Critical Book Review of Japan's Imperial Army

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(Edward J. Drea, Japan’s Imperial Army: It’s Rise and Fall 1853-1945. Kansas: the University Press of Kansas, 2009)

A look at Japan’s army through the eyes of Edward J. Drea is a very well informed and organized view. Basing his information off of a surplus of Japanese historical accounts (being well versed in the Japanese language) and English accounts alike, Drea has dug deeper into Japanese history as viewed by the rest of the world than any other. Japan’s Imperial Army is respectively a brief overview of an extensive period of Japanese history. Covering topics from the Meiji Restoration to the Asian Pacific War, this book provides the reader with a conscious understanding of the events that lead up to Japan’s role in World War II. Because the book is more of an overview, it becomes a little unclear as to what Drea’s bias is, but through a good reading one can infer that he supports the Japanese army and favors their victories over else’s. He repeatedly implies that the modernization and replacement of the old Japanese army lead to the success and domination Japan had over the world for a period of time. Although upon first diving into this book one may feel a bit overwhelmed by the Japanese names of important people and places including accent marks that feel quite intimidating and cannot even be found in the symbols section of Microsoft Word, Drea gives a good description of the major happenings in Japanese history are. Once the reader gets past the confusing names and somewhat heavy language, it’s really quite simple and appealing to any who may be interested in military strategy and Japanese history. Within the first couple of chapters, Drea really focuses on explaining and giving a good background on how the new Japanese army came to be. The shogunate opening up ports to trade as Commodore Matthew Perry was sent out to haggle in the mid 1800’s began a period of turmoil between the shogun (more often referred to as the bakufu throughout the course of the book, again showing off Drea’s knowledge of the Japanese language) and the imperial court. With an uprising beginning in the lower middle class samurai, the Tokagawa Shogunate was overthrown. According to Drea, this was triggered by the hatred and fear of foreigners caused by the extensive period of extreme isolation Japan had undergone. In an effort to expel all foreigners from the country, Japan was faced with the modern artillery and tactics the West had gathered over the years. It was during this time period, when the army turned its nose up at the idea of giving up traditional swords and weapons for the Western guns and bayonets, that it was made clear to Japan that the only way they even stood a chance against the rest of the world was if they strengthened their army and let go of at least some traditional ways. Drea really places emphasis on the importance of the Boshin Civil War, calling it an “inevitable military showdown” (page 6). He explains how the new 14 year old Emperor who would eventually become the first of the Meiji was a turning point for the imperial army, causing the shogunate to resign and turn all power over to the Emperor. With the Tokagawa Shogunate’s weak army of poorly armed and underfed men out of the way, Japan’s Imperial army was on the road to improvement. The second chapter of the book really goes into greater detail about the Boshin Civil War as a whole and the formation of the new army. Towards the end of the chapter an assessment is included in which Drea states “…the government army…enjoyed overwhelming material and technological superiority. Cannons and rifles, not samurai swords and spears, decided the outcome of the Boshin Civil War.”(page 19) supporting his thesis of technological advancements leading to the strengthening and organization of the Japanese army. Drea’s focus on providing the reader with a good background of the formation of the army really aids in the rest of the reading. He even goes as far as to...
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