Sunday, July 19, 2009

First Class Soldiers, Japanese, American, etc

I’ve been reading Max Hastings’ Retribution, The Battle for Japan, 1944-45, copyrighted 2007. I expressed admiration for the Japanese warrior, but Hastings paints the Military dictatorship of the Japanese who went to war in World War II, in somber tones. We can see through Hastings eyes why they were caught off guard at the battle of Midway and why they ran out of supplies so readily. They disdained “intelligence,” thinking the will to win was all important. Also, the idea of protecting the ships that brought in needed supplies was beneath the dignity of a Japanese Warrior. Hastings quotes one individual with approval who called the Japanese a first class warrior in a third-class army.

The Japanese did surprisingly well economically prior to World War II. Also, their battles against the Chinese went smoothly. They made the mistake of thinking that all enemies could be defeated as easily as the Chinese were. It turned out that their army and navy were as inferior to the American Army and Navy as the Chinese were to the Japanese – not because the Japanese soldier was inferior to the American, but because the Japanese military and governmental structures were.

As I read about the training of the Japanese soldier, I was reminded of Marine Corps Boot Camp. By the time I graduated I was perhaps not quite willing to leap off a cliff if ordered to do so by my drill instructor, but I would have thought about it. I have had occasion to compare Marine Corps Training with French Foreign Legion Training as well as with Gurkha and Russian Training – also German training prior to 1945. Lest my Russian friend Michael question my bona fides, let me admit at once that they aren’t very good. I went through Marine Corps training and only read about training in the other forces, but I have read enough to respect these other forces. I don’t approve of the blind obedience that Hastings describes as being instilled in the Japanese soldier (also in the Russian and German through World War II). It is better from my standpoint to believe in what you are asked to do. You don’t just jump off a cliff because you are asked to do so. You need a good reason.

I was watching a “B” movie the other night – one of the many that seems derived from Herbert’s Dune novels. Gigantic worms are eating up the Taliban and the American soldiers who are trying to escape. At last the two Americans seem to be getting away – the main hero, a female officer, and also a young Afghan girl. The Helicopter rises, but here comes a worm. The hero, who happens to have a Taliban suicide-bomber vest on, leaps out of the helicopter into the mouth of the worm and detonates the vest. The choice was clear. The hero could have let the worm get the helicopter, in which case they would have all been killed. Or, he could have done what he did – sacrifice his life for the others. He jumped off the ‘cliff’ for a good reason. This was science fiction, but we know that soldiers in first class fighting units have fallen on grenades to save their comrades.

At Dien Bien Phu, the French and the French Foreign Legion “stood”. They were eventually defeated, but they fought well. There were some colonial forces however, who didn’t fight well. They didn’t believe in fighting for the French, fighting so that the French could regain a colony.

Some people, perhaps people who haven’t been through Marine Corps Boot Camp, have become overawed by the Japanese fighting spirit. I am mildly interested in learning more about what motivates George Friedman in this regard. He wrote a book in 1991 called The Coming War with Japan. He has written a recent book predicting the future of the next 100 years -- a war occurs in which Japan and Turkey fight against the US and its allies. I know Friedman has a civilian intelligence organization and has access to information denied the rest of us, but I can’t see Japan, or Turkey either, embarking on such a course. Friedman is obviously at odds with Fukuyama who saw Liberal Democracies like the Japanese remaining at peace with other Liberal Democracies (like the American). Friedman may be more intrigued with Samuel Huntington who saw the “Civilizations’ clashing with each other – and the Japanese, in Huntington’s presuppositions, are their own Civilization. Even so . . .

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