Part of The Best Books of 2013 on Political and Legal Subjects

War, Guilt, and World Politics After World War II

For over half a century, Germany and Japan have struggled to put World War II behind them. Berger has produced one of the most sophisticated and sensitive treatments yet about how these two countries have contended with their troubled histories. Germany, with perhaps the most horrific legacy of state-sponsored brutality, has made many public expressions of remorse and contrition, adopting a relentlessly negative official narrative of its own past. Japan, in contrast, has tended to see itself as a victim as much as a victimizer. Berger shows that Japanese leaders have in fact acknowledged responsibility for the atrocities the country’s forces committed in the past and have tried to make amends. The trouble is that government apologies and admissions of responsibility are interpreted differently by different audiences. The book’s message to Japanese leaders is that for symbolic acts of reconciliation to succeed, they must simultaneously address the fears and grievances of Japan’s neighbors and undercut nationalist movements at home.

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