World War II in Asia





While the American narrative of World War II tends to focus on the formal conflict between the U.S. and Japan from 1941 to 1945, the same conflict ultimately spanned at least two decades from the Japanese perspective, starting with the Japanese army’s incursion into Manchuria in 1931 and ending with the Allied occupation of Japan that lasted until 1952. Adding to this complexity is the fact that both the historical dynamics that led to the war as well as its consequences can be identified across an even wider span of time, including today.

This subject focuses on the multi-faceted ways in which the inhabitants of Japan and its empire experienced the “Asia-Pacific War,” as the conflict has come to be known in Japan. In the course of the semester, students will explore the complex, and at times seemingly contradictory, dynamics that were at play in these experiences, including the tensions between the demands of the war and the ongoing pursuits of consumerist pleasures, as well as the denigration of Western culture and the enduring fascination with the same.

By exploring these complexities and contradictions, the subject ultimately aims to broaden our understanding of the war that engulfed the globe in the middle decades of the 20th century. To that end, students will analyze and discuss a variety of historical sources, including government documents, memoirs, film, and popular music. While focusing on Japanese perspectives, comparison to non-Japanese experiences in Asia, America, and Europe will be made throughout the subject.

Map of the "Great East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere" in a Japanese propaganda booklet (1943)