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Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  2,067 ratings  ·  138 reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the 1999 National Book Award for Nonfiction, finalist for the Lionel Gelber Prize and the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize, Embracing Defeat is John W. Dower's brilliant examination of Japan in the immediate, shattering aftermath of World War II.

Drawing on a vast range of Japanese sources and illustrated with dozens of astonishing documentary p
Paperback, 676 pages
Published June 17th 2000 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 1999)
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Community Reviews

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I posted some comments under updates (,
and so will not add a special review here. Suffice it to say, this is a book of real depth and intelligence, and is fully deserving of the many awards and prizes it won. Anyone who's interested in Japan (that's you,, or in the turns and events of the Postwar period, will gain immeasurably from reading this volume. One point that came through loud and clear is the degree to which the U.S., and its ideals
Quite simply the most in-depth, perceptive and brilliant study of the post-war US occupation and reconstruction of Japan after World War II. Even with almost 600 dense pages of academic but well-written erudition, it's not easy to tackle how Japan was transformed from a brutal imperialistic aggressor into a docile, cooperative, contrite and eager anti-Communist ally of the US, and how the decision to preserve the Japanese Emperor as a symbol of both Japan's rich cultural heritage and its new pea ...more
WWII left Japan decimated. Millions had died; millions were disabled, sick and starving; millions were stranded overseas facing reprisals; millions were missing including countless children; and millions were homeless, without family, without jobs, without anything. In the largest city, Tokyo, 65% of homes had been destroyed, in the second largest, Osaka, 57% and the third largest, Nagoya, 89%. Industry had been obliterated leaving few places to live or work. Those with the least suffered the mo ...more
Dower delves into the Japanese and American sources to reconstruct and explain the 6 years of American occupation after World War II. From Hirohito to MacArthur, democracy and emperor worship, writing a new constitution, war crimes and guilt; this book explained prevailing sentiments and consequences of decisions made high and low.

Why I started it: I'm trying to learn more about the history and culture of Japan. I was eager to pick up a book about the Japanese perspective and experience starting
Because I've not read other writing of any kind or description on WWII in the Pacific, I can't comment on the content. I can only describe my experience of reading this particular book. In sum, Dower's book is a brilliant, entirely engrossing historical narrative that fully merits reading and consideration. I would expect such a book to have garnered as many awards for exemplary historical scholarship and writing as there are organizations to present present them.

I can just barely begin to imagi
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 20, 2008 Diane rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: History buffs
The defeat was Japan's in WWII. The author describes the Japanese response to finding themselves a defeated nation, occupied by the the U.S. from 1946-1952. Although it was a long read, 564 pages, I found it well worth sticking with it. Each chapter was filled with such interesting stories and facts. The author dealt with such subjects as the Japanese having to digest their defeat after they had been told they were winning the war, the Emperor's admission he was not a god (a muddled confession!) ...more
Simply among the most spell-binding books ever. Arranged topically, Embracing Defeat proceeds both topically and chronologically from the end of the war to the signing of the peace treaty. The two most riveting chapters tell how fewer than 10 lawyers on MacArthur's staff (none experienced in Constitutional law) wrote Japan's post-war Constitution in under a week. One of those lawyers was a woman (she died in 2013)--she's responsible for Japan's strong woman's rights protections. On the other han ...more
Japan in the aftermath of WWII was full of contradictions, chaos and sweeping change. The American occupation that lasted from 1945 to 1952 forever changed the course of history in shaping Japan's future and consequently its role in the region and the world. The fate of Emperor Hirohito who was the subject of intense debate as to whether he was directly responsible for the war's atrocities, hung in the balance, with those favoring his preservation (including General MacArthur) in the name of Jap ...more
Dower has put together a great book on postwar Japan, which will undoubtedly remian definitive for quite a while. He smoothly interweaves different historical narratives of post-war Japan. He looks first at the social history, and uses that to build the political issues. His idea is that for a while Japan was a vibrant democracy and had all of those leanings. It was the paradox of revolution on high by the Americans, and the oncoming of the Cold War that killed the larger movement toward a freer ...more
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Winner of the National Book Award. John W. Dower is a named history professor @MIT, Japanologist, Japanophile. Won a slew of slightly less prestigious awards; wrote a Yoshida Shigeru biography. (Yoshida was from an old samurai family; had American contacts before the war, and after the defeat, was installed by the Allied Command as 'rehabilitated' and anti-Communist.)

Embracing Defeat is very tightly, elegantly written. explains culture of "decadence/defeat = kyodats
An outstanding, scholarly book with a lot of detail. Well researched, and deserving of the Pulitzer it won for general non-fiction in 2000.

This is the model on how to run an occupation for a defeated enemy (in the unlikely event that your country should find itself in that position). Get in - take charge of everything for awhile - maintain order and basic services so that you don't antagonize the people (this is where we blew it this time) - and the get out on your own terms within a decade.

This was the first Pulitzer Prize winning history book I ever read, and boy what a treat it was. John Dower spent nearly a decade exhaustively researching Imperial Japan in days following it's collapse after World War II. A theme emerges about what it was like to be "Japanese" after the war. This book is about "identity."

Allied forces thought it was imperative to keep Japan's Emperor in power as a figure heard of nationalism. Without a figurehead the Japanese people might descend into a sort of
If you are interested in Japan, this is a must-add to your bookshelf! Don't let its page count deter you. It is a gripping and fascinating read. (If only all historians wrote as well as Dower!) It illuminates the years between the immediate post-war devastation of Japan and its rise from the ashes in the mid-50s--and just how much the U.S. was involved in all of it. (For example: Did you know that the Japanese constitution was written by a handful of twenty-something Harvard grads in less than a ...more
Skuli Saeland
Fróðleg bók um umbrotatíma í Japan í kjölfar síðari heimsstyrjaldar. Dower fer ítarlega yfir kollsteypu japansks samfélags og hvernig það breytist í bókmenntum, iðnaði, fjölskyldutengslum o.s.frv. Hann fer einnig yfir hernám Bandaríkjamanna undir stjórn Douglas McArthurs hershöfðingja og einræðisstjórn hans í landinu þar til hann var rekinn úr starfi af Truman forseta.
Þetta rit snertir ótrúlega marga þætti í japönsku samfélagi og má nefna sem dæmi að Dower fer yfir leiki barna í Japan og hvernig
The list of prizes this book has won is a certain indication of its power. If you want to know about the power structure and dynamic tensions between the US and the countries of Asia, here's a book to open your eyes.

So much of USA's actions can be understood in the Cold War obsession with containing Communism. There's lots on that in this volume, too.

Japan still has the third-largest economy in the world after the US and the PRC. Japanese people have a longer life expectancy, a greater degree o
Esben Groendal
A very thorough book. Some parts where a bit dry, typical for most historical writing I suppose, but I think it stands out in this regard as for example the negotions over the new constitution were quite riveting to read! I imagine it could be the subject of a very interesting little animation movie.

I read this in conjunction with the forgotten Japanese to have a down to earth perspective on the societal changes the country went through.
Subsequently I am reading "Japanese management style" by Sh
What Americans have been taught about U.S. occupation of Japan is mostly wrong. Dower tells the truth from a perspective of respect and sympathy for the Japanese.
Tim Evanson
The 75th anniversary of the start of World War II was in 2014. Subsequently, there's been a cottage industry in works revisting the war for the past few years. It'll just get worse going forward.

Very few of these works can be said to contribute to our knowledge of the European war. The Pacific war is only grudgingly given any attention, and most of the works you'll see focus on minor battles, individual ships, and obscurities.

Peace-fighting is as important as war-fighting, and you'll only rarely
Peter Mottola
Thoroughly well-researched, "Embracing Defeat" gives an interesting vantage point into the Japan of the immediate post-war era. The ways that native Japanese viewed their occupiers, and the Democracy that came with them, reveal something about the sad state of Japan under the militarists, which strongly contradicts the caricatures of the Japanese that were proposed to the West through war propaganda.
Dower's book is full of many memorable vignettes. Among my favorites was an account of American o
Pierre Lauzon
Embracing Defeat is a worthy winner of the National Book Award. I have rarely read such a comprehensive but understandable history. The author is clearly a master of his subject and the book is well organized and edited.

The book covers the period of Japan’s surrender in 1945 until the occupation ended in 1952. I was struck by how impoverished Japan was at the time of its surrender – millions were literally starving amid a time of hyperinflation and black marketing. The book goes into some length
I listened to the audiobook of this, read by Edward Lewis.

This is a pretty exhaustive analysis of the culture and government of the American occupation of Japan following their defeat. It thoroughly outlines the victorious US' 'plan' for Japan, a grand experiment purporting to install democracy and democratic thinking in Japan. This was a huge undertaking and particular attention is paid to the shotgun-marriage constitution writing, the controversial policy of absolving Emperor Hirohito of any w
Sy De Witt
This is an absorbing read.....The author covers a very wide range of topics associated with the U.S. occupation of Japan following surrender in August 1945. The author maintains that retaining the Emperor as titular head of Japan was decided long before the actual surrender. He uses the term "dividing wedge" to describe the policy pursued by both the Japanese and SCAP (Supreme Commander, Allied Powers) to rehabilitate and retain the Emperor. He suggests that no meaningful investigation was carri ...more
John Dower's comprehensive study of the years during which the Japanese lived under American-led occupation is undoubtedly the masterwork from which many PhD studies have derived. It's a fascinating account of a devastated people wrestling with Japan's responsibility for the horrors that occurred before and during WWII's conflicts in the Pacific.

There's too much here to describe in detail. I'll highlight some points that I found particularly intriguing and capstone them with a general observatio
There are many books on the 1941-1945 war between the United States and Japan, but few (in English) about what happened later. This is one. When the Emperor announced the surrender on August 15, 1945, Japan was in ruins. 4 percent of the population, 3 million people, had been killed in the war; a quarter of the national wealth had been destroyed; the standard of living of rural Japanese had fallen by a third compared to the prewar level, and that of urban Japanese by two thirds. The country was ...more
History is and should not be a chronicle of wars, battles, their plots and plotters. This book shows the way.

Future generations will always wonder how economically and politically the world got shaped so radically and quickly post WW2. Nowhere the transformation was bigger and swifter than in Japan. The book provides a sweeping view of the changes in the first seven year of the war - how a starving nation, that agreed to total pacifism, that was still coming to grips with its own defeat and horr
EMBRACING DEFEAT: Japan in the Wake of World War II. (1999). John W. Dower. *****.
This is the best history I have read about the post-war period in Japan under American occupation forces. Although somewhat dense, the book examines the many varieties of how the Japanese coped with the loss of the war and with their new status as a subject people. This work won the Nobel Prize for general non-fiction in 2000. The author is currently a professor of history at MIT and has published many works on th
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Yifan (Evan) Xu (Hsu)
Ramifications of the American Occupation in Japan

The American occupation over Japan after the World War II followed Japan’s unconditional surrender in 1945. It was the first occupation of a post-war enemy territory that aimed to bring modern democracy instead of colonialism to the occupied country. The term of the occupation was relatively short, since it had an objective to facilitate the social and political transformation. Despite of the fact that the main theme of the occupation was to est
Much more what I was hoping for out of So Lovely a Country Will Never Perish: Wartime Diaries of Japanese Writers, Embracing Defeat is an excellent tale of the high hopes for post-war Japan and how they were undercut in a number of ways. How shutting out the reactionaries and war elite became an embrace of them as the Cold War began and America needed Japan to stand against Communism. How many traits considered quintessentially Japanese today have their genesis either in the war years or in the ...more
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John W. Dower is the author of Embracing Defeat, winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize; War without Mercy, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award; and Cultures of War. He is professor emeritus of history at MIT. In addition to authoring many books and articles about Japan and the United States in war and peace, he is a founder and codirector of the online “Visualizing ...more
More about John W. Dower...
War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq Ways of Forgetting, Ways of Remembering: Japan in the Modern World Japan in War and Peace: Selected Essays The Elements of Japanese Design: Handbook of Family Crests, Heraldry, and Symbolism

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“We can prove that most Americans don’t believe in pushing people around, even when we happen to be on top.” 0 likes
“The occupation of Japan was the last immodest exercise in the colonial conceit known as “the white man’s burden.”2” 0 likes
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