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  • Casualties of History: Wounded Japanese Servicemen and the Second World War by Lee K. Pennington
  • Christopher Aldous (bio)
Casualties of History: Wounded Japanese Servicemen and the Second World War. By Lee K. Pennington. Cornell University Press, Ithaca NY, 2015. xviii, 280 pages. $39.95.

This is a rich, insightful analysis of a much-neglected subject, the experience of "wounded Japanese servicemen" during what the author refers to as the "Second World War." Both phrases are carefully explained and justified in the introduction, the author navigating the Japanese terminology around wartime casualties and settling on shōi gunjin (literally, "injured and sick serviceman") as the nearest equivalent to "disabled veteran" in English despite its "deflective" purpose. The focus of the book is further narrowed to examine physically disabled veterans of the Imperial Japanese Army, particularly war amputees, but the reader is assured that this is not to the complete exclusion of other communities of disabled veterans with cognitive, mental, and sensory impairments—these are mentioned on occasion to illuminate broader trends relating to their experiences and how they were represented in wartime culture. A persuasive case is made for "amputee soldiers" affording "an ideal focus for drawing attention to the historical experience of wounded soldiers and disabled veterans with physical disabilities" (p. 5), and also such an approach provides opportunities to draw on the life history of particular individuals. At the same time, such a selective perspective necessarily narrows the range of experience of wartime disability and so renders the study less comprehensive and definitive.

To set the book's chronological parameters, the author specifies the years 1937–45 and opts for the term "Second World War" to delineate this period, eschewing the "fifteen-year war" alternative for a number of understandable reasons: there were relatively few military casualties between the invasion of Manchuria in September 1931 and the outbreak of the China Incident in July 1937, relevant initiatives rose significantly in line with a steep increase in casualties after that, and "these years roughly correspond to the timeframe of the Second World War as a global event" (p. 9). While the term "Asia-Pacific War" may be less familiar to readers—as is claimed—it is preferable to "Second World War," particularly as the book's chief focus is on the early years of the war in China and much less attention is paid to developments after the onset of the Pacific War in December 1941. In any case, this is a monograph less likely to appeal to a general readership than to those already engaged in research on modern Japan.

These reservations aside, Casualties of History breaks new ground in terms of our understanding of how soldiers with serious physical injuries [End Page 503] were cared for and reintegrated into Japanese society. As the author contends, it enriches the historiography of the "new military history" of wartime Japan, exploring the experience of those disabled by combat in terms of the medical organizations that rehabilitated them and the social and cultural milieu that valued and celebrated their sacrifice. It is a welcome addition to the social history of wartime Japan and also enhances our understanding of the administrative set-up by demonstrating how organizations for supporting wounded servicemen dovetailed with broader campaigns for wartime mobilization (chiefly in chapter 4). While more attention might have been paid to situating this work in relation to the historiography of military medicine and disability studies, its importance for understanding the significance of wounded servicemen for the social, cultural, and political history of this period is well established. Particularly impressive is the wide array of primary sources that underpin it, including medical textbooks, official studies of medical facilities, personal accounts of wounded soldiers and those that cared for them, information booklets about state support for disabled veterans and their families, popular magazines and journals, feature films, posters, and advertisements. Black-and-white images and color plates are effectively used alongside statistics and textual sources to buttress arguments, particularly in chapter 5, which describes how amputees and others were represented in wartime mass culture. Based on a PhD thesis entitled "Wartorn Japan: Disabled Veterans and Society 1931–1952" (Columbia University, 2005), this work is...


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pp. 503-506
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