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Reviewed by Lois Henderson for Readers' Favorite
Why the Samurai Lost Japan: A Study in Miscalculation and Folly, co-authored by John D. Beatty and Lee A. Rochwerger, tells the history of the samurai class and fighting spirit from the 1100s to the end of the Second World War, with particular focus on the role that it played in the development of Japan during the first half of the last century. The importance of the class and its high moral ethics, as pivotal to the evolution of Japanese thought over the centuries, is explored at length, while being contextualized within the broader ambit of Japanese society. Both its weaknesses and strengths are discussed in depth, culminating in three primary reasons for the samurai having lost Japan by the end of the Second World War: the innate poverty of the Japanese nation at the time (characterized by the lack of much-needed resources and effective logistics), the leaders’ “military myopia” (the misguided belief that “tactical battles would win a strategic war” by intimidating their opponents into negotiations and their stressing the importance of promoting a spiritually righteous, militaristic spirit over material and technological progress), and the failure to assimilate samurai traditions within a nation bent on becoming westernized.
John D. Beatty and Lee A. Rochwerger’s Why the Samurai Lost Japan is impressive in terms of the extent of the research done for the purpose of the comprehensiveness of the text. Based in part on their earlier work, What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at War, 1941-1945, the current volume has expanded far beyond the confines of the Second World War to a much broader history of the role of the samurai within the nation as a whole. Extensive use is made of illustrations, including multiple black-and-white photographs, diagrams, and maps, with a great deal of highly relevant documentation being included in the copious appendices. Whether your interest lies in the development of the Japanese nation as a whole, or with the military aspects of the text, you are likely to find Why the Samurai Lost Japan both highly informative and thought-provoking.