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Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
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Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  2,625 Ratings  ·  189 Reviews
A history of Japan, this work draws on a range of Japanese sources to offer an analysis of how shattering defeat in World War II, followed by over six years of military occupation by the USA, affected every level of Japanese society - in ways that neither the victor nor the vanquished could anticipate. Here is the history of an extraordinary moment in the history of Japane ...more
Hardcover, 1st, 676 pages
Published 1999 by Norton
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Apr 03, 2013 Stuart rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 01, 2010 AC rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 08, 2015 Max rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
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
This is not the book to read if what you are looking for is the typical history of the Occupation Forces in Japan. This is a Japanese story. It tells the story of how the people of Japan managed to assimilate defeat and what it meant to them, how the occupation changed the nation, if it did, and the effect it had on both defeated and conqueror.

Dower does this in a series of chapters that encompass everything from the food shortages and initial starvation, the rise of black markets, the establish
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
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
56% of the way through and I give up - the book is so dry, I can't bear to finish it. It reads as a collection of essays placed end-to-end, which in my opinion is the worst way to write about history. The amount of research and work that has gone into the book is regardless very impressive, and a staggering achievement, but I just cannot read it, which is a shame as it is a subject I dearly wish to learn more about.
Nov 30, 2010 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 20, 2008 Diane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 31, 2011 J rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 10, 2010 Vheissu rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 24, 2012 S. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 23, 2012 Robert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 12, 2012 Jerome rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Gavin Smith
To anyone thinking of writing a book about modern Japan, especially if your central argument is predicated on Japan's 'unique-ness', borne of some kind of 'Edo vacuum', whether you are arguing that Japan is uniquely 'good' or uniquely 'bad', I strongly urge you to read Embracing Defeat first. A fitting alternative title for John W. Dower's book could be Modern Japan: How It Got That Way. I have long found it frustrating that writing about Japan usually starts from an assumption that the country ...more
Dec 31, 2013 Lynda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 29, 2016 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A comprehensive, well researched, thorough and informative review of post WWII Japan during the US occupation.

That said, while interesting, it was a bit off putting as while the end result of the occupation seems historically positive, the author seems upset about almost everything the US did that wasn't a blunder. I didn't get much from his opinions.

For example, he calls our not involving the Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos and Indonesians in the occupation pernicious. I suspect he was aware the
Nancy Regan
Jan 17, 2016 Nancy Regan rated it it was amazing
Last September Japan's never-amended 1947 constitution was reinterpreted to expand the authority of its self-defence force so that it could come to the aid of Japan's allies if they were attacked. That this was effected by reinterpretation rather than amendment, that it was not supported by a majority of Japanese citizens, and that the US was cheering the "clarification" from the sidelines will not come as a surprise to anyone who has read Dower's exceptional, and exceptionally readable, history ...more
Jul 22, 2007 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americanhistory
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.

Dec 10, 2008 Clayton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Matt Ely
Nov 28, 2016 Matt Ely rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, japan
This is a hefty tome but well worth the time if you're interested in the opportunities seized and squandered in Japan after World War II. The ramifications of the casual decisions, often driven by personality as much as policy, have had lasting effects both in Japan and the United States. It's fascinating to see where the ripples started. The author invites you to draw many of your own conclusions and furnishes ample evidence to get you on your way. It's divided neatly and thematically, so you c ...more
Apr 26, 2012 JoAnn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, japan
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
Jan 03, 2017 Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book. I was immersed in the world my father found when he got off the boat as part of the Occupation force. This book is a fascinating look at the postwar world in its infancy. Japan will rise to the power it is again- but it was basically lying dead at the allies' feet. The book covers it all from logistics through politics, to the incredible culture itself. A must read for any WWII enthusiast- or student of history.
Feb 26, 2012 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sometimes I wish his writing was a little more thesis-driven, but none-the-less an excellent study of post-war Japan. Dower explains how the Japanese responded to, and likewise negotiated and redefined, the American efforts to demilitarize and democratize the Japanese people following the war. Political and social cultures changed rapidly, and Dower's depth of knowledge and research make this a very tangible examination of the realities and debates taking place at that time.
Ebonique Ellis
I don't really understand the point of writing a book about the occupation without acknowledging/researching why the occupation was successful. It just seemed to drone on about how the Americans were imperialist and not democratic enough. I didn't like the book and I felt like Dower's research interests changed remarkably after the death of Edwin O. Reischaer (sp?)...but I'm probably being overly dramatic.
Joshua Marney
Jan 15, 2017 Joshua Marney rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting work, broad in its scope and deep in the depths it plunges. John W. Dower explores a myriad of aspects of the American occupation of Japan, using evidence from a wide variety of sources including radio, newspapers, literature, films, archives and memoirs, making use of sources in both Japanese and English. Yet all ties into the central concept of Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II which is the story of what happens to a culture that has been irrevocably br ...more
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
May 29, 2017 Christy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Full of socio-economic information I was unaware of about the nation post-WW2. A great look into several factors that hit the country during this time, and how it transitioned (and how it/some tried not to). great study into the topic.
Stephen Douglas Rowland
Having read extensively about Japan during the Pacific War, I needed to learn more about the events that took place after their defeat, and this elegantly-written tome was exactly the thing to fill that void.
Adam Foster
Good information, but poorly written. About as fun to read as a text book, such a slog of a read.
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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
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“For all their talk of democracy, the conquerors worked hard to engineer consensus; and on many critical issues, they made clear that the better part of political wisdom was silence and conformism. So well did they succeed in reinforcing this consciousness that after they left, and time passed, many non-Japanese including Americans came to regard such attitudes as peculiarly Japanese.” 0 likes
“We can prove that most Americans don’t believe in pushing people around, even when we happen to be on top.” 0 likes
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