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Valley of Darkness

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 17)

Thomas Havens, Professor of History at Connecticut College, has written important books on the intellectual history of modern Japan: Nishi Amane and Modern Japanese Thought and Farm and Nation in Modern Japan: Agrarian Nationalism, 1870-1940. In Valley of Darkness he turns to social history, vividly describing Japanese society under the rigors of war, 1938-1945. Using many published memoirs and articles previously untapped in English studies, Havens shows how the war transformed the life of ordinary citizens.

The book opens with the government’s Spiritual Readiness campaign, begun after July, 1937, and designed to stimulate patriotic fervor for the war with China. Contrary to accounts which have stressed the ideas of the expansionists, the Japanese public was initially apathetic, not jingoistic. Solidarity and patriotism had to be assiduously cultivated by official propaganda. A good deal of attention is paid to such measures taken before Pearl Harbor, and to the economic mobilization and social regimentation imposed on society during the Pacific war. The final phase of the war on the home front opened with the persistent bombing of Japanese cities in late 1944 and reached its horrible finale with the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945. Havens relates the personal tragedies suffered, as civilians paid for the mistakes of their military leaders; he also reveals the remarkable resiliency and resignation of the urban populace as it faced economic collapse, destruction of housing, and death.

Japan was ill prepared for the Pacific war in December, 1941. The campaign in China had degenerated into a costly war of attrition by 1939. Prime Minister Konoye Fumimaro had acknowledged as much when he proclaimed his “New Order” in November, 1938. This program was designed to prepare Japan for war, but total mobilization of economic resources was thwarted by a reluctance to disturb the political and social fabric of society. Only gradually did such measures as curtailment of civilian production and wage and price freezes affect the life of the average citizen. Heavy reliance was placed on voluntarism and moral persuasion. Nevertheless, Havens argues, social pressure did not force frugality; that was accomplished by the disappearance of luxury goods. The government of both Japan and Great Britain, heavily dependent on raw materials from abroad, limited imports to essential production and thereby indirectly reduced the output of civilian goods. Shortages resulted, and by 1940 rice had to be rationed, followed by matches, sugar, and cooking charcoal.

Although Havens does not offer substantial evidence, he notes that business interests were reluctant to support the war effort. They feared that government controls would accompany war contracts, and they successfully resisted centralization of economic decision making until late 1943. Administrative inefficiency plagued economic mobilization, and no Albert Speer or James F. Byrnes emerged as an economic czar. After 1942, American submarine attacks made the strategic position increasingly tenuous, yet war production continued to rise until 1944. This was achieved by drastically reducing civilian consumption. Unlike the United States, Japan could not increase output of both guns and butter, so civilian needs were sacrificed. The population of Japan suffered a reduction of living standards greater than any other belligerent, including Germany. Young children suffered from diet deficiencies; but despite a drastic reduction in the supply of food, the population remained relatively healthy throughout the war.

Havens maintains that mobilization of ideology, administration, politics, and economics created a regimented society by May, 1942. From that point until late 1944 there were great changes taking place in all aspects of daily life. The government created numerous organizations to involve labor, women, and youth in the war effort, but it could not integrate society in a mass...

(The entire section is 1,852 words.)