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  • Erasure of Voice in Postwar JapanDerrida, Caruth, Ōe
  • Michiko Shimokobe (bio)


The attack on Pearl Harbor on December 8, 1941 (Japan time) marked the entry of the Empire of Japan into World War II. On August 14, 1945, Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration and surrendered to the Allied powers. How has Japan as a nation historicized the events of the war, the most important issue for the nation? The answer depends on which part of the entire course of the war you focus on: the outbreak of the war, the five years of being forced to endure ongoing warfare, or the conclusion to the war and the postwar period.

In an exchange of letters with Einstein ("Why War?"), Freud says, "There is no question of getting rid entirely of human aggressive impulses" (1933, 358). In Freud: A Life for Our Time, Peter Gay comments on Freud's reaction to the reality of World War II: "the war had degenerated into a conflict more bloody than any of its predecessors and had produced that 'virtually inconceivable phenomenon,' an outburst of hate and contempt for the enemy" (2006, 355). The phrase "virtually inconceivable phenomenon" expresses a violent and immediate hatred for the enemy; it is the most disagreeable form of what Freud refers to as "humanity aggressive impulses." In his essay on war, Freud focuses primarily on human nature, coming up against "the great changes that have already taken place or are beginning to" (1915, 61).

To research the causes of war and how war is executed is definitely a [End Page 73] fascinating theme for psychoanalysis. However, in this article, I will analyze the psychological mechanisms of individuals and nations at the termination of the war and its aftermath. How did World War II end from Japan's perspective, and how did Japan, a defeated nation, make the transition to postwar society?

"Why War?" mentions "an instinctual inclination" (Freud 1933, 350) within men that is satisfied by killing an enemy. With regard to Einstein's anxiety, Freud explains men's susceptibility to murderous hatred as follows:

You express astonishment at the fact that it is so easy to make men enthusiastic about a war and add your suspicions that there is something at work in them—an instinct for hatred and destruction—which goes halfway to meet the efforts of the warmongers.


If this is the case, it is important to examine how, once the war is over, the citizens of a defeated nation manage to deal with the "instinct for hatred and destruction" that spurred aggressive actions by the nation and individuals before and during the war.

There are two obstacles to constructing history after a defeat. First, it is difficult to put a stop to the powerful psychological energy retained in the collective that was supported during the war, by the aggression in the human mind. Second, complex psychological work is required to acknowledge the enemy as a real person because the nation has been exposed to distorted images and the exaggerated falsehoods of propaganda to emphasize patriotism. Seen in this light, Japan had fought for a great cause in World War II, but the following problems arose as the war drew to an end. How did Japan process the aggression at the time of the unconditional surrender? How were the images of the Americans, the former enemy, transformed in the minds of the Japanese?

The process of Japan's surrender at the end of World War II began on August 14, 1945, when the Japanese government notified the Allied powers that it would accept the Potsdam Declaration. On August 15, Japan's unconditional surrender was announced by Emperor Hirohito on the radio.1 On August 30, Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), arrived in Tokyo tasked with rebuilding the devastated nation. Following the surrender, President Truman approved the US [End Page 74] Initial Post-Surrender Policy for Japan on September 6.2 For the next six years until the end of the occupation in 1951, the military government was conducted solely by the United States. The occupation ended with the conclusion of the Treaty of San Francisco on September 8, 1951...


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