When I was a child in the 40’s, 50’s and mid 60s “Made in Japan” was a term of derision. We used to laugh about it as kids. We all thought our Japanese toys were “short-lived” and they were.
Prior to our early childhoods, the Japanese were overcome physically and emotionally by the tremendous productivity of the Americans who neutralized their country’s forces with industrial might in WWII. There were tanks, tanks and more tanks rolling over the hills of battle. This was the impression of the late, superb, social historian David Halberstam well known for yet another excellent work, The Best and the Brightest, about how America became involved in the Vietnam War. David had won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 1964 and The Reckoning was a New York Times best seller. Long before I read The Reckoning, in the summer of the 1994 baseball strike missing live baseball, I relived the Ted Williams-Joe DiMaggio/Red Sox-Yankee rivalry as I read Halberstam’s wonderful, The Summer of ’49.
As to The Reckoning, I had lived with a quandary for years of how in the world the reversal I observed as an adult occurred in the fortunes of the Japanese auto industry relative to ours. This book explains beautifully and in nuance that profound change in which the American manufacturers were outdone.
A lot of the explanation occurs by way of the core biographies of the key people involved. One in particular was an American auto veteran, devastated by the reduced quality of American cars in the 70s and the arrogance of that industry. He was a remarkable individual well described by Halberstam. Though American he stayed in Japan during WWII NOT to be prosecuted by either side’s federal jurisdictions. He stood by himself, as Sir Thomas More had many years before. The playwright Robert Bolt called More, A Man for All Seasons. Unlike Sir Thomas More, this American was not martyred figuratively or literally.
The author also touches on the different responses by the Japanese unions relative to those of the U.S. Apparently a part of the American problem were the greater demands made by its unions as opposed to the unions in Japan. This comparative labor union explanation is clear, engaging and well thought out.
Give yourself a chance to understand some of Asia’s explosive economic growth in the last half century by spending some of your precious time between the pages of this delightful book.
H. Robert Rubin, memoirist and author of Look Backward Angel, an e-book on Amazon and How Did I Get Through This? to be published on Amazon this year