- The Quest for the Lost Nation: Writing History in Germany and Japan in the American Century
This study of the way in which historians in Germany and Japan engaged their respective national histories after World War II originally appeared in Germany in 1999. It is a careful and detailed analysis of post-1945 historiography in Germany and Japan (the author has the unusual advantage of being fluent in Japanese), relating developments before 1960 to prior developments and concluding with a brief survey of the decades after 1960. The focus on Germany is restricted almost entirely to the West German Federal Republic, with only incidental references to East Germany. Conrad's aim is to illuminate how historians in both Germany and Japan struggled to resolve issues of a proud national past in the wake of utter defeat and total occupation. Although Conrad mentions the initial differences between the three western occupation zones in Germany, he shows how American influence came to affect all of West Germany as it did Japan, which was not divided into zones.
Much of the work and debate in the immediate postwar period centered on the origins of the modern state—the foundation of a unified Germany by Otto von Bismarck and the Meiji Restoration in Japan. Conrad stresses the influence of a small number of returning émigrés in Germany alongside Gerhard Ritter and a few others (full disclosure: this reviewer studied at the University of Chicago under Hans Rothfels, who is prominent in the book). In Japan, Marxist-oriented historians, who had been driven out of the profession, came to occupy key positions after 1945 and continued to have major influence for decades. Both countries evinced important continuities as well as some innovations, especially in social and economic history, attention to everyday life, and women's and gender history in Germany (as contrasted with an earlier [End Page 299] tradition of women's history in Japan). In both countries, the concept of the country and its population as victims, in contrast with any focus on those who had been the country's victims in war, came to play a major role—and still does.
In this effort to illuminate the stages through which historical work moved within a comparative framework, Conrad stresses the similarities rather than the differences that have informed discussion of the greater willingness of Germany than of Japan to confront the past. This stress would have been more convincing had he engaged the difference in government actions. Tokyo made endless difficulties for Ienaga Saburo, who published an honest and critical book—published in English as The Pacific War 1931-1941 (New York, 1978)—whereas Bonn established the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (Federal Institute for Political Education) that tried to enlighten Germans about the realities of the country's past. In spite of this and other minor reservations, this is a fine comparative study that will make readers think.