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

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Part of a Review of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, by Ruth Benedict (1946)

One thing which makes this book really work is the author's decisiveness. (Page 14) [Cultural anthropology] requires both a certain tough-mindedness and a certain generosity. It requires a tough-mindedness which people of goodwill sometimes condemn. These protagonists of One World have staked their hopes on convincing people of every corner of the earth that all differences between East and West, black and white, Christian and Mohammed, are superficial and that all mankind is really like-minded. This view is sometimes called the brotherhood of man.... but to demand such uniformity as a condition of respecting another nation is as neurotic as to demand it of one's wife or one's children. The tough-minded are content the differences should exist. They respect differences. Their goal is a world made safe for differences... The study of comparative cultures cannot flourish when men are so defensive about their own way of life that it appears to them to be by definition the sole solution in the world.

(Biff) So much for her sympathy for political correctness and as good an introduction to why she wrote such an incisive and penetrating collection of chapters reaming the Japanese character and psychology and child-rearing process. Her focus is on what happened and why; not on what should have happened and who is to blame. Thank goodness for that. My primary interest in reading this book was to better understand the Japanese performance during the second world war and explore what had happened psychologically to make Japan go from being one of two nations praised by the International Red Cross for its treatment of POWs in the first world war to essentially starving to death and slaughtering its POWs of war during the second world war.

Just as in Thailand, reverence for the king/emperor was genuine and pervasive: (Page 32) All this unanimity in reckoning the emperor above criticism appeared phony to Americans who are accustomed to exempt no human man from skeptical scrutiny and criticism. But there is no question that it was the voice of Japan even in defeat. Those most experienced in interrogating the prisoners gave it as their verdict that it was unnecessary to enter on each interview sheet: 'Refuses to speak against the Emperor'; all prisoners refused, even those who cooperated with the allies and broadcast for us to the Japanese troops.

As Ruth Benedict demonstrates in later chapters, the state religion was state Shinto, as opposed to various Shinto sects and Buddhist sects in the private sector. The essential function of State Shinto was to dunk school children and members of the military (which was compulsory) in the wet notion that everything they received from the government was due to the personal authorization of the beneficient emperor. A Japanese analogue to the Christian notion of God's rapt attention over the comings and goings, doings and fumblings of every church-going stuffed shirt and blank charge. Thus the schools, uniforms, weaponry, roads, public transit, and so on and so forth came down from on high courtesy of the emperor's busy hands. All the way down, starting with government ministers on down to the smallest functionary took part in this, for lack of a better term, hoax and declared anything issued to the public as a gift from the Great Doting Busybody. This helped to get the emperor worship deal really going.

(Page 33) As many prisoners said, the Japanese' will fight unhesitatingly, even with nothing more than bamboo poles, if the emperor so decrees. They would stop just as quickly if he so decreed'; ' Japan would throw down arms tomorrow if the emperor should issue such an order'; 'even the Kwantung Army in Manchuria' - most militant and jingoistic - 'would lay down their arms'; 'only his words can make the Japanese people accept a defeat and be reconciled to live for reconstruction.'

I like that last sentence, " be reconciled to live for reconstruction." As opposed to the nation committing suicide. But more on this later.

I was surprised to learn that the Japanese military was not so tightly wound and strapped down that there was nil by way of free speech. However, the purpose free speech was put to was unexpected: (page 34 ~35) Prisoners of war were free with their denunciation of their local commanders, especially those who had not shared the dangers and hardship of their soldiers. They were especially critical of those who had evacuated by plane and left their troops behind to fight it out. Usually they praised some officers and bitterly criticized others; there was no sign that they lacked the will to discriminate the good from the bad things Japanese. Even in the home islands newspapers and magazines criticized 'the government.' They called for more leadership and greater coordination of effort and noted that they were not getting from the government what was necessary. They even criticized restrictions on freedom of speech.... One speaker said:' I think there are various ways to arouse the Japanese people but the most important one is freedom of speech. In these few years, the people have not been able to say frankly what they think. They have been afraid that they might be blamed if they spoke certain matters. They hesitated, and tried to patch up the surface, so the public mind has really become timid. We can never develop the total power of the people in this way.' another speaker expanded the same thing:'... The people are so badly restricted by the so-called Special Penal Law of Wartime and the National Security Law that they have become as timid as the people in the feudalistic period. Therefore the fighting power which could have been developed remains undeveloped now.'

(Biff) Like many Chinese in the PRC, no conception existed (apparently) that free speech might cut the legs out from the war effort in the first place. Free speech naturally aligned with the patriotic movement. Patriots, like other fanatics, are quick to forget that someone not in the pay of the enemy can have a sound, persuasive opposing point of view. Reminds me of the free speech Americans enjoyed, and which has been oft-praised, during United States War of Independence. You were free to speak or print any sort of opinion as long as it was pro-American. Jailing and/or tarring & feathering were the usual reward for political heresy.

Also interesting was (page 35~36)... other attitudes which had to do more specifically with the Japanese army. One of these concerned the expandability of their fighting forces. The Japanese radio put well the contrast with the American attitudes when it described with shocking credulity the Navy's decoration of Admiral George S. McCain, commander of a task force off Formosa. "... So we are not questioning the veracity of Admiral McCain's rescuing two ships, but the point we want you to see is the curious fact that the rescuing of damaged ships merits decoration in United States."
Americans thrilled to all rescue, all aid to those pressed to the wall. The valiant deed is all the more a hero's act if it saves the 'damaged.' Japanese valor repudiates such salvaging. Even the safety devices installed in our B-29's and fighter planes raised their cry of ' cowardice.'... Japanese scorn of materialism played a part in it; her soldiers were taught that death itself was a victory of the spirit. And our kind of care of the sick was an interference with heroism...
During the war the Japanese army had no trained rescue teams to remove the wounded under fire and to give first aid; it had no medical system of front line, behind the lines and distant recuperative hospitals. Its attention to medical supplies was lamentable. In certain emergencies the hospitalized were simply killed.... There was no routine of evacuating the sick and wounded while there was still opportunity... The medical officer in charge often shot the inmates of the hospital before he left or let them kill themselves with hand grenades. If this attitude of the Japanese toward damaged goods was fundamental in their treatment of their own countrymen, it was equally important in the treatment of American prisoners of war.
According to our standards the Japanese were guilty of atrocities to their own man as well as to their prisoners. The former chief medical officer of the Philippines, Colonel Harold W. gladly, said after his three years internment as a prisoner of war on Formosa that 'the American prisoners got better medical treatment in the Japanese soldiers. Allied medical officers in the prison camps were able to take care of their men while the Japanese didn't have any doctors.'

(Biff) Anyway, just as colonizers tend to treat the colonized in manner roughly on par with the manner in which lower classes of the home country are treated by the upper classes, the same turns out to be the case with Japanese treatment of prisoners of war. No surprise there. Many folk, from left-wing pain-feelers to peacetime patriots looking for a foe that can't fight back, due to physical distance or time, and then load up their foes with morals charges. But all they really do in the effort is demonstrate that they're too busy trying to work up an excuse to feel good about themselves by trampling on the memory of someone else. Why not hit the library and crack a book? Knowledge is power after all and does much more to relax the soul tormented by an inferiority complex. Besides, suggesting there's a double standard in the treatment of nationals when outside their own borders presupposes that the average person has something properly called an imagination. Well, I'm open to persuasion. But until I'm persuaded, it strikes me that the way someone is cruel to people in their own country is pretty much the way they're going to be cruel to people in other countries. And likewise when it comes to acting as a benefactor. And so on, and so on, and so on.

(Page 38 ~39) Honor was bound up with fighting to the death.... The army lived up to the code to such an extent that in the north Burma campaign the proportion of the captured to the dead was 142 to 17,166. That was a ratio of 1:120. And of the 142 in the prison camps, all except a small minority were wounded or unconscious when taken. In the armies of Occidental nations it is almost a truism that troops cannot stand the death of one fourth to one third of their strength without giving up; surrenders run about four to one. When for the first time in Hollandia, however, any appreciable number of Japanese troops surrendered, the proportion was 1:5 and was a tremendous advance over the 1:120 of north Burma.
Many of the orders which American prisoners had to obey, too, were those which had also been required of their Japanese keepers by their own Japanese officers; the forced marches and close packed transshipments were commonplace to them.

(Biff) Also fascinating was the evasion of rules allowed as long as one did not do so openly. This sounds not only Chinese, but also Scottish. Perhaps it's universal. (Page 39) Americans tell, too, of how rigorously sentries require that the prisoners should cover up their evasions of rules; the great crime was to evade openly.... During the day the rule that no food be brought back with them from the countryside was sometimes a dead letter - if the fruit and vegetables were covered up. If they could be seen, it was a flagrant offense which meant the Americans had flouted the sentries authority.

(Page 40) the shame of surrender was burned deeply into the consciousness of the Japanese.... They spoke with shocked disparagement of American prisoners of war who asked to have their names reported to the government so that their families would know they were alive. The rank-and-file, at least, were quite unprepared for the surrender of American troops at Bataan for they had assumed that they would fight it out the Japanese way. And they could not accept the fact that Americans have no shame in being prisoners of war.

(Page 41) The most melodramatic difference in behavior between Western soldiers and the Japanese was undoubtedly the cooperation the latter gave to the allied forces as prisoners of war. They knew no rules of life which applied in this new situation; they were dishonored and their life as Japanese was ended.... Some men asked to be killed,' but if your customs do not permit this, I will be a model prisoner.' They were better than model prisoners. Old army hands and longtime extreme nationalists located ammunition dumps, carefully explained the disposition of Japanese forces, wrote our propaganda and flew with our bombing pilots to guide them to military targets. It was as if they had turned over a new page; what was written on the new page was the opposite of what was written on the old, but they spoke the lines with the same faithfulness.... Americans had not expected this right about-face from prisoners of war. It was not according to our code. But the Japanese behaved as if, having put everything they had into one line of conduct and failed at it, they naturally took up a different line.

(Biff) PRC Chinese and the Taiwanese do this too. In part it's because they have no deep logical framework underpinning many of their behavioral norms. They themselves don't know why they do what they do. Which is all of us most of the time, but more for some cultures than others.

Particularly those which don't discuss who they are and how they got there freely, such as the poor citizens of the PRC. This is why it's cranks can be so fanatical. To crank out a math metaphor, it's easy to think 2+2=5 when there's no alternative in the house; or to believe that 2+2=4 is a conspiracy of two pairs nefariously trying to overthrow the traditional times tables and get a leg up on the prime numbers. Sound like nonsense? Try talking to some of the folks in the PRC about where their sacred territory begins and ends. The other week I watched a televised BBC debate in Shanghai in which a Hong Kong pundit declared that Taiwan was discovered by the Dutch four centuries ago, only to be corrected by a PRC hack that Taiwan was discovered by the Chinese 17 centuries ago. Tell it to the aborigines! Most, if not all, peacetime patriots in the PRC are the descendants of peoples conquered by what was formerly China, in other words, aborigines converted to their ancestors' enemy cause. Now that they've no historical memory, care of controlled speech and the Great Firewall of China, it's impossible to even debate this rationally with them.

And of course flip-flopping in behavioral norms is most pronounced in attractive women or gold-diggers of either sex for that matter. It's a commonplace that the moral schemes of men and women are vastly different and that the latter's version is more elastic because their social position is weaker and they have more to lose by sticking to their guns. Honor in England or America, in anyone short of a saint, requires complete financial independence. For otherwise the knee-bending and moral compromising begins at the office and ends following a hen-pecked evening with the significant other. I've been saying for years that women, taking one with the next, are much less democratically minded than men. Men trust one another much more than women tend to trust each other or trust men for that matter. Arguably women's cynicism is a sign of savvy and superior pragmatism. But that's another subject for another day.

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