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Dismantling Defeat: Japan’s Early Postwar Search for War Responsibility

Date: April 12, 2023 (Wed)

Time: 5 pm

Venue: CPD-3.29, Centennial Campus, HKU

Speaker: Professor Barak Kushner

Professor of East Asian History,

Co-chair of the Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies,

University of Cambridge

Contrary to popular belief, Japan did not lose one war in 1945 but three. War crimes trials in East Asia were therefore more complex than their Western counterparts because the Europeans strove to maintain colonial law in regions where they struggled to reimpose control, while professing adherence to international law. We have easily accepted a story that once Japan loses militarily that its imperial legacy dissipates at the same time. This is false but it allows the memory of suffering to take precedence over investigating how things come to an end in messy situations – the immediate postwar where power, frontiers, and the political authority of a region are far from clarified.

Defining imperial defeat as well as victory were issues very much still up for grabs in the immediate aftermath of Japan’s 1945 surrender. The situation was fluid and helped shape the new order of who managed to retain power and what political form it would take. Assigning blame and responsibility for the war and Japanese war crimes, while managing that historical debate in court, became a lynchpin to short and longer term geo-political stability. My talk aims to push the audience to reconsider the contours of the end of Japan’s empire in Asia, and to grapple with a less sober vision of Japan’s defeat and the Allied victory.

All are welcome. No registration required.

For enquiries, please contact Dr. Daniel Poch at



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