Dower lectures on modern relevance of the U.S. occupation of Japan

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Professor John Dower of MIT lectured students on the U.S. occupation of Japan yesterday, bringing home its relevance to a modern audience by comparing the occupation in Japan to the occupation in Iraq. Speaking to a standing-room only crowd in the Scheuer Room, he began with a brief overview of the conclusions presented in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II”, and concluded with a slide show presentation.

Dower summarized the different circumstances surrounding the current occupation in Iraq versus the post-World War II occupation in Japan, emphasizing a few key points. He asserted that no one questioned the legitimacy of the U.S. occupation in Japan after World War II: World War II was a formal war recognized by the world, and the Japanese government presented unconditional surrender to the Allied Forces. Unlike the government in Iraq, the Japanese government, including the emperor and the bureaucratic organization, remained relatively intact. Also, there was no strong violent group that wanted to usurp power from the U.S. Dower also explained that there were aspects of democracy apparent in Japanese history – a trend absent from Iraqi history. Finally, he detailed the differing economic policies used in Iraq and Japan. Most notably, Japan was allowed no privatization, and the “state had a proper role in planning out the economy”. Reconstruction in Iraq is done by outside private contractors, while the reconstruction in Japan was the responsibility of the Japanese people. Dower’s arguments warn that it would be misleading to assume that a successful occupation in Japan would lead to a likewise successful occupation in Iraq.

Dower used the slide show to describe the different cultures and attitudes in Japan during the U.S. occupation. Using images from his book, he explained the “kyodatsu” condition, characterized by depression and despair, felt by many Japanese living in the devastation that followed the war. Although depression and despair were inevitably widespread, other images illustrated the sense of hope and relief that the Japanese felt after their liberation from a government focused on war. He also showed slides that demonstrated the use of propaganda by both the U.S. and Japan during World War II, and how both sides struggled to change the demonized images of their former enemies into more welcoming images of friendship during the occupation. He concluded the slide show after describing the rise of indulgence, eroticization and feminization of Japan, subordination to the U.S., and the psychological implications of unlearning the previously indoctrinated nationalistic values of the former militaristic government.

A brief question and answer session followed the lecture in which audience members were invited to express their thoughts on the topic. One older gentleman commented on how close U.S. ties remain with Japan after the Occupation, saying, “Today, we have so much from Japanese culture. It’s amazing how it’s a two-way process.” Ahhmed Brown ’07, who is currently taking a sociology class on post-World War II Japanese culture, appreciated the lecture, stating, “He provided perspectives on historical issues in reference to contemporary issues.”

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