HIEA Catching Up 3/3

Insoo Kim
4 min readMar 12, 2022

Are you convinced by Dower’s argument in War Without Mercy that the Japanese and Allied forces expressed a great deal of racial animosity during the war, and that this drove its particularly high civilian casualty numbers?

Race is a huge factor in history, and it’s often overlooked in the context of World War II: As Dower notes, it’s usually in the context of the Holocaust, but almost never about anything else. We are quick to condemn the Nazis, but haven’t very much looked at the anti-Semitism, Japanophobia, or general racism in the United States.

Thusly Dower asks an incredibly important question which seeks to fill a very obvious gap in the literature: how does race factor into the war against Japan during WWII? I think Dower’s interpretation makes sense. The atrocities most certainly were majorly inspired by racial tensions, as we see through the various depictions of racist caricatures of Japanese people. It also raises important questions regarding other things too, like the usage of nuclear weapons.

Ultimately, I think Dower is correct in assessing that atrocities were mostly racially motivated — sure, we see firebombing in Dresden, too, but that wasn’t Berlin, and wasn’t because the houses were wooden. The violence conducted against the Japanese was most certainly different than that in Germany or Italy.

Considering the intense racial animosity that Dower outlines in his work, why do you think that the Japanese and US governments were so quick to see each other as allies? Do you think that this transition was as quick for ordinary people?

I think that one of the main reasons (this is not related to the film) why it would have been so quick was because of a continuation of the idea of the white man’s burden — the US in this instance took the opportunity to spread democracy through imperialism. The Japanese government, defeated by the US and crippled in its political power, would be much less able to put up any resistance, and therefore it would be easy for the US to influence Japan to a much greater degree.

In terms of the civilian population in Japan, however, I think we see some of that in the film. Yukie is a great stand-in for the watcher in Kurosawa’s film, as she’s torn between two worlds of the status quo fascism and anti-war leftism. She ultimately chooses leftism through Noge, and I think that it reflects on Japanese society in general: the intellectuals were highly critical of fascism, which is also reflected in her father, professor Yagihara.

Especially with the context that women gained the vote as a result of democratization, I think this would immediately shift public opinion quite a bit. It’s important to note as well that the American occupation conducted their own propaganda through film, and the strong female lead of No Regrets for Our Youth serves as a great example of that, especially as we see her transformation from complacent to active. Although I don’t mean to say that pro-democracy sentiment is a bad thing, propaganda is still propaganda nonetheless.

As liberalism came into the public sphere due to the abolishment of the fascist imperial government, it would also cause great changes. No Regrets of Our Youth serves as a sort of conversion narrative in terms of politics, and the fact that it would become one of the biggest contemporary films post-war demonstrates the social impact conversion literature has.

Drawing from another Kurosawa film, Ikiru, I think we can definitely see a change in Japanese society and politics through culture — in this film, it’s a criticism not of fascism but of the bureaucracy that held Japan back, something that most certainly wouldn’t have been allowed during the imperial era. Thus, with new freedom of speech, a colonizer-colonized relationship, and great social changes, it seems natural that the Japan-US relationship would be strong, even after the war.

Think about the previous discussion question. What questions are missing, considering Morris Suzuki’s description of how former colonial subjects were treated following surrender?

On a quick sidenote before I begin: I think it’s super interesting how the German word for work (arbeit) is borrowed in Korean as 아르바이트, or “areubaiteu”, which means a part-time job; this is because it comes over from Japan, which in turn comes over from guest workers sent to Germany.

I think a good question, although rather obvious, would be why people decided to move to Japan, despite it being their previous colonizers. In the vein of reconciliation, I think it’s important to note the initiatives taken by both sides to reduce historical tension and contemporary hostility; or, the lack thereof. It’s also really interesting to see how different the zainichi are to the “newcomer Koreans”. I actually knew someone who had a mother who only spoke Japanese, so we assumed she was; imagine our shock when we learned that she was a zainichi Korean.

Obviously we know that Japan did not take very kindly to the immediately post-war immigrants: they were referred to as people who were smuggled in or illegal immigrants, and controversies surrounding individuals like one of the managers of Coca-Cola Japan are notable. Even immigrants who had long been in Japan were repatriated to Korea, and that raises a lot of questions too: why deport those who unequivocally immigrated legally?

I think it’s additionally important to ask questions about why people chose to immigrate, despite the hardships they faced as well. It brings a lot of attention to the effects of imperialism and the long-lasting consequences we see the colonized face for a long time after war. It’s applicable elsewhere as well, like with France and the discrimination African/Muslim migrants face.