A Curious Madness: An American Combat Psychiatrist, a Japanese War Crimes Suspect, and an Unsolved Mystery from World War II

A Curious Madness: An American Combat Psychiatrist, a Japanese War Crimes Suspect, and an Unsolved Mystery from World War II

by Eric Jaffe
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A Curious Madness: An American Combat Psychiatrist, a Japanese War Crimes Suspect, and an Unsolved Mystery from World War II by Eric Jaffe

From an “illuminating and entertaining” (The New York Times) young writer, the story that explores the fateful intersection of two men at the Tokyo war crimes trial that followed World War II: a Japanese nationalist charged with war crimes and the American doctor assigned to determine his sanity—and thus his fate.

From an “illuminating and entertaining” (The New York Times) historian comes the World War II story of two men whose remarkable lives improbably converged at the Tokyo war crimes trials of 1946.

In the wake of World War II, the Allied forces charged twenty-eight Japanese men with crimes against humanity. Correspondents at the Tokyo trial thought the evidence fell most heavily on ten of the accused. In December 1948, five of these defendants were hanged while four received sentences of life in prison. The tenth was a brilliant philosopher-patriot named Okawa Shumei. His story proved strangest of all.

Among all the political and military leaders on trial, Okawa was the lone civilian. In the years leading up to World War II, he had outlined a divine mission for Japan to lead Asia against the West, prophesized a great clash with the United States, planned coups d’etat with military rebels, and financed the assassination of Japan’s prime minister. Beyond “all vestiges of doubt,” concluded a classified American intelligence report, “Okawa moved in the best circles of nationalist intrigue.”

Okawa’s guilt as a conspirator appeared straightforward. But on the first day of the Tokyo trial, he made headlines around the world by slapping star defendant and wartime prime minister Tojo Hideki on the head. Had Okawa lost his sanity? Or was he faking madness to avoid a grim punishment? A U.S. Army psychiatrist stationed in occupied Japan, Major Daniel Jaffe—the author’s grandfather—was assigned to determine Okawa’s ability to stand trial, and thus his fate.

Jaffe was no stranger to madness. He had seen it his whole life: in his mother, as a boy in Brooklyn; in soldiers, on the battlefields of Europe. Now his seasoned eye faced the ultimate test. If Jaffe deemed Okawa sane, the war crimes suspect might be hanged. But if Jaffe found Okawa insane, the philosopher patriot might escape justice for his role in promoting Japan’s wartime aggression.

Meticulously researched, A Curious Madness is both expansive in scope and vivid in detail. As the story pushes both Jaffe and Okawa toward their postwar confrontation, it explores such diverse topics as the roots of belligerent Japanese nationalism, the development of combat psychiatry during World War II, and the complex nature of postwar justice. Eric Jaffe is at his best in this suspenseful and engrossing historical narrative of the fateful intertwining of two men on different sides of the war and the world and the question of insanity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451612059
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 01/14/2014
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Eric Jaffe is the author of The King’s Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America, which won the U.S. Postal Service’s 2012 Moroney Award for Scholarship in Postal History. He’s a former web editor of Smithsonian magazine and now writes for The Atlantic Cities, a site devoted to urban life run by The Atlantic magazine.

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A Curious Madness: An American Combat Psychiatrist, a Japanese War Crimes Suspect, and an Unsolved Mystery from World War II 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book has more twists and turns it makes your head spin. I highly recommend it for anyone interested psychiatric devastation of war and its aftermath. Also a great read is Hector's Juice.
pandabearCM More than 1 year ago
For people interested in World II, Imperial Japan, and combat psychology, I highly recommend this book. The book has much fascinating information about the rise of the imperialist Japan and combat psychiatry. In addition the book is very easy to read. After World War II, there were a series of trials that were similar to the Nuremberg trials that were held in Germany. The book is about the author's grandfather, Daniel S. Jaffe, who declared a major Japanese defendant, Okawa Shumei, in the Japanese war crimes incapable of standing trial because of the defendant was insane. After the war trials were over, Okawa appeared to regain his sanity and lived a fairly comfortable life while his codefendants were either hanged or spent life in prison. The question  had risen whether Okawa was able to fake his insanity to get out of being tried by the United States for war crimes. However, what makes the book compelling is not the unsolved mystery on whether Okawa was really insane. What makes the book  so highly informative are the biographies of Dr. Jaffe and Okawa before these two people meet. The book describes Dr. Jaffe's early years and his training in psychiatry and about the practices of psychiatry in the 1930s and 1940s. What I found most interesting was the history of combat psychiatry the role combat psychiatry plays in wars(it stills seems to be an  issue of how to manage soldiers in the military so they don't become totally psychology scarred from war). I had no idea that there  were treatments that started in World War I, that could take what then was called a "shell shocked" solider, treat at the front and send them back to battle with a high rate of success. The book also describes how low the morale in the armed services could be  during WWII. The book also describes the rise of imperil Japan and Okama Shumei’s role this process. Until I read this book, I had no idea  that rise of military Japan was so similar to the rise of Nazism and Fascism. Like its counterparts in the West, the rise of  Japanese militarism involved a popular movement combined with staged events, coups and assignations.  The mystery of whether Okama really was insane is a little bit anti-climatic . It involved using the conventional psychiatry of the times; I thought there might have been a lot of cross cultural issues. The one criticism of the book that I have is that it made Okawa Shumei seem more sympathetic then he deserved.  Eric Jaffe writes about how Okawa wanted to lead a Pan Asian nationalist movement against the West with Japan being its leader . However, Japan was brutal to the Asian countries it invaded. I doubt many Asians from the countries that Japan invaded saw Japan  as a kindly country fighting Western expansion. Jaffe does acknowledge that the results of Okawa’s philosophy were violent  but not strongly enough. Okawa did play a key role in starting brutal wars. When I was reading the book, I was furious with Okawa and I believe sane or insane he had a lot of blood on his hands. Received ARC from Netgalley