Fwd: H-US-Japan: Review: Zhao on Orr, _The Victim as Hero_

Aaron Gerow gerow
Thu Nov 29 20:39:49 EST 2001

Here's a cross-post of a net review of a book with a section on postwar 
Japanese film.

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29 November 2001

Published by H-US-Japan at h-net.msu.edu (November, 2001)

James J. Orr. _The Victim as Hero_. Honolulu: University of
Hawaii Press, 2001. viii + 271 pp. Appendixes, notes,
bibliography and index. $47.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-8248-2355-9;
$22.95 (paper), ISBN 0-8248-2435-0.

Reviewed for H-US-Japan by Jing Zhao <jzhao at mail.h-net.msu.edu>,
US-Japan-China Comparative Policy Research Institute, San Jose

Ideologies of Peace and National Identity in Postwar Japan

There are many books, in Japanese as well as in English, which
illustrate the struggling processes in the postwar Japanese
society over the memories of loss and trauma of war.[1] In the
book under review, James Orr provides the first systematic,
historical inquiry into the emergence of the concept of
victimhood in postwar Japan.  This is a concise book, covering
Japan in the first three decades since the end of World War II.
Orr describes vividly how the notion of victimhood has been
institutionalized through the use of elite political rhetoric,
school texts, novels, films, and reparations battles, and he
offers a compelling explanation for the peculiar, distorted form
that moral argumentation surrounding war responsibility has

Chapter 2, "Leaders and Victims: Personal War Responsibility
during the Occupation", describes how in the early years after
defeat, the Japanese people came to feel they had been duped by
their wartime leaders.  In contrast to the previous wars (the
1894 Sino-Japanese War and the 1904 Russo-Japanese War) in which
Japan won, defeat in World War II brought the Japanese people a
debacle they had never experienced.  Although it was sometimes
unclear whether it was the moral responsibility for waging a war
of aggression or the strategic responsibility of losing it (p.
2), personal war responsibility was one central issue if Japan
were to avoid another such destructive war.

This chapter arrives at balanced as well as dispassionate
conclusions.  However, some analytical parts are not so
illuminating nor persuasive, especially from the eyes of Asian
people, who view this subject passionately.  One example
concerns MacArthur's memory of his impression on first meeting
with Hirohito.  It seems that the author truly believes the
apocryphal story that after the emperor offered to bear sole
responsibility for the actions of his people during the war,
MacArthor was moved by this assumption of responsibility (p.

Even though the author points out that U.S. occupation policy
shifted from reforming a vanquished enemy to nurturing a stable
Cold War ally, he does not explore the logical consequence of
the fact.  The U.S. occupation policy prevented Japan from
becoming a true peace country; and, in this regard, the Japanese
victimhood, including the A-bomb victim experience, sometimes
becomes not only meaningless but also hypocritical, as viewed
from passionate Asian eyes.  The author also fails to point out
that the Tokyo Trials served the U.S. Asia strategy/interest
more than Asia's true peace.  For some people outside of Asia,
it would be difficult to understand why in December 2000,
fifty-five years after the end of the war, there was a Women's
International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan's Military Sexual
Slavery in Tokyo.[2] However, I think most Asian people would
agree with Asai Motofumi that with the exception of their
attitude and policy toward America, the Japanese ruling class
changed nothing.[3]

Chapter 3, "Hiroshima and Yuiitsu no hibakukoku: Atomic
Victimhood in the Antinuclear Movement", describes the political
and cultural meanings that Hiroshima carried from 1945 to the
early 1960s.  This chapter shows how the antinuclear movement
succeeded to some degree in Japan.  At least, it prevented the
United States from openly stationing nuclear weapons on Japanese
soil (p. 69). The Japanese government also has been forced, in
public, to follow the so-called three non-nuclear principles.
The chapter also explains the movements limitations. First, the
conservative forces and the U.S. feared the movement would
develop into one against the Security Treaty; second, Japanese
consciousness as victimizer played little role in antinuclear
pacifism (p. 66).  From my experience, except for a few
responses from Europeans or Americans, Japan's yuiitsu
(Japan-only) Atomic victimhood experience appealed little to the
Asian people.

When I entered Qinghua University's Engineering (Nuclear)
Physics Department after China's Great Proletarian Cultural
Revolution, we suddenly found that, except Nuclear Physics,
China had no field to compete with the outside world.  Nicknamed
the cradle of China's bombs, and administered under the Seventh
(Nuclear) Industry Ministry, we were proud of our department as
one core factor contributing to China's strength in standing
against the nuclear threats of the two superpowers. However, one
classmate, Zhang Jingbo, declared that he would not study
knowledge in order to kill and requested to change to other
peaceful majors.  This surprised all of us, especially the
school administration.  That was not allowed under China's
education system and he was dismissed from the school.[4] One of
China's A-bomb founders, who gave up his American professorship
and returned China, educated us: I don't want to kill either.
However, I will never want to be a humiliated Chinese again.
Marshal Chen Yi's statement was famous to us: As PRCs Foreign
Minister, I'd rather have an A-bomb than clothes.

Chapter 4, "Educating a Peace-Loving People: Narratives of War
in Postwar Textbooks", focuses on how the war was presented in
elementary and middle school social studies texts.  Since the
book covers only until the early 1970s and the issue becomes
intensified in the 1980s, 1990s and in the new century, I feel
the study in this chapter is neither comprehensive nor complete.
I would like to signify 1972 as the year for Japan to have
resolved the most important postwar issue when it normalized its
relations with the PRC.  This normalization provided Japanese
people the way to communicate with the Chinese people directly.
Issues on the textbooks, state reparations (especially with
North Korea), and individual level war reparations including the
Ianfu survivors, are far from resolved.  Unless these issues are
honestly addressed and properly resolved, Japan's Sengo
(postwar) will never have an end.

Chapter 5, "Sentimental Humanism: The Victim in Novels and
Film", analyzes three popular antiwar novels and films to
demonstrate how basic themes of war victimhood are reflected and
reinforced.  The contents here are fine.  I should admit that I
have not read nor watched the three works discussed in this
chapter:  _Twenty-Four Eyes_ (_Nijushi no hitomi_) by Tsuboi
Sakae; _The Human Condition_ (_Ningen no joken_) by Gomikawa
Junpei; and _Black Rain_ (_Kuroi ame_) by Ibuse Masuji.  Among
the potential candidates for the authors analysis, I only read
and watched Takeyama Michio's _Harp of Burma_ (_Biruma no
tategoto_) (note 6, p. 221).

This is another example of how a Japanese wartime literature is
perceived differently from Asian eyes.  When I finished my
special Japanese training at Dalian [5], the Japanese teachers'
delegation presented each Chinese student a copy of _Harp of
Burma_.  I tried to read it because our Chinese teachers,
following the government's instruction, informed us not to read
it because it falsely glorifies brutal Japanese aggressors.  I
could not understand why the author wrote on such a topic and
how he could find any audience.  Later, when I watched the
video, in Japan, I realized that the Japanese people need this
kind of story describing their soldiers as heroic victims,
rather than cruel victimizers.  It seems the Chinese government
was right: this is not a good book; and people could easily
extend this conclusion to other similar Japanese wartime
literature.  In fact, most Chinese only know the wartime
Japanese victimhood through Japan's Proletarian Literature, such
as the Japanese communist writer Kobayashi Takiji who suffered
death by torture.

Chapter 6, "Compensating Victims: The Politics of Victimhood",
shows how in the 1960s the victim mythology had become political
capital that special interests (landlords and repatriates, but
not the A-bomb victims) could manipulate for their own benefit.
I have difficulty to understanding why the author includes
landlords in this chapter.  The landlords are victims of the
postwar land reform, but not victims of the war; their
compensation campaigns had no relation with Japan's peace
ideologies or national identity.

Since the book only extends to the early 1970s, the author could
not develop how the Japanese victimhood interacted with its
Asian neighbors more recently.  For example, one important fact
is that the PRC leadership also utilized this
the-Japanese-people-are-also-victims pretext [6] to explain to
the Chinese people its policy regarding Japan.  Thus any
Japanese political figure violating this pretext would cause
troubles to China, and eventually to Japan too.[7] I would
suggest the author add the time span 1945-1972 to the book
subtitle "Ideologies of Peace and National Identity in Postwar

Technically, there are some points that need improvement.  For
example, the Index should include more items used in the book,
such as Marco Polo (Lugou) Bridge, Port Arthor (Nushun).  The
main difficulty in reading this book, though, is to match the
right kanji of many Latinized Japanese words (the book has not a
single kanji or kana).  Since the book studies Japan on a rather
specific topic utilizing mainly Japanese materials, readers
without Japanese language knowledge will have difficulty in
understanding many Latinized Japanese usages.  For readers with
Japanese language knowledge, however, we would very much like to
read the kanji along with their Latinized spellings, especially
for Japanese names.  For example, note 76 on p. 235 prints the
whole Latinized text of _Furusato no tuschi_ (_The Soil of My
Village Home_).  I do not think anyone will read, nor understand
them, without the original Japanese text.  In this regard, I
would suggest research and academic publications follow _The
Journal of Asian Studies_ and print out Chinese characters.

As a publication directly derived from a dissertation, the book
displayed the authors ability to analyze delicate subjects.  In
fact, there are fifty-eight pages of notes for the 179-pages of
text.  This is another indication that the topics of the
textbooks, the war responsibility, and the A-bomb experience,
need more thorough study without the time limitation imposed by
the book.  In this regard, until the true victims, the Asian
people become heroes, the theme of this book will continue on to
the second or third generation.  We look forward to seeing the
author publish his new research on this subject from a wider
perspective and a longer span.


[1]. For example, H-US-Japan on October 18, 2001 published Akiko
Fukumoto's review on Igarashi Yoshikuni's _Bodies of Memory:
Narratives of War in Postwar Japanese Culture, 1945-1970_.  The
book covers the same time span as this book under review.  See

[2]. See, for example, Yayori Matsui's report on the tribunal
posted to H-US-Japan on February 22, 2001.

[3]. Motofumi Asai, _Taikoku Nihon no Sentaku: Kokuren
Anzenhosho Rijikai to Nihon_ (_The Choice of the Giant Japan:
The UN Security Council and Japan_), Tokyo: Rodojupo Press,
1995.  See my review published in _Chinese Politics Journal_,
1997 Fall, posted at http://cpri.tripod.com/cpr1998/asai.html .

[4]. This was the first time I seriously thought about
international politics.  Five years later, upon graduation,
instead of going to a nuclear research institute or a testing
base, I began to study Japanese and then went to Japan as a
Sociology student.

[5]. Dairen in Japanese, which also administers the navy port
Nushun (Port Arthor).  Nushun is not open to foreigners.

[6]. This is a complicated issue.  Basically, under severe
international pressure, mainly from the two superpowers, China
had to compromise in its relations with Japan.  There was no way
for the PRC to request war reparations from Japan.  The PRC only
succeeded by forcing Japan to recognize that the PRC, not the
collapsed ROC, had the right to give up reparations.

[7].  Koizumi Soichiro has not learned this lesson.  Under
international and domestic pressures asking him to forego paying
homage at the Yasukuni Shrine, Koizumi replied that it was not
he, but the Asian people who should change their attitude toward
the Yasukuni Shrine.

	Copyright 2001 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the
	redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit,
	educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the
	author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and
	H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses
	contact the Reviews editorial staff: hbooks at mail.h-net.msu.edu.

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