Postings by Konrad Lawson

Contact: kmlawson [at] froginawell.net
URL: http://www.muninn.net/blog/

The Kempeitai studies Anthropology

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:15 pm

Our friends at Savage Minds often post on issues related to anthropologists at war. Today I came across an example of an anthropologist at war in a 1942 diary by Takeuchi Tatsuji. Together with pan-asianist ideologue and postwar socialist politician Rōyama Masamichi, Takeuchi traveled to Japanese occupied Philippines and conducted a study of the archipelago for the Japanese military administration.1

In his Manila diary, there is the following passage in the entry for January 19, 1943 when he visited Allied detainees in Fort Santiago:

Professor H. Otley Beyer, a famous American anthropologist at the University of the Philippines, was released three hours after capture and was given a research room to continue his work. He has been giving a regular series of lectures on Philippine peoples to members of the Kempeitai [Japanese military police]. In addition to Professor Beyer, about fifteen American internees at the University of Santo Tomas are giving lessons in English conversation to Kempeitai members. They seem to be happy to get out of the camp as a diversion.”2

Though I’m not familiar with him, Otley Beyer (1883-1966) looks like he published a great deal on the philippines. There are 28 entries by him in the Harvard library system here, all on the Philippines. However, I don’t see any that look like a memoir or diary from his time during the war.

Exploring his wartime interactions with the Japanese and lecturing the Japanese military police, or the Kempeitai, which was the core institution of brutal repression during the occupation, might be an interesting paper for someone who has access to his papers in Australia.

One place to start would be:

Otley Beyer collection – at the Australian national library. See more here. A finding aid to the collection can be found here, including several boxes from his World War II papers.

  1. Part of the report and some of the diary entries can be found translated in Masamichi Rōyama and Takeuchi Tatsuji, The Philippine Polity: A Japanese View (New Haven: Yale University, Southeast Asia Studies; [distributor: the Cellar Book Shop, Detroit, 1967). At the time of publication in the 1960s, Takeuchi was a professor at Kansai Gakuin University, where had taught since 1932. He got his PhD in political science at Chicago. In addition to his trip to the Philippines, he was an advisor to the Burmese occupation government. ibid., 209. []
  2. ibid., 225-6. []

Nisei and the POWs

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 3:00 pm

I just want to take a moment to share a photo that I think captures an interesting and perhaps a bit of an awkward moment. The photo is taken from a 1946 report on the “mop-up” of Japanese troops in the summer of 1945 in the Philippines.1 In it we see a, possibly staged, moment of interaction between a US Nisei (Japanese-American) soldier and Japanese POWs sometime after August 15, 1945, who are about to go out and attempt to persuade their fellow Japanese soldiers in the area to surrender.

Nisei and POWs in Luzon

I was hit by a range of emotions and thoughts when I saw this. On the one hand is the interaction of this Japanese-American, whose loyalty has always been seen as suspect by his fellow Americans, with the Japanese, who most probably see the Nisei as a traitor to his own people.

Completely separate from this interaction is the predicament of the POWs who are about to leave the camp, which was likely no pleasant hotel, but which represented a site of sufficient food and safety reached only after an extremely risky surrender. At that moment of surrender they faced the possibility of being shot either by Americans, or even more likely, their own officers or fellow soldiers. Only a few pages before this photo we read that while, “the good faith displayed by the Americans in holding their fire” (which was not by any means universal on the part of US troops) had lead to many desertions, “many Japanese soldiers were shot by their own troops as they tried to make their way to the American lines.”

Here we see these POWs about to return to the jungle where fellow soldiers were starving and dying of disease. Instead of mounting active attacks on US forces by this time, these Japanese remnants were reportedly only launching desperate nighttime raids for food on local communities. These scenes are, of course, common to almost every description of Japanese forces throughout the Pacific in the summer of 1945. As the report records, “Patrols found individuals and small groups who had apparently starved to death…prisoners of war told of acts of cannibalism,” and of active fighting between the Army and Navy over remaining food supplies.” If these POWs failed to persuade their dying comrades to surrender, would they be able to make their way out safely again? Would they be forced to remain with the others?

One thing that we might keep in mind is that the jungles and hills of Luzon of that summer were full of “Japanese” who were not from the archipelago, as the final report on casualties and POWs from July 1 to August 20 operation reveals:

Dead 20,311
Japanese Prisoners 1,254
Formosans (Taiwanese) 1,065
Koreans 77

  1. Report of the Commanding General Eigth Army on the Luzon Mop-up Operation 27 February 1946. Surplus Copy found in Widener Library, Harvard University. []

The Hicswa Court-martial: a Double Murder in Nara, 1945

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:07 pm

The US occupation of Japan after World War II was not, relatively speaking, a violent one and though the behavior of occupation troops in Japan did lead to many complaints, there is also a surprising amount of praise for them in various Japanese sources I have come across. They certainly did not live up to the propaganda images of savage American beasts that were expected to arrive in Japan after surrender.

There were, however, many cases of violence, including killings and rape.1 Censorship of the press beginning in September makes any count of these cases difficult to make. Terese Svoboda, in her book Black Glasses Like Clark Kent recounts in great detail her own difficulties in finding US national archival material related to various courts-martial from the occupation period.2

Some records can be found online though, if your library or university subscribes to the digital collections of the Law Library Microform Collection. Also, individual volumes of the Judge Advocate General’s Department Board of Review Holdings, Opinions and Reviews can be searched and purchased directly from Google Books.3

Many of these cases give us an interesting perspective on relations between US troops and the nations they occupy. One interesting case is the November, 1945 murder of two Japanese civilians in Nara. An American soldier, Private First Class Joseph E. Hicswa was accused of the murder and court-martialed in early January, 1946. Hicswa was convicted of stabbing the victims to death with a bayonet and sentenced to death “with musketry.”

I have uploaded the 24 page review of the trial and the appeal to the president for commutation of the sentence to the Frog in a Well Library:

Joseph E. Hicswa General Court Martial – Opinion of the Board of Review – Murder Trial 1946.1.8-11

His two companions report that, on the evening of the murders, Hicswa had jumped and beaten two random Japanese civilians they came across in Nara park, but claim they did not see him armed with a weapon at the time. They did not contest the fact that the approximate points where the assaults took place correspond to where the bodies of the two victims were found. They also reported that, as he walked away from his first victim, Hicswa said something along the lines of, “There is one Jap who will never walk or talk again.”4 Later, Hicswa’s bloodied clothes and a bayonet were found in a latrine pipe. The Private admitted the clothes were his, but refused to answer whether or not it was his own bayonet.5

Though barely remembered today, at the time, this case was given considerable media coverage in the US.6 The town of Wallington, NJ, population 8,946, mobilized to defend their 20 year old local boy.7 The mayor called a mass meeting on January 14, 1946 and a resolution was passed and sent to President Truman demanding clemency. 1,500 students reportedly gathered at his old high school and the principal also passed a resolution calling for the same.8 US senator Albert Hawkes became the leading politician to lead calls for a retrial. Hicswa received more sympathy when it was reported he had denied the killings in a letter to his girlfriend, saying that, while he fought with some Japanese, he had had not used a knife, “I was planning to be home Christmas to surprise you but I guess I’ll have to wait about twenty or thirty years…”9 Despite his death sentence, it appears he was already confident of a less lethal sentence. The Mayor reported he received word from the public officials of ten states they they had promised to seek the help of Congress and the War Department. Some 600 letters had been received as well as a telegram on behalf of the 45,000 New Jersey Legionnaires, all by January 17th, the mayor claimed.10

MacArthur, who ran the occupation in Japan, announced on January 18th that he would review the sentence and the acting Secretary of War Kenneth C. Royall said the case would be subject to final review in Washington D.C.11 Hicswa’s mother wrote an eloquent letter to the supreme commander, saying that her son “was torn away from his home to serve his country at the age of 18, taught to kill, had heard of many of his friends being killed, and was under the emotional strain of a delayed homecoming—all factors to which might be attributed, to some extent, the cause for such abnormal conduct as is alleged in this case.” MacArthur replied to the letter, saying that he was “moved” but that the case was out of his hands.12 Shortly after, his headquarters announced that no letters received about the case from Japanese civilians had asked for the death sentence, and a letter from “citizens of Nara Prefecture” had asked for him to be free and claimed the two victims were “no good.” One letter, it was claimed, said Hicswa should be acquitted “because the Japanese people are all guilty for disturbing the world’s peace.”13 Time wrote a sympathetic case history about the tragic “chubby-cheeked” private and Newsweek also covered the case.14

In March, Hicswa escaped from the Yokohama Army stockade but was caught less than an hour later.15 Terese Svoboda’s uncle said Hicswa was in the stockade where he served as a guard, in Tokyo, and after his escape, Stars and Stripes reported he was found in a local brothel.16 Svoboda’s uncle claimed he was asked to take the blame for the escape and plead guilty to neglect of duty.17

In May, Thomas H. Green, Major General, Judge Advocate General issued a recommendation to president Truman that Hicswa’s death sentence be commuted to 30 years of hard labor, which was apparently acted upon by President Truman. Green’s reasoning went as follows:

While the two murders committed by the accused were brutal, unprovoked and unjustified, and from a legal viewpoint were premeditated, there is nothing in the record to indicate that when accused left his quarters with two companions, on the evening preceding his departure for home, he had actually planned to take the life of two Japanese civilians of any one or to commit any other crime. The unexpected appearance of two Japanese civilians, one of whom he chased, overtook and killed, seems to have brought into existence or to have unloosed a sudden desire to kill, probably aggravated by his indulgence in strong liquor during the afternoon and early evening, a desire which seemingly persisted uncontrolled until the commission of the second homicide or was recreated when he undesignedly came in contact with the Japanese civilian who became his second victim.18

Before Hicswa was returned to the US to begin his sentence at McNeill Island, Washington, he swallowed two nails in an alleged attempt at suicide and was admitted to an Army hospital, from which he escaped.19 About a week later, he was again recaptured when found without pass or dogtags in the 8th Army headquarters area.20

What do we make of this case? Even with the court documents and the press that followed, there is not much to go on when it comes to Hicswa’s motivations. We might be tempted to say that he was driven to a murderous rage by the horrors he witnessed on the battlefield during the Pacific war. However, Hicswa first enlisted in 1943 and had no record of combat service during the war. He was assigned to Headquarters Battery for Division Artillery, 98th Infantry Division where he served as a radio operator and later as a bugler.21 In fact, he may be an example of the kind of case I have seen mentioned in many wars: soldiers who had yearned to participate in the action and kill some Japanese, only to have the war end without ever having been given the opportunity for such glory. Scheduled to return to the US the following day, did Hicswa want to make sure he could claim at least a few enemy kills from the war?

A more mundane explanation may be to link Hicswa’s drunken violence to a pattern of violence in his own family. In 1947 his father was arrested in Wallington, NJ for assault and battery. He attacked two police officers who went to his home in response to a complaint by his wife that he had become violent while drunk. After arrest, he attempted suicide.22 However, I find nothing to contradict another possibility, especially given the attempted suicide: that his father developed such behavior in the aftermath of the horrible shock of their son’s conviction for a double murder.

From the perspective of US-Japan relations though, are other points that are worthy of note. Though perhaps unsurprising for a country emerging from a “war without mercy,” completely absent from any of the US media coverage was any sympathy shown for the two Japanese civilians who were stabbed to death. Indeed, the announcement put out by MacArthur shortly after the movement for clemency gets underway goes out of its way to malign the victims through quotations from anonymous letters, as I have noted. The only place I have found their names mentioned, were in the board review opinion where the private was accused of having “with malice, aforethought, willfully, deliberately, feloniously, unlawfully, and with premeditation kill” SUGITA Yasuichi and NISHIMOTO Choji, “a human being by stabbing him with a sharp instrument.” Though I suspect this declaration of the humanity of the Japanese victims is standard legal language, it is comforting to see the Americans acknowledging it. Only a few days earlier, Japan’s emperor was busy declaring his own humanity to the people.

In the board review opinion, there is nothing mentioned about any report of a Japanese witness mentioned who escaped the first attack and called the police. Was his testimony even taken? Interestingly, a Japanese physician, KUBAI Nagamichi performed the autopsy and a Nara city lawyer and judge TAKEDA Seiko was permitted to investigate the crimes. However, a US Captain Jerome Schwartz, who was called in to examine the bodies, only made a superficial examination since because, he said, he had “no interest in the dead Jap.”23

Despite the reputation of militaries everywhere of guarding their own forces when accused of crimes against civilians, it is admirable that the sentence Hicswa was ultimately given in that first year after Japanese surrender was so long, especially in the face of huge public and political pressure for his release in the US.

In the end, though, the most interest part missing from this story is the Japanese side. Did anything get reported on this in Nara at the time? Did rumors spread? Did Kubai and Takeda leave any writings behind about their involvement in the case? Did the families of Sugita and Nishimoto take any action? What actions were taken at the government level between the US and Japan to handle the fallout from the case?

Any readers here know more?

UPDATE: In the comments Nakanoshima points to a 2008 speech in Congress by 8th District Congressman Bill Pascrell honoring WWII vet Hicswa as a “a proud American, willing to do whatever was needed to defend and protect the freedoms and liberties that make this country so grand” and makes no mention of his conviction for two murders. I haven’t contacted Pascrell and it is possible he didn’t know about this fact, but given the huge support for Hicswa in his local community, it would not be surprising if he was aware of the details of the case. If it is the same Hicswa, he has surely long since served his time for the crime, but to be honored in Congress is, at the very least, awkward.

  1. See Eiji Takemae, The Allied Occupation of Japan (New York: Continuum, 2003), 67, and Terese Svoboda, “U.S. Courts-Martial in Occupation Japan: Rape, Race, and Censorship,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 21-1-09, May 23, 2009. []
  2. Terese Svoboda, Black Glasses Like Clark Kent: A GI’s Secret from Postwar Japan (Saint Paul, Minn: Graywolf Press, 2008). []
  3. Since these are US government documents, they cannot be copyrighted and if you find such claims being made of scanned versions of them, you can and should ignore them as spurious. Keep in mind that you may be bound by terms of license agreements you enter into when you access online archives containing such documents – a devious way online collections now get around the whole copyright issue altogether. []
  4. Opinion of the Board of Review, War Department, Army Service Forces, Office of the Judge Advocate General, 98th Infantry Division Trial by G. C.M. of Private First Class Joseph E. Hicswa 171 (5). []
  5. ibid., 179 (13). []
  6. Does anyone know if there was any mention at all in the censored Japanese press of this case? Or of Japanese historians who have looked into it? []
  7. “Home town tries to save soldier condemned for killing Japanese” New York Times 1946.1.15, 15. []
  8. Doesn’t that seem like a lot of high school students for a population of around 9,000 plus surrounding villages? []
  9. “Murder in Japan denied by Soldier” New York Times 1946.1.17, 16 []
  10. “Move for Hicswa Grows” New York Times 1946.1.18, 5. See also this photograph of the Hicswa family under a “Welcome Home” sign. Getty Image 99s/36/HUTY/13630/43 #3137252. []
  11. “M’Arthur to review GI’s death sentence” New York Times 1946.1.19, 6. “Review for Hicswa Case” New York Times 1946.1.24, 4. []
  12. “M’Arthur writes to Hicswa’s mother” New York Times 1946.1.30, 4 []
  13. “Japanese plead for GI” New York Times 1946.2.1, 2 []
  14. “The Press: Case History” Time 1946.1.28. Also somewhere in the Newsweek 1946.1.28 issue, with a report on the commutation of sentence in May. []
  15. “Hickswa escapes, caught” New York Times 1946.3.4, 10. []
  16. All references I find to Hicswa during his imprisonment is in Yokohama, not in Tokyo. []
  17. Svoboda ibid., 82-84. She also writes that pressure from Hicswa’s mother’s had forced an inspection of the stockade, resulting in more lax security. []
  18. See the uploaded document above, 189 (23). See also “Hicswa Sentence is cut to 30 years” New York Times 1946.5.8, 10. []
  19. New York Times 1946.9.21, 6. []
  20. “Hicswa recaptured by army in Japan” New York Times 1946.9.29, 53. Despite his two escapes, in 1952, his prison term was cut to 25 years. “G.I.’s sentence cut to 21 years” New York Times 1952.3.18, 9. []
  21. See the uploaded file linked above, 187 (21). []
  22. “Hicswa Sr. is Seized” New York Times 1947.7.30, 23 []
  23. 174 (8) []

License to Hunt Japanese

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 1:11 pm

John Dower’s book War Without Mercy does a great job at talking about, and showing images of the many ways that race played a role in the propaganda and deep racially coded hatred the United States and Japan had for each other. Any good history of Japan or US-Japan relations that covers the war can now hardly avoid the topic.

The wonderful online exhibit Dr. Suess Went to War also has a wonderful catalog of the kinds of images found depicting the enemy, including a whole section on Japan.

Many of the propaganda images dehumanize the enemy by portraying them as some kind of animal, monster, or insects. They go well beyond the kind of racial caricatures of the enemy that depict certain racial stereotypes in terms of exaggerated features. The latter can be found not only in propaganda images but was used even in official documents. To take one example of this I recently came across, the cover for 1945 Field Order 31 of the US 8th Army, which contained instructions for the early occupation of the Japanese islands, shows the 8th Army, represented by a large arrow, attacking the protruding ass of a Japanese soldier, depicted with standard slanted eyes and enlarged teeth.1


As Dower and many others have pointed out, the more dehumanizing portrayals of the enemy create an environment in which the soldier feels that the enemy race is itself a kind of disease or vermin that needs to be exterminated. Though examples abound, I recently came across a particularly elaborate example of this that I had never seen before and which I thought I would share: A “License to Hunt Japanese” issued to an American who did not fight in the Pacific War but would later serve as a US advisor in occupation Japan. The image and accompanying text simultaneously captures a number of the features found in the more disturbing propaganda images.

licenseweb copy.jpg

Full size version of the image can be seen here.2

The license, clearly designed to be a work of humor, is stamped by a fictional “Department of Jap Extermination” in the “Alaska Sanitation Commmission,” which is said to have as its motto, “Exterm the worm.” Imitating a hunting license, it declares an “open season” on the Japanese, with “no limit.”

Japanese are not the only ones mentioned or depicted in this mock hunting license. The body of the license, which refers to the Japanese as “genus bastardi” and “black-livered Japanese,” announces that “Germans taken incidental to the hunt will be counted two for one in claiming bounty. Italians will not be counted.”

UPDATE: I received an email which pointed out that the image of the soldier in the first image is a most likely a caricature of Hirohito.

  1. Robert Eichelberger Papers Box 62. Microfilm version: Japan and America, c1930-1955: the Pacific War and the occupation of Japan. Series 1 Reel 31 []
  2. I have blurred out the names on the license and I’d rather not publish the origins of the document here. Contact me if you want more information on how to find the original document. []

Shipping Designators for Japanese Cities

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 10:13 pm

There are two creative processes that I find particular mysterious. Coming up with the names for musical bands…and shipping designators.

Here for example, is a short list of some of the shipping designators for Japan during the US occupation:1

Yokohama = EVIL
Tokyo = BULL
Osaka = CLUB
Nagasaki = HARD
Kobe = HACK
Sasebo = CARL
Shimonoseki = KIDS
Gunzan = OWLS

Anyone have ideas on how they come up with these names?2

UPDATE: Here is the longer list from the original document:

Shipping Designators Japan

  1. A shipping designator is a short address. Defined as follows by militaryterms.net shipping designator — A code word assigned to a particular overseas base, port, or area for specific use as an address on shipments to the overseas location concerned. The code word is usually four letters and may be followed by a number to indicate a particular addressee.” []
  2. These are taken from Robert Eichelberger Papers. Series 1 Part 1 Reel 18 Box 49 Administrative Orders 1945-6 (4 vols). Headquarters Eight Army 25 Sept 1945 (Administrative Order 17 to accompany Field Order 32) 8. []

The Red Flag Song

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:46 pm

On May 1, 1946 Oscar Olander, a former commissioner of the Michigan State police, entered Tokyo early on the morning of “Food May Day” as part of his mission to investigate the state of Japanese police in the defeated nation. On that day, over a million Japanese joined what was described as a “sea of red flags” to celebrate the day of labor but also make desperate calls for food and the address of other basic grievances.1 The red flags joined those of the American occupier as Olander writes in his diary,

8:03 we arrive back in Tokyo – we are greeted (?) by a gathering of hundreds of communists starting to celebrate May Day. They are singing a revolutionary song in Japanese to the tune of “Maryland my Maryland” as they wave their many American flags.”2

Maryland my Maryland,” the state song of Maryland, is actually sung to the tune of “Lauriger Horatius” or “O Tannenbaum.” Mark Gayn, a journalist whose diary entries can be found quoted in almost every book on early postwar Japan and Korea, identifies the song more precisely in his own May 1 entry:

…the men marched briskly, singing the “Marseillaise” and the “May Day Song,” … and the “Akahata,” or the “Red Flag” with its curiously lilting tune, The people’s flag, the red flag, wraps the bodies of our dead; Before the corpses turn cold, their blood dyes the flag…3

You can listen to the song in Japanese here.

The 赤旗の歌 is the Japanese version of Irish Jim Connell’s 1889 “The Red Flag.” When one is in the mood for a blood dripping song for an internationalist revolution, I can’t think of a more powerful song. The opening verse and chorus run:

The people’s flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyr’d dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts’ blood dyed its ev’ry fold.

Then raise the scarlet standard high,
Within its shade we’ll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

幾度 同胞の屍を包めり。
その死屍 冷え固まらん前に


In terms of cultural history, this song, that here so captures the remarkable transformation witnessed on that first postwar May Day in Japan is a good example of one that has really travelled well with international revolutionary culture (beyond the well-known anthem the Internationale). Searching on inter-tubes with Mr. Google reports that it was sung at conferences of the British labor party, by Chinese communist anti-Japanese partisans as early as 1931, and that it is a popular pick in North Korean song contest and among South Korean protesters.

The Korean version of the song, 적기가 (赤旗歌), can be heard sung at the climactic close of the 2003 movie Silmido based on the events surrounding Unit 684.

Imagine the faces of Japanese police watching the protesters that day in 1946 as they listened to the song, even as their ranks were being purged, mostly, of the Special Higher Police whose very job it was to arrest and ideally convert (転向) anyone who were poisoned with such “red” thoughts. Of course, with the “reverse course” only a year or two later, at least some of the smiles of the revolutionaries would be wiped away as the force of the US occupation turned against the Communist threat.

  1. John Dower has a great section on the May Day celebrations in his Embracing Defeat p254-67. []
  2. Oscar Olander Papers, Box 1 “Our Trip to Japan” Installment #2 p3 []
  3. Mark Gayn Japan Diary Charles E. Tuttle Company (1981), 197-8. []
  4. See full side by side J/E versions, along with a link to a recording of my absolute favorite Irish version of this song that does not sound exactly like O Tannenbaum here. []

Update: Japanese to the Rescue

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:09 pm

In April I made a short posting about an interesting work of fiction from 1907, called Death Trap by R. W. Cole1 that depicts a future German invasion of Britain that is repulsed only thanks to the valiant efforts of the Japanese military.

Thanks to the wonderful marvel that is inter-library loan, one of the Hampshire County Libraries in England was kind enough to loan Widener library its copy of the 1907 book long enough for me to take a quick peek at it this afternoon and scan the pages from the end of the book which depicts the Japanese liberation of an occupied Britain. Since the book is no longer protected by copyright, if you are interested, you can download my quick scans from the book as a PDF here.2

Reading the original I find this to be a really wonderful example of a widespread admiration for Japan found throughout the world in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese war. At the climax of Cole’s novel, when the Germans had “almost achieved their purpose of crushing England to submission,” and mobs of desperate civilians “paraded the streets of north and east London crying for peace at any price,”3 there are suddenly sounds of artillery coming from the Kent coast. The Germans react with concern, determine that the Japanese have arrived, but are confident of ultimate victory. A massive naval battle ensues between the Germans and Russians on one side, with the British and Japanese on the other. “Several ships were missing from the Russian and German squadrons, for the Japanese torpedo-boats had delivered attacks of unsurpassed audacity and skill the previous night.” Though the fleets were equally matched,

“The Germans and Russians fought like heroes, but the strategy of the Japanese admiral, who stood with folded arms directing the battle from his conning tower, was superior to theirs. Hours passed. The little yellow man still calmly gave his orders and watched the battle. Ships were battered by shells, rammed, sunk and torpedoed. But the yellow men were triumphant everywhere, and soon their enemies’ ships floated as useless hulks upon the waves…”4

Shortly thereafter, “thousands of Japanese army officers landed at Liverpool…All were ready to take over their commands at once, and at the head of all were field-marshals who had fought in Manchuria. Almost every member of this vast array of officers had seen service in the Russo-Japanese War.”

Despite the fact that the Japanese are described as “little yellow men” Cole repeatedly returns to compliment them on their intelligence and skill. It is the German army which is described as, “raw hordes of half-trained men”5 and the British military forces are merely the frontline soldiers who are commanded by their more superior Japanese leaders, as Cole writes, “The presence of innumerable Japanese officers of all ranks in the British amateur army had greatly improved its value.” Even before the final clash of armies in the British countryside, “parties of British infantry and cavalry under Japanese officers were always dropping down from apparently nowhere, and cutting off stragglers, intercepting ammunition and commissariat wagons, sometimes even firing on the artillery trains.”6

This is again shown in the description of the final battle:

“At last the armies met, and the Germans went into action confident of victory. But they were roughly undeceived, for although the rank and file were weak and ineffective, the Japanese officers were far superior in dash and science to the Kaiser’s. After all, the strength of an army lies in its brains, and the British and their Japanese allies had both brains and numbers.”7

When the battle went badly, the Germans attempted to retreat and escape from “this Hell of anguish and defeat. But the doors were already closed by British troops led by skilful Japanese.”8

When the Germans had been surrounded, the British and Japanese victors exacted severe peace terms on a shocked Kaiser. However, “the final victory gave [Britain] little satisfaction, for it was universally known that it was due to the highly-skilled aid of Japan, and not to the martial prowess of the British.”9 As would be happen in reality only a decade after this novel was published, Germany lost its imperial possessions, Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France. This humiliating fate was “all wrought by the despised yellow monkeys from the Far East.”10

A novel like this is only one of many publications in the first few decades of the twentieth century that are filled with admiration for Japan, its martial culture, and its rapid industrialization. Already here though we see a depiction of the Japanese that would endure in future wars: the emphasis on a contrast between their diminutive stature and the supposed fact that they are essentially an usually gifted and intelligent people, or in the words of one German officer in the novel, “Those Japanese are very clever.”11

  1. Brett from airminded.org points out in a comment to that posting that Cole also wrote a book that posits the expansion of the Anglo-Saxon empire into space. Read more about this over at his blog. []
  2. I scanned the title page, the first chapter, and then the last few chapters from around where the first mention I noticed of the Japanese. []
  3. p. 273 []
  4. p. 278 []
  5. p282 []
  6. p. 283 []
  7. p. 284 []
  8. p. 297 []
  9. p. 311 []
  10. p. 311 []
  11. p. 277 []

Frog in a Well Guides: A Basic Guide to Resources on Japanese Colonialism

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 8:06 pm

Here at Frog in a Well we have attempted to occasionally go beyond our role as a publisher of three group weblogs on the history of East Asia. Though it still has very few entries, our Frog in a Well Library contains some primary historical documents. The East Asian Libraries and Archives wiki contains a slowly growing collection of entries with useful information about libraries and archives in East Asia, as well as other information on databases, organizations, and links to other similar resources.

We would now like to announce a new addition: Frog in a Well Guides. Here we would like to host a collection of guides, created by students or scholars of East Asia. We currently imagine these to be primarily bibliographies or research guides tailored to specific areas of research on East Asia. It is inspired by other wonderful existing resources such as the Modern Chinese History bibliography, the Korean History Bibliography, and most of all the wonderful work by students of Professor Henry Smith’s Japanese Bibliography course at Columbia University.

All the guides will be published with a Creative Commons license to allow the greatest possible freedom in using them, and we welcome edited, revised, or expanded versions of existing guides by new authors. Also, each guide will have its own page on the EALA wiki where anyone may leave comments, or recommendations for others to incorporate in future updated versions.

Our first guide has been contributed by our own Sayaka Chatani, PhD Candidate at Columbia University:

A Basic Guide to Resources on Japanese Colonialism

The EALA wiki page for the guide, if you have suggestions can be found here. Many thanks to Sayaka for contributing this.

The Japanese to the Rescue

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 7:25 pm

From 1902 until 1923 the British and Japanese were military allies, bound to support each other in the case of a war with more than a single power and a promise of neutrality otherwise. At its signing, this was primarily seen as a way to counterbalance Russia. Japan would eventually fight on the side of the Entente powers in World War I and engage with Germans in Shandong province, China and in its island possessions in the Pacific. It did not ever play any major role in the action on the European mainland.

At least one fictional pre-war novel, however, appears to have imagined circumstances under which Britain’s Japanese ally would come to its aid in the case of a German invasion. The work is Robert William Cole’s The Death Trap (1907) which came to my attention when brought up in Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War.1

I haven’t found a copy of the original2, but there appears to be more on and an extract from this work in Ignatius Frederick Clarke’s The Great War with Germany, 1890-1914: Fictions and Fantasies of the War-to-Come. The brief summary of the conclusion of the novel goes as follows:

Despite the initial German successes and the enemy occupation of London, there is a national uprising directed by Lord Eagleton, the Military Dictator; and then help comes with the arrival of a Japanese fleet—a comvenient [sic], fictional activation of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of 1905. Tens of thousands of Japanese troops land in Liverpool and hasten south to assist the British insurgents…3

  1. On page 2 of the work, it is listed among many other works of fiction imagining a German invasion of the British Isles. []
  2. It doesn’t seem to be in the Harvard library but I put in a request for it through inter-library loan []
  3. Ignatius Frederick Clarke The Great War with Germany, 1890-1914: Fictions and Fantasies of the War-to-Come, p178. []

Some Good Old Treaty Port Humor

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 11:09 pm

I found this gem in a June 21, 1900 Washington Post article:


It is a cute, and surely manufactured story, but it does get at something I have wondered about: did Asian powers who were granting special rights in their ports to Europeans ever seek any similar special trade access to certain ports in Europe?

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