Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Retired Emperor

August 22, 2016

Japanese Emperor Akihito may be thinking of abdicating his post because his age is making it difficult to fulfill his duties as emperor. The BBC has this story.

Japan’s Emperor Akihito has strongly indicated he wants to step down, saying he fears his age will make it difficult to fulfil his duties.

The revered 82-year-old emperor’s comments came in only his second-ever televised address to the public.

Emperor Akihito did not explicitly say he wanted to abdicate as he is barred from making political statements.

PM Shinzo Abe said the government would take the remarks “seriously” and discuss what could be done.

“Upon reflecting how he handles his official duty and so on, his age and the current situation of how he works, I do respect the heavy responsibility the emperor must be feeling and I believe we need to think hard about what we can do,” he said.

It is not as easy as that, though.

Why can’t the emperor abdicate? Abdication is not mentioned under Japan’s existing laws, so they would need to be changed for the emperor to be able to stand down. The changes would also have to be approved by parliament.

Emperor Akihito

Emperor Akihito

I am actually a little surprised that there is no provision for an Emperor abdicating under current Japanese law. There was a time, during the Heian period, in which the Emperor was not only permitted to abdicate, but was actually required to step down in favor of his successor.

The period of time from 794-1185, when the court at Heian ruled over Japan is known as the Heian period. This was a remarkable period of Japanese history, in which the Japanese fully absorbed the influences from China and made them part of a a uniquely Japanese culture. During the Heian period, Japanese arts, literature, and philosophy reached a peak seldom equalled in the centuries since. The influence of the Heian period on Japanese culture is something like that of ancient Greece and Rome in the West, the basis of everything that followed.

The earlier Heian period is also one of the few times in Japanese history in which the Emperor actually wielded political power, following the example of the all-powerful Chinese Emperors. Over time, however, the Imperial house began to decline in power and vigor, just as the various Chinese dynasties had. The powerful Fujiwara clan began to gain power at the expense of the Emperors. The Fujiwaras monopolized the top government posts and were the regents when an Emperor was a minor. They married their daughters to the Emperors so that a Fujiwara was always the Emperor’s father-in-law, with the filial obligations that brought. Eventually, the Fujiwara regents began to compel the Emperors to abdicate as soon as they were old enough to rule on their own. These Retired Emperors often became Buddhist monks and were referred to as Cloistered Emperors. By 1000, the Fujiwara regent was the emperor of Japan in all but name, while the reigning Emperor was a figurehead.

In any other country, it is likely that the people who had the power behind the throne would have grown weary of the pretense and seized the throne themselves, as the Frankish Carolingians had overthrown the Merovingians and were overthrown in their turn by the French Capets, or the succeeding dynasties of China had overthrown one another. In Japan, however, this was unthinkable. One of the ideas that the Japanese had not taken from Chinese politics was the concept of the Mandate of Heaven. The Japanese Emperor was the direct descendant of the Sun Goddess and thus always had the Mandate of Heaven, whatever the failings of his person or his line. The Fujiwaras had to be content with being regents.

In time, the Fujiwaras declined and the Imperial House began to reassert itself. In a characteristically Japanese fashion, the reigning Emperors, themselves, did not attempt to regain power. Instead, the Retired Emperors took power. This was the known as Cloistered Rule. So, during the period of Cloistered Rule, Japan was ruled by an all-powerful Emperor, who was in fact, a figurehead, with a Regent or Chief Minister from the Fujiwara Clan who was supposed to be powerful, but was another figurehead, while the real power was held by a former emperor who was in theory, merely a monk. It seems unnecessarily baroque and complicated, but the Japanese have generally preferred rule by consensus rather than by a single strong man. The system seemed to work well enough.

Then again, perhaps it did not. The members of the Imperial Court at Heian always had a strong contempt for common people and the outer provinces of Japan, what we might refer to as flyover country. For the court nobles, the common people were little better than domestic animals, while the military aristocracy who fought off the northern barbarians were themselves semi-barbarians. The Imperial Court became more insular and isolated from the concerns of the provinces. The members of the court became more concerned with their rank and position at court than with administrating the country. As a result, the military leaders in the provinces began to gain power and by 1185, after a series of struggles between several Retired Emperors and military clans related to the Imperial Family, a warlord named Minamoto no Yoritomo took power as the first Shogun (Supreme General), ending the Heian Period, and establishing the military dictatorship of the Shoguns that lasted through several dynasties of Shoguns until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The Imperial Court and the court nobility continued as before except they had no power and depended on the Shoguns for funds.

Emperors still occasionally abdicated in favor of their successor, but the custom of Cloistered Rule ended with the end of the Heian Period. The last Emperor to abdicate was Kokaku who reigned from 1779-1817. His position as Retired Emperor caused some trouble with the Tokugawa Shoguns, and it is perhaps not coincidental that from his reign, and retirement, the Imperial Court began the process of asserting itself against the Shoguns.

I don’t know when the laws about abdication were changed or whether the current law in Japan actually prohibits an Emperor from resigning or whether there is simply no provision for abdication. Judging from the article, it would seem to be the latter case. If so, than I can’t imagine there would be any reason to deny Akihito’s wish to abdicate, especially considering his age and health. There is, after all, ample precedent in Japanese history.

Advertisements

If D-Day Had Failed

June 9, 2014

I meant to write this on D-Day but with work and my own laziness, I procrastinated. Still, better late than never. There was an article which I read courtesy of Real Clear Politics, titled 5 Ways D-Day Could Have Been a Disaster written by Michael Peck  and published on D-Day in The National Interest. This article listed five ways in which things could have gone very wrong on that fateful June 6, 1944. Because the Allies did win World War 2, we are used to thinking that it was inevitable that they would win, but that is by no means certain. Launching an amphibious assault on the shores of Normandy was a terribly risky thing to do. Even under the best conditions sea-borne invasions are difficult and dangerous. The odds were against success No one knew that better than General Eisenhower. Before the battle he had written a brief statement to be released to the press in the event of failure. Eisenhower and his staff took extraordinary measures to keep the location of the invasion secret, even preparing a phantom army commanded by General Patton that seemed to be poised to land at Calais. If the Germans had discovered the location of the actual invasion and had troops ready to defend the beaches, the Normandy invasion would have been over almost before it began.

Reflection on D-Day

Reflection on D-Day (Photo credit: DVIDSHUB)

What would have happened if the Allied troops landing at Normandy had been defeated? The overall course of the war might not have changed all that much. Germany still would have lost. The destruction of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad the previous year ended any realistic hope of a German victory. The Soviet army would have continued to fight its way east. The British and Americans would have continued to fight in Italy. The invasion of southern France that took place in August might have gone ahead. Then again that invasion was successful because there had been a breakout from Normandy. Perhaps in the wake of a defeat it would have been deemed too risky.

There probably would have been another attempt to liberate France. The buildup for a second invasion would have taken time. It may be that the second attempt would not have been made until the following summer. World War 2 might have lasted for another year. If so the Soviets might have been able to move further west than they actually did. Maybe the meeting of the Allies would have taken place on the Rhine instead of the Elbe. Instead of a divided Germany, there would have been a united Communist Germany. That would have changed the balance of power in Europe in Russia’s favor. Maybe, with Soviet troops on their borders, the French and Italian Communists would have been more emboldened to seize power after the war. There is no way to know.

There are a couple of wild cards. Joseph Stalin was not a trusting man and he always suspected that the Allies were planning to fight Hitler to the last Russian.  This was why he agreed to the Ribbontrop-Molotov pact. He continually demanded that Roosevelt and Churchill open up a second front to relieve the Soviet Union. After a failure at Normandy, Stalin might have concluded that either the invasion was not really meant to succeed or that an invasion couldn’t succeed. Stalin might then have considered trying to negotiate an armistice with Hitler. Stalin wouldn’t have trusted Hitler, after Hitler had double crossed him by invading the Soviet Union and he certainly wouldn’t have forgiven him. Stalin, however, was patient and had often made strategic retreats in his rise to power in order to lull his enemies into complacency. Stalin might have decided to try for a separate peace until Hitler was engaged with the British and the Americans and then launched an attack.

I think this outcome unlikely, though. In 1944 the Red Army had the initiative and was steadily driving the Germans back. Stalin probably wouldn’t have wanted to slow or stop their momentum. Even if he had sued for an armistice, it is unlikely Hitler would have agreed. A Hitler who allowed the disaster at Stalingrad to take place and who ordered his army not to retreat one inch was not thinking very rationally.

Another wild card was the atomic bomb. The first atomic bomb was detonated at Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 16, 1945. By this time Germany had already surrendered. There was thus no question of using the bomb on the Germans. If the fighting was still going on, things would have been different. Since Truman authorized the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as much to deter the Soviets from post war aggression as to defeat Japan, the atomic bomb would have been used on Germany. Perhaps the first atomic bombs would have been dropped on Munich and Hamburg. I don’t think that Hitler would have surrendered, even then. By the end of the war, he had become nihilistic enough to prefer Germany destroyed rather than occupied. An atomic bombing of Germany might have sparked a coup among his top officials and generals.

If the first two atomic bombs had been dropped on Germany in August, 1945, what of Japan? We only had the three atomic bombs, so none would have been available to use on Japan. The Japanese were clearly defeated by then, but they had some hope that as long as an invasion of Japan itself was prevented there could be some sort of negotiated peace. Since the die-hard militarists did not surrender even when the first atomic bomb was used at Hiroshima in Japan, the use of the atomic bombs on Germany probably would not have convinced them. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 8, just as the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and the war ended, so the Soviet Union did not have much influence on post war Japan. If the war had lasted longer, perhaps Russia and America would have invaded Japan  and the country would have been divided as Germany was. I don’t think the US would have attempted a landing on Japan after we realized that the atomic bomb was workable. I think that more bombs would have been rushed into production and the US would have intensified conventional bombing. I do not think that the Soviets had the capability to launch an amphibious assault on Japan.

Of course, there is no way to know what would have happened if D-Day had failed and maybe my speculations are not very realistic. I think it is obvious, however, that things could have gone very badly. World War 2 could have lasted longer and more men might have died. We all owe the brave men who fought at Normandy a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to repay.

D-Day 65th Anniversary

D-Day 65th Anniversary (Photo credit: The U.S. Army)

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Religion of the Samurai

May 5, 2013
Cover of "The Religion of the Samurai: A ...

Cover via Amazon

 

The Religion of the Samurai by Kaiten Nukariya is somewhat misnamed in that this book does not really deal with the religious beliefs or practices of Japan’s warrior class. Rather, this is a book about the Buddhist sect known as Zen that many of that class followed. There are many Buddhist sects or denominations practiced in Japan and the Zen Buddhism has had a wide following beyond the Samurai, yet somehow Zen has become especially associated with the Samurai and with Japan generally.

 

Zen Buddhism is part of that branch of Buddhism known as the Mahayana (Great Vehicle) or Northern school, as opposed to the Theravada (Teaching of the Elders) or Southern school of Buddhism. Zen Buddhism is distinguished from other Buddhist sects by the belief in sudden, inspired enlightenment through meditation and personal instruction from a teacher. Zen Buddhist deemphasizes the study of scripture and doctrine, holding that enlightenment cannot be truly described by dead words in books. Even the instructor does not so much teach truths or beliefs as encourage the student to experience enlightenment on his own.

 

The Religion of the Samurai is a short book, only about 160 pages in print, but it covers the subject fairly well. The book was written a century ago, but the basic facts about Zen Buddhism haven’t changed and the book does not seem to be out of date, except for a few expressions here and there. The author begins with a quick and very general survey of both major schools of Buddhism before moving to the beginnings of Zen or Ch’an in China, placing the origins within the Mahayanist context. He goes on to tell of the transmission of Zen to Japan and the sect’s influence on Japanese history and culture.

 

The bulk of this short book is taken up with an attempt to explain the teachings of Zen. I say attempt not because the author is unsuccessful, but because by Zen’s own teachings, it is impossible to fully understand Zen without experiencing it. Still, Mr. Nukariya does an adequate job explaining Zen’s views on the nature of the universe, human nature, good and evil, and Enlightenment and its attainment. There are a few faults, though. The Kindle version of this book is not well formatted and the footnotes are interspersed in the main text. This problem may have been corrected in later versions of the ebook. I also noticed that the author tends to disparage other Buddhist sects; especially those of the Theravada school, which he, along with many other Mahayanists refer to as Hinayana (Lesser Vehicle). This is not really a fault, but it should be noted that Mr. Nukariya was promoting Zen with this book, not providing an unbiased account.

 

 

 

I can recommend this book to anyone wishing for an introduction to this fascinating religion.

 

 

 

Butterfly Mutations

August 22, 2012

 

 

I have to confess that when I first read this article from AP on the effects of the radiation released from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant the first image that popped into my head was some horrific monsters from Japan’s Toho Studios. Toho, if you don’t know, is the studio responsible for the endless Godzilla series as well as a number of low budget monster movies, including Mothra, the giant butterfly.

 

But, of course, real life is never that cool and the mutations the article is talking about are quite a bit less dramatic, though perhaps still disturbing in terms of the public health of nearby residents of Fukushima.

Radiation that leaked from the Fukushima nuclear plant following last year’s tsunami caused mutations in some butterflies – including dented eyes and stunted wings – though humans seem relatively unaffected, researchers say.

The mutations are the first evidence that the radiation has caused genetic changes in living organisms. They are likely to add to concerns about potential health risks among humans though there is no evidence of it yet. Scientists say more study is needed to link human health with the Fukushima disaster.

The catastrophic meltdowns in three reactors of Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant after it was damaged by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, prompted a public backlash against nuclear power, and forced the government to reassess resource-scarce Japan’s entire energy strategy.

But the most visible example of the radiation’s effect was claimed by a group of Japanese researchers who found radical physical changes in successive generations of a type of butterfly, which they said was caused by radiation exposure. They also said that the threat to humans – a much larger and longer-lived species – remains unclear.

“Our findings suggest that the contaminants are causing ecological damage. I do not know its implication to humans,” Joji Otaki of the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, a member of the research team, told The Associated Press in an email.

A separate study, released this week, found very low levels of radioactivity in people who were living near the Fukushima plant when it suffered the meltdowns.

The research on the butterflies was published in Scientific Reports, an open-access online journal by the Nature publication group, which provides faster publication and peer review by at least one scientist.

It says pale grass blue butterflies, a common species in Japan, collected from several areas near the Fukushima plant showed signs of genetic mutations, such as dented eyes, malformed legs and antennae, and stunted wings.

Other experts said they viewed the research as significant.

“Scientists have long known that radiation can be hazardous to human and animal health. Studies of this sort at Fukushima and Chernobyl provide invaluable information concerning just how hazardous radioactive contaminants could be for human populations living in these areas in the future,” Tim Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, told the AP by email.

“Butterflies as a group are important bio-indicators for the effects of environmental stressors like radioactive contaminants,” said Mousseau, who also is not part of the Japanese research.

The results show the butterflies were deteriorating both physically and genetically, with the share of those showing abnormalities increasing from 12 percent in the first generation to 18 percent in the second and 34 percent in the third.

To study the genetic changes, the scientists raised the new generations of the butterflies in Okinawa, which has not been affected by the radiation releases, mating each abnormal butterfly with one unaffected by such changes.

The researchers also demonstrated the effects of internal exposure to radiation by feeding leaves from plants from the area near the Fukushima nuclear plant to the butterfly larvae.

“The possible risk of internal exposure from ingestion should be investigated more accurately in the near future,” it said.

Humans are, obviously, longer lived than insects and there is much more time between generations so there might not be any noticeable increase in birth defects in humans for some time. I suppose it would depend on how much continuing exposure the people in the area have been getting. They will also have to monitor people for increase cancer rates, etc. I hope that the humans are not as badly affected as the butterflies.

 

 

Hiroshima

August 7, 2012

 

I don’t know how I managed to miss it, but yesterday happened to be the sixty-seventh anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. I read about the commemoration ceremony they had in Fox News, this morning. This year was special, it seems, because Harry Truman‘s grandson attended.

 Japan marked the 67th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bomb attack with a ceremony Monday that was attended by a grandson of Harry Truman, the U.S. president who ordered the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

About 50,000 people gathered in Hiroshima’s peace park near the epicenter of the 1945 blast that destroyed most of the city and killed as many as 140,000 people. A second atomic bombing Aug. 9 that year in Nagasaki killed tens of thousands more and prompted Japan to surrender to the World War II Allies.

The ceremony, attended by representatives of about 70 countries, began with the ringing of a temple bell and a moment of silence. Flowers were placed before Hiroshima’s eternal flame, which is the park’s centerpiece.

Truman’s grandson, Clifton Truman Daniel, and the grandson of a radar operator who was on both of the planes that dropped the atomic bombs, joined in the memorial. Ari Beser’s grandfather, Jacob Beser, was the only person who directly took part in both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

In a news conference after the memorial, Daniel declined to comment on whether his grandfather’s decision was the right one.

“I’m two generations down the line. It’s now my responsibility to do all I can to make sure we never use nuclear weapons again,” he said, according to Japan’s Kyodo news service.

Daniel, 55, said earlier that he decided to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki because he needed to know the consequences of his grandfather’s decision as part of his own efforts to help achieve a nuclear-free world.

I dislike how the Japanese how somehow managed to convert themselves into the victims here. I dislike even more this idea that our use of the atomic bomb was an atrocity that we should be ashamed of. I think we should consider a few factors that put the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki into the proper historical context.

First, the simple fact is that dropping the atomic bomb quite probably saved many thousands of lives. The Japanese islands had never been successfully invaded. The Mongols tried when their empire was at the height of its power, and they were defeated. This was one of the few defeats the Mongols suffered.

It is true that the Japanese Empire was in a difficult situation by the summer of 1945. Their navy was destroyed. American forces had captured Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and an invasion of the home islands was imminent. Allied bombing had destroying most Japanese industry. But, the situation was not hopeless. The military leaders of Japan believed, with good reason, that if allied forces became bogged down in Japan, taking massive casualties, they might choose to negotiate an armistice. They were arming and preparing the civilian population to this end. At any rate, the military leaders who ordered pilots to crash their planes into American ships had no problem sacrificing a good portion of the population of Japan rather than facing the shame of surrendering.

I have read that it is possible that an invasion of Japan might have resulted in more than a million US deaths. I am not sure about that. I think that we would have kept bombing Japan night and day, and used incendiary and chemical weapons until there was nothing standing in Japan. I think that once we were finished invading Japan, there wouldn’t be much  left. I believe, therefore that using the atomic bomb was far preferable, especially in lives saved, than any alternative.

I would also like to mention here that the nuclear bomb is the one thing that kept the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union cold. Without the nuclear weapons possessed by both sides, there is a good chance that there would have been an actual war, with millions of casualties. Strange as it might seem, there might well be hundreds of millions of people alive today thanks to the atom bomb. I am not so sure that a nuclear-free world is something desirable, even if it were possible. Since it is not possible to uninvent the technology, I doubt it is possible have a nuclear free world.

The other point to consider is that the Japanese military government before and during World War II was a truly evil regime. They were the aggressors in China, in Korea, and at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese who ruled Japan at the time were every bit as nasty as the Nazis, and perhaps even worse, at least in terms of atrocities inflected on the people they conquered. If you have any doubts about that look up Asian Holocaust or the Rape of Nanking. And, unlike the Germans, the Japanese have never seriously examined the history of the horrors the Japanese army committed, nor have they ever given the impression that they are particularly sorry for anything that happened.

I don’t want to give the impression that I hate the Japanese or hold contemporary Japanese responsible for the deeds of the earlier generations. I actually rather admire the Japanese. They were not the victims at Hiroshima or Nagasaki, however.

 

 

A History of the Japanese People

April 9, 2012

A History of the Japanese People is a comprehensive history of the Japanese Empire from its mythological beginnings up to the date of publication in 1912. Because the copyright has expired, it can be downloaded free, which is very convenient for anyone who wishes to learn more about the earliest Japanese history.  Naturally, this book cannot cover more recent events, including World War II and after, but the lack is more than made up for by the authors’ exhaustive coverage of Ancient, Medieval, and early modern Japan.

The first chapters do drag a bit as the authors describe the mythological history of prehistoric Japan. The myths and legends are rather disordered and the names of the gods are confusing and repetitive. Once they move on to firmer ground, the story becomes more engrossing.

Despite the excellent quality of this work, two weaknesses made the book less than completely satisfactory. First, the kindle edition does not include the illustrations or the maps. I could do without the illustrations, but at least one map of the Japanese islands would have enabled me to follow the events better, especially the military campaigns.  The second weakness is that in a comprehensive history such as this, there are many unfamiliar (to the Western reader) names and terms and it is sometimes difficult to remember them all. A glossary would have been helpful. Despite these weaknesses, I highly recommend this book.

I might add, not as part of the review, in light of later events in Japanese history, it is a bit chilling to read the authors defense of Japanese aggressions in Manchuria and Korea, especially when they suggest that the Japanese annexation of Korea in 1910 was for the benefit of the Korean people. I think few Koreans would agree with that sentiment.

Pat Buchanan Strikes Again

December 8, 2011

After explaining that World War II could have been avoided, if only the allies had been a little more patient with Hitler, Pat Buchanan tops himself in his latest column in which he puts the blame for the Pearl Harbor attack squarely where it belongs, on FDR. That’s right, Franklin Delano Roosevelt provoked the attack by his hostile actions toward the Japanese.

Edited by historian George Nash, “Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath” is a searing indictment of FDR and the men around him as politicians who lied prodigiously about their desire to keep America out of war, even as they took one deliberate step after another to take us into war.

Yet the book is no polemic. The 50-page run-up to the war in the Pacific uses memoirs and documents from all sides to prove Hoover’s indictment. And perhaps the best way to show the power of this book is the way Hoover does it – chronologically, painstakingly, week by week.

Consider Japan’s situation in the summer of 1941. Bogged down in a four-year war in China she could neither win nor end, having moved into French Indochina, Japan saw herself as near the end of her tether.

Inside the government was a powerful faction led by Prime Minister Prince Fumimaro Konoye that desperately did not want a war with the United States.

The “pro-Anglo-Saxon” camp included the navy, whose officers had fought alongside the U.S. and Royal navies in World War I​, while the war party was centered on the army, Gen. Hideki Tojo​ and Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka, a bitter anti-American.

On July 18, 1941, Konoye ousted Matsuoka, replacing him with the “pro-Anglo-Saxon” Adm. Teijiro Toyoda​.

The U.S. response: On July 25, we froze all Japanese assets in the United States, ending all exports and imports, and denying Japan the oil upon which the nation and empire depended.

Stunned, Konoye still pursued his peace policy by winning secret support from the navy and army to meet FDR on the U.S. side of the Pacific to hear and respond to U.S. demands.

U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew implored Washington not to ignore Konoye’s offer, that the prince had convinced him an agreement could be reached on Japanese withdrawal from Indochina and South and Central China. Out of fear of Mao’s armies and Stalin’s Russia, Tokyo wanted to hold a buffer in North China.

On Aug. 28, Japan’s ambassador in Washington presented FDR a personal letter from Konoye imploring him to meet.

Tokyo begged us to keep Konoye’s offer secret, as the revelation of a Japanese prime minister’s offering to cross the Pacific to talk to an American president could imperil his government.

On Sept. 3, the Konoye letter was leaked to the Herald-Tribune.

On Sept. 6, Konoye met again at a three-hour dinner with Grew to tell him Japan now agreed with the four principles the Americans were demanding as the basis for peace. No response.

On Sept. 29, Grew sent what Hoover describes as a “prayer” to the president not to let this chance for peace pass by.

On Sept. 30, Grew wrote Washington, “Konoye’s warship is ready waiting to take him to Honolulu, Alaska or anyplace designated by the president.”

No response. On Oct. 16, Konoye’s cabinet fell.

First of all, what Buchanan somehow does not understand is that the militarist government of Japan was every bit as vicious and nasty as the Nazis in Germany. The “Asian Holocaust” does not get nearly as much attention as the European one, perhaps because the victims were Asians and not European, but the Japanese war crimes in China and elsewhere were as bad as anything the Germans did. The Japanese may have killed as many as ten million people. This was an evil regime that had to be ended.

In one sense, Buchanan is correct. The sanctions that Roosevelt placed on the Japanese did indeed induce them to attack. But he seems to sidestep just why the sanctions were placed on Japan, namely because of the aggressive war they were waging in China. Roosevelt probably also understood that an east Asia dominated by the Japanese Empire would not be in America’s strategic interests. Denying Japan the oil their empire needed seems like a good idea to me.

I do not believe that it is clear that Prince Konoye was negotiating in good faith or that he could have delivered on any agreement if he was.The militarist government had seized power in Japan through a policy of assassination and intimidation. The army in Korea had invaded Manchuria in 1932 without bothering to consult with the civilian government. They were not very interested in following the laws of their own country. They were much less willing to follow international norms treaties

I don’t doubt that there was a faction in the Japanese government that wanted to avoid war with the US. They had a good idea that Japan would not win such a war. But I find it difficult to imagine that the Japanese would simply withdraw from China after spending so much in men and material to conquer it for four years. I think that the Japanese would have attempted to draw out the negotiations as long as possible, perhaps making motions of withdrawing while consolidating their defenses. An actual withdrawal and admission of defeat would have been an unacceptable loss of face. I don’t believe the army would have followed an order to withdraw. Most likely, Prince Konoye would have been murdered and the negotiations with the US ended.

Pat Buchanan ends his column.

Out of the war that arose from the refusal to meet Prince Konoye​ came scores of thousands of U.S. dead, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the fall of China to Mao Zedong, U.S. wars in Korea and Vietnam, and the rise of a new arrogant China that shows little respect for the great superpower of yesterday.

I don’t see how an east Asia dominated by an aggressive Japan would have been any better.

 

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

August 10, 2011

Walter Russel Mead is reading the handwriting on the wall. Our leadership all over the world, but especially in the four largest economies; America, Europe, Japan, and China, has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

The world’s leaders have been on trial these last few months. In Europe, a long running currency crisis has tested the commitment of Europeans to the social ideals they so often speak of, and to the community of nations they have worked to build since the 1940s.  TEKEL: weighed in the balance and found wanting.

In China they have been on trial as the accumulating evidence suggests that corruption, incompetence and malfeasance damaged the country’s vaunted high speed rail project and led to the deaths of dozens of passengers.  TEKEL.

In Japan they have been on trial since the tsunami last spring.  Would Japan’s bureaucracy tell the truth to the public?  After a lost generation of stagnation would Japan’s government come up with an effective plan to reconstruct the north and rebuild the country’s economy?  TEKEL.

And in the United States we have a stagnant economy, a mounting debt and no real idea of the way forward.  Would Washington come up with a constructive, future-oriented program to move the economy forward and start the adjustments necessary to prepare us to live within our means – and to grow our means so it wouldn’t be hard?  TEKEL again.

Europe, China, Japan, the United States: the leaders of the world’s four largest economies are nowhere near passing the tests that history has set them.  In all four places the instincts of the politicians are the same: to dissemble, to delay, to disguise and to deny.

But it is not just in financial matters and not just the leaders. It seems that there is a dearth of vision afflicting all of us these days. No one seems to be interested in doing great things, like going to the Moon. Instead our leaders squander our money and promise high speed rails. Mead puts it far better than I ever could.

The challenges the great powers face today run much deeper.  Behind Japan’s economic problems and the pathetic inadequacy of its political leadership is a much deeper question of identity and purpose.  What is Japan’s job in the world; what does Japan have to teach and to suffer and to do?  What is the special contribution that only Japan and the Japanese can make, and how does the country prepare itself for this?  Do thousands of years of Japanese culture and philosophy culminate in a cheap consumer culture and relentless demographic decline?

It is the same thing in Europe.  The financial problems, real and dangerous as they are, proceed from a vacuum in the hearts of the European peoples.  What is it to be a German, a French person, an Italian, a Greek, a Spaniard or a Swiss?  Is it a matter of blood, belief, or of culture?  What duties do the Europeans have to one another and to the world?  When Europeans talk about their decline in the world – and it is worth talking about, since for 100 years Europe has been steadily and sometimes catastrophically in decline – they too often look at questions of imperial power or relative wealth.  But what was extraordinary about Europe 100 and 200 years ago and is largely lost now was never imperial power or economic might.  It is the cultural energy and dynamism that once made Europe the greatest font of creativity and ideas since ancient times.  The art, the music, the philosophy and the science of Europe captured the world.  Now Europe designs very nice shoes, and its Michelin starred restaurants serve quite excellent meals.

Europe’s challenge isn’t to fix the euro or to reform its pensions.  And it is not to make clunkier shoes or less appetizing meals.  Its challenge is to become Europe once more: to be as adventurous, as profound, as creative and yes as dangerous as it once was.  The core European debate should not be over the constitutional provisions of the European Union or the financial arrangements behind the euro, important as those things are.  What matters in Europe is that the younger generation wakes from the materialist, conformist affluence – deep wells of listlessness, anomie and despair concealed under whatever ephemeral cultural fads and fashionable causes drift by.  They must begin to live, to take risks, to dare, to create and to build – and, among other things, that means they (like the other affluent peoples) must start having children again.

China too has bigger fish to fry than high-speed trains.  The convulsive transformation of the biggest society in the history of the world, the sudden rise of enormous wealth cheek by jowl with poverty made worse by the alienation and dangers of urban life: all taking place in a moral vacuum where neither tradition, reason nor culture softens the harshness of oppression and injustice.  This cannot endure; the people of China are struggling blindly for some better way.  Unless China becomes great it cannot live, but by great I do not mean building a blue water navy and winning the fearful awe of its neighbors.  I mean the interior greatness that comes from disciplined talent, ambition harnessed to service, creativity addressed to the task of healing, and strengthening a people still scarred by a century of war, revolution and soul-crushing oppression at the hand of foreigners and fellow countrymen alike.  China has within it the seeds of an excellence and greatness that the world has never seen.  It can become a garden in which all the beauties and aspirations of past millennia can be fulfilled – but that requires a deeper kind of leadership than one fixed on keeping the growth pot boiling lest popular revolt overthrow the regime.

I have written before of the challenges that face us in the United States and will not say more here except that stale quibbling over expense cutbacks that will not significantly reduce the deficits, and reforms that will change very little, is not what we need.  Americans have the opportunity and the duty and the urgent pressing need to move into the future, to do and be more than ever.  The thin rhetoric of a backward looking president, the obstreperous negativism of an opposition better at rejecting what it hates than building or even conceiving what it needs, the lotus-eating educational formation that cuts us off from our past, and the incessant noise of a superficial pop culture: none of this is worthy of America at its best and none of it will help us now.

I wonder, are our days numbered and will we be divided between the Medes and the Persians?


%d bloggers like this: