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, Hellfire—A 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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