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NONFICTION : LOOKING BOTH WAYS by Edwin O. Reischauer (Harper & Row: $19.95; 323 pp.).

August 31, 1986|Harry H. L. Kitano

Edwin O. Reischauer has lived a rich, diverse life above and beyond the call of duty of most academics. Reischauer comes across as a compassionate, secure and loving man in these pages, written in a low key, modest style.

Born and reared in Japan, Reischauer studied at Oberlin (Ohio) and Harvard and in Paris, Japan and China before serving as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army from 1938 to 1945. After World War II, he developed the field of East Asian Studies at Harvard and served as U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966.

His years as ambassador were the most noteworthy, for his respect for the land of his birth, Japan, and for the country of his identity, the United States, helped foster better diplomatic relations between East and West.

Relations between the United States and Japan, Reischauer believes, were strained before World War II largely because most U.S. diplomats had little understanding of Japanese language, culture and history. Reischauer is critical of the way we select ambassadors, of the power of ill-informed politicians, and of how personal biases have led to foreign-policy blunders. In "Looking Both Ways," he accentuates the positive, however, and so in most of this book, we read not of pre-war prejudices but of rising U.S. interest in China and Japan after the war.

Reischauer's years at Harvard in the late 1940s were golden, for East Asian Studies was burgeoning, and the list of students who studied under him reads like a veritable Who's Who in the field. These reminiscences, then, end not in cynicism but with the recognition that momentous events are still shaped by human beings, with all of their strengths and weaknesses.

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