Friday, December 01, 2006

Kwai Bridge & The Yen

This is NOT a Japanese hate blog. I truly like and admire the Japanese people and culture. Much of it anyway. And for years I have given super-human credit to the MITI & MoF (Ministry of Finance) for prescience, planning and organization. Yet I am having my doubts.

Yesterday I watched a PBS special on the horror and brutality employed by the Japanese in building of a Southeast Asian railway, most famously known for "The Bridge Over the River Kwai". And while historically, the allies may remember it for the unlawful use of prisoners in the construction process, nearly 100,000 Asians (mostly indiginous Malays) perished i their efforts as well. Of course this may not be a surprise given Manchuria was no secret. Nor was their pathetic behaviour in Korea, and, for that matter, anywhere else in Asia they happened to land and occupy undocumented. 60 years hence, Asians remain sensitive, and unforgetful about war-time atrocities, and for good reason: Japanese behaviour was atrocious!

Yet, many Japanese (both nationalists and otherwise) do not seem to "get" foreign sensitivity regarding visits to Yasakuni, lame textbook accounts about more or less objective history, or their seeming unwillingness to be culpabable to historical events, in the same way they eagerly seize culpablility to other Japanese, on behalf of things Japanese. This is puzzling to me, and really struck home when watching the interviews with the now-elderly Japanese engineers and soldiers who took part and oversaw the railways construction, and it's brutal consequences. They seemed to abnegate all responsibility. Yes, they admitted it was war, and things were done in the name of war. But to a man, they denied prisoners were forced into labour. They suggested prisoners' deaths were the result of "bad rice" or other such nonsense. Were these denials "real"? Sure they were concern4ed about war-crimes, and preesent-day "shame" of being brandished so. But did they actually believe this? Was it a defense mechanism of the human psyche constructed to excise and quarantine the unthinkable and the unimaginably horrible?

All which makes me think about the credit I have been attributing to the MITI & MOF and whether it is mis-placed. Just how cynical "is" the weak-yen policy? How much do policy-makers really believe that ZIRP is somehow benefitting local economic conditions, Capex, or credit take-up by the average Japanese household (who in any event are large net savers)?? Perhaps, they really believe it themselves! And, if so, what will it take to change their behaviour from parochially tribal (and damaging to the international monetary system), to one more global and responsible in nature?? If the financial system blows up, could Omi, Ota, Fukui, or Tanigaki (not to mention George Bush), be termed an "economic war criminals"?


Anonymous said...

2 nukes dopped on largely civilian populated cities, at the end of the war with Japan's army, air force and navy in ruins. Now that's an atrocity.

Anonymous said...

I concur. History is indeed written by the victors. FYI: the concerted bombing of Tokyo & environs, and subsequent firestorms actually were more lethal in terms of civilian casualties & fatalities than either of the nukes. To the American's credit, they are at least wrestling earnestly with the morality of their immorality. Putting the Enola Gay in the Smithsonian however, ranks right up there with Koizumi visits to Yasukuni. Surely there was a nice piece of desert in New Mexico to park it and let the few morbid vistors commune with it in isolation, just as Koizumi could have visited Yasukuni in the wee hours. Surely the cannon fodder would neither have cared about nor known the difference...

Anonymous said...

I suggest that "anonymous" read some truly definitive history of the era, such as Newman's "Truman and the Hiroshima Cult" or Frank's "Downfall", or even just the Wikipedia entry. At war end Japan's army still had millions of men under arms, climbing toward 900,000 in southern Kyushu alone, and did not consider itself defeated. The navy had thousands of kamikaze planes, augmented by many hundreds of suicide speedboats, midget submarines and man-guided torpedos, and large numbers of "crouching dragon" suicide frogmen.

There were millions more army soldiers abroad in China, Indochina, and Indonesia -- to the extent that there was some fear in the Japanese high command post-surrender that the Southern Area Army would insist on fighting on, creating a "Second Japan" in Indonesia and Indochina.

In practical terms, though, Japan was defeated when Saipan fell in the summer of '44. If the government of Japan had been composed of decent and moral men, it would have begun serious peace negotiations at that time. The reason it didn't is that the emperor and the men surrounding him considered the retention of his absolute powers so important that they were willing to murder literally millions of citizens to that end. After the fall of Saipan, Japanese died not in defense of their nation, which could no longer be defended, but rather in defense of the essentially absolute powers which the emperor's divine status conferred on him and his symbiotic hyperviolent militarists. (Read carefully the Meiji Constitution to understand what was really meant in those "peace feeler" messages when they said that maintaining the position of the emperor was the minimum condition for a negotiated peace -- note all the "catches" in that consititution which enabled the military-industrial-nobility complex to create a police state; read Kiyosawa Kiyoshi's "A Diary of Darkness") to learn what it was like.

Perhaps "anonymous" could also read the intercepted "peace feeler" messages themselves, a subset of which can be found here (which should be read with the knowledge that Japan had proposed some weeks before that Japan and the Soviet Union form a military alliance, and that the US had intercepted messages about that, too); note that despite Sato's repeated insistence to Togo that nothing will happen unless Tokyo sends concrete proposals, weeks went by and nothing was sent, a strong indication that either it was all a sham to play for time, or that the government couldn't even agree on what terms to propose.

Japan's rulers knew very well that the US would not behave barbarically in occupation of Japan, but relentlessly propagandized their populace to that effect in order to keep them fighting solely to prevent the introduction of democracy and preserve their power to rise again and once more attempt world domination, as the German rightists had risen again after WWI. It was exactly to prevent such a resurgence of militarism that unconditional surrender was demanded.

Without the atomic bombings it is highly unlikely Japan would have surrendered until far more Japanese lives had been lost than were lost in those bombings. In addition, hundreds of thousands more slave laborers and war prisoners would have been died at Japanese hands had the war gone on much longer; delay was not free. Had the planned invasion of southern Kyushu ever taken place, the Japanese death toll alone would have approached two million.

(posting 'anonymously' only because Blogger won't let me sign 'jm')

Anonymous said...

JM - I seem to recall recent historical research based upon recently unclassified documents that the Russians were on the cusp of brokering a peace deal before the Nukes were dropped, and that following FDRs death, the level of filtering up to the new president by advisors, was very fine. I seem to recall that the sticking point to the Russian-brokered deal was the fate of Hirohito, particularly that he not be tried and branded a war criminal. Historical analysts reckon (so I recall) there was a lot of massaging going on (by anti-Russian, anti-communist clique) in order to sell the idea that deploying the nukes was necessary more to deter the Russians from doing any nefarious in the post-war era and beyond. I have heard others say this is nonsense. Given the choice between land invasion of Kyushu and all it would entail, I too, am less willing to apply perfect hindsight, but should the historians more recent interpretations of the veracity of the proximity of peace, and its derailment by anti-communist factions filtering and intrigue within the Truman admin, for the sake of ideological post-war power politics, then there may be some merit to view that dropping the bomds was akin to war crimes.

Anonymous said...

JM - Thanks you thank you thank you for the link to the deciphered Japanese Telgrams. They are illuminating. Togo saw reality incredibly clearly. I take your points, though would add that having worked within a Japanese bureaucracy and understanding a bit about the Soviet bureaucracy, two weeks is but a blink. The timbre of Togo's pleas are clear, and I remain to be convinced that they were insincere, though going-out-on-a-limb decision-making authority is always problemmatical in Japan, and they may simply have been unable to sway the Emperor or muster the consensus required to move forward. It is a treasure-trove of correspondence! Thanks again!

Anonymous said...


I'm impressed -- but not surprised -- that you took the trouble to read the Sato-Togo messages.
'Sasuga ni Cassandra'

I highly recommend also
Yukiko Koshiro's essay, "Eurasian Eclipse: Japan's End Game in World War II", and
Foreign Minister Togo's own last testament, bizarrely mis-titled in English "The Cause of Japan" (Japanese title was "Jidai no Ichimen", and it makes quite clear that the reason Togo was out of office from shortly after the war's beginning until the months before its end was that his cause was quite different from that of those who held the real power). I got my copy of the latter just a little over a week ago, and only last night got to his own description of the period of the interaction with the Soviets -- it seems that even before he began urging Sato to try to set up a Konoye visit, he believed that it was far, far too late to try to accomplish anything through the Soviets, and he was just going through the motions to keep others happy.

One message missing from the set I pointed you to is the June 28 Togo-Sato message about ex-Premier Hirota's proposal to Soviet Ambassador Malik, summarized in the July 3, 1945 MAGIC Diplomatic Summary, which included the following quote from that proposal that:
"Japan will increase her naval strength in the future, and that, together with the Russian Army, would make a force unequalled in the world. In this connection, Japan would like to have Russia provide her with oil, in return for which Japan would provide rubber, tin, lead, tungsten and other commodities from the south (transport would be up to the Russians)." Note that this presumed continued occupation of at least Malaysia by Japanese forces. (The Soviets didn't bite, and Malik cold-shouldered subsequent overtures.)

A fascinating and quite detailed compendium of information from the MAGIC intercepts is available in Bruce Lee's "Marching Orders", which includes full text of some important intercepts and intelligence summaries based on them. Edward J. Drea's "MacArthur's ULTRA", and "In the Service of the Emperor" are also excellent, especially Chapter 12 of the latter, which contains the only comprehensive English-language analysis I have seen of Hirohito's "Dokuhakuroku".

I've never seen anything worthy of the appelation "evidence" that would indicate any willingness by the Japanese high command to surrender, pre-atomic-bombing, on any terms the allies would or should have accepted. Although there are those who hold that the Soviet entry was the decisive factor, e.g., Hasegawa in "Racing the Enemy", for which excellent reviews with responses from Hasegawa are on the net in an H-Diplo Roundtable Discussion, I am mightily skeptical, as the Soviet's lacked the amphibious landing capability to put large forces on the main Japanese islands, and their planned occupation of northern Hokkaido could have been exploited by the Japanese high command along the lines of "if you don't give us terms that preserve 'His Majesty's prerogatives as a sovereign ruler', we'll hold out until the Russians are on Tokyo's doorstep." Needless to say, the civilian death toll in such a scenario would have dwarfed that due to the atom bombings (note that the civilian death toll in Manchuria due to the Russian invasion has been put at 88,000, and that includes neither the military deaths in the invasion nor the 100,000+ deaths among the 500,000 Japanese soldiers taken as slave labor by the Soviets and not repatriated until the '50s).

With warm regards,
(posting 'anonymously' only because Blogger won't let me sign 'jm')

Anonymous said...

You are really very kind, but I am unworthy of any accolade. I am a mere "market operator" with a wide breadth of interests, though master of none (perhaps with the exception of forecasting the direction relative stock price fluctuations).

I read not nearly enough of the weightier tomes that would so elevate my knowledge and the level of authority on many subjects, such that I am frequently forced to use "trusted intermediaries" to digest and assimilate information. I have been aware of the Togo-Sato exchanges, understanding their potential significance in the debate over the wisdom of deployment, but I must admit that as one often finds with historical anlaysis, I never appreciated the nuances and context of the exchange. Peculiarities in regards to the wielding of Japanese power & authority, questions as to Russian honesty & integrity as a trusted broker (let alone an honest broker), reality of the tenaciousness of the struggle on the ground, potential political intrigue and factions within the Truman administration imbues categorical hindsight with a high probability of being in error.

That said, and assuming deployment (all things considered) was deemed necessary on even human cost-beenfit analyses, I share the concern of many humanists in wondering whether a less-populated locale could have been chosen; whether more time (or warning) might have been given between targets. The irony (for the anti-communist hawks) is that deployment actually caused the Soviets to accelerate development for obvious reasons.

Many thanks for the authoritative discussion and the many useful links!