LaFeber The Clash Book Cover

Walter LaFeber, The Clash: A History of U.S. – Japan Relations (1997): xvii-xxii, 3-159.

Reading Response:

LaFeber’s main argument in the sections covered in the reading is that America and the Japanese generally saw each other as partners in East Asia, but that there has been an ongoing series of clashes that led to war between the countries during World War II. LaFeber boils this difference down to a conflict of economic interests in China. He states that there is something uniquely different about Japanese and American forms of capitalism that led to different approaches over China.

LaFeber states that the topic he is covering has been covered before, but hasn’t been viewed from a long perspective. He intends to cover the entire post-1850s relationship between the US and Japan to show that the conflict was inevitable (xxii). Essentially, that from the moment Perry forced open Japan, the two countries were set on paths to conflict. He does this by showing that both the US and Japan were heavily reliant on China for exports and that there was a crucial difference in methods. Japan wanted to create a closed market system that would protect its domestic market while the US wanted to maintain Chinese territorial integrity and include the country in a global economic system.

LaFeber’s methodology is interesting in that it shows a lot of the background and details of the relationship between the U.S. and Japan that eventually led to conflict. The title of the book and the way LaFeber framed his argument in his preface seems to imply that a clash was inevitable from the beginning. His argument feels a little fatalistic, and maybe makes sense in hindsight, but was everything that happened from 1850 onward definitely leading to war? Or is LaFeber placing too much emphasis on that one aspect?

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