Takashi Fujitani. Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013. 520 pp. $34.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-520-28021-2.
Reviewed by Monica Kim (University at Albany, SUNY)
Published on H-Diplo (June, 2014)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach
In his groundbreaking book Race for Empire, Takashi Fujitani focuses on a central quandary of modern empire-making that has preoccupied historians across a myriad of fields. When the ambitions of total warfare demand an ever-increasing supply of manpower, how does an empire mobilize populations it had previously systematically excluded from its body politic? In other words, how does an empire render the once disposable colonized/racialized body into one that is newly indispensable in order to fuel and justify its expanded war-making? From Louise Young's Japan's Total Empire (1999) to James Sparrow's Warfare State (2011), scholarship in both Japanese and American history has traced how the massive project of total war transformed the landscape of these two empires. The persistent challenge for the historian, though, has been how best to create an analytical framework that unsettles the "exceptionalism" espoused by either the Japanese or American empire. Fujitani's critical contribution to this literature lies in how he tackles the very jugular of the practice and rhetoric of "exceptional" empire in a time of rising anticolonial movements and waning European powers: race.
To unsettle the "exceptionalist" narrative of nations and empires, scholars have often turned to the transnational frame of analysis. Race for Empire is a transnational history that is neither solely connective nor comparative history, and it issues a provocative challenge to our conceptualization and employment of the "transnational." With an impressive multilingual archive and different interdisciplinary methodologies, Fujitani has created a potential model that exemplifies the kind of work that scholars from American studies and Asian studies have long called for as necessary, scholarship that reflects the nature of historical experience across the Pacific which goes beyond the bounds of nations or even a single empire. Often, histories that have encompassed multiple imperial projects in their narratives begin from a more top-down international or global perspective, whether institutional or organizational. Andrew Zimmerman's Alabama in Africa (2012) or Eiichiro Azuma's Between Two Empires (2005) are two exemplary models of tracing the on-the-ground connections between states and actors of different empires. Race for Empire is one possible, other answer to this question of how to write a narrative of multiple empires working in both tandem and tension with each other.
In order to respond to the question of how American and Japanese empires forged a double-edged sword of logistics and rhetoric to mobilize their respective "minority" populations, Fujitani creates a transnational field of vision in which the United States and Japan cease to appear as "two incommensurable political formations," and instead reveal their "historical convergences" (p. 8). Both Japan and the United States needed to "disavow" their own racist logics and practices in order to lay claim as the legitimate heir to imperial power on the global stage of war and politics (p. 17). The presence of the zainichi Korean soldier (ethnic colonized Korean in the Japanese metropole) or the Korean soldier from the colony in the Japanese military and the Japanese American soldier ("enemy alien" in the Japanese American internment camps) in the U.S. military supposedly demonstrated the disavowal of each respective empire. To paraphrase Fujitani, the Korean soldier exemplified the horizontal racial brotherhood and anti-white supremacist qualities of the Japanese empire, while the Japanese American soldier displayed the redemptive qualities of a liberal, humanist universalism in the United States.
To lay out the convergences and divergences more clearly, Fujitani divides Race for Empire into three parts: "From Vulgar to Polite Racism"; "Japanese as Americans"; and "Koreans as Japanese." Fujitani charts out a "transwar" history of what he calls a shift from "vulgar" (or "exclusionary") to "polite" (or "inclusionary") racism in both empires--from the 1930s to the end of World War II for Japan and from the 1940s through the 1960s for the United States (pp. 13, 7). The first section follows how Japanese and American elites and officials turned to Koreans and Japanese Americans, respectively, as solutions to the labor demanded by an ever-expanding total war state. It is in this section that Fujitani lays the groundwork for his challenge to a seminal work on Japanese and American racism during World War II, John Dower's War without Mercy (1986). While recognizing the critical intervention the work has made in the historiography of the war, Fujitani argues that Dower "ultimately reproduces modern Japan as an enigma that can be deciphered only by recourse to broad generalizations about 'Japanese culture'" (p. 15).
A critical difference between the two books lies in the extent and location of their intervention. For Dower, his question revolved around how racism could have rendered a supposedly unimaginable scale of violence entirely imaginable. For Fujitani, the question lies in how state expressions and mobilizations of racism reveal deeper legacies of state technologies of violence and control that are still with us today. In other words, Dower examined what Fujitani would most probably categorize as "vulgar" racism--the patent and blatant racism of biological determinism that facilitated mass killing during World War II. Fujitani is interrogating how the state, through racism, even in its "polite" form, still threatens its minority subjects with death, as it simultaneously holds out the offer of life and inclusion. It is a key move from analyzing racism as a binding agent for a national culture to examining racism as a state practice of subject-making.
Each of the latter two sections of the book contains three chapters: the first delineates the official, on-the-ground project of reinventing either the Korean or Japanese American subject; the second offers stunning analyses of the choices made or not made by the Korean and Japanese American subjects; and the third examines cultural representations of military participation in the wartime and postwar years. Throughout these chapters, Fujitani argues that both the American and Japanese empires were absolutely aware of their position in front of a global audience, a thesis familiar from previous scholarship such as Mary Dudziak's Cold War Civil Rights (2000), Naoko Shimazu's Japan, Race, and Equality (1998), or more recently, Fog of War (2012), an edited volume by Kevin Kruse and Stephen Tuck. But what Fujitani accomplishes with his "convergence" framework is a way out of the usual, seemingly unbridgeable chasm between the preoccupations of American historiography and Korean and Japanese historiography on the meanings and implications of military participation in these total war regimes.
In the field of American history, a discussion about citizenship and rights undergirds much of the discussion about race and military participation, while the twinned stakes of sovereignty and self-governance informs the debates in Korean and Japanese historiography over Korean military participation during the colonial and pre-liberation period. By drawing upon Michel Foucault's notion of "liberal governmentality," Fujitani argues that both the United States and Japan, in their parallel need and desire for minority subjects to participate willingly in total warfare, had to invent a new way of conceptualizing these minority populations: "[T]he strategy shifted from treating these populations as simply objects of rule, without significant interiority, to attempting to constitute them as self-reflexive and knowledgeable subjects who would participate at least to some extent in their own regulation" (p. 25). This shift towards "polite" racism heralded a shift in methods of rule, and Fujitani's book raises the question of how total war did not simply result in the destruction of peoples and states, but also demanded the putative invention of new identities for people and states.
In order to claim that these minority soldiers were participating willingly, the state also had to grant them the ability to make a choice. But, as Fujitani argues, when we look closely, we can also see that the burden of surveillance, control, and regulation had been transferred to the individual minority subject. The minority soldier was now "free" to die for his nation or empire, but it was only upon the demonstration of that willingness to die that the zainichi Korean or Japanese American became a wholly deserving subject of life. And by mapping out a much more complex landscape of state-sanctioned life, death, and racism on the ground, Fujitani has provided us a highly nuanced way to rethink the more politically charged and rigid categories of "collaborator" or "volunteer" in military participation.
Race for Empire prompts us also to rethink our assumptions about how propaganda operates. The seeming hypocrisy of "polite" racist discourse was not simple lip service, according to Fujitani. He does not dismiss the rhetoric of policymakers and state or military officials. For example, where white Americans had previously seen biological difference regarding the Japanese Americans, they now saw the trait of loyalty as a litmus test for which Japanese American was a true American. The propaganda of "polite" racism created a strategic cleavage between the interior and exterior of the minority person--the state could now claim the interiority of the racialized subject and dismiss the biological determinism it had espoused previously. The "convergences" between these two nations/empires were not "just ironies," writes Fujitani (p. 29). "Polite" racism was not merely a choice of new words--it was a conscious forgetting of contemporaneous violence, oppression, and discrimination.
And indeed, this kind of "forgetting" was hard work. When "ten teams of American soldiers reported to Washington, D.C." in 1943 for a "ten-day training program" for working in the Japanese American internment camps, the speakers at this program stressed that the soldiers now needed to consider "every Japanese American [as] an individual and that therefore loyalty could be assessed on a case-by-case basis" (p. 109). Fujitani makes the case that the creation of a total war regime incited state anxiety over whether or not imperial/national subjects would also accept the terms of this new articulation of race and universalism. Propaganda was not merely for the recruitment of minority soldiers or for the decolonizing world--it was also for the transformation of the citizen/imperial subject. Total warfare required total transformation.
Fujitani has assembled an archive that spans policy and military papers to Hollywood films and letters written by interned Japanese Americans. With such an archive, he provides a way for us to think through the stakes of historical memory, especially with his analyses of cinematic portrayals of Japanese American soldiers and Korean soldiers. The divergence between the trajectories of how American culture and Japanese incorporated or elided this history is highly instructive for thinking through the particularities of wartime and postwar American and Japanese empire. The cultural hypervisibility of Japanese American military participation during World War II in the postwar years stands in stark contrast with the invisibility of Korean military participation in much of Japanese social and cultural memory of the war. The seeming utility of invoking Japanese American military participation by politicians today attests to the enduring legacy and continued practice of Fujitani's "polite" racism.
Fujitani states that the rather abrupt forgetting and erasure of Korean military participation from the purview of postwar Japanese society can be explained by the Japanese surrender and the subsequent U.S. occupation of Japan, where the previous move to include the colonial Korean into the Japanese imperial body politic had tipped towards systematic exclusion. Indeed, Race for Empire serves as a critical reminder of how a discourse around racial inclusion was undergirding the exceptionalism of Japanese empire in the early half of the twentieth century, while the postwar form of Japanese national exceptionalism relied on the very elision of that historical moment in its move to establish a neoliberal identity vis-à-vis the United States.
With a monograph that is this impressive in scope and material, one is tempted to ask the work to do even more. Fujitani's "convergence" story ends with Japan being folded into the liberal logic of U.S. racism via military occupation at the end of World War II. But one wonders about how Fujitani's work could have also shed light on the unique positions of U.S. and Japanese empire in an era where the nation-state has been a fiction, but one necessary to facilitate the kind of imperialism practiced by the United States. How did this move from "vulgar" to "polite" racism also reflect the tensions between the realities of imperial ambitions and the self-presentation of the nation-state unit on the world stage in the twentieth century? The methodologies Fujitani has used in this book alongside his arguments regarding race and imperial war-making will prove undoubtedly productive for future scholarship on precisely where his story ends--the Cold War in Asia. In the classroom, I could see Fujitani's chapters on film possibly being assigned alongside chapters from Dower's War without Mercy in an upper-level undergraduate course as a way to incite conversation over how historians examine "race" in war, empire, and nation. Race for Empire is a history of shifting imperial consciousness and the continuing explanatory power of "race," and the theorizations, original archival materials, and an innovative framework of this text will be an invaluable resource for diplomatic historians from many different fields.
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Monica Kim. Review of Fujitani, Takashi, Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II.
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