Cold War Democracy is a stellar book. Relying on a treasure trove of English- and Japanese-language sources, Miller elucidates the complexand oftentimes contentiousinterplay of politicians, policymakers, intellectuals, labor activists, and grassroots protestors as they shaped a new transpacific relationship after World War II. Anyone interested in diplomatic and international history will gain a lot from this fascinating study.
Is American foreign policy a reflection of a desire to promote democracy, or is it motivated by America’s economic interests and imperial dreams? Jennifer Miller argues that democratic ideals were indeed crucial in the early days of the U.S.–Japanese relationship, but not in the way most defenders claim. American leaders believed that building a peaceful, stable, and democratic Japan after a devastating war required much more than elections or a new constitution. Instead, they saw democracy as a psychological and even spiritual “state of mind,” a vigilant society perpetually mobilized against the false promises of fascist and communist anti-democratic forces. These ideas inspired an unprecedented crusade to help the Japanese achieve the individualistic and rational qualities deemed necessary for democracy.
These American ambitions confronted vigorous Japanese resistance. Activists mobilized against U.S. policy, surrounding U.S. military bases and staging protests to argue that a true democracy must be accountable to the Japanese people. In the face of these protests, leaders from both the United States and Japan maintained their commitment to building a psychologically “healthy” democracy. During the occupation, American policymakers identified elections and education as the wellsprings of a new consciousness, but as the extent of Japan’s remarkable economic recovery became clear, they increasingly placed prosperity at the core of a revised vision for their new ally’s future. Cold War Democracy reveals how these ideas and conflicts informed American policies, including the decision to rebuild the Japanese military and distribute U.S. economic assistance and development throughout Asia.
By far one of the best books on nation building and democratization…superbly written.
[An] impressive book. Miller’s original thesis, her prodigious research, and her ability to connect her topic to the broader international setting and move its focus from grass roots organizing to high policy will make Cold War Democracy the standard treatment on this important but relatively neglected period in the U.S.-Japan relationship.
How could the Cold War United States, so publicly and noisily committed to democracy, have supported repression and curbs on free speech while attacking others’ allegedly pernicious neutralism? Using U.S. relations with Japan as her case study, Miller explores this seeming paradox with great insight and deep research, including Japanese-language sources. This is a superb book with big ambitions, fully realized.
In this book Miller deftly examines the ideological core of the Japanese–American relationship during the Cold War and shows how it continues to shape international relations to this day. With subtlety she explores the contested and paradoxical meanings of democracy whereby order, unity, stability, spiritual renewal, economic growth, and geopolitical power often subsumed and eclipsed concerns for freedom, equality, individual rights, and peace. This is a book that inspires deep thinking about what democracy-promotion has meant and should mean.
Cold War Democracy may sound like a contradiction in terms. But as Miller’s nuanced, deeply researched interpretation of postwar relations between the United States and Japan shows, ‘democracy’ provided a flexible vocabulary for both architects and critics of this rapprochement. An innovative study of one of the most durable and significant relationships to have shaped the world since 1945.
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