井の中の蛙

4/7/2010

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. []

12/30/2009

Japanese Soldiers Use an Accountant’s Trick

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 2:20 pm

I haven’t been making any substantial posts to Frog in a Well of late even though I have been buried in fascinating historical materials as I write my dissertation. I have decided, however, to share the occasional short anecdote that pops up in some of the secondary and primary sources I come across.

In his book on wartime Communist efforts in village China, Dagfinn Gatu brings up an interesting technique used by Japanese soldiers. Chinese Communist regular and guerrilla forces were severely short of weapons throughout the war. Since Communist insurgents far outnumbered the weapons available, the capture of one functioning Japanese weapon from the battlefield essentially put one more armed opponent into the field. As in most similar asymmetrical wars, this loss of equipment was taken very seriously by the Japanese occupation forces. However, a Japanese platoon commander who later became a historian, Fujiwara Akira shows how one trick was employed of shifting around one’s losses in reports to superiors:

“In recording combat results greater attention was paid to the amount of captured weapons than to the number of abandoned corpses. For that reason, army units put aside seized weapons to prepare for the eventuality of heavy combat losses by diluting these in reports on battle achievements.”1

  1. Quoted in Dagfinn Gatu, Village China at War, p. 207. Original in Fujiwara Akira Chûgoku sensen jûgunki (Tokyo: Otsuki shoten, 2002) pp. 51-52, 63-65 – not sure which of these page ranges. []

12/10/2009

TR’s legacy for FDR: Japanese Aggression?

I really didn’t want to get into the discussion about James Bradley’s op-ed and interview because it’s finals season, and because the argument was so obviously wrong. Other historians have weighed in with a fairly negative review of the argument,1 but there’s a book behind it, so I suppose the discussion has to happen. Eric Rauchway did a reasonably good job of taking the Americanist side against Bradley; I’ve been in the comments over there, arguing, effectively, that there’s a bizarre amount of reality you have to ignore to make the connection between the Portsmouth Treat and Taft-Katsura on the one hand and the Manchurian Incident and Pearl Harbor on the other.

The presumption that Roosevelt doing something more aggressive with regard to Japan’s claims in Korea and elsewhere wouldn’t have produced the Pacific War sooner seems unlikely to me. The combination of US expansion in the Pacific (Hawaii as well as the Philippines) and anti-Japanese/anti-immigrant racism was already leading some Japanese to consider the US a likely competitor and enemy in the near future: an intransigent or pro-Russian Roosevelt would have failed to negotiate the Portsmouth treaty (against which the Japanese people rioted anyway, because there was no indemnity payment) and the US would likely have been unable to integrate Japan into the Wilsonian treaties of the ’20s, and the military would have been even more likely to move aggressively in China and the Pacific sooner than 1931.

From both sides, the US and Japanese, it’s hard to see what Roosevelt could have done differently, even assuming that he had the ahistorical inclination to do so that would have produced a better result.

There’s a satirical theme in Edge of the American West comments which routinely blames people for things that happened many, many years after or before their time. As absurd as it is, I had to point out that some people take it way too seriously. I also noted something which I’m going to have to be sure to emphasize next time I teach this, because I think it’ll clarify things for students:

Nobody intervened on the side of the Chinese, ever. Even the “Open Door policy” was pretty much a dead letter from the beginning. That’s why the Japanese thought they could get away with so much: the 21 Demands make it very clear the direction things are going to go, unless the Chinese can get their acts together quickly (which they didn’t). This is part of what made FDR’s intervention on their behalf so infuriating: it was out of character with the 19th century paradigm, and nobody had ever made a League of Nations decision the foundation of a diplomatic relationship (there was an attempt with the Italy/Ethiopia thing, but it didn’t stick).

I don’t know why people never get tired of “original sin” counterfactual arguments, but they sure don’t.

  1. There’s even a comment from D. Giangreco that I agree with, a rare event. []

9/27/2009

Hiroshima +50 (and +40)

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:39 pm

Atomic Bombing 50th Anniversary - Cranes 8 - closeI haven’t participated in that many “historic” events, but I’m now old enough that my early pictures qualify as historic documents, at least. Here’s another sample of my Japan pictures: maybe not an historic event in itself, but a major anniversary commemoration of one.

I spent both the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the Hiroshima bombing in Japan. (Also the 39th, but who cares?) We didn’t do anything to mark the 40th — we were too busy getting ready to come back to the US, where I was going to start college — but I do remember getting a haircut that day. A haircut isn’t really memorable most of the time, but our barber, just down the street from our ‘mansion,’ also gave old-fashioned shaves. Now I didn’t have much historical consciousness as a 17-year old, but a decade anniversary of an event like the world’s first atomic bombing, in the country where it happened, is something that you notice. So there I was, laying back in the chair on the anniversary of the day my country atom-bombed my barber’s country, and he’s standing over me with a straight-razor. I don’t miss shaving, but there’s nothing like a good straight-razor shave.

On the 50th anniversary, we were living in Yamaguchi, so we decided to take the train to Hiroshima for the commemoration. We’d been to Hiroshima before, with visiting relatives, so we’d seen the museums and the park. But it was different that day:
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9/2/2009

World War Wannabee: Russo-Japanese War?

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:05 pm

Brett Holman notes a new contender in the “really First World War” sweepstakes — the Seven Years War and Napoleonic Wars being leading early contenders — namely The Russo-Japanese War. John Steinberg, editor of the two-volume The Russo-Japanese War in Global Perspective: World War Zero offers ten points of comparison that he seems to consder hallmarks of a world war:

1. Like World War I, the origins of the Russo-Japanese War were rooted in imperialistic competition between world powers

2. As in August 1914, when the Russo-Japanese conflict began, it was fought in a neutral country(s) (China and Korea)

3. In the midst of the conflict and in the area where combat occurred, governmental structures broke down and the emergency was greeted with a response by non-governmental agencies such as the Red Cross

4. The conflict was marked by the use of sophisticated, complicated, and (above all else) lethal industrial weapons such as machine guns, rapid fire infantry assault weapons, rapid fire artillery, mines, and torpedoes. These were accompanied by the logistical infrastructure needed to keep ammunition and other essential supplies flowing to modern fielded armies

5. The natural product of the War’s deadly battlefields — mass casualties — required levels of aid which no medical corps of the period had the ability to help. The sheer numbers of men in need of aid overwhelmed these units.

6. The duration of battles at the beginning of the War lasted two or three days (The Yalu and Nanshan) and were contained to relatively small areas. By the end of the war the battles of Liaoyang and Mukden lasted weeks and featured battlefields that extended for kilometers. [NB: In terms of duration and brutality, the six to seven-month siege of Port Arthur foreshadowed what later happened at Verdun in 1916.]

7. The cost of fighting such a technologically demanding war required the formation of international syndicates of bankers simply to derive the credit needed for both the Japanese and Russians to keep purchasing and producing weapons and munitions.

8. Like WWI, the Russo-Japanese War was widely reported on and represented in all forms of visual presentations, from photographs to wood block prints.

9. Like Versailles, the Treaty of Portsmouth occurred only after one belligerent (Japan) ran out of men, materials and credit, and the Russians found themselves in the midst of a Revolution. Perhaps more to the point, the treaty itself resolved little beyond ending hostilities and, worse, created circumstances that fueled grievances that culminated in future conflict.

10. When the war concluded and the peace was signed the strengthening of the pan-Asian movement continued to fuel animosities that further destabilized the world.

My immediate reaction, like Brett, is that this is list of similarities, which is interesting, but that they are aspects of modern warfare rather than a description of the kind of global cataclysmic or transformative event that would justify the “world war” moniker. You could say that it was a sort of regional prototype for the war, but you could say that about just about any conflict after the Franco-Prussian war, including the Spanish-American war (which probably ought to go on the “World War Wannabee” list, as a bi-oceanic, imperial conflict); one of Steinberg’s co-bloggers notes that the Russo-Turkish war fits all those criteria, but that still doesn’t qualify it as a “World War,” just a nasty imperialistic conflict.

Most of these points are weak comparisons, I think, but arguable: the idea (point 2) that the natural battleground for a World War is neutral nations’ territories, for example, ignores the difference between truly “neutral” and “in the sphere of influence”/colony which really defines the initial (and for the R-J war, only) battlegrounds of imperialist wars. The last point perplexes me thoroughly: while there certainly is an upsurge in anti-Japanese (and generally anti-Imperial) nationalism in China and Korea after the R-J War, to describe this as “pan-Asian sentiment” seems wrong. If he’s arguing that Japan’s success leads to an upsurge of pan-Asianism in Japan, that’s more reasonable, but to describe it as a “movement” and to place the blame for Asia’s early 20th century destabilization on that rather than continued imperialistic pressures (for which pan-Asianism was a fig leaf of rationalization, nothing more) is overblown.

8/6/2008

I hate this time of year

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 4:33 pm

I still hate this time of year. Though the post and comments are of generally high quality, and the introduction of actual Japanese scholars and sources into the debate is welcome, I still haven’t seen anyone address the “sufficient ≠ necessary” issue to my satisfaction. There’s an awful lot of post hoc ergo propter hoc in the discussion, as well as an awful lot of “plausible, therefore true” fallacies on the other side.

It’s really one of the nastiest questions of historical causality: there’s counterfactuals, personality/psychological considerations, cultural considerations, long-term strategic and moral implications, the inevitability trap, and self-justification and distortion in the sources on all sides, not to mention huge gaps in the record on critical persons and times. The problem, really, is to approach it the way we do every other historical question, because to treat it as a sui generis issue (which it really looks like) can lead to the use of arguments and methods which are unacceptable in other contexts (and should be unacceptable in this one).

Like Eric Rauchway, I rarely spend a lot of time on the atomic bombings in either my World History or Japanese history courses, partially because, like him, I put it in the context of the general escalation of air war and military technology (a theme that runs through my World courses in particular) and partially because the debate is driven more by ethical than by historical questions. Otherwise we would have moved on ages ago, because the consensus position of Japanese historians reached almost a half century ago still largely stands: The combined shock of the atomic bombs and Soviet entry pushed the Japanese cabinet to the point where they could accept the unconditional end of the war, but things happened so fast that there’s really no way to tell whether one or the other would have been sufficient in isolation, nor can we know for sure whether a conditional surrender could have been reached earlier because nobody tried very hard.

5/14/2008

Archival Incidents, or What is it with Pictures?

Sean Malloy has withdrawn the pictures once touted as “newly discovered” photographs of Hiroshima in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing. Over the last few days, after the pictures were reported by HNN, the Huffington Post, and Wired, among others, members of the Japanese studies community took a closer look and began to doubt. I saw it unfold at H-Japan: questions about the clothing worn by the people standing in the photos, injuries that didn’t match the atomic bombing, topography issues. Most of all, there were similarities to other known pictures from the Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the anti-Korean/anti-leftist massacres which followed: the injuries, topography and clothing are more consistent with that disaster/atrocity. How the pictures acquired the Hiroshima story is still a mystery though, as one commenter pointed out, there’s a three day gap between the bombing and the first known pictures which we’d dearly love to fill.

By a curious coincidence, I (and a lot of other innocent scholars of Asia, I warrant) got an email from an ironically named Japanese group1 whose sole purpose is to deny the realities of Japanese WWII atrocities, and one of their highlight publications is an attempt to debunk as many Nanjing Massacre photographs as possible. Daqing Yang, one of the premier scholars on the Nanjing Massacre has written

Even photographic evidence, as many of them have come to realize, can be fraught with danger if its origins cannot be ascertained. When a conservative Japanese daily newspaper made a news story out of a wartime photograph used with the wrong caption in Kasahara’s book, he offered a swift public apology for his negligence and replaced the photograph.94 One of Kasahara’s historian colleagues has included a cautionary note about the use of photographic evidence in a college textbook on historical sources, using the Rape of Nanjing as an example.95

A few days back, peacay wrote me to get clarification on a satirical map found in the ‘Block Prints of the Chinese Revolution’ collection at Princeton. The problem with it, what was confusing peacay, is that the map seemed to be too broad and didn’t say much about the 1911 Revolution. The archival commentary wasn’t helpful, being a general statement about the whole collection. So, I got a good look at it and reported back that it was actually a Japanese-drawn (that much peacay already knew, which is why I got the call) WWI satire, dated late 1914, and the sum total of Chinese commentary was to depict China as a Mandarin pig, anxiously looking at a rain gauge. (peacay has a nice detail shot of it) The rest of the collection seems to actually be from Shanghai and relate to the 1911 revolution (at least, I assume Alan would have said something!). I don’t know that Princeton is going to withdraw the out-of-place image — they’ve already got a disclaimer on the collection saying that they don’t endorse any of the sentiments contained therein — but I expect that their in-house cataloging is more detailed and accurate. I hope so, but that’s no protection for researchers who aren’t in New Jersey.

This is going to come up more and more: as archives and collections become more public, the likelihood of discovering errors (or worse, propogating them in our research) is going to increase. As others have noted, I’m sure, historians are rarely trained specifically in the critical use of visual evidence, photographic or artistic. I’ve seen some grossly overinterpreted and casually thoughtless uses of visual materials.2 Nor are many archivists, though we rely heavily on their record-keeping and expertise. But it’s getting harder and harder to excuse this kind of carelessness, while our training is not at all keeping up with the materials we’re expected to use.

  1. I’ll tell you if you really want, but I don’t want to give them any more publicity than they deserve []
  2. I used a world history textbook once which both: a. presented a photograph of modern African folk dancers in a chapter on pre-1500 African history, the only instance in which a modern photo was used as evidence in a pre-modern context; b. and claimed that the solemn expressions on native Americans in a mid-19c picture were evidence of their social and cultural plight instead of the long exposures of contemporary technology []

4/21/2008

How do you say “Fast of the First Born” in Japanese?

I was thinking about whether to even attempt a contribution to the latest symposium on the role of historical animosities — and their appeasement — in present political tensions when a holiday happened: Passover, the Jewish celebration of the Exodus from Egypt. On the first evening, we celebrate the Seder — literally “order” — a process of remembrance and celebration. But there are elements of sadness: in the midst of telling the story, we spill wine from our cups in honor of the plague-suffering of the Egyptians. Before the Seder even begins, first-born Jews refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise, in remembrance of the first-born Egyptians slain in the final plague. It’s an odd practice, historically, nearly unprecedented: a deliberate rehumanization of “the enemy” enshrined at the heart of what is, arguably, the most centrally Jewish celebration of the ritual year.

I’m not entirely sure that it helps, since there never was an historical reconiciliation between the ancient Israelites and the Pharonic Egyptians.1 But I think it is an important “Zeroth” condition to add to Valérie Rosoux’s Four Conditions:
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  1. Then there’s the question of the historicity of the biblical narrative…. []

12/22/2007

佐々木啓 – 戦時期日本における国民徴用援護事業の展開過程

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:35 pm

I just saw the table of contents for the December issue of 『歴史学研究』 and noticed that Frog in a Well contributor Sasaki Kei (see his postings here) has published an essay on his research on wartime labor conscription in Japan.

I am away from libraries where I can read the article at the moment but here is the English abstract available online:

The Development of Labor Conscription Support Projects in Japan during the Asian Pacific War: A Study of National Integration

This paper examines an aspect of national integration in Japan during the Asian-Pacific War through an analysis of the development of labor conscription support projects. Prior research on wartime Japanese society has mainly focused on cultural and welfare movements, or local communities. However, few of them have paid attention to the labor conscription system, which is very important to understand Japan’s total war system.

Firstly, this article establishes that national support projects for the conscripted people and their families were developed in various ways and on a wide scale from the middle of 1943. Though prior research has emphasized the irrationality of the system of labor conscription, we demonstrate that it actually based on an elaborate mechanism.

Secondly, we examine the realities of labor conscription support projects in Osaka Prefecture, where social workers (homen iin) appointed to the Conscripts Consultation Committee (Ochoshi sodan iin) mainly engaged in the projects, and explore the various aspects of interaction between the support projects with the populace. The “effects” of support projects did not necessarily coincide with what the state intended, and the projects served as a medium for the people to achieve their demands.

9/18/2007

Worth Noting

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 2:43 pm

John Dower kicks off the American Historical Association’s Perspectives newsletter’s new “Masters at the Movies” series with a review and commentary of the two Eastwood Iwo Jima movies. It is, as you’d expect from John Dower, well sourced, psychologically sensitive, clear-headed and even-handed. Nothing very new there, but a good survey of the end-of-war issues and narratives. End-of-war issues remain sensitive in Japan1. For a completely different perspective, Richard Frank’s review of Maddox’s Hiroshima book claims, as so many conservative commentators have before, that it settles the “revisionism” questions once and for all. We’ll see.

Non Sequitur: In other news, this week’s Japan Focus is all about current immigration issues in Japan, so I’ll have to read it and see if anyone’s got an historical perspective worth noting.

  1. then there’s the cabinet minister resignation, etc. []

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