Righteous Cause or Tragic Folly

Changing Views of War in Modern Japanese Poetry
Volume 17
Steve Rabson
A must for anyone interested in Japan, war, or poetry.


The subject of modern Japanese poetry written in support of the nation's wars, long considered a taboo in postwar literary circles, is explored here in historical and cultural context. Steve Rabson presents translations and explications of works by poets who wrote both for and against war, and provides background essential for understanding why some of Japan's most famous writers swung 180 degrees to support or oppose war at different times in their careers. Through examples from American and British poetry, Rabson also shows that this phenomenon of poets changing their views is by no means exclusive to Japan. Exposing the efforts of some Japanese writers after 1945 to conceal or revise their poetry written during World War II, the author discusses assertions by literary critics and historians that poets bear a special "war responsibility."

 “Eschewing the one-dimensional myths of the Japanese as either inherently bellicose or inveterately pacific, Steve Rabson has written a nuanced but nonetheless provocative account of fluctuating Japanese attitudes toward war as evidenced in their modern poetry. This painstakingly researched but highly readable book is a must for anyone interested in modern Japan, war in the twentieth century, or the problematic role of writers in dark times.”
—David G. Goodman, author of After Apocalypse: Four Japanese Plays of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Long, Long Autumn Nights: Selected Poems of Oguma Hideo, 1901–1940
Steve Rabson teaches at Brown University. He has published widely on Japanese fiction and poetry.

Praise / Awards

  • "Provocative and stimulating. War poetry, whether Eastern or Western, has rarely been probed so skillfully. . . . Righteous Cause or Tragic Folly may well become a model for future literary studies."
    --John Bradley, Northern Illinois University and editor of Atomic Ghost: Poets Respond to the Nuclear Age

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 288pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1998
  • Available
  • 978-0-939512-77-5

Add to Cart
  • $36.95 U.S.