Victim, Aggressor, and Leader: Hierarchy, War Memory, and Foreign Policy of Postwar Japan

Date of Award

Spring 8-2012

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Audie Klotz


Foreign policy, Japan, State identity, War memory

Subject Categories

Political Science


How can a country remembered as an aggressor see itself as a victimized country? How do state leaders reconcile tensions between the competing war memories of victimization and aggression with the state's aspirations for international leadership? Analyzing archival documents, history textbooks, and leaders' speeches, I examine the content and contestation of Japan's collective memories of World War II and their effects on its three foreign policy cases: (1) UN diplomacy at the global level, (2) foreign aid policy toward Southeast Asia at the regional level, and (3) foreign policy regarding war responsibility and an apology for comfort women at the bilateral level with South Korea. I find that the boundaries of Japanese war memory, influenced by international hierarchy, have never been fixed, and vary over time. I argue that variations in the content and contestation of war memory, mediated by multiple relationships, define a range of legitimate foreign policy options. My findings suggest that the notions of international hierarchy and meanings help our understanding of the workings of power in international politics.


Open Access

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