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Journal of Asian American Studies 5.1 (2002) 81-83

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Perilous Memories:
The Asia-Pacific-War(s)

Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific-War(s) edited by T. Fujitani, Geoffrey White, and Lisa Yoneyama. (Duke University Press 2001).

Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s) offers a vital reconsideration of the complex history which goes largely unrecognized and unconsidered in dominant U.S. narratives of World War II. Many of the volume's most trenchant reminders are pointedly historical, such as remembering that the war in Asia did not begin with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, but 10 years earlier, in 1931 with the Japanese invasion of northeast China. So too, the political geography of the war between the United States and Japan was laid much earlier in the century, with U.S. annexation of Hawaii, the Philippines, and Guam, with the Japanese annexation of Korea, and with the European competition for colonies across East and South-East Asia. If, as the editors state in their rich and nuanced introduction, such facts continue to matter, the volume ultimately addresses the complex question of memory rather than history. Situated between and beneath the "foundational" status of experience and the teleological closure of history, memory "intimates a fragmentary, less self-evident, repressed dimension of knowledge about the past" (18). The editors argue that "memory deployed as an interdisciplinary method—a method, at base, of cultural and political analysis—has invited new kinds of questions regarding what we believed we fully knew about the wars fought in the Asia and Pacific region over fifty years ago, as well as about the means presently used to recall and understand them" (2).

In something of an understatement, the editors note that "the works here do not always agree" on what it means to deploy memory as an interdisciplinary method. Indeed, various understandings of individual and collective memory, as well as official and repressed forms of memorialization, are deployed to sometimes contradictory ends. But as drawn together in the collection as a whole, these contradictions ultimately emerge as a productive injunction to confront the memory of the past not as a closed event, narrative, or gesture, but as a dynamic legacy with "perilous" efficacy in the present day. Nineteen ninety-five is the [End Page 81] important present moment of the collection. The fiftieth anniversary year of the end of World War II was the occasion for the conference from which the volume emerged and many of the essays comment directly on national, regional, and individual memorializing gestures of that year. But a "coincidental" event, the rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by three U.S. Marines in Okinawa in 1995, is raised by many of the writers as underlining the very present dangers of the Pacific War's legacy. The protests against the overwhelming U.S. military presence on Okinawa gain vital perspective in relation to Ishihara Masaie's discussion of the battle for Okinawa in 1945 and contemporary peace activism on the island, and Vicente Diaz's analysis of "Liberation Day" celebrations on Guam whose land and economy is likewise dominated in the present day by a U.S. military base. One of the writers to most directly consider the 1995 rape on Okinawa, Morio Watanabe, offers a more unexpected and very rich reading of the ways in which the war and its legacy is written and rewritten in Japanese popular culture forms, from school girl Sailor Moon to the "what if" novels set in the 1940s.

The most familiar points of contest in the memory of the Pacific War are given detailed attention, often with important fresh perspectives. The Japanese text book controversies, the historical record of the Nanjing Massacre, the demands for reparations for Korean "comfort women," the internment of Japanese Americans, the controversy over the display of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian, and the legacy of the atomic bombings receive sustained treatment in individual essays and serve as touchstones for many of the other discussions as exemplifying the fraught politics of memory. These issues foreground the often coercive...


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