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October 22, 2013

Bourdaghs: Japan had large role in Cold War

“I’ve increasingly come to think that you can’t really understand the Cold War without thinking about Japan’s role in it.”

This argument formed the foundation of East Asian languages and civilizations chair Michael Bourdaghs’s lecture, in which he illustrated the Cold War’s impact on Japan by tracing the life of Jiuji “George” Kasai (A.B. 1913).

Bourdaghs first began rethinking postwar Japanese culture in terms of the Cold War when he changed the name of the syllabus of a course he was teaching from “Postwar Japanese Culture” to “Cold War Japanese Culture” without changing anything else.

“I wanted to force myself to take the same writers whom I had always thought of as postwar writers and think of them as Cold War writers,” he said. “I’m finding that postwar Japanese culture looks very different when you think of it as being Cold War culture, and that the Cold War too starts to look like a very different entity when you start thinking about Japan being at the center of it.”

Bourdaghs followed Kasai’s life backward from his death to show that, when Kasai argued that the United States and Japan should be working together to fight communism, he had been using the Cold War language of “containment,” the idea of separating the world into the spheres of capitalism and communism, and “integration,” which emphasized respecting cultural differences and overcoming these through bonds of sentiment and affection, as early as 1913. He used this to demonstrate his point that in some sense, the Cold War had actually started well before the 1940s.

Bourdaghs concluded the talk with a special announcement: In honor of Kasai, the University will this year begin awarding the Jiuji “George” Kasai Class of 1913 Fellowship for Undergraduate Research in Japan, which will support summer research in Japan by advanced UChicago undergraduates.

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