This book brings together 11 previously published Dower essays, with introductions to each newly written for this collection. Topics covered include US and Japanese wartime attitudes to each other, satire in post-defeat Japan, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan’s occupation of Manchuria and others. All the essays bring forward interesting and at times surprising evidence while adding to the reader's understanding. The book is full of nuggets, such as the reaction of legendary Hollywood director Frank Capra when asked to make US propaganda films by his government, who upon seeing the surprisingly sophisticated Japanese equivalents said “We can’t beat this kind of thing”. Most disturbingly, for me at least, was the chapter about the US refusal to allow a Smithsonian exhibition about the atomic bombings to show the victims or to discuss views that challenge their necessity. Western criticisms of Japan’s failure honestly to discuss its history are often accurate, so you might think the erstwhile Allies would take care to avoid the same error or would understand that their side fought the war in defence of the very freedom of expression they want to shut down. Sadly not.
Dower remains best known for his magisterial history of the occupation of Japan, “Embracing Defeat”, and to a slightly lesser extent “War Without Mercy”, his shocking record of the racism on both sides of the Pacific in that theatre of World War Two. Those are better starting points for a reader interested in Dower’s work, but this new collection is a welcome addition from the best English language scholar of mid-twentieth century Japan. “Allies good, Axis bad” is indeed the correct four-word summary of the morality of the Second World War, but as John Dower shows us, we are or at least we should be capable of a much more sophisticated analysis.