News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

More on Japan at War: An Oral History

From page 44:
++The rest of the injured were expected to kill themselves, but some Japanese were captured because they couldn't take their own lives. Massacres of civilians were routine. They cooperated with the enemy, sheltered them in their houses, gave them information. We viewed them as the enemy. During combat, all villagers went into hiding. We pilfered anything useful from their houses or, in winter, burned them for firewood. If anyone was found wandering about, we captured and killed them. Spies! This was war.

Well, sort of. Most Western wounded were not expected to kill themselves, and the promiscuous chopping of heads and bayoneting of live dummies wasn't just an enthusiastic excess of war either. But then again, neither was attacking civilians. This modern democratic practice probably began with Napoleon's populist armies, received further encouragement with Sherman's scorching of Georgia, and reached its climax in WWII with the bombing of German and Japanese, British and Chinese, cities.

During feudal times, armies were more likely in Japan to fight only one another. You could take the kids, ramen and manga. As a civilian you were in no danger. Mass warfare, the sort were everyone is a target, where kill zones are established, and search and destroy missions are arranged, is an efficiency manufactured by the modern age. Democracy has brought most cultural artifacts up to their historical peak through evolving arts into sciences.

On the other hand, the Afghan and recent Iraq campaigns are moving in the opposite direction, minimizing casualties, and targeting military targets almost exclusively. Until the past several decades, collateral damage didn't even have a name because it didn't need one. For most of two centuries, there was no need for a distinction in military jargon because there was little formal distinction on the battlefield.

From another interview:
++ Looking back at the war years, many people claimed they supported the war only because there was no other choice. I think that's a lie. Intellectuals, journalists, educated people, all supported the war actively. The only exceptions were the Communists, they were in prison. Nobody truly thought Japan would lose.... we held so many lantern parades to celebrate our victories! Why have we forgotten that in defeat?

In other words, had you or I been there, it's highly likely that we too would have supported the war to the hilt as well: which is about as good a departure point as any for studying what the hell was going on in the Japanese mind at that time.

Also interesting are a couple of parallels with contemporary Germany and contemporary People's Republic of China. With regard to first from page 51:
++ Japan and Germany would only have to combine forces to break the Anglo-Saxon hold on Asia, and redistribute the colonies. That's how we felt then. Beginning in 1939, Hitler's newsreels were shown every day. When I played hooky, I always went to see them. I'd watch those stirring movies about Hitler and wonder, "What's the matter with the Japanese army in Manchuria? Why can't they just annihilate the British or the Americans? Hitler took all of Poland and united it with Germany!" And I bought Hitler's heroic autobiography Mein Kampf. Japanese youth at that time adored Hitler and Mussolini and yearned for the emergence of a Japanese politician with the same qualities. We wanted decisive action.

That offers insight into the simplicity of the national mindset. It also suggests that without several generations of free speech, people were easily swayed by rhetoric, slogans, and plugs (as is the case in the PRC today). The same sort of rhetoric which would be laughed at today, was swallowed, praised and admired, and the dazzled yearned for more shellacking.

++Whenever extreme right wing talks were given on subjects like "Attack Britain and America," enormous crowds came. People brought box lunches and formed long lines from six in the morning to get in and hear Nakano Seigo endorsing the liberation of Asia.

The liberation of Asia meant replacing those beastly foreign colonizers with chemically-pure colonists from the home team. From a modern perspective, the first fallacy with this is the obvious one: the presumption that the home teams colonizers will do a better job than the foreign colonizers. But better job ring to a more moral, uplifting, and technologically effective job. Down with evildoers, carpetbaggers, and resource rapers. The second fallacy with this is that colonization was a bad thing. Colonization was simply the result of an authoritarian regime keeping its people down and preventing them from developing superior economy and weaponry. A country which did last two repressive citizens naturally have a stronger economy and improved weaponry. Given human nature, sooner or later, someone or someone's from the less repressive nation were going to invade the authoritarian nation with such excuses as the threat of war, lebensraum, and to save it from itself. And yet, all of these excuses, and many others that I could probably come up with, are all valid.

In my experience its racism and cultural chauvinism that drive the idea that the people of one country do not have the right so-called to interfere in the lives of the people of another country. But all governments interfere with people's lives so interference ain't the issue. Good government is. So if a set of Japanese speakers or English speakers or Chinese speakers are better qualified to run national affairs, then I say turn it over to whoever is best qualified regardless of national origin.

In many instances, it can be argued that not protecting a country from an incoming colonizing nation was clearly the smartest option. Would the average Japanese citizen have benefited in 1853 by being levied into a suicidal effort to keep out the Americans and other Europeans? Would the average Taiwanese citizen been better off if the island had risen up in a patriotic revolt and tens of thousands of civilians been massacred by the incoming Japanese Army in 1895? Chang Kai-shek, who was a thoroughly familiar with the Japanese military's capability, opposed defending Shanghai against the Japanese army. The avoidable slaughter of both Chinese and Japanese which took place in Shanghai can be argued to have led directly to the similarly avoidable prophylactic slaughter of Chinese men in Nanking (pulled out of the security zone and shot as suspected guerrillas). I make a similar argument in favor of the Opium War. It freed up trade and cheapened the price of opium, thus dropping the cost of living and providing people then (as today despite the useless US Drug War) with more affordable, higher quality designer drugs. (needless to say, I'm a libertarian on these things)

Next money-quote:
++You would be shocked by what we were taught. "Democracy" meant you could do whatever you please. If we found ourselves where we had to fight America, we were assured we would not have to worry. America was a democratic nation and so would disintegrate and collapse. That was common talk. In America, they can't unite for a common purpose. One blow against them, and they'll fall to pieces.

Not so shocking these days. Sounds much like the sort of rhetoric you can find amongst PRC hobby Patriots and Al Qaeda pre-9/11 types. As with most people who take their news from newspapers, and not from books, these types don't realize that the media in authoritarian regimes only prints favorable news, as opposed to the media of democracies which concentrates on providing bad news. Bad new sells.

During times of political stability, authoritarian regimes are highly regimented and democracies are unruly and messy. However, battlefields are always chaotic and given the chance, the soldiers of an authoritarian regime will scatter like quail because they're justifiably paranoid and don't trust anybody and aren't sacrificing themselves for the dictator-for-life who murdered their uncle or whose forces raped their neighbor.

With democracies, when the shots fly and the band begins to play, a conspiracy of the willing emerges to deal a death blow to the enemy. Democratic soldiers don't scatter because they trust each other, have professional pride, like their government, and so on. And this is nothing new. It's the history of democracies, starting with the ancient Greek armies who elected their generals once a year, conducted post battle assessments, and ended up either hanging or driving most of their generals out of the country. It continued through to Rome, Renaissance Italy, Spain, and on down to the British and today's American forces. Democracy remains in the ascendant, not because it's citizens are enamored of it, but because it wins on the battlefield.

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