I am currently reading Toshikazu Kase’s Journey to the Missouri, which I bought in Kindle version for next to nothing. I’m not going to offer any kind of formal review (I’d be too embarrassed, for one thing), but I have found the book absorbing and educational, and I would recommend it as a beginner’s overview of Japan before and during WW2. I am certainly a complete beginner in this subject.
|Kase is in the top hat, right of centre, listening to McArthur's speech|
Mr Kase is most celebrated as a member of the deputation which signed the Japanese surrender in 1945, on board the USS Missouri, but he was also a prominent member of the Japanese Foreign Ministry during the 1930s and 1940s, was Japan’s observer at the United Nations after WW2 until such time as they were awarded full membership, and was a delegate thereafter. He was also posted in the London embassy at the time of the Pearl Harbour attack, much to his personal discomfort, since the embassy staff had no prior warning of the attack.
So he was a very high-profile diplomat, and was unusual in a number of respects, since he was educated in the USA (Amherst College and Harvard) and was well accustomed to Western culture and protocols. His (American) editor makes the point that it is a remarkable achievement that Mr Kase wrote his book in English, without a translator – the editor pauses to wonder how many Western diplomats could write such a work in a language which was not their own (which begs the further question of how many could write so well even in their own language…).
|I have the Kindle version, but the book was reprinted many times|
Kase describes the desperate instability of the political situation in Japan in the 1930s, and the progressive domination of the country by the military, who – under the pretext of obedience to the Emperor – exerted complete control over education, indoctrination of the population, government, religion and foreign policy. This is an astonishing story, and it includes the headlong rush into war and the continuing obsession with fighting on – to the last man if necessary – in a war effort which was clearly doomed from late 1943 onwards.
To an extent, Mr Kase can be expected to attempt to save his nation’s face a little, and to cover himself and the liberal majority who took over after 1945 – there are a good number of points where I found myself thinking, well he would say that, wouldn’t he? He is supremely supportive – to the point of adulation – of post-war Britain and the USA, and generally hostile to Russia and China throughout. His description of Japan’s shameful annexation and exploitation of Manchuria does not accord well with my understanding of what went on there, but provides an interesting alternative view.
He insists that there was a strong anti-war lobby in Japan for a long time before the atomic bomb, though such a stance was likely to lead to disappearance or assassination of the individual. His English is perfect, though a bit rich on occasion – he expresses himself well, but often in emotive terms, and his use of identifiably Eastern imagery takes a little getting used to; he likens the youthful kamikaze pilots to the petals of cherry blossom, and so on.
Mr Kase died in 2002, at the age 101, I understand – apart from the deck of the Missouri, his other most famous appearance was probably as one of the interviewees in Thames TV’s magnificent The World at War (1974) – I have a box set of the DVDs, and I still cannot believe that anything so good was ever produced – it has its critics, and it is probably overexposed (and underwatched?) on the History Channel and elsewhere, but in my opinion those films will never be equalled as coverage of WW2 – it was sufficiently long after the event for a bit of balance to start to appear, yet it was soon enough for a hefty number of the participants to appear to describe and explain their experiences.
I digress – Mr Kase’s book is recommended – I am getting a lot out of it. I hesitate to mention this, but next up on my Kindle list is Mein Kampf – I’ve had it hanging around for a while, so had better have a go at it – I do not expect that it will influence my personal attitudes, but it’s an obvious gap in my reading list!