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Writing War

Writing War

Soldiers Record the Japanese Empire

Aaron William Moore

ISBN 9780674059061

Publication date: 06/10/2013

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Historians have made widespread use of diaries to tell the story of the Second World War in Europe but have paid little attention to personal accounts from the Asia-Pacific Theater. Writing War seeks to remedy this imbalance by examining over two hundred diaries, and many more letters, postcards, and memoirs, written by Chinese, Japanese, and American servicemen from 1937 to 1945, the period of total war in Asia and the Pacific. As he describes conflicts that have often been overlooked in the history of World War II, Aaron William Moore reflects on diaries as tools in the construction of modern identity, which is important to our understanding of history.

Any discussion of war responsibility, Moore contends, requires us first to establish individuals as reasonably responsible for their actions. Diaries, in which men develop and assert their identities, prove immensely useful for this task. Tracing the evolution of diarists’ personal identities in conjunction with their battlefield experience, Moore explores how the language of the state, mass media, and military affected attitudes toward war, without determining them entirely. He looks at how propaganda worked to mobilize soldiers, and where it failed. And his comparison of the diaries of Japanese and American servicemen allows him to challenge the assumption that East Asian societies of this era were especially prone to totalitarianism. Moore follows the experience of soldiering into the postwar period as well, and considers how the continuing use of wartime language among veterans made their reintegration into society more difficult.


  • Perhaps most disturbing of all is the way that Moore analyses the actual process of diary writing by these men. In all three countries, he reveals, the thoughts and feelings of soldiers were closely monitored by their superior officers. As a consequence the sentiments they expressed were self-policed: soldiers effectively used their diaries as a way of convincing themselves to act in the way that was required of them by the state. The implications of this are huge, and draw a question mark over one of our strongest taboos about the war. When Chinese, Japanese or American soldiers spurred themselves on to commit acts of bravery, or atrocity, how much were they expressing their own desires and how much were they resigning themselves to things that were expected of them? Does this—can this ever—at least partially absolve them of the things they did during wartime?

    —Keith Lowe, Financial Times


  • Aaron William Moore is Lecturer in East Asian History at the University of Manchester.

Book Details

  • 388 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press