Book Review: Japan's Imperial Army: Its Rise and Fall, 1853-1945


by Edward J. Drea

Lawrence, Ks.: University Press of Kansas, 2009. Pp. ix, 332. Illus, maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0700616632

Ed Drea, author of In the Service of the Emperor: Essays on the Imperial Japanese Army, Nomonhan: Japanese-Soviet Tactical Combat, 1939, and other important works on the Japanese armed forces, takes a deep look at the history and evolution of the Imperial Army from its inception in the closing days of the Shogunate to its dissolution following the disastrous Asia-Pacific war. 

In contrast to other works that claim to address the history of a particular army over several generations, which invariably devote most of their coverage to the great conflicts in which they fought, and thus pay little attention to the much longer periods of peace between the wars, in Japan's Imperial Army Drea takes a different tack.  Following a discussion of Japan's military institutions before the Meiji Restoration of the 1860s, each chapter is focused on developments during each decade through the 1940s.  This allows him to focus on policy, technical, and organizational, trends in each period, and, more importantly, to the institutional culture of the army.  Perhaps the most valuable contribution made in this book, is Drea's discussion of how the Imperial Army underwent a distinctive change following the First World War, when technical prowess began to give way to a mania for "spirit" as a militaristic ethos developed.  This helps explain how an army that could win praise from foreign observers for its logistical efficiency, medical services, and adherence to the law of war during the Russo-Japanese War and the Great War, came to perpetrate the Nanking massacre, engaged in massive brutality toward prisoners, and could neither feed its troops nor protect them from disease. 

An essential read for anyone with an interest in the history of East Asia and the Pacific region, as well as military institutions


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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