It was not too long ago that I reviewed a book of oral history about wartime China called Echoes of Chongqing by Danke Li. The book focused only on women and their stories, and while there were certainly enough merits for me to recommend the book to anyone interested in this subject matter, my criticism was that 1) by having only women, the book suffered from a certain isolation and one-sidedness. Also 2) the voices, after a while, all sounded the same. The book also suffered from too much academic in that there were moments of nebulous platitudes inserted within that added nothing, save for sounding kind of preachy.
Contrast that with Japan At War: An Oral History, and one will see the difference between a book that is merely good to one that is great. In Japan At War, there is no one-sidedness (with exception for being all told from the Japanese point of view, but that is the very point to the book), but it does not suffer from the weaknesses found in Li’s book because there are so many individuals interviewed, and each of them brings a different perspective. For example, there are many soldiers that still deny that the Rape of Nanking ever took place (or at least believe that the numbers of 300,000 killed are highly exaggerated) to those soldiers who admit it fully — they say they witnessed it, and they say they participated in it. Some feel intense remorse and others do not.
There are also interviews with women, men who worked in the navy, Koreans, Okinawans, those survivors of the atomic blasts, as well as various battles throughout the Pacific. This edition happens to be the fifteenth printed edition, and it covers from the early battles in China, the opinions the Japanese had about China’s internal war between the Nationals and Communists, to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and eventually Japan’s surrender. Reactions to America’s involvement are mixed. For example, many Japanese were eager to begin the war with America and even happy about the event at Pearl Harbor. Others, however, claim to have known they would lose all along and even believed what they were fighting was a “stupid war.”