Professor Emeritus of History at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His interests lie in modern Japanese history and U.S.-Japan relations. He is the author of several books, including War Without Mercy and Embracing Defeat, which was the recipient of numerous honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Bancroft Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History, and the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Prize. He lives in Boston.

Read an Excerpt



E.H. Norman, appointed Canadian ambassador to Egypt in 1956, committed suicide in Cairo on April 4, 1957, after being accused in Senate hearings in the United States of being untrustworthy and possibly a Communist spy. He was forty-seven years old, and had been deeply involved in addressing the crisis that erupted in 1956 when the United Kingdom, France, and Israel invaded Egypt after the Egyptian president Gambal Nassar nationalized the Suez Canal. Norman's mentor and staunch supporter, the Canadian diplomat and later prime minister Lester Pearson, was awarded the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize for his leading role in creating the United Nations emergency force that defused the crisis and became the prototype for later UN peacekeeping activities.

The McCarthyist accusations against Norman referred back to the mid-1930s, when Norman became involved in left-wing and Communist activities while a student at Cambridge University's Trinity College, where he was awarded a B.A. in classics in 1935. Born and raised in Japan in a missionary family, and fluent in Japanese, in 1933 Norman had completed an earlier B.A. in classics at the University of Toronto's Victoria College. In 1936, he became a graduate student at Harvard, where he earned a doctorate in Japanese history in 1940. His dissertation was published that same year by the International Secretariat of the Institute of Pacific Relations, under the title Japan's Emergence as a Modern State: Political and Economic Problems of the Meiji Period. Stylistically eloquent, and intellectually enriched by Norman's deep familiarity with Western history and historiography, Japan's Emergence drew on a range of Japanese sources including scholarship by Marxist historians who until the 1930s — when the imperial state succeeded in suppressing the "dangerous thoughts" of the academic and political left — had engaged in rigorous debates about state formation, authoritarianism, capitalism, and "incomplete revolution" in the decades that followed the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

Between 1940 and 1949, despite now being embarked on a diplomatic career, Norman wrote a number of incisive long essays on late feudal and early modern Japan. On the one hand, he devoted close attention to the "feudal background" of post-Restoration Japanese politics. At the same time, however, he took care to introduce vivid case studies of grassroots protest and agitation. One of these treatments dealt with millennial movements ("mass hysteria"); another with an iconoclastic eighteenth-century physician and scholar (Ando Shoeki) outraged by the social injustice of his times; another with peasant protest and the post-Restoration introduction of military conscription in a society hitherto dominated by a samurai caste; yet another with one of the earliest radical right-wing societies of the modern era (the Genyosha). The "freedom and people's rights" (jiyu minken) movement of the 1870s and 1880s that the Meiji oligarchs effectively stifled by creating a Prussian-inspired constitutional monarchy under the emperor was a major example, in Norman's telling, of an indigenous tradition of liberal political protest.

Following Japan's defeat in 1945, Norman was posted to Tokyo as the Canadian representative to the U.S.-led Allied occupation that lasted until 1952. There, his personal counsel coupled with his historical writings — especially Japan's Emergence — were regarded with enormous respect. In the critical early years of the occupation, Norman's pioneer study of 1940 became a bible of sorts to many reformist American planners and administrators who found themselves engaged in attempting to "democratize" Japan. This was an exceptional moment indeed: where an authoritarian and aggressively expansionist state had been shattered; where the conquerors held unprecedented authority; where progressive political idealism prevailed for a while; and where pragmatic thinking about the future as well as the here and now demanded keen analysis of the nation's recent and more distant past.

Norman's writings spoke to this challenging moment in several compelling ways. His argument that the Meiji state had imposed "revolution from above," and in the process snuffed out a more thoroughgoing revolution from below, encouraged postwar reformers who saw the occupation as an opportunity to complete this thwarted revolution by doing away with the undemocratic institutional legacies of the Meiji state. Simultaneously, his documentation of popular protests dating back to feudal times gave substance to the argument that promoting democracy, pluralism, and greater egalitarianism in the form of civil and human rights in defeated Japan was not an ethnocentric exercise in trying to impose alien "Western" beliefs and values on an incorrigibly backward and inherently hierarchical society. Far more than most of his missionary, diplomatic, and academic peers, Norman conveyed genuine respect for the aspirations and capabilities of ordinary Japanese. His Japanese acquaintances, many of them scholars, spoke and wrote movingly about him after his death. In the words of one of these mourners, a good part of Norman's writings on Japan had been "in praise of lesser names."

My interest in Norman was kindled in the late 1960s, and the excerpt that follows here is taken from a long rumination — almost one hundred pages overall — by a newly minted historian just embarking on an academic career. In the small world of Japanese studies, this essay was regarded as mildly incendiary. It was, in any case, impolitic; and now, decades later, it may seem to be little more than a musty sample of historiographic debates of a bygone time. Still, I have titled this collection Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering, and this early piece marks a moment shortly after I had turned to history from an original concentration on literature — the moment, more or less, when I began asking myself what doing history really entails as a discipline, and how fixing on a subject simultaneously involves neglecting other subjects and lines of inquiry. In Japanese academic parlance, which I was absorbing at the time, this is called mondai ishiki, "problem consciousness." Remembering — or constructing or reconstructing the past, as we would say these days — inevitably involves neglecting and forgetting. The focused gaze and averted gaze go hand in hand.

The interest in Norman, in any case, came unexpectedly and from divergent directions. For by the late 1960s, Norman himself was for all practical purposes forgotten in U.S. academic circles. Japan's Emergence was out of print. Neither this nor any of Norman's other writings were assigned or discussed in the graduate history classes I attended at Harvard; I do not recall them even being recommended. There were ostensibly plausible reasons for this virtual blackout, of course: a fair number of historians, political scientists, and economists writing in English had entered the Japan field since Norman's pioneer work was published, and they tapped into a range of new primary and secondary Japanese resources that Norman himself, with his catholic eclecticism, would surely have found fascinating. At the same time (as I would discover), the thrust of this postwar and post-occupation scholarship was fundamentally hostile to Norman's critique of the authoritarian legacies of the Meiji state.

It is possible to name and quite precisely date the problem consciousness that ruled the day during my years as a neophyte student of Japanese history. The methodological gospel was "modernization theory," and six international conferences beginning in 1960 were devoted to applying this to Japan; this is where the bulk of funding for historical research lay. In the essay from which the excerpt that follows here was taken, I spelled out my reservations about modernization theory by bringing Norman back into the picture — by "remembering" him, as it were; and more particularly, by calling attention to the kind of questions he posed, which had negligible place in a "modernization of Japan" paradigm that emphasized the positive accomplishments of the prewar state rather than its calamitous descent into repression, militarism, and war. The full essay appeared as the introduction to a volume of Norman's writings I edited and published in 1975 under the title Origins of the Modern Japanese State: Selected Writings of E.H. Norman, in which Japan's Emergence in its entirety was brought back into print.

As it happened, this lengthy introduction was not what I originally envisioned, and turned out to be a learning experience in how putting words to history may lead in unanticipated directions. Using Norman to critique modernization theory was not a simple polemical tactic, that is, for I was not initially drawn to his writing with this in mind. On the contrary, I first encountered Japan's Emergence serendipitously after deciding to conduct research that included the occupation of Japan. This opened my eyes to Norman's influence in the 1940s, which in turn introduced me in the most concrete way imaginable to the "uses of history" — a phrase and practice that oddly did not get much explicit attention in our classes. Reprinting this monograph, I thought, would be a useful contribution to future understanding of U.S. policymaking in the early occupation. This was the almost humdrum beginning that ultimately culminated in the long disquisition about the uses of history not only in Norman's time, but in my own. I began writing what the publisher and I anticipated would be a short preface during winter break in 1973 (the year following completion of my dissertation) — and finished writing during spring recess, albeit over a full year later.

Part of this unexpectedly prolonged labor involved finding and reading everything Norman had written as a historian, including talks he had given in Japan. Part, obviously, involved rethinking the uses of Japanese history in my own Cold War times, a quarter century after Norman's heyday. It is entertaining to recall now how passionately modernization theory was proselytized as "empirical" and "value-free" scholarship in those years, but to challenge this then was heresy. The most unsettling historical byway that demanded exploration, however, was how McCarthyism had crippled the field of Asian studies (as well as Asia policy overall) in the United States. Norman's suicide in 1957 gave a tragic human face to this witch hunt, but the broader inquisition began several years earlier in the hysterical U.S. response to the "loss of China" to Communism in 1949. This devastating assault on the Asia field included Senate hearings in 1952 that targeted the several decades of wide-ranging critical scholarship and commentary on Asia conducted by the prestigious Institute of Pacific Relations, under whose auspices Japan's Emergence had been published. (The attack on Norman that precipitated his suicide came in a later round of Senate hearings.)

This bitter history also was never mentioned in our graduate classes. It was understandably painful to senior scholars. It also was awkward to acknowledge — for, at least as I came to see it, this helped explain why modernization theory fit so nicely with Cold War policy, and how it helped bring the funding that McCarthyism had cut off back into the field of Asian studies. Norman and his cohort in the 1940s had been riveted by the disastrous outcome of imperial Japan's modernization and Westernization — as well as by the misery, corruption, and chaos in China that paved the way for the Communist success. The modernization theorists, by contrast, were fixated on repudiating Marxist theory and simultaneously delineating Japan's fundamentally positive accomplishments ever since the Meiji era — thus, ipso facto, valorizing Japan as a non-Western capitalist counter-model to China. Where Japan was concerned, Norman and his generation asked: what went wrong? The modernization theorists essentially focused on asking: what went right? It all depends, in the end, on the questions.

Norman is now largely forgotten again in the United States. So is the impact of McCarthyism on the field of English-language Asian studies, and so is the modernization-theory vogue that seemed to be the be-all and end-all of scholarly inquiry when I was entering the field. Indeed, the turbulent 1960s in which my generation of American academics came of age — roiled by the Vietnam War, civil rights movement, and feminist movement — has been pretty much consigned to the memory hole where doing history, certainly Asian history, is concerned. But the uses and abuses of history, the inescapable politics of scholarship, the need to constantly ask what is not being asked — these never go away. That, at least, is what I concluded when discovering E.H. Norman's writings led me to inquire how we forget, and how we remember, the past.

* * *

The publication of Japan's Emergence as a Modern State in 1940 established E.H. Norman, then thirty-one years old, as the preeminent Western scholar of modern Japan. For more than a decade this work remained perhaps the greatest single influence upon English-language interpretations of the transition from Tokugawa feudalism through the Meiji period. Drawing to a considerable extent upon the research of Japanese scholars, some of whom worked within the Marxist tradition, Japan's Emergence was translated into Japanese in 1947 and had a reciprocal influence upon postwar Japanese historiography. Norman, one can assume, must have been gratified by this, for he had a gift, and indeed a passion, for intellectual sharing.

In 1943 Norman published a small study, Soldier and Peasant in Japan: The Origins of Conscription, which received lesser attention in the West but is regarded by some Japanese scholars as perhaps even more original than Japan's Emergence; the Japanese translation appeared in 1948. In 1944 he prepared a lengthy draft manuscript, Feudal Background of Japanese Politics, for presentation at the January 1945 Hot Springs conference of the Institute of Pacific Relations. Sections of this were appended to the Japanese edition of Japan's Emergence, and two articles in English ("Mass Hysteria in Japan" and "The Genyosha: A Study in the Origins of Japanese Imperialism") derived from this manuscript. The entire work was never made generally available in English, however, and its unpublished chapters are reproduced in this present volume for the first time. In 1949 Norman published a study of a virtually unknown, iconoclastic eighteenth-century intellectual, Ando Shoeki and the Anatomy of Japanese Feudalism; he was attracted to Ando because he found him "a bold and original mind," a man who had endeavored to construct "a philosophy vindicating resistance to unbridled authority and oppression." Ando has been relatively ignored in the West, being seen as the portrait of a man of little influence; in Japan, where the translation appeared almost simultaneously, it has been read differently and, like Soldier and Peasant, treated as a work of considerable originality and import. During the early 1950s, Norman published several general historical essays in Japanese scholarly journals, and in 1956 these appeared in a popular edition under the title Kurio no Kao (The Face of Clio). The essays are virtually unknown in the West, and one, the preface to the Japanese edition, is reproduced here; the original English manuscripts of several of these pieces have been utilized in the discussion which follows. Although these works represent Norman's major written legacy, he also prepared a number of reviews, lectures, and reports which are generally neglected or inaccessible, but also illuminate his qualities as an historian and as a man. During this entire period, Norman served as a diplomat for the Canadian government, reaching the peak of his career as Ambassador to Egypt during the Suez crisis of 1956–57. He died in 1957, in Cairo, by suicide, after a period of recurrent pressure emanating from the United States because of his early leftist views and associations.

Norman's death and the subsequent neglect of his work in the West provide a saddening chapter on both the politics of the postwar era and the politics of postwar American scholarship on Japan. These, however, seem better left for later discussion, for they are negative concerns and what is memorable about Norman, what makes this present reissue of some of his major writings especially welcome, is his positive contribution to an understanding of Japan and of the tasks of the historian. In his own words, Norman was "addicted to history," and the brief tribute to Clio with which this present volume begins suggests the devotion with which he pursued this avocation and the intimate link which he perceived as existing between historical consciousness and man's fate. Although Japan was his field of specialization, it can be said of Norman as of few other recent Western scholars of Japan that the whole of man's historical experience was his province. Although he did his doctoral work in Japanese history at Harvard (with a period of research at Columbia), his prior training was in the classical British tradition, at Victoria College in Toronto and Trinity College in Cambridge, and his earlier academic background lay in ancient and medieval European history. He read in Latin, Greek, French, and German, and used also Italian and Chinese. His parents were missionaries in Nagano prefecture, and his solid command of Japanese derived from having lived in Japan from birth until his mid-teens. Throughout his writings there breathes both an enviable knowledge of the experience of the West as well as East, and a sense of humility before the "delicate tracery" of history and the complexity of historical change. "He was a historian of the world before he was a historian of Japan," Maruyama Masao wrote in a moving tribute after Norman's death, and his profound erudition "was always there under the surface, gleaming like silver through the interstices of his conversation."


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Table of Contents

1. E.H. Norman, Japan, and the Uses of History,
2. Race, Language, and War in Two Cultures: World War II in Asia,
3. Japan's Beautiful Modern War,
4. "An Aptitude for Being Unloved": War and Memory in Japan,
5. The Bombed: Hiroshimas and Nagasakis in Japanese Memory,
6. A Doctor's Diary of Hiroshima, Fifty Years Later,
7. How a Genuine Democracy Should Celebrate Its Past,
8. Peace and Democracy in Two Systems: External Policy and Internal Conflict,
9. Mocking Misery: Grassroots Satire in Defeated Japan,
10. Lessons from Japan About War's Aftermath,
11. The Other Japanese Occupation,

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"Scrupulously researched and bravely presented scholarship."
Publishers Weekly

"No historian writes with more authority than this leading U.S. historian of modern Japan. . . . A set of serious, cautionary reflections from a superb historian."

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