Against the “American Century,” Toward a Third World New Left: The Case of Helen Mears*

Research paper by Kim K.

Indexed on: 23 Dec '18Published on: 26 Apr '18Published in: Diplomatic History


Few Americans are so unknown yet emblematic of U.S.-Asia relations as the journalist Helen Mears. Lauded by contemporaries as a perceptive observer of Asia, Mears died in 1989 in relative obscurity. That seemed unlikely early in Mears’s career. At the age of twenty-nine, Mears became assistant editor for the liberal monthly, Survey Graphic. With graphic artist Rea Irvin and other luminaries, Mears helped found The New Yorker. Traveling across the Americas, Africa, and Eurasia—including third-class passage on the Trans-Siberian railway, a daring voyage in its day—Mears wrote for Fortune, Christian Science Monitor, and other leading periodicals. Invoking these experiences, Mears published two widely read books in the heyday of the “American Century.” British diplomat and Japan authority George Sansom proclaimed her first book, Year of the Wild Boar, the most “penetrating” English-language study of Japan yet published. Amid a recent renaissance of Mears’s work in Japan, historians Naoko Shibusawa and Richard Minear respectively called her second book, Mirror for Americans, “clear-eyed, rational, and unsentimental” and “the most important book” on Japan from the 1940s.11