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  • The Unpredictability of the Past: Memories of the Asia-Pacific War in U.S.-East Asian Relations ed. by Marc Gallicchio
  • Naoko Shibusawa
The Unpredictability of the Past: Memories of the Asia-Pacific War in U.S.-East Asian Relations. Edited by Marc Gallicchio. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Starting with the premise that “the so-called memory wars are a significant factor in current Asian affairs,” this collection of essays explores how collective memories of the Asia-Pacific War have influenced international relations among the United States, China, and Japan since 1945. As editor Marc Gallicchio also points out in his introduction, collective memories are often “culturally and politically sensitive, especially since what is remembered is crucial to a society’ identity and sense of self” (5). The volume’ title, “the unpredictability of the past” emphasizes a principle accepted by all the essayists: the constructed nature of memories and thus their inherent lability over time.

Emily Rosenberg’ opening essay examines the changeable nature of collective memories and their multifaceted dimensions. She analyzes a renewed American interest in Pearl Harbor in the decade before 9/11 in four contexts: the bilateral U.S.-Japan relations during the 1990s, the effusive celebration of World War II’ “the greatest generation”; the history wars over which narratives deserve official or mainstream acceptance; and the 2001 Hollywood spectacle, Pearl Harbor. In all contexts, she demonstrates how contemporary needs dictate interpretations of the past.

The next three essays explore how received notions of the past have shaped U.S. and Japanese officials in their policymaking toward the other nation. In their respective essays, Haruo Iguchi, Frank Ninkovich, and Takuya Sasaki argue that memories of a compatible relationship prior to war informed U.S. policymakers’ decisions about Japan after the war. Iguchi shows that both Bonner Fellers and Herbert Hoover believed that FDR had unnecessarily prolonged the war by not guaranteeing the preservation of the imperial institution. They would have agreed with Gar Alperowitz’ 1962 argument that the atomic bombs had been unnecessary to end the war, but ironically, their desire for the war’ quick end was the very same reason that according to Alperowitz had caused the Truman administration to drop the bombs: to prevent the Soviet entry into the war. Ninkovich starts with the conundrum of seemingly profound racial hatreds dissolving so quickly after the war. He does not think, as John Dower and others have suggested, that this phenomenon demonstrates that memories have been the “pliant instruments of geopolitics and interests.” Perhaps finding these interpretations unduly negative, Ninkovich emphasizes instead that U.S. postwar policy toward Japan was guided by a “liberal vision of global modernization”—a vision he must see as largely positive since he suggests that it has universal appeal and validation (87, 111). To be sure, the U.S. policies emanating from this vision worked superbly for most Japanese, but not necessarily for victims of its imperial aggression. This fact is acknowledged in the following essay by Sasaki, who not only mentions the “distress” of other Asians at Japan’ refusal to “face up squarely” to its past, but also reminds us that the former colonials of Chinese and Korean ancestry continue to face discrimination in Japan. Still, perhaps due to Sasaki’ positionality (and gratitude) as a Japanese, he can call the postwar U.S. policy to transform Japan into an affluent and liberal democratic society “a brilliant success” (129, 137).

The following group of three essays focuses on how memories of the war have been set in concrete through memorials and museums. Xiaohua Ma traces the politics of commemorating the Sino-Japanese War since the 1980s in war museums in the United States, Japan, and China. While these particular politics appear to be national in the Asian nations, they seem to be ethnic in the United States, where they primarily engage Asian American—largely Chinese American—activists. Ma notes a retrenchment in recent years that has revived wartime animosities, as the debates on apologies and Japanese war crimes demonstrate. For example, the conciliatory tone of war museums in China (the 9.18 Historical Museum) and Japan (Peace Osaka) during the early 1990s have now been minimized or challenged. Waldo...

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