Born in Yale, Oklahoma, in 1923, anthropologist Wilton S. Dillon is now Senior Scholar Emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution, where he has spent more than forty years. He came there in 1969 from the National Academy of Sciences as Director of Smithsonian International Symposia and later Founding Director of Interdisciplinary Studies. Dillon earned a 1951 BA at the University of California, Berkeley, in Communications and Public Policy. His 1961 Columbia Anthropology PhD dissertation was published as Gifts and Nations. Dillon’s writings on Japan have appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Virginia Review of Asian Studies, Columbia Forum, and Far Eastern Ceramic Bulletin. Daniel A. Métraux, Professor of Asian Studies at Mary Baldwin College, conducted the interview.
Daniel Métraux: Dr. Dillon, you served in the military in the Pacific and were in Japan from 1945 to 1948. Why were you in Japan, and what were you doing there?
Wilton Dillon: As a “boot on the ground” upon arrival in December 1945, I had no real military duties except a few days operating Morse code from the site of what is now Tokyo Tower. By January, I opted to stay in Japan as a civilian informational specialist in the Press and Publications Unit of the Civil Information and Education (CI&E)Section of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP). My first duty: Japanese press liaison officer for the US Education Mission to Japan and later the Allied Control Council. My three years were climaxed by work on the War Guilt Information Program, an impossible task because of Japanese aversion to “guilt” rather than “shame,” as described in Ruth Benedict’s The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. I returned to the US in December 1948 to resume undergraduate studies interrupted by war.