Saturday, January 4, 2020

The martial spirit in Germany, Japan and America

The UK and EU assumes from time to time the underlying angst of Germany’s WWII attempt to create a Europe united under Hitler's dictatorial rule.  Some of us have felt some ambivalence over the EU's attempting a peaceful equivalent.  With De Gaulle they have sought to get past all that WWII ugliness and get on with perfecting a united, peaceful, Europe.

Over here on the West Coast of the U.S., especially those of us who might also be Marines, there has also been an ongoing interest in the Pacific portion of World War II.  Roosevelt went along with Churchill’s “Europe First” approach, but the U.S. had been outraged by Japan’s “sneak attack” upon Pearl Harbor – American soil; which forced Roosevelt to invest a bit more in the Pacific part of the war than Churchill wanted him to. 

I recall reading about it while it was still going on, cutting battle maps out of newspapers and pasting them in scrap books.  At some point, I decided  to join the Marine Corps – it seemed the proper West Coast thing to do.   I was in Japan (on the way to Korea) early in 1953, a mere eight years after the Japanese surrender, and found no remaining evidence of the fanaticism that inspired Japanese soldiers to fix bayonets, shout Banzai and rush against Marine Corps’ machine guns.  Perhaps as has been the case in Europe, Japan wishes to get past the ugliness of the past, become entrepreneurs, make cars, cameras, and other things and merely get rich.

But recently I’ve learned that there are Japanese historians for which World War II is still a present concern.  They continue to relive the battles of the Pacific war.  I began in Volume one of Ian W. Toll’s Pacific Crucible, War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942.    I discovered reference to Japanese revisionist historians, and Toll’s reference to what he calls the “ground-breaking work of Anthony Tully and John Lundstrom, the Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway: The Japanese Story of the Battle of Midway.  I stopped reading Toll and began reading Tully and Lundtrom; which, thanks to Amazon’s Kindle, I was able to do almost immediately. 

Japanese historians have had the benefit of the memoirs and other records of surviving Japanese military leaders.   Tully and Lundstrom in turn have looked critically at the resulting Japanese historians' conclusions.  The Shattered Sword is a rather long work that examines the Battle of Midway, mostly from the Japanese point of view.  The Shattered Sword is well-written and suspenseful.  Vice Admiral Nagumo was commander of the strike force sent by Yamamoto to trick the cowardly Americans into coming out to fight.  Nagumo hasn’t fared well in earlier histories, but Tully and Lundstrom treat him better than they do Yamamoto. 

Hitler was sneered at by some of his patrician generals (behind his back of course) for being a mere corporal and of no important background.  The same thing could be said of Stalin, and it is interesting that something like that could also be said of Yamamoto who ran in a dictatorial fashion the naval portion of the Japanese war.  Stalin and Hitler could have their enemies killed.  Yamamoto couldn’t do that, but he could always get his way by threatening to resign.  It is interesting the the lower-class Hitler and Yamamoto were opposed by the patricians Churchill and Roosevelt.  Later on another dictator with a lower-class background, Stalin, made equally bad assumptions and decisions about the future.

Leading up to World War II almost everyone everywhere was making assumptions based upon primitive ideas of heredity and race.  Hitler’s ideas are well known, but the Japanese had similar ideas.  They up to and during WWII believed, most of them, that they were the master race and were destined to rule the world.

A fatal consequent belief in regard to their defeat at Midway, was their belief in the inferiority and cowardice of Americans.  Yamamoto sought to trick the American navy into showing up at Midway where he would catch them by surprise and destroy their Aircraft Carriers, something he had not forgiven Nagumo for failing to do at Pearl Harbor.   Neither Yamamoto, nor anyone else in authority could conceive of a Nimitz, spoiling for a fight, already at Midway, waiting for them.

Of course we Americans continue to give our potential adversaries reason to underestimate us.  We were isolationists before World War One, and after that War we became isolationists again.  If Yamamoto hadn’t attacked us at Pearl Harbor we might very well never have interfered, physically, with anything the Japanese were doing in South-east Asia or China.  And if Hitler hadn’t declare War on the U.S., it is doubtful that the U.S. would have been anything more than a supplier of equipment to the Allies.  But as Churchill famously said, “I knew you would fight.  I read about your Civil War.”

Having also read about our Civil War, I see a lot of similarity between the Japanese soldier’s vaunted courage and that of the American Southern soldier.  The Japanese had their “Banzai,” and other frightening yells, but our Southerners had their Rebel Yell before them.  And since our Civil War, doesn’t it seem that we have more Southerners than “Northerners” (and everywhere else-ers) enter the fighting portions of our military.  I was the only Californian, for example in my Marine-Corps Boot Camp platoon.

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