Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Atrocities. How much guilt should Japan feel?

Max Hastings has a chapter on these atrocities in his book, Retribution, the Battle for Japan, 1944-45. Those who think Americans guilty of atrocities at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo should read this chapter. He provides so many awful incidents that I found myself involuntarily skipping ahead.

I’ve said fairly often that I admire the Japanese; so what do I do with a chapter like this? I need to be able to put these events into a balanced perspective of some sort. Why? We know in advance that the Japanese weren’t only and always engaged in atrocities. So what shall we think of them?

On page 346 Hastings writes, “When the war ended, it became possible to compare the fates of Allied servicemen under the Nazis and the Japanese. Just 4 percent of British and American POWs had died in German hands. Yet 27 percent – 35,756 out of 132,134 – of Western Allied Prisoners lost their lives in Japanese captivity.”

Hastings chapter is entitled “Captivity and Slavery” because many captives were used as slaves to heavy, “killing” work. I’m reminded of what I’ve read about the Soviet Gulags; except those sent to the Gulags were considered enemies of the state. We can perhaps be pardoned for imagining that the Soviet State didn’t really want them to survive. But in the case of the Japanese, I have the impression that they just didn’t care. In the infamous “Bataan Death March,” if you could keep up, fine. If you couldn’t well you were shot or beheaded. The Japanese wouldn’t leave the dropouts alive else everyone would be dropping out as a means of escape.

There was always a rationalization. The Japanese, as we know, considered it dishonorable to surrender. Many of them did, of course, especially toward the end of the war, but many took the honorable way out and engaged in a Banzai charge against a machine gun or something equally suicidal. Officers might choose ritual suicide. Japanese were taught to look down upon anyone who surrendered? They would look down upon their own people if they surrendered; so of course the relationship between surrendered allies and their Japanese captors began on bad terms.

Another important factor was the state-controlled press. Like the Nazi press, the Japanese were fed a steady diet of stories designed to make the Japanese support a war against the allies, and for the Japanese soldier to build up a reliable hatred against them.

Did the Japanese retain this hatred against the allies? Does it persist and become hatred against the West? In 1991, George Friedman wrote a book entitled The Coming War with Japan. The publishers note on the reprint that it became “The #1 Bestseller in Japan.” Friedman later became head of a civilian intelligence organization called Stratfor. Critics say it is a foolish thing to accept intelligence information from someone who predicted that we would have another war with Japan. Perhaps, but Friedman must have know his prediction was risky. It is always a chancy thing to make predictions that assume present trends are going to continue indefinitely. At that time Japan was an economic giant with GDP increases greater than ours or anyone else’s. But the Japanese trends didn’t continue. They had an economic crash and Friedman’s book now strikes most of us as silly.

As head of Stratfor, Friedman has a number of former CIA operatives and analysts working for him, but that isn’t the same as studying the history of the nations he reports on. Friedman was a professor Political Science at Dickinson college for 20 years before he started Stratfor, but has he had time to read John Dower’s Embracing Defeat, Japan in the Wake of World War II ? Dower published his book in 1999, too late to be of use to Friedman when in 1991 he was publishing The Coming War with Japan. Dower points out that Japan had been under military rule from 1931 to 1952. We know about the 1931 to 1945 period, but Dower reminds us that America’s military rule ran from 1945 to 1952.

If we look at the results of the American occupation, we are tempted to believe that MacArthur and his stiff were prescient geniuses, but when we read of what actually went on our opinions change. Yes, the Americans wanted to create a new form of government patterned after the American, but we must also realize that the Japanese were as a nation sick of military rule. They wanted to change into something else. They wanted a form of government that would never again subject them to someone like Tojo. My impression is that the Americans were a long way from being geniuses, and it took Japanese enthusiasm about a need for change to fill in the gaps.

In Courtney Browne’s book Tojo: The Last Banzai, we learn that General Hideki Tojo’s father Hidenori was involved in the great civil war of 1877 when the old-school Samurais were defeated by transmuted Samurais who had become part of the army. The movie, The Last Samurai (starring Tom Cruise) takes a nostalgic look at the old-school Samurais. Hidenori Tojo was involved in their defeat. His son Hideki grew up revering this transmuted Samurai code as did many of those who began the Japanese campaign in 1931 to established Japan as a great nation, a nation equivalent to France, Britain and Germany. As it turned out, that goal was achieved, but not as Hideki Tojo imagined it. Japan came into its own as a military power too late to be a great empire like Britain or France. America throughout World War II and after the end exerted its influence toward doing away with empires; so it was all for naught as far as Japan was concerned.

Or was it? Had they not tried to become a great military power, they would not have been so thoroughly defeated that they accepted the efforts of MacArthur and his staff to turn them into a Liberal Democracy. And then, as we know, they transmuted their Samurai code (Bushido) and applied it to economic goals. And so they become a great economic power. Why would Japan want to give up what they have become in order to revert to what they had been when they endured one of the worst military debacles in modern times. Only Germany was as thoroughly defeated as Japan was.

The short answer is that Japan wouldn’t want to go through that again. They rank 150 in the world in terms of military expenditure as a percentage of GDP. But they rank 3rd, behind only the US and China, as a world economy. Consider the following economic information from 2007: http://www.economywatch.com/economies-in-top If they wanted to be considered a great nation like Britain, France and Germany, this report indicates that they have surpassed their expectations.

But back to the atrocities. What do modern-day Japanese think of them? It would be human nature to try to avoid thinking about them. Also, these modern Japanese didn’t actually do any of those thing. Japan could change its laws and have a formidable military force if it wanted to, but it doesn’t want to; which is an indication of what the modern Japanese thinks of the war their ancestors started in 1931. I’m reminded of what some in America are trying to do in regard to the American Indian and the Blacks that were brought to the US as slaves. These people (think of Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky here) want us to join them in hating America. Weren’t there people in the early days of our nation who bought and owned slaves? Weren’t there others who mistreated the Indians? Well yes, but how does that relate to me now? How am I tied to those who mistreated the Indians or owned slaves. Perhaps one of my ancestors mistreated an Indian or owned a slave, but if so, I have no knowledge of it; so how much guilt should I feel? And is “guilt” the right thing to be feeling after all these years? Hasn’t “guilt’ become a political game to permit politicians to heap scorn upon their political enemies. They will ask how an American can consider America great when it has mistreated Indians and held slaves? The implication is that for one to be honest, one must hate America as much as Ward Churchill and Noam Chomsky do.

Do we feel guilt for the things we did as a child? Probably. We can think back to mistakes we made, and not just mistakes, but little crimes and lies and be ashamed. But what about the things our fathers did? How much guilt or shame can we feel about those things? I submit: not much. When our parents do things they should feel ashamed of, that shame is not past down to us. Instead we judge them. We condemn them and resolve not to make those same mistakes. And if that is what we feel about our parents’ sins, what shall we feel of ancestors even older?

But what of the “deniers”. What of those who say there was no holocaust? What of those who say Stalin and the Soviets sent no one off to the Gulags to be killed – or killed any Polish officers at Katyn? This is of course one of the ways we deal with something that would normally engender guilt. We say we didn’t do it even if there is evidence to the contrary. Our Psychiatrist will tell us that we can’t begin “healing” until we admit what we did. We should also seek to understand our parents for who they really were and not as people we create mental hagiographies about. I have heard that some Japanese officials have become “deniers” in regard to some of the atrocities committed in China. If so, then they are having trouble getting past their atrocities, but how many are taking that position? Hopefully not many.

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