Academic journal article Military Review

Ghost of War: The Sinking of the Awa Maru and Japanese-American Relations, 1945-1955

Academic journal article Military Review

Ghost of War: The Sinking of the Awa Maru and Japanese-American Relations, 1945-1955

Article excerpt

GHOST OF WAR: The Sinking of the Awa maru and Japanese-American Relations, 1945-1995, by Roger Dingman. 373 pages. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD. 1997. $37.50.

This well-crafted study relates the story of "the greatest submarine error" in World War II-the 1 April 1945 sinking of the Awa maru in the Taiwan Straits. More than 2,000 people, mostly civilians, died in a matter of minutes. This death toll was higher than for any commercial vessel sunk since 1916. Dingman's intention is to explain how and why the incident occurred and describe how the American and Japanese governments dealt with the sinking in the waning days of the Pacific War and during the occupation.

The book has three purposes: it tells a human story of individuals caught up in events not of their own making-who are much larger than themselves-and their later attempts to give their experiences meaning; it places the incident into the context of the larger story of recent Japanese-American relations; and it shows and explains the ways public memory forms and changes. Despite this tripartite purpose, the book is "first and foremost" about warfare. The author raises questions about error, accident and friction in war and the ways memories differ from actual experience. He also tries to answer the question, "Can former enemies come to a common understanding or view of their mutual past so they may overcome it?"

Dingman masterfully traces the incident's course and shows why and how the sinking occurred. He briefly narrates the background to the Awa maru's voyage-the exchange and succor of the civilian internees. He also focuses on the reasons for the sinking and the way American submarine commanders were selected and rewarded, alluding to the problem the US Navy initially had in finding qualified submarine commanders. His treatment of the postwar settlement claims is concise and nuanced, examining the ways American and Japanese officials obfuscated the issues of responsibility and how they decided on an indemnity settlement for the survivors. …

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