Wilson Center Experts

Sheldon Garon

Fellow

Contact Information:
T (202) 691-4069 // F (202) 691-4001
Affiliation:
Dodge Professor of History and East Asian Studies, Princeton University
Wilson Center Project(s):
"Home Fronts: A Transnational Study of Japan, Germany, Britain, and the United States in World War II"
Term:
Sep 01, 2009
-
May 01, 2010

As an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, I developed a fascination with comparative history. I began with European history, but gravitated toward the history of Japan—a nation usually studied in isolation because of its alleged "uniqueness." I became convinced that not only has modern Japan faced many of the same problems as contemporary Western nations, but also that the comparative study of Japan would enrich our understanding of the West and world in general. Trained in Japanese history, I have explored relations between the powerful Japanese state and society—covering labor policy, welfare, licensed prostitution, religious issues, and interaction between women's groups and the state. My book Molding Japanese Minds dealt with how the government and groups advanced national power, economic development, and social stability by mobilizing society—often by means of intrusive "moral suasion" campaigns. That research inspired me to write "Keep on Saving": How Other Nations Forged Cultures of Thrift When America Didn't (to be published by Princeton University Press, 2010). This is a transnational study, chronicling linkages among several nations as states and reformers vigorously encouraged citizens to save money over the past two centuries. Drawing on archival sources and interviews, I examine a number of European nations, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and the U.S. When I began this project, saving was not a sexy topic. Now it has become perhaps too exciting. By nearly all accounts, Americans have spent too much, saved too little, and borrowed excessively. Although we like to believe that other Westerners behave "like us," continental European nations have long saved at much higher levels. Historically, Europeans resembled the Japanese and other East Asians in systemically promoting saving by means of campaigns and institutions such as savings banks, postal savings, and school savings programs. My transnational work on saving has attracted the attention of policy specialists who ponder how other nations' experiences might help ameliorate America's problems of crippling household debt and low savings. I recently participated in formulating the report, For a New Thrift: Confronting the Debt Culture (2008), and organized a panel at the national conference, "Confronting the Debt Culture." I've also lectured to officials of the Bank of Japan, Bank of Korea, Bank Negara Malaysia, and the National Association of German Savings Banks.My present project on "home fronts" in World War II grows out of my interest in transnational history. New scholarship examines linkages between the United States and Europe. Exploiting my knowledge of Japan, I seek to go beyond these trans-Atlantic histories to write a more global history that compares home fronts in Japan, Germany, Britain, and the United States. Imperial Japan was neither as culturally exceptional as depicted by Allied propaganda, nor did everyday life in wartime Nazi Germany completely differ from that in Britain. Even U.S. authorities researched the mobilization techniques of allies and adversaries alike. I look forward to exchanging ideas with the other Wilson Center fellows, while researching all four cases at the incomparable National Archives.


Education

B.A. (1973) History, University of Minnesota; A.M. (1975) Regional Studies—East Asia, Harvard University; Ph.D. (1981) History, Yale University


Experience

Dodge Professor of History and East Asian Studies, Princeton University, 2008-present (Professor since 1994)
Associate Professor (1988-94), Assistant Professor (1982-1988) of History and East Asian Studies, Princeton University
Instructor/Assistant Professor, History, Pomona College, 1980-82


Expertise

Japanese history (20th century and contemporary history); Global history of saving money (U.S., Europe, East Asia)

Project Summary

World War II was a global experience, yet histories of the home front remain confined to individual nations. Based on archival research, this transnational study is the first to compare home fronts in four key belligerents: Japan, Germany, Britain and the U.S. Total war introduced common challenges of mobilizing citizenries behind war efforts as never before, and each nation studied the techniques of allies and enemies alike. I compare civilian morale, standards of living, sacrifice, organizing local life, air raids, and the home fronts' impact on the postwar world. Surprisingly, democratic Britain resembled Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in levels of popular sacrifice and declining living standards, while Americans' material lives greatly improved in wartime. Postwar America's hegemony and exceptional consumer society owe much to these wartime developments.

Major Publications

  • The Ambivalent Consumer: Questioning Consumption in East Asia and the West, co-edited with Patricia L. Maclachlan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006).
  • Molding Japanese Minds: The State in Everyday Life (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).
  • The State and Labor in Modern Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

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