NEW YORK -- U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy has recently reminded us why the U.S. forces decided not to go all the way to Baghdad during the Persian Gulf War. Addressing the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 14, he pointed out that it was none other than the first President Bush and his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who had explained in their joint book, "A World Transformed" (Knopf, 1998): "Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have . . . incurred incalculable human and political costs. . . . We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq."

I was struck by Kennedy's reference not because I am knowledgeable enough about the complexity of recent historical developments, but because I had just read, belatedly, Naoki Inose's oddly titled book "Showa 16-nen Natsu no Haisen," which may be translated "Defeated in War in the Summer of 1941." It was originally published in 1983.

Inose is the one singular man-of-letters Japan has today. A biographer of literary figures such as Yukio Mishima and Osamu Dazai, he has intensely examined Japan's modern history from unexpected angles. He has written, among other things, about the little-noticed consequences of the U.S. naval officer Matthew Perry's coming to Japan, in 1853, and the exaltation of the Emperor beginning in the Meiji era.