My published work mainly explores the intersections of ideology and culture in US-Japan relations between the first and second world wars. I’ve also aimed, in various newspaper commentary, to provide historical context and clarity on the meaning of the Confederate flag and postwar monuments.
Prelude to Pearl Harbor reconsiders the origins of WWII in Asia and the Pacific by focusing on competing ideologies of world order; in particular, the rift between a rules-based liberal order and Pan-Asianist regionalism. Both amplifying and challenging accepted interpretations, the book also explores a vigorous cultural diplomacy implemented by Japan's government in hopes of reducing U.S.-Japan tensions.
“John Gripentrog’s Prelude to Pearl Harbor reminds us that we still have much to learn about the onset of the Pacific War. For those unfamiliar with the period, Gripentrog provides an exceptionally clear narrative of the unfolding war and the early American response. Drawing on Japanese- and English-language source material, the author successfully examines the clash between the American ‘ideology of liberal internationalism’ and Tokyo’s ‘exclusive regionalist arrangement.' While this clash has been studied before, Gripentrog’s focus on Japanese soft power, specifically the Kokusai Bunka Shinkōkai [Society for International Cultural Relations], is new…. Coverage of KBS alone, which the author does better than anyone, is reason enough to read his latest work. Prelude to Pearl Harbor’s final pages, which juxtapose the 1943 Greater East Asia Conference with the 1944 Bretton Woods and Dumbarton Oakes conferences, will surely move even the most skeptical reader to appreciate the mammoth ideological divide separating the two combatants. In the end, while Gripentrog may not convince everyone that ‘The Asia-Pacific War began and ended as a fierce ideological conflict between competing ideas of world order,’ he does force his readers to think differently about both the coming of the war and, perhaps more importantly, the remarkably different world that each side fought to create.”
—American Historical Review
"Is another book detailing the 'road to Pearl Harbor' really necessary? This volume proves that indeed it is. As the title suggests, the book is a synthetic narrative history told through the lens of ideology and cultural relations. By ideology, Gripentrog means the competing and irreconcilable ideologies of world order at the center of the conflict between the two countries: liberal internationalism on the part of the US and Pan-Asianist regionalism on the part of Japan. The focus on cultural relations during this period and, in particular, Japan’s soft power campaign to influence the American public and its elites through baseball, traditional arts, and paid junkets is new and very revealing. The gradual change in US policy toward Japan is well told…. [T]his compelling story adds much to what was previously known."
“John Gripentrog gives us an expanded and energized understanding of a troubled period of international history. Recurring themes are treated in fascinating depth, including the American insistence on ‘orderly processes’ of world order and the mirage entertained by Ambassador Joseph Grew and others that a liberal element among Japan’s leaders would ultimately rise to disable the hawks. By astute use of archival documents, diaries, press materials, and reliable published accounts of the period, Gripentrog brings to life key historical personalities including Cordell Hull, Hirota Kōki, Matsuoka Yōsuke, and Franklin Roosevelt. Graced with lucid, quality prose, the book is a captivating read.”
—Thomas W. Burkman, emeritus, State University of New York at Buffalo
“This book offers an excellent discussion of ‘liberal internationalism’ as a key to tracing US-Japan relations in the aftermath of the Great War. Initially accepting the ideology as a basis for its policy toward China, Japan steadily retreated from it during the 1930s as it expanded its power on the Asian continent. The result was an inevitable collision between ‘Japanese regionalism and liberal internationalism,’ as the author notes. Prelude to Pearl Harbor makes an important contribution to understanding the ideological dimension of the crisis that led to the Pacific War.”
—Akira Iriye, emeritus, Harvard University
“A synthesis in the best sense of the word. John Gripentrog highlights the dynamic, shifting conditions in Asia over a twenty-year period. The book is evenly balanced in explaining Japanese and American policy making and describing the people responsible for those policies. Gripentrog’s examination of the relationship between Pan-Asianism and Japan’s cultural diplomacy in the United States makes an original contribution to the scholarship on the 1930s and adds a new dimension to our understanding of US-Japan relations.”
—Marc Gallicchio, Villanova University
“In this excellent book, John Gripentrog traces the complex ways in which ideology, cultural relations, and policy were knotted together in US-Japan relations between the world wars. The reward for readers is a deepened understanding of the bumpy road that led to World War II and beyond.”
—Frank Ninkovich, emeritus, St. John’s University
"…a brisk and insightful book on U.S.-Japanese relations in the interwar period…. By situating his story of cultural diplomacy in the broader context of U.S.-Japanese interwar relations, Gripentrog shows how fundamental ideological differences made overcoming supposed misunderstandings on both sides impossible. The result is a useful synthesis of U.S.-Japanese relations, punctuated by colorful characters like the diplomat and University of Oregon law school graduate Matsuoka Yōsuke, and scenes such as baseball icon Babe Ruth’s 1934 visit to Japan."
—Journal of Military History
“High Culture to the Rescue: Japan’s Nation Branding in the United States, 1934-1940,” in Nation Branding in Modern History, eds. Carolin Viktorin, Jessica C. E. Gienow-Hecht, Annika Estner, and Marcel K. Will (London: Berghahn Books, 2018).
"From Sept. 11 to Jan. 6, an attack on America's core values," Asheville Citizen-Times (2021).
“Distortions of Heritage, History, Hinder Progress,” Asheville Citizen-Times (2017).
“Power and Culture: Japan’s Cultural Diplomacy in the United States, 1934-1940,” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 84, No. 4 (2015).
“Facing up to hard truths of the Civil War,” Asheville Citizen-Times (2015).
“In Commemorating the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the Central Role of Slavery Must Not Be Forgotten,” History News Service (2011).
“The Trans-National Pastime: Baseball and American Perceptions of Japan, 1931-1941,” Diplomatic History, vol. 34, No. 2 (2010).