Eiichiro Azuma is Professor of History and Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in Japanese American history; trans-Pacific migration, diaspora, and settler colonialism; and inter-imperial relations between the United States and Japan. He is author of Between Two Empires: Race, History, and Transnationalism in Japanese America (2005), which received the Frederick Jackson Turner Award Honorable Mention by OAH; the Theodore Saloutos Award from the Immigration and Ethnic History Society; the History Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies; and the Hiroshi Shimizu Annual Book Award from the Japanese Association for American Studies. Azuma’s latest research monograph, In Search of Our Frontier: Japanese America and Settler Colonialism in the Construction of Japan’s Borderless Empire (2019), received the John K. Fairbank Prize in East Asian History from the American Historical Association. Both of his monographs have been translated into Japanese. He also coedited two anthologies, including the Oxford Handbook of Asian American History (2016). Azuma is currently completing his third monograph that probes the complex roles and experiences of second-generation Japanese Americans under the US military occupation of Japan between 1945 and 1952. In the past, he served as a Harrington Visiting Faculty Fellow at the University of Texas, Austin, and a Ministry of Science and Technology Visiting Professor at National Chengchi University in Taiwan. Since 2020, Azuma has been a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution.
This lecture traces the convoluted politico-cultural processes in occupied Japan that gave birth to a public image of the Japanese American fighting men as a model for postwar colorblind democracy and soldiers of new Japan in US-dominated Cold War East Asia. After the defeat of imperial Japan in 1945, the United States set up a military government in Tokyo, trying to “democratize” the former enemy on its terms. That project included the complete destruction of Japan’s military capabilities and a well-coordinated domestic propaganda campaign against militarist/feudal traditions in Japan. After late 1948, however, American occupation policy underwent a radical shift from demilitarization to rearmament of the defeated enemy. Under this new development, U.S. military brass in Tokyo turned to the World-War-II accomplishments of the famed all-Japanese American (Nisei) 442nd Regimental Combat Team to marshal popular support for the remaking of occupied Japan as a junior U.S. ally. The rise of Nisei war narrative across the Pacific was specifically tied to the problem of Japan’s rearmament that engulfed both American occupiers and occupied Japanese in the critical months between the communist takeover of China in October 1949 and the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. Accompanying this development was the glorification of the “American soldier with the Japanese face” as a trope for the new democratic soldier of postwar Japan. In this propaganda campaign, a few thousands of Nisei troops in occupied Japan performed a no less important role in the production of slanted knowledge about them as a paragon of good, civilized soldiers for the U.S.-dominated “Free World.” Influenced by the officially certified stories of Nisei war heroes, many Japanese nationals, especially those who had developed a stake in U.S.-led national rebuilding and an agenda of remilitarization, also engaged in their own versions of Nisei glorification under the approval of American occupiers.