In this absorbing account of the origins of the Asia-Pacific War, historian John Gripentrog argues that competing ideologies of world order—chiefly the rift between liberal internationalism and Pan-Asian regionalism—lay at the heart of the conflict. Drawing from a rich diversity of primary and secondary sources, the author also examines the Japanese government’s vigorous cultural diplomacy in the U.S., which sought to win over American hearts and minds and soft-pedal its imperialist ambitions in Asia. The result is a book that both challenges and amplifies standard interpretations of US-Japan relations in the interwar era, while weaving diplomatic, political, intellectual, and cultural history. Moreover, the author’s wide-angle lens offers readers insights into a fascinating assemblage of historical actors—from Japanese and American diplomats, politicians, and military leaders, to cosmopolitan art enthusiasts and major league baseball players.
John Gripentrog is professor of history at Mars Hill University, North Carolina. He earned his PhD from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and specializes in US foreign relations in East Asia. Dr. Gripentrog is the recipient of the Robert S. Gibbs Outstanding Teaching Award at Mars Hill University as well as the Letters and Science Teaching Award at UW–Madison.
Notes on Usage
1 “Too Proud to Fight”: The Dream World of Orderly Processes (1919–1930)
2 Toward Two Worlds: The Manchurian Crisis (1931–1933)
3 Japan’s Charm Offensive (1933–1934)
4 The High Tide of Cultural Diplomacy (1935–1936)
5 A New Order in East Asia (1937–1938)
6 “This Mad World of Ours” (1939–1940)
7 “So Many Unexplainable Things Are Happening” (1940–1941)
About the Author
John Gripentrog’s Prelude to Pearl Harbor reminds us that we still have much to learn about the onset of the Pacific War. For those unfamiliar with the period, Gripentrog provides an exceptionally clear narrative of the unfolding war and the early American response. Drawing on Japanese- and English-language source material, the author successfully examines the clash between the American ‘ideology of liberal internationalism’ and Tokyo’s ‘exclusive regionalist arrangement.’ While this clash has been studied before, Gripentrog’s focus on Japanese soft power, specifically the Kokusai Bunka Shinkōkai [Society for International Cultural Relations], is new, and his conclusion that KBS initiatives backfired by feeding a prevailing American misperception of a Japan divided between peaceful moderates and fire-eating militarists is particularly compelling.… Coverage of KBS alone, which the author does better than anyone, is reason enough to read his latest work. Prelude to Pearl Harbor…will surely move even the most skeptical reader to appreciate the mammoth ideological divide separating the two combatants….and… the remarkably different world that each side fought to create.
Is another book detailing the “road to Pearl Harbor” really necessary? This volume proves that indeed it is. As the title suggests, the book is a “synthetic narrative history” told through the lens of ideology and cultural relations. By ideology, Gripentrog means the competing and irreconcilable ideologies of world order at the center of the conflict between the two countries: “liberal internationalism” on the part of the US and “Pan-Asianist regionalism” on the part of Japan. The focus on cultural relations during this period and, in particular, Japan’s soft power campaign to influence the American public and its elites through baseball, traditional arts, and paid junkets is new and very revealing. The gradual change in US policy toward Japan is well told…. [T]his compelling story adds much to what was previously known. Recommended. General readers through faculty; professionals.
John Gripentrog gives us an expanded and energized understanding of a troubled period of international history. Recurring themes are treated in fascinating depth, including the American insistence on ‘orderly processes’ of world order and the mirage entertained by Ambassador Joseph Grew and others that a liberal element among Japan’s leaders would ultimately rise to disable the hawks. By astute use of archival documents, diaries, press materials, and reliable published accounts of the period, Gripentrog brings to life key historical personalities including Cordell Hull, Hirota Kōki, Matsuoka Yōsuke, and Franklin Roosevelt. Graced with lucid, quality prose, the book is a captivating read.
Prelude to Pearl Harbor is a synthesis in the best sense of the word. John Gripentrog highlights the dynamic, shifting conditions in Asia over a twenty-year period. The book is evenly balanced in explaining Japanese and American policy making and describing the people responsible for those policies. Gripentrog’s examination of the relationship between Pan-Asianism and Japan’s cultural diplomacy in the United States makes an original contribution to the scholarship on the 1930s and adds a new dimension to our understanding of US-Japan relations.
This book offers an excellent discussion of ‘liberal internationalism’ as a key to tracing US-Japan relations in the aftermath of the Great War. Initially accepting the ideology as a basis for its policy toward China, Japan steadily retreated from it during the 1930s as it expanded its power on the Asian continent. The result was an inevitable collision between ‘Japanese regionalism and liberal internationalism,’ as the author notes. Prelude to Pearl Harbor makes an important contribution to understanding the ideological dimension of the crisis that led to the Pacific War.
In this excellent book, John Gripentrog traces the complex ways in which ideology, cultural relations, and policy were knotted together in US-Japan relations between the world wars. The reward for readers is a deepened understanding of the bumpy road that led to World War II and beyond.
…a cogent and timely study of how the United States and Japan came to blows in the Pacific.
…a brisk and insightful book on U.S.-Japanese relations in the interwar period…. By situating his story of cultural diplomacy in the broader context of U.S.-Japanese interwar relations, Gripentrog shows how fundamental ideological differences made overcoming supposed misunderstandings on both sides impossible. The result is a useful synthesis of U.S.-Japanese relations, punctuated by colorful characters like the diplomat and University of Oregon law school graduate Matsuoka Yōsuke, and scenes such as baseball icon Babe Ruth’s 1934 visit to Japan.
Learn more about the author and his works at: https://johngripentrog.com/