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  • From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor: Who Was Responsible?
  • J. Victor Koschmann
From Marco Polo Bridge to Pearl Harbor: Who Was Responsible? Edited by James E. Auer. Forward by Tsuneo Watanabe. Tokyo: The Yomiuri Shinbun, 2006. 410 pages. Hardcover $40.00/¥4,000.

For fourteen months in 2005-2006, a seventeen-member team of Yomiuri Shinbun journalists delved into the extensive documentation on Japan's mid-twentieth-century wars, beginning with the Manchurian Incident of 1931. Their aim was to clarify war responsibility. They published their findings in a twenty-seven-installment series in the Yomiuri newspaper and subsequently put them out in book form as well. This book comprises the English version of those findings.

As the subtitle suggests, this is not primarily a history of war in the Pacific, complete with the usual impersonal descriptions of battles, campaigns, and strategies. In fact, the narrative deals in a significant way with only a few major battles—Midway, Guadalcanal, and Okinawa—and also gives short shrift to economic and other structural forces. Instead, the book focuses wherever possible on individual actors' thoughts and actions, with relatively little attention to structural and institutional factors. In that respect, it is interesting to compare this volume to Ienaga Saburō's Taiheiyō sensō (The Pacific War), published in 1968 in Japanese (Iwanami Shoten) and 1978 in English translation (New York: Random House). Ienaga similarly adopted a broadly prosecutorial stance, naming names and assigning blame where he felt it was due. And yet, to an extent not evident in the Yomiuri volume, he also paid attention to long-term historical legacies and attitudes as well as institutional forces, especially the educational system. Even more significantly, perhaps, he tried to take into [End Page 504] account the attitudes and behavior of ordinary people. For him, an important question was: Why was the war not prevented? Since he assumed that properly functioning democratic processes would normally allow the citizenry to prevent needless warmongering, he was concerned to show how indoctrination in the school system, systematic trampling of civil and political rights, and erosion of democratic institutions effectively stifled popular resistance. One can certainly question Ienaga's assumptions about popular sentiments toward war and imperialism, among other matters, but his attempt to go beyond examination of elite decision-making to include institutions and the citizenry is realistic and laudable. The Yomiuri team does not entirely neglect institutions such as the press and the military, and briefly mentions the importance of wartime disregard for human rights, but it is hard to avoid the feeling that its relatively narrow focus on policy and command decision-making is inadequate and somewhat anachronistic.

In his afterword, the committee's chief writer, Asaumi Nobuo, relates that the study was intended to be the first major effort by Japanese themselves to review the historical record from the Manchurian Incident to the end of World War II and, on that basis, to "self-identify war responsibility." According to Asaumi, the hope was that this effort would contribute to "building a national consensus about what the past wars were all about" and on that basis "help Japan . . . to find a clear solution to the issue of visits by prime ministers to Yasukuni Shrine and to its diplomatic approaches to Asia" (p. 285).

Who, then, were the culprits? In the committee's view, General Tōjō Hideki was the person most responsible; former Prime Minister Konoe Fumimaro was next, followed by former Prime Minister Hirota Kōki, former Foreign Minister Shigemitsu Mamoru, former Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yōsuke, etc. The committee exonerates only two of the individuals who were tried and convicted by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal: General Kimura Heitarō, commander of the Burma Area Army from mid-1944, and former Finance Minister Kaya Okinori. The committee also goes beyond the Tokyo Tribunal in charging Prime Minister Suzuki Kantarō for his role in prolonging the war. Moreover, the committee points out that the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal focused on top decision-makers while failing to recognize fully the central role played by middle-ranked military officers. Among the latter, the Yomiuri committee singles out as especially culpable Army Colonel Ishihara Kanji for his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 504-506
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-16
Open Access
No
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