In this highly original and now classic text, Ian Buruma explores and compares how Germany and Japan have attempted to come to terms with their violent pasts, and investigates the painful realities of living with guilt, and with its denial.
As Buruma travels through both countries, he encounters people whose honesty in confronting their past is strikingly brave, and others who astonish by the ingenuity of their evasions of responsibility. In Auschwitz, Berlin, Hiroshima and Tokyo he explores the contradictory attitudes of scholars, politicians and survivors towards World War II and visits the contrasting monuments that commemorate the atrocities of the war.
Buruma allows these opposing voices to reveal how an obsession with the past, especially distorted versions of it, continually causes us to question who should indeed pay the wages of guilt.
"The Wages of Guilt is subtitled Memories of War in Germany and Japan. But it is really far more, an exploration of the many and varied ways in which cataclysm has shaped national identity in our century.... The import of Mr. Buruma's work is not limited to the losers of World War II. The very idea that a nation can and should be held accountable for its history, that a people can collectively experience remorse, guilt, or atonement, is one of our age." --The New York Times Book Review
"It would be difficult to find anyone better suited than Ian Buruma to reflect upon the questions of why these national attitudes should be so different.... He is thoroughly familiar with the politics and culture of both Japan and Germany, has traveled widely in both countries, and speaks their languages fluently." --The New York Review of Books
"Will fascinate readers even as it recalls painful images.... [Buruma] is less interested in finding heroes and villains than in teasing out nuances of national character." --Chicago Tribune
"The Wages of Guilt augments [Buruma's] body of cultural criticism with a brilliant lucidity that guides the reader through a thicket of varying responses to the historical black hole that has been deemed inconceivable." --The Boston Globe
"His knowledge of cultural and intellectual life is impressive.... This book reflects interestingly on why Japanese and German attitudes differ so remarkably." --The Economist
"Highlights the elusive nature of historical truth, which often takes a backseat to the myth-making needed to soothe the collective conscience." --Cleveland Plain Dealer
"A clear portrait of two peoples trying to come to terms with their own unspeakable behaviors." --The Wall Street Journal
"This thought-provoking inquiry has a powerful theme: people must be held accountable for the society in which they live." --Publishers Weekly
..".absorbing and important..." --Foreign Affairs
"As in God's Dust (1989), Buruma takes a psychological and cultural voyage into nationalism, guilt, and self-delusion--in this case, of two of WWII's defeated Axis powers...The book ranges wide and deep in its search for disparate voices in both [German and Japanese] societies: editors, intellectuals, writers, artists, activists. Buruma's easy familiarity with Japan enables him to dig under the skin of national attitudes in a way that is rare for a Western commentator...All in all, a thoughtful, patiently assembled book that probes carefully and with moral toughness into precisely those painful truths." --Kirkus Reviews