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  • Pedagogy of Democracy: Feminism and the Cold War in the U.S. Occupation of Japan
  • Patti Duncan (bio)
Pedagogy of Democracy: Feminism and the Cold War in the U.S. Occupation of Japan by Mire Koikari. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2008, 226 pp., $54.50 hardcover.

The postwar U.S. occupation of Japan has commonly been understood as a period of reform, during which U.S. military forces, led by General Douglas MacArthur, set out on a mission to bring order and democracy to Japanese citizens. Given the current U.S. occupation of Iraq and war in Afghanistan, Mire Koikari's examination and re-interpretation of this democratization process [End Page 204] is extremely timely. In her book Pedagogy of Democracy: Feminism and the Cold War in the U.S. Occupation of Japan, Koikari explores the ways in which the U.S. occupation represents a complex and at times contradictory "civilizing" mission, as well as an example of imperial democracy. Drawing attention to the many instances of historical amnesia, Koikari intervenes, from a critical feminist perspective, into multiple discourses and narratives about the occupation.

First, she disrupts conventional occupation studies, which as a field has failed to adequately address the centrality of women and gender and has therefore never been able to account for the ways in which military occupation is a deeply gendered and gendering process, informed as well by race, class, and sexuality. In this case, as Koikari highlights, Japanese and American women played central roles in postwar U.S.–Japan relations. Also, she critiques the extraordinarily powerful historical narrative that the U.S. occupation represented a generous and beneficent effort on the part of the United States to civilize Japan and to emancipate Japanese women. Why, she asks, do most scholars, including those in Japan, continue to suggest that the U.S. occupation was positive for Japanese women? Citing Susan Pharr's statement that the occupation was an instance of women's liberation, Koikari argues that any effort to instill foreign notions of democracy and gender equality is problematic and limited at best, and colonizing at worst.

Chapter 2 focuses on the figure of Beate Sirota Gordon, a member of the American occupation who was responsible for drafting the women's rights articles in Japan's new constitution. As Koikari points out, despite the fact that Gordon, a recent college graduate, had no legal or constitutional knowledge or experience and her only legal knowledge came from her high school social-studies classes, she was charged with the responsibility of emancipating Japanese women and subsequently has been celebrated as a pioneering feminist liberator of Japanese women. Likewise, MacArthur has been cast as having granted Japanese women the right to vote, despite that Japanese women leaders had been campaigning for suffrage even before the war. Despite the fact that many of the American women occupiers had no knowledge of Japan, no language skills, and no training for their jobs, they were seen as ideal teachers for Japanese women, and they took it upon themselves to implement gender equality in Japan (even though it was not written into the U.S. Constitution). The narrative thread underlying both discourses, as Koikari demonstrates, is the general notion that the American occupation was not only a civilizing mission, but one responsible for "saving" Japanese women from brutal and chauvinistic Japanese men and from their own culture, which was represented as backward and uncivilized. Furthermore, the traditional narrative relies on a total erasure of Japanese women's agency and organizing prior to the U.S. occupation.

Koikari does not, however, merely critique the idea that Gordon, MacArthur, and other members of the U.S. occupation were liberators of Japanese women; in particular, she complicates Gordon's actions, highlighting the fact [End Page 205] that Gordon, a Jewish woman born in Europe who grew up in Japan during the Second World War before immigrating to the United States, acted on behalf of U.S. cold war hegemony, yet also disrupted the narrative of the occupation. In Koikari's narrative, Gordon emerges as a somewhat ambiguous figure, deeply problematic in her reinforcement of colonialist and Orientalist frameworks, yet potentially transgressive in that she...


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