This book doesn’t know what it wants to be—Elaine Fischel’s experience of working for the defense of the Japanese leaders or how much she enjoyed Japan just after WWII and partaking in all the parties, tennis, ping-pong, horseback riding, skiing, traveling, hanging with the prince (yes, the brother of Hirohito) and other wealthy and high-ranking folks, eating well, shopping, and, of course, dates with the many men she encountered as seemingly the only woman on the four main islands of the country.
It can’t seem to do both well at the same time.
More than 60 years in the making and based largely upon the author’s own letters home to her mother, Defending the Enemy is heavy on per own activities at the expense (if you’re expecting more) of the details of the defendants at the trial, or IMTFE, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. The deep, sociocultural reasons for the war itself are often promised by the author but not delivered.
Truly an amazing woman, Elaine graduated from UCLA in 1940—that makes her at least 90 years old now!—and was a well-known tennis champion, which earned her all kinds of respect and attention in Japan. She went to Japan in April 1946 to work for the defense of such luminaries as Osami Nagano (mastermind of Pearl Harbor), Marquis Kido (Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal and Hirohito’s closest confidant), and of course, General Hideki Tojo, prime minister from 1941 to 1944.
The mostly silent main character in the whole book is General Douglas C. MacArthur, with whom Elaine requested and was granted an interview, if only for a whole two minutes, at the end of her duty in August 1948. MacArthur pretty much ordered the trial and also ordered that the emperor be left out of any jeopardy of prosecution.
[amazonify]1935456032[/amazonify]Initially Elaine wanted to serve as a court reporter because she had dreams of becoming a lawyer, which she did, eventually practicing law for 57 years. But her orders were for stenography work, and that was that. After a few early shake-ups, she ended up as the secretary/assistant/social companion of the two most talented and prominent defense attorneys, John Brannon and William Logan. Logan was second only to Mac as the most famous American in Japan.
She made sure to secure autographs and signatures of many of the 29 defendants—one of whom died early on, and two were removed for medical/mental health reasons. Of those remaining, 7 were sentenced to hang, 18 (16?) to life in prison, and 3 to lesser terms. All those not dead or already freed were pardoned by the Japanese government in 1955.
A fascinating narrative despite all its flaws (and in desperate need of editing), Defending the Enemy tells what it is like to work on behalf of such a hated enemy as were the Japanese in 1946: “I was bitter and uncompromising in my hatred for the Japanese people.” But Elaine came to respect and even love many of the defendants and, especially, their families. Tojo was probably one of her favorites.
F. Scott lives in southeastern Massachusetts and now recalls what he learned from Ken Burns’s The War, namely, that if not for the forbearance of the Allies, the beautiful and intriguing country of Japan and her people might have been wiped off the face of the Earth.
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