In April I made a short posting about an interesting work of fiction from 1907, called Death Trap by R. W. Cole 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.
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,” 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…”
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” 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.” 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.”
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.”