But some gaps and difficulties remain. At the same time, however, Dower points to an "oxymoronic democracy" created under the occupation, referring both to the SCAP military dictatorship and to the immense power that SCAP invested in the Japanese bureaucracy.
The great efforts by Japanese scholars and citizens to unearth and publicize Japanese crimes of colonialism and war must continue to face official efforts at denial and refusal to accept responsibility for everything from the comfort women to the nanjing Massacre. Embracing Defeat has received high praise in the academic and popular presses, and justly so.
Secondly, Dower is most sensitive to the new, and to breaks with the past. The early occupation emerges in these pages as the boldest, yet in many ways the most Quixotic, attempt at social engineering ever attempted to refashion another society as a democratic nation.
He has also made significant use of individual testimony, drawing for example on Alex Gibney's wide-ranging interviews with occupation authorities in preparation for his documentary "Pacific Century," and on citizen's letters to Asahi Shimbun.
MacArthur was critical not only to the survival of the imperial institution and the Showa emperor's continued reign until his death inbut to the creation of a contradictory imperial democracy-one of many intriguing oxymorons that run through this study.
These trials were characterized on one hand by the judicial dominance of the colonial powers only two Asian justices were included as part of the tribunal and by the absence of any implication of the emperor on the other While recognizing the continued strengths of the reactionary elites that earlier led Japanese ruling groups to embark on the savage conquest of Asia and the subjugation of their own people as well, and that allowed these past masters of sophistication to deftly undermine some of the goals of their American masters, what emerges most forcefully here is the author's admiration for the democratic and pacifist spirit and common sense among the Japanese people.
His other histories show that to a certain extent this overestimation was understandable.The depth of loss and confusion which the Japanese people experienced is vividly conveyed, notably in Dower's accounts of the huge scale of social displacement and missing persons, and the long-drawn out period of 'food-wretchedness'. Review of Dower, John W. Dower's most trenchant political criticism of the emperor and the Japanese political system is highlighted in his Sekai article. Dower shows that "respectful appraisal of the emperor's benign potential and virtually totalitarian 'spiritual' control over the Japanese psyche would become the bedrock of postwar [American] policy" p. Embracing Defeat focuses on social and cultural development and popular consciousness within Japan. Dower tackles this at three levels. In some senses it was. Fujitani, Splendid monarchy. Yet much of the freshest and most innovative material is in the cultural and social realm. Land reform, for example, is scarcely mentioned, and economics and economic policy is essentially relegated to the final chapter where Dower shows, importantly, the ways in which Japanese planners early on anticipated much of Japan's subsequent high-tech surge while Americans continued to envisage an economy that would continue its prewar focus on textile production.
Dower's great achievement is to shine a light into many of the myriad dimensions of postwar Japanese society to illuminate a patchwork of hope and despair, poverty and corruption, fatalism and dynamism, including its powerful aspirations for democratic, labor, and women's rights, its rich and complex culture, and above all the persistent efforts of a people so devastated by war and ostensibly powerless in the thrall of their conquerors to build a society on new foundations.