REVIEW: Defending the Enemy by Elaine B. Fischel

Defending the Enemy: Justice For the WWII Japanese War Criminals
by Elaine B. Fischel

Copyright: 2009
Pages: 383
Rang: 4/5
Read: Dec. 17-21, 2010
Challenge: 2010 100+ Reading Challenge
Yearly Count: 65
Format: Print

First Line: 1946. World War II had ended and the United States was to occupy Japan.

Blurb: From 1946-48, Elaine B. Fischel worked in Tokyo alongside the American attorneys assigned to defend the Japanese war criminals held responsible for the torture and deaths of millions of civilians and prisoners of war. She recounts the post-WWII transition in Japan to the country’s occupation by their former enemy, and the subsequent surprise on the part of the Japanese citizenry that the U.S. allegiance to democracy meant providing a fair trial even to the men considered the most evil perpetrators or atrocities. In letters to her family at the time, the author as a young woman tries to explain her relationships with the defendants and her own surprise at the growing fondness she felt for many of the “villains” of WWII – particularly prime minister and general Hideki Tojo, known during the war as “Razor.” Defending the Enemy is also the story of a young woman who wants to make the most of her time in a country so full of beauty. Fischel interweaves the activities and intrigues of the trial alongside her tales of travel throughout Japan, her social engagements with high-ranking military and civilians, and her unique enduring relationships, such as her friendship with Emperor Hirohito’s brother, Prince Takamatsu. In doing so, Fischel illuminates the paradoxes inherent during this period in history.

Review: This book was sent to me for review by Phenix & Phenix Publicity. As a history major in college, I was intrigued by this book when it was pitched to me via email. World War II is not a point in our history that I have studied a great deal on, so I was immediately drawn in with the chance to learn something about this time period. I do not read a lot of memoirs, either, so I was also looking forward to getting out of my comfort zone. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I liked how the author was able to include portions of her letters home to really tell the story of her time in Japan. Ms. Fischel must have been a prolific letter-writer during this time period, but that is great for readers like me who enjoy reading about what life was really like through primary documents, such as letters. I did have two slight problems with the book, though. First, I tired rather quickly about hearing how many men she “dated” during this time span. It seemed like every single letter that was quoted, she was talking about a different man, and how good looking he was. This was fine at first, but like I said, it got to be a little bit repetitive. I understand that she was one of very few women over there, but I’m not sure the point had to be hammered home as often as it was throughout the book. Second, I sometimes felt as if the author switched topics with lightning speed. At one point, on page 117, the author went from attending fancy parties to horseback riding with no real transition paragraph (or sentence!). This was always a big no-no when I was writing papers in college, so it’s something that sticks out whenever I read now. However, those two issues really didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of this book. One thing that I really want to point out is how the author really had to handle her feelings toward the defendents in the case. When she was writing letters home to her parents, she had to pretty much conceal her true feelings towards the Japanese because public opinion of the Japanese back home in the United States was so poor. But at times, her true feelings would show through and she would try and explain to her family why she felt such a connection to the people she interacted with on a daily basis. I enjoyed seeing how she tried to explain to her family her thoughts and opinions. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to any history buff. It’s a really interesting read.

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