I often wondered during history class in middle and high school, “What did the other side think of this war?” Americans frequently are restricted to being taught only about their own side of a war, which puts us at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to understanding our world. It is for this reason that I truly appreciated reading Eri Hotta’s Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy.
The book puts into perspective Japanese culture and politics in the years and months leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In particular, it investigates the question of why Japan’s leaders entered into a conflict they knew they had no chance of winning. Through reading the book I was able to learn something about Japanese politics and how Japan’s admiration for the United States began to turn sour in the first part of the twentieth century.
Hotta is not forgiving toward her country for its actions before or after the bombing. She recognizes the mistakes that were made by Japan’s leaders due to arrogance or ignorance (or often both), and reveals how the Japanese people were fooled by their leaders into believing their country was more powerful and capable than it really was. She refers often to Japan’s “self-delusion” and “face-saving” tactics, which only exacerbated the country’s political problems.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have trouble sometimes staying focused on a book about history that includes so many names, dates, and places. However, in the front of the book you’ll find a map of the Asia-Pacific Region in 1941, as well as a list and description of major characters and a timeline of events in Japanese history from 1853 through April 1941. These references made the book much easier to comprehend.
Hotta’s book is a valuable new perspective in the history of World War II, and is a great read for anyone interested in the war, Japanese politics, or Asian culture and history.