In this article, I examine how defeat in war has shaped intellectual discourse in postwar Japan, particularly intellectual debates on war guilt. Known as ‘war responsibility debates’ in Japanese, the disconnection that is imposed on national identity by defeat has led to a number of different responses from Japanese opinion leaders and scholars. Implicit in these responses is a desire to restore fundamental continuity, either by revising the appraisal of war, or by making guilt the unifying element in a transwar national identity. Defeat is the crux of the issue around which intellectuals have had to navigate in their quest for a continuous history for postwar Japan. This article considers the contributions made to this debate by Maruyama Masao, a pioneering thinker on political thought in postwar Japan; by the scholars in the Science of Thought Research Group in their study of political apostasy (tenkō) and the more recent advent of revisionist historians in the ‘Liberal School of History’ group. I conclude that this ongoing debate should itself be regarded as a positive phenomenon, as it continues to presume a basic link between the war and accountability that is fundamental to the integrity of Japan's postwar democracy.
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