John W. Dower '59
Doctor of Humane Letters
John Dower's book Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World
War II has received major awards both in this country and in Japan, including
the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Yamagata Banto Prize for creative
work on Japan by a non-Japanese scholar. Several of his previous nine books on
modern Japanese history and U.S.-Japan relations have also been prizewinners.
His 1979 book, Empire and Aftermath: Yoshida Shigeru and the Japanese,
became a best seller in its Japanese translation.
The Elting E. Morison Professor of History at M.I.T., Dower graduated from Amherst
in 1959, majoring in American Studies. He earned his Ph.D. in History and Far
Eastern Languages from Harvard in 1972. He has taught at the University of Wisconsin,
the University of California, San Diego, and has been at M.I.T. since 1991.
An innovative and thoughtful scholar, he has made use of the elements of popular
culture such as songs and slogans, war films of the early '30s, best-seller
lists, diaries and letters to the newspapers, as well as more traditional governmental
documents, including secret police reports. Extending his range to the visual
arts, he has written about Japanese design, photography and painting and in 1986
was executive producer of a documentary film, HellfireA Journey from
Hiroshima, about two political painters, Iri and Toshi Maruki. The film was
nominated for an Academy Award.
Speaking about Embracing Defeat, a book that was 10 years in the making,
Dower described his wish to "recapture Japanese voices" and to counteract
the impression that there was a monolithic Japanese response to the war and to
defeat. "Usually," he said, "we historians deal with the policy
makers and the elites." Instead, he said, "I was trying to capture the
voices of ordinary men, ordinary women, returned soldiers, even children."
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