Monday, July 27, 2015

An Example of Injustice for an Imperial Army

Even today, the trial and conviction of Japanese war criminals remains a controversial topic. There are those in Japan who deny that any significant war crimes were committed by Japanese officials or military personnel as well as others who take the view that some war crimes may have been committed but that these were certainly no worse than those committed by the Allied powers and thus should be dismissed. On the other side, these efforts to deny or diminish to some degree the guilt of Japanese war criminals is the cause of anger and mistrust by people in other countries around the world, particularly victims advocacy groups and certain governments. Speaking for myself alone, I have never been very enthusiastic about the idea of “war criminals” in general. Accusations that the post-war Allied war crimes trials were examples of “victor’s justice” are hard to refute because each were a case of the winner passing judgment on the loser. It would seem very difficult to me for such justice to be truly blind and impartial. There is also the fact that such trials are held in the aftermath of a war when most people are far from being dispassionate and are eager to punish someone, even if the ones who are truly the most guilty are not around to bring to trial at all.

Second Philippine Republic
In dealing with the Empire of Japan, while I am not familiar with the details of every case, there certainly were numerous individuals who were convicted of war crimes unjustly. No doubt there were others who were truly guilty. Yet, there are also examples of men who were guilty of heinous war crimes who were never tried, convicted or punished alongside those innocent men who punished unjustly for the crimes of others. It demonstrates how, in the chaos of the aftermath of an immense conflict, how true justice, evenly applied, is extremely difficult to obtain. There were also those, in both Japan and Germany, who would have been convicted of war crimes were it not for the fact that they were deemed useful by one of the Allied powers (usually the Soviet Union or America) and thus were spared. Still others were unjustly accused but managed to escape punishment, thankfully, due to outside intervention. There are numerous examples of all of the cases mentioned above but, to keep this as brief as possible, we can focus on a single country, in this case, The Philippines. The paths of three men intersected in The Philippines, all of them soldiers of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan and all three of them were accused of war crimes. One was guilty, two were not but none of them were treated justly though one was ultimately treated mercifully.

When the Japanese invaded The Philippines on December 10, 1941 the man who led the ultimately successful invasion was General Masaharu Homma. He was an outstanding general in every way. The Philippines was, without question, the most difficult military operation Japan undertook in the opening offensive throughout Southeast Asia. While it was still caught unawares, The Philippines was much more prepared than Malaysia, Hong Kong or Singapore given that Britain’s focus was understandably on the German air attacks on their homeland and the Italo-German offensive aimed at the Suez Canal. Likewise, the Dutch East Indies had limited defenses to begin with and, at the time of the Japanese attack, the Netherlands had already been conquered and was under German occupation with the Queen’s government-in-exile operating out of London. The Philippines therefore represented the only Japanese target that was not already being pushed to the limit in a war for national survival on the other side of the world. It was the campaign that would take the longest and be the most hotly contested. Also, in overall command was General Douglas MacArthur, widely considered one of the greatest generals in American military history.

General Homma Masaharu
Against all of this, General Homma was victorious. Yet, beyond his leadership abilities, he was also a man of upstanding character who, in my view at least, embodied the most noble traditions of the samurai class. He was a cultured man, known by his peers as “the poet”, a man of honesty, integrity and compassion. He was a skillful general who was careful with the lives of his soldiers and who was adamant that the Japanese occupation of The Philippines be humane. He had his troops march in tight formation to keep down disorder and issued instructions that the Filipinos were to be treated as brothers. Eventually, he even ordered all Filipino prisoners of war to be released though, as it turned out, it was not as simple as giving an order. He had served in France alongside the British Expeditionary Force in World War I, had been an aide to the Emperor’s brother, was a man of impeccable character and a man who had won one of the greatest victories in Japanese history. For all of this, he was ultimately dismissed by his own superiors, sidelined in disgrace and, after the war, executed as a war criminal. Simply calling this an “injustice” is putting it too mildly.

Some in the Japanese high command complained that Homma’s conquest of The Philippines was taking too long and that this was proof that he “lacked aggressiveness”. Pure nonsense. General Homma, as stated, faced a more difficult task than any other Japanese commander at the time and was being cautious, trying to conserve the lives of his troops where possible for the long and arduous war against a much stronger adversary that stood before his country. He was being smart. Any American or Filipino who faced his forces could testify with first-hand experience that General Homma was certainly not lacking in “aggressiveness”. However, this was a mere excuse. The problem was that there were others in powerful positions in the Imperial Army who had a real problem with how General Homma treated the Americans and even the Filipinos. They would issue orders for executions and other atrocities in his name, which the general would revoke as soon as he found out about it and one of the most infamous culprits of this was a certain officer, very famous in his time and place but largely forgotten now, named Colonel Masanobu Tsuji. In the persons of General Homma and Colonel Tsuji you had examples of the opposite extremes that existed in the Imperial Japanese Army.

Col. Tsuji Masanobu
Colonel Tsuji was known as the “God of Operations” for his military planning, though from what I have seen his “brilliant” plans did not have much of a record of success to back them up. He was a radical who behaved erratically, believed himself morally superior to everyone else and who was unscrupulous and ruthless in pursuit of his goals. He mostly came to fame for his part in planning the invasion of Malaysia and he arrived in The Philippines determined to thwart the good intentions of General Homma. He immediately began to influence other staff officers and subordinates toward the exact opposite of the benevolent occupation that General Homma had ordered and to do their best to wreck the career of one of Japan’s most successful generals. Later, Colonel Tsuji would go on to cause considerable needless death and suffering for the Japanese army in the Battle of Guadalcanal, by deceiving and betraying his fellow officers, to the extent that even he had to admit his guilt on that one. He also later became most infamous for killing a wounded American airman and eating his liver. Also known for berating his superiors, he was constantly being transferred and in any other army in the world would have been punished severely for such a long record of gross insubordination. In The Philippines, he tried to have all American prisoners massacred.

General Homma had forbid his troops to rape or pillage, ordered them to respect the customs and traditions of the Filipinos and when others bristled at this, pointed out that he was simply following the instructions of the Emperor, which no one could openly argue with. He made an enemy in his superior, Field Marshal Terauchi, for refusing to distribute a propaganda pamphlet that spoke of the Americans as being terrible oppressors and exploiters of The Philippines on the simple grounds that this was absolutely untrue. General Homma disputed this with Terauchi in person, arguing in regards to the Americans that, “They administered a very benevolent supervision over the Philippines. Japan should establish an even better and more enlightened supervision.” Colonel Tsuji, on the other hand, viewed the Filipinos as race-traitors and deserving of the most cruel punishment and he was able to influence others to his way of thinking. An example of this presented itself in the order to execute the Filipino Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos. Two days after the surrender of U.S. and Filipino forces, Major General Kiyotake Kawaguchi stormed into General Homma’s office and demanded to know why he had ordered the execution.

Gen. Kawaguchi Kiyotake
Kawaguchi regarded this as a violation of the bushido code, the spirit of the Emperor’s instructions and a senseless barbarity as Santos had not been anti-Japanese at all. Yet, various officers he contacted insisted that the order be carried out so that finally Kawaguchi sought out General Homma. The noble general was shocked and informed his subordinate that he had never given such an order but had, rather, ordered another officer to see that Santos was given a place in the new pro-Japanese government being established under President Jose Laurel. When questioned, that officer, Major General Yoshihide Hayashi, finally replied that the order to execute Santos had actually come from Colonel Tsuji. General Homma reprimanded those involved but it could not un-do the damage that Tsuji was doing. A few weeks later the former Speaker of the House, General Manuel Roxas, was captured and the local Japanese commander, General Torao Ikuta, was given an order to execute him in the name of General Homma. Again, General Ikuta did not wish to carry out such an order and put it off on a subordinate officer named Colonel Nobuhiko Jimbo. As it happened, Colonel Jimbo was another example of an upright officer. He was also a Catholic, the same as Roxas, and was disgusted by the very idea of murdering him.

Roxas and a local governor were both taken by Colonel Jimbo to be executed but the governor pleaded for his life and Colonel Jimbo determined that he could not and would not execute the two men. He went personally to General Ikuta to urge him to spare the two men, order or no order as to execute them would be barbaric. General Ikuta agreed and had the prisoners hidden away. However, an officer soon arrived from Manila demanding that the executions be carried out and that Colonel Jimbo be court-martialed for his efforts to save their lives. Colonel Jimbo was still not prepared to give up and traveled to Manila himself to confront General Homma directly. He was not in his office when Jimbo arrived but spoke to Homma’s chief of staff who could not believe that the general would give such an order. Jimbo handed him the document which the Chief of Staff suspended and immediately confronted General Hayashi, assuming he was responsible after the Santos affair.

Gen. Manuel Roxas & Colonel Jimbo Nobuhiko
Hayashi blamed Jimbo for making them all look bad but General Homma, when he returned and learned of the whole mess, immediately countermanded the execution of Roxas and personally thanked Colonel Jimbo for his brave stand in the cause of justice and humanity. He told the colonel that he would be sure to mention his actions when he returned home and gave his report to the Emperor. Roxas would go on to be the first President of The Philippines after the war. General Homma, however, was not allowed to make his report to the Emperor as his enemies within the army succeeded in having him relieved of command and sent home. Not being allowed to report to the Emperor, as was customary, was done as a sign of his semi-disgrace. Once he was gone, life became much worse for the people of The Philippines and the cruelties inflicted on that country are numerous and horrific. After the war, General Homma was returned to The Philippines where he was convicted and executed as a war criminal; a case so blatantly unjust that even a number of very prominent Americans spoke out against it and harshly condemned their own countrymen for participating in such a disgraceful act.

The upright Colonel Nobuhiko Jimbo almost suffered a similar fate. He had been transferred to China (a common sort of subtle punishment) and was himself arrested at the end of the conflict as a potential war criminal. In 1946, Filipino President Roxas, however, learned that Colonel Jimbo was being held in prison in northern China awaiting trial and he acted to return the favor the colonel had done in saving his life. Roxas wrote personally to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, explaining the situation and asking that Colonel Jimbo be given amnesty. The Chinese leader agreed and the following year Colonel Jimbo was released and returned to Japan. He had survived but only because of the timely intervention of the man whose life he had saved. If Roxas had not found out about Jimbo in time, he mostly likely would have been executed in the wave of anti-Japanese hysteria in China in the aftermath of the war.

General Homma Masaharu
And what came of Colonel Tsuji, the man who was the cause of so much shame, deception and cruelty? He survived the war, hiding in Thailand while the Tokyo War Crimes Trials were underway and completely escaped punishment. He went to China, spent some time in Vietnam and finally returned home where he made money writing books about his wartime exploits and was elected to the Diet in 1952. In 1961 he disappeared while on a visit to Laos and, though later rumored to be working for the communist North Vietnamese, was never seen or heard from again and was declared dead in 1968. He escaped conviction as a war criminal, had and still has numerous admirers, some of whom erected a statue of him in Kaga City, Ishikawa, Japan. Compare this fate to General Kawaguchi who was declared a war criminal and executed by the Allied forces after the war, including the execution of Santos which Colonel Tsuji had actually ordered.

Colonel Jimbo had received mercy but for General Homma and Colonel Tsuji, both are examples of the many injustices that followed the Second World War; General Homma an example of the injustice by the punishment given to an innocent man and Colonel Tsuji an example of the injustice of a guilty man escaping retribution and being praised by many after it was over. And, make no mistake about it, it was Tsuji and those influenced by him who committed the crimes for which the noble and upright General Homma and the honorable General Kawaguchi were declared “war criminals” and executed and for which Colonel Jimbo almost suffered a similar fate for trying to stop. They are the men that deserve to be honored and remembered. They are also names that should be remembered in the controversy over the names enrolled at Yasakuni Shrine. Not all of those convicted of war crimes were actually war criminals, some were actually the exact opposite of that, while others who were guilty of heinous acts are not included on that list at all.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Justifying the Japanese War

Whenever a nation goes through a traumatic event, such as a world war, there is always an attempt to justify it in some way. Sometimes, this is easy, particularly for those who fought defensive wars; you fought because you were attacked and had to defend yourself. However, for those that fought offensive wars, some loftier, less tangible justification has to be put forward. For example, U.S. President Wilson attempted to justify American entry into World War I on the grounds that America had to “make the world safe for democracy”. In World War II, the British government, in the European theater at least, justified the declaration of war on Germany in the name of eradicating “fascism” from the globe (defending Polish independence would have hardly sufficed given what happened to Poland when it was over). In the United States, and this is partly why the war is viewed without the ambiguity of other conflicts, there was no need for any great justification. The U.S. fought Japan because Japan had attacked the United States and it fought Germany and Italy because those countries had declared war on America in solidarity with their Japanese ally. As far as the war in the Asia-Pacific theater was concerned, Britain could say the same. Britain fought because Japan attacked virtually every British possession or affiliated country in the region. Additionally, Britain also greatly needed U.S. support in fighting Germany so the British were very quick to stand alongside America against the Empire of Japan.

The Japanese, however, had a more difficult position to defend. Given the consequences of the war, unprecedented in their history, with their forces utterly defeated, their empire destroyed, their homeland in ruins, the atomic bombings and their occupation when it was over, people were desperate to find some way to justify it all. Many claimed it was a war of self-defense and yet, while they did have facts they could point to, this was unconvincing. Japan had struck the first blow and the war was mostly fought on the lands and territory of other peoples. It was the Japanese who had attacked Pearl Harbor, invaded The Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, Burma and later attacked India. The bulk of the Japanese army was fighting in China, a neighboring country, rather than on Japanese territory. As such, claims that Japan was simply defending itself was not going to pass muster with most people. This made justifying the war more difficult and yet, at the same time, even more imperative for some people since to do otherwise would be to admit that the whole thing had been a colossal mistake, which some, then as now, find too horrible to contemplate. Yet, in the ruin of immediate post-war Japan, there was a great deal of that. Many people who embraced the new direction Japan took after the war did so, not because they thought they themselves had done anything wrong, but because they hated the militarist regime which had pushed them into a disastrous war that was impossible to win and saw everything brought to ruin simply because they refused to admit to the mistake.

It would, thus, be impossible to admit that the war should not have happened without condemning those who had taken Japan into the conflict and many have never been prepared to do that. The Empire of Japan, after all, had not just lost a war the way that other countries have lost wars. Japan lost badly. Many people fail to realize how badly. Allow the fact to sink in that, after the initial Japanese offensive throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific at the end of 1941 and early 1942, Japan was never victorious in any major operation again. This would be like the Germans never winning a battle after the fall of France. When the Allied counter-attack came, after the pivotal Battle of Midway in the summer of 1942, the story of the war for Japan was one defeat after another. None of the island outposts in the Pacific ever repelled a single American attack and, in southeast Asia, after the defeat of the invasion of India, Japanese forces were rapidly pushed back by the Allies, their defenses effectively collapsed and few reinforcements could be spared due to the need to maintain so many troops in China. Much depended on the imperial naval and air forces and these were crippled at Midway in 1942 and practically annihilated as an effective fighting force at the Philippine Sea in 1944. And, keep in mind, this was all while the bulk of U.S. military strength was being focused on the other side of the world in north Africa and Europe. Even under the best of circumstances, the Japanese knew that they could never hope for an outright victory over the United States, so vast was the American superiority in resources, manpower and industrial output. Their only hope was that the Americans would simply give up at some point and quit the war after suffering heavy losses, yet, in all but one engagement, Japanese losses throughout the war were invariably far greater than American losses. It was, all in all, a disaster and one that could have been foreseen.

Japan had actually been prepared, after years of fighting in China, to abandon the conflict and withdraw their forces to focus on the defense of Manchuria and consolidating the hold on northeast Asia that Japan already possessed. Had they done so, the Empire of Japan might still be around today. However, the succession of stunning victories by the Axis forces in Europe caused Japan to think that the war in Europe would soon be won by their Axis partners and thus the European colonies in Asia would be ripe for the picking. As the saying at the time was, they didn’t want to “miss the bus”. They took a risk, betting everything on a crushing victory by Nazi Germany in Europe and decided to advance south. They first occupied Indochina and that then set off the chain of events that led to war. The U.S. placed an embargo on Japan, easily persuaded the British and Dutch to do the same and by that action Japan was backed into a corner. They would have to back down or fight and, as we all know, they chose to fight. They rolled the dice and ultimately lost everything. Had the Japanese high command stuck to their original plan, seeing no path to a decisive victory in China (the whole conflict being one that Japan had been drawn into with no clear goal in mind on their part) and withdrawn to consolidate in the northeast, Japan today might still hold control over Korea, Manchuria, Formosa, the South Pacific mandate and the assorted northern islands later lost to Russia; no small patch of real-estate that. For some, given all of that, justifying the war became a matter of dire necessity rather than admit to such a monumental waste and needless disaster.

The most popular attempt at justification finally came with the help of the Allies themselves with the period of de-colonization and a wave of liberal guilt that swept the western world. A justification for the war was found and quickly seized upon: Japan had been fighting the war for purely altruistic reasons; to liberate their Asian brethren from the colonial domination of racist White people. This has taken on such dimensions that some today claim that the Empire of Japan had never been a colonial power at all on the grounds that Korea and Formosa were incorporated into Japan itself which would be rather like Britain claiming that Ireland was not a colony because it was made part of the United Kingdom or France claiming that Algeria was not a colony because it was incorporated into metropolitan France or for the U.S. to claim that there was nothing “colonial” about the acquisition of Hawaii because it later became a state in the union. However, Japan has been aided in this tactic simply because of the self-shaming adopted by the western colonial powers in regards to their own former empires. It is easy to attack a system that very few will bother to defend.

Likewise, the areas occupied by Japan, as part of their own nationalist narratives, also make themselves complicit by binding up so much of their national identity in the fight for independence from colonial rule. For example, the pro-Axis Indian leader Subhas Chandra Bose is widely respected by many people in India today. In Burma, Dr. Ba Maw is not without his admirers and in The Philippines, the leader of the pro-Japanese government that cooperated with the occupation forces, Jose Laurel, was recognized after the war as a legitimate former president by the Filipino government and who was allowed to carry on his political career. Consider, by contrast, how men such as Vidkun Quisling, Anton Mussert or even Marshal Philippe Petain are regarded today in Europe and one can, perhaps, see how different the situation is in Asia and how conducive it is to the idea that Japan was the lone noble hero of the conflict, fighting to liberate rather than conquer. Due to the post-war period of de-colonization, some in Japan have even gone so far as to say that they didn’t really lose the war after all because what they claim as their primary goal, the end of European colonialism in Asia, was finally achieved. Personally, even as someone very partial to Japan, this is rather horrifying when taken to its logical conclusion as it would mean that Japan is responsible for all the horrific, tyrannical regimes that sprang up in southeast Asia after colonial rule ended. There is also the rather pertinent point that the idea that Japan was fighting an anti-colonial crusade is completely untrue and that fact can be relatively easily proven.

In the first place, setting aside the notion that ruling over the long-established, preexisting country of Korea should “not count” as colonialism, it is obvious that Japan had no animosity toward the idea of colonialism itself because it clearly had no objection to the institution beyond East Asia. For example, even before Japan was a member of the Tripartite Pact, Japan had no problem with the openly colonial ambitions of other countries Tokyo was in sympathy with. When the Kingdom of Italy (already a colonial power) launched the invasion of Ethiopia, never making any secret of the fact that Mussolini intended to retain control of the area, the Ethiopian government called on Japan to join in condemning the Italians. Mind you, the Ethiopians were not asking for any sort of support or material assistance of any kind, they knew that would be expecting too much of a country so far removed from Africa, but simply that the Japanese express their displeasure at Mussolini’s invasion. Japan refused to issue such a condemnation or to reproach Italy in any way. If Italy had not objected to the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, how could Japan object to the Italian occupation of Ethiopia? Obviously, there was no problem from Japan with the principle of colonialism itself.

During the war, Japan did try to cast itself as the liberator of Asian peoples, the great power that would be the helpful, guardian, ‘big brother’ of the region. This was part of the whole program of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”. And, there were examples Japan could point to of countries which had been given at least nominal independence and their own national governments thanks to Japanese intervention. The big meeting of Co-Prosperity Sphere leaders during the war consisted of representatives of the Empire of Manchuria, the “Reorganized National Government” of the Republic of China, the State of Burma, the Second Philippine Republic and the Kingdom of Thailand though, of course, Thailand had always been independent. Bose also attended but only as an observer as India was still waiting to be “liberated” by the Japanese. One will notice that quite a few countries which were occupied by Japan are not represented among this group but even among these there are some problems. The pro-Japanese government from China never came close to holding power over the entire country nor was China under the outright rule of any power before the war. The Philippines, while a commonwealth of the United States at the start of the conflict, was already on its way out of the American colonial empire with the process and even date for independence already having been agreed to by the government in Washington before the war started. But what about the areas not represented? This points to the most conclusive evidence that Japan was not fighting an anti-colonialism campaign in World War II.

The fact is that Japanese support for independence movements did exist but was clearly secondary to the national interests of Japan and the Japanese war effort. For example, French Indochina was occupied by Japanese forces prior to the outbreak of hostilities and yet Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia remained under French colonial rule for all but the final few months of the conflict. Japan left the colonial regime untouched and for most of the war the French population in Indochina was the only group of “White” people in the whole of the area occupied by Japanese forces that were not immediately put in concentration camps. This made sense for Japan as it meant that they could focus on the war effort while the French continued to handle administration, internal security and all of that. This cozy relationship only changed when the Vichy regime fell, France was occupied entirely by Germany and so it was 1945, when there could be no doubt about the eventual outcome of the war, that Japan acted to support the declarations of independence by the Kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia and the Empire of Vietnam. For almost the entirety of the conflict, Japan made no effort to “liberate” the peoples of Indochina from the colonial rule of France at all. However, after the war was over, there was enough support to carry on fighting against any “White” presence in Asia for about 600 Japanese troops in Indochina to join the communist-led VietMinh but that should hardly be seen as something to boast about given the horrid excesses of that regime, even perpetrated against the very government Japan had, for a few months in 1945, supported.

In Malaysia, the Japanese certainly ended the colonial rule of the British, with whom they were at war, but not very much changed for the local Malaysian monarchs. The whole area remained under Japanese military rule for the duration of the conflict. In fact, Malaysia lost some territory as about four northern border provinces were handed over to the Kingdom of Thailand as part of the agreement for Thailand supporting Japan and becoming one of the lesser members of the Axis powers. In Singapore, likewise, British colonial rule was ended but, as with Hong Kong, there was no hint that this meant anything more than being ruled in the name of a Japanese monarch rather than a British one. When the Japanese forces captured Singapore (in one of the most brilliant and stunning victories of the war) the city was given a new Japanese name, “Shonanto” or ‘Light of the South’ and the local children in Singapore were required to attend new schools established by the new authorities to learn to speak Japanese. They bowed toward the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, sang the Japanese national anthem and for leisure could go to the local cinema where only Japanese films were shown. Any dispassionate observer would have to conclude that when you take control of an area, rename it and start teaching everyone to speak your language, it probably means you intend to be staying and holding on to that area indefinitely.

Finally, there is also the case of the Dutch East Indies where the colonial rule of The Netherlands was ended (along with brutal treatment for the local Dutch or partly Dutch population) but no immediate granting of independence such as was nominally the case in The Philippines and Burma. Sukarno was released from prison and he was happy to collaborate with the Japanese and urge his countrymen to learn the Japanese language and assist in the Japanese war effort but Japan was not about to relinquish control of the vast resources of the archipelago which Japan desperately needed. Prime Minister Tojo himself admitted as much, saying of the Indonesians that they were not prepared to handle the vast mineral wealth their country possessed. As it was, Japan did finally support an Indonesian declaration of independence but only after they had already lost the war. In fact, the atomic bombing of Japan had already happened when Sukarno was brought to Japan to be wined and dined and told that the time had finally come for Indonesia to be given independence. Japan concealed the true state of affairs from Sukarno during this time and he only learned of the atomic bombing after returning to Indonesia and hearing an Allied broadcast from a secret radio.

The bottom line is that the facts simply do not support justifying the Japanese war as an anti-colonial struggle. The Japanese abolished colonial rule in some areas, maintained it in others and simply replaced European colonial rule with their own in still others depending on what best served Japanese national interests. And, to my mind at least, acting in your own interests should not be considered a terrible thing. No one else is going to do it and trusting others to look out for your interests has been proven to be naïve and short-sighted. Some Japanese were genuinely motivated by their desire for a racial struggle to drive the “Whites” out of Asia but others were more pragmatic. The problem is not that the Japanese government acted in their own interest but rather that this post-war effort at justification endeavors to set Japan apart and claim a ‘holier-than-thou’ status; when Europeans ruled over foreign peoples that was evil colonialism but when the Japanese ruled over foreign peoples that was not colonialism. It could even be seen as the same as western hypocrisy regarding Japanese expansion into Manchuria or Italian expansion into Abyssinia. However, in each of those cases no one took military action because it did not effect anyone else directly. When Japan turned militarily on fellow colonial powers that naturally prompted retaliation. The post-war attitude has also made it very difficult to foster mutual support between traditional monarchists in Japan and the west. Each had colonial empires and each had their positive as well as negative aspects which are usually ignored. Even among monarchists, some westerners still enjoy bickering over whose empire was better or worse than the rest but most (again, that is ‘most’ of a small minority group) still prefer the world of colonial empires to the bi-polar world of the Cold War era or the current world of globalism and internationalism. It is different with Japan though and will remain so as long as the Japanese conservatives who defend their own empire attack those of others and claim that colonial empires were bad while denying that their colonial empire was *really* a colonial empire.

For the Empire of Japan, justifying World War II is like trying to justify an earthquake. Japan was not motivated by a selfless concern for others anymore than any other of the combatants were. Japan entered the war due to a combination of pride, a wish to expand as well as economic pressure from other powers and provocations from the United States that wanted to get into the war but needed one of the Axis powers to shoot first. Roosevelt wasn’t able to get Hitler or Mussolini to shoot first but he was ultimately successful in goading Japan into doing so. The result was disastrous and for Japan in particular. Had the Japanese endured the provocations of other powers and simply sat out the war, the Empire of Japan would have survived, there would have been a better chance of the British Empire surviving but more importantly for Japan, given the post-war expansion of the Soviet Union and the onset of the Cold War, the same Anglo-American forces that had been more antagonistic toward Japan would have been forced by the international situation to not only drop their unfriendly attitude but support Japan as a regional bulwark against communist expansion. Things might have been much better for everyone if Japan had missed that bus.

In the end, there is a degree to which Japan has no need to justify World War II. The occupation of Manchuria, whether it was done for the right or wrong reasons, was a case of Japan doing the right thing; restoring a land that had been unjustly seized and placing its legitimate ruler back on the throne. In the China incident, it was the Chinese who, evidence indicates, started it. The escalation of tensions that led to Pearl Harbor was partly due to ambition and overreaching by the Japanese military which alarmed the rest of the world by occupying Indochina but the American response was totally unjustified and needlessly antagonistic. The Roosevelt administration made a conscious choice to intervene in matters that were not their concern and they willfully backed Japan into a corner from which the only two means of escape were war or suffering the humiliation of submitting to the demands of a foreign power. Japan was not without some legitimate justifications for going to war in 1941. Beyond that, however, some actions were taken for which there can never be any justification and, in any event, just because one can be justified in going to war does not automatically make it necessary or wise to do so.

Japan had been treated unfairly and could rightly ask why countries in Europe or America took exception to their actions when they never meddled in European or American affairs. They could rightly ask why there was a Monroe Doctrine for the Americas but an Open Door Policy in East Asia. The leadership in Tokyo was not, despite what Allied propaganda later claimed, out to conquer the world. They were motivated by a fear, irrational in retrospect, that their empire, despite being at the height of its power, teetered on the brink of success or failure and they undoubtedly wished to be the dominant regional power in East Asia. Achieving that did not necessitate the war that followed and that war was certainly not a selfless effort to eradicate colonialism. To a degree, it was a totally justifiable reaction to pressure and antagonism from foreign powers. Beyond that, it was an ultimately disastrous mistake. The move south, which came so close to never happening at all, was a gamble taken at a time when an Axis victory in Europe seemed certain. In that regard, Japan gambled and lost. The extent of that loss cannot be justified.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Mad Rant: Calling the British Royals Nazis

No, this was not a planned article as part of the “Year of World War II” at The Mad Monarchist but a reaction to a story that recently appeared in the news that has all of the monarchy-bashers salivating like Pavlov’s dog. There recently came to light a “home video” of the British Royal Family showing King Edward VIII, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Elizabeth (the Queen) and Princess Margaret playing around and -brace yourselves- giving the “Nazi salute”. I first saw it in The Sun (that bastion of journalistic integrity -he said sarcastically) and the media has run with it. Taken in 1933 when the current monarch was a mere child, it has drawn out that crowd which has long tried to convince people that the British Royal Family were all a bunch of Nazi sympathizers deep down. Since it has surfaced there have also been new calls for the Royal Family to open the archives relating to the period in question to show every last detail of what the royals had to do with Nazi Germany or anyone affiliated with the regime. For the monarchy-bashers this was like an early Christmas present since the Nazis are the one group that practically everyone on earth agrees were evil and the one group these days that it is not only okay to openly hate but absolutely mandatory to do so.

Now, in the name of fairness, I have to say that the first rebuttal I heard relating to this video was not very convincing. The first push-back I heard was that the royals were not doing the “Nazi salute” at all but rather just practicing their ‘royal wave’. Frankly, having seen the video, I don’t think anyone is going to buy that. The gesture in question is what was once known as the Roman salute, adopted by Mussolini and his Fascist party as part of revival of all things Roman and later taken up by nationalist groups across Europe such as the Nazis in Germany, the nationalists in Spain and so on. Now, also in the name of fairness (not that anyone cares) I will also say that the same or similar salute was once not at all uncommon. Prior to it becoming associated with the Nazis, a practically identical salute was used in the United States as the official civilian form of salute (it was replaced by the current style of placing your open hand over your heart). I have also seen it used when taking on oath or making a pledge in places as far removed from Europe as Taiwan and South Vietnam. However, because Mussolini, Franco, Hitler etc all used it the salute came to be seen as a symbol of those lumped together under the generic epithet of “fascist”. I have never seen royals “wave” by holding their arms straight out at an angle so it seems pretty clear that it was the Roman salute that was being done and not some sort of rehearsal for the “Miss America” wave royals usually use.

Another complication was the presence of the Queen’s uncle King Edward VIII (at the time the Prince of Wales and later the Duke of Windsor after his abdication). He seems to be the one showing the little group how to do the salute properly. His presence, of course, makes the issue all the stickier because we all know how King Edward VIII, fairly or not, has been labeled for some time as the primary Nazi sympathizer in the British Royal Family. Personally, I think that is going too far. However, there is no doubt that his views would put him on the ‘naughty list’ for acceptable society today. He opposed the League of Nations, had no problem with Mussolini invading Ethiopia and thought it would be a terrible idea for the British Empire to fight another world war with Germany. It is probably also fair to say that he viewed the Nazi regime as an improvement over the Weimar Republic as far as Germany was concerned. But this also points back to a greater problem that is inevitable when one picks out an 82-year old video and looks at in with the popular perception of today rather than in the context of 1933.

Adolf Hitler had quite a few admirers around the world in 1933 and was to gain even more after coming to power in Germany the following year. The same could be said for Benito Mussolini, in fact, the Duce probably had even more admirers as he had been around for a much longer time. Winston Churchill famously said that if he had been an Italian in those days, he would have worn the black shirt himself. The head of President Roosevelt’s National Recovery Administration in the United States kept a portrait of Mussolini in his office (that man, Hugh S. Johnson, was Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 1933, showing how mainstream such sentiments were). So, when people try to make a major issue of this, it is important to keep in mind that no one in the British Royal Family has the ability to foresee future events and this video was recorded a year before Hitler came to power in Germany, long before any countries were invaded, long before any wars were started and long before anyone was sent to an extermination camp. None of it had happened yet and no one in 1933 would have expected it to.

The really infuriating thing though is that none of this should be taken seriously in the first place. Anyone who has seen the video can clearly see that the group is just playing around, acting silly. Trying to make an issue out of this old home movie is not just ridiculous, it is slanderous. Look beyond the horsing around to what really matters. What really matters are the facts and the fact is that the Queen Mother was denouncing the Nazis before denouncing the Nazis was cool. Hitler called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe”. No love lost there. The Queen and Prince Philip both served in World War II, Prince Philip at the front in the Royal Navy and the Queen at home with what we would call the supply and logistics side of military operations. To try to cast them as being among the ranks of the enemy is treasonous slander of the first order. As for opening the archives; what would that accomplish? I doubt there is anything there that most royal historians do not already know. There were German relatives who held positions in Nazi Germany, we already know that. There were times when the British royals met and talked with such relatives, we know that. Many in Britain had great reservations about going into another world war with Germany and we know that too. It was the conflict that cost Britain her empire and it is no wonder that not everyone would view it as joyous event, regardless of how much they might despise any of the Axis countries.

All this video shows is a couple of adults and two little girls playing around in their backyard, mimicking the gestures of certain leaders on the continent, most of whom were viewed by people in Britain and America as ridiculous and worthy of a joke or two. That’s all it is, it doesn’t “mean” anything, it has no significance whatsoever. All that matters is that, when the chips were down, the British stood by their promise to Poland and when war came with Germany and Italy, and later when Japan sought to take down the British Empire in Asia, the Royal Family stood with the rest of the English-speaking world in doing their duty and serving in any capacity possible to work toward the final victory. They served in the armed forces, they served in combat, they endured the bombing and the privations caused by the submarine blockade and put their lives on the line along with all others who did the same for King and country. To take what is, only in hindsight, an embarrassing home video and try to use it to smear the Royal Family or as another means of bashing the monarchy is unjust, undignified and, in my opinion at least, downright treasonous. And it makes me a very, very … Mad Monarchist.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Japan, China and the Legacy of World War II

Once World War II was underway, perceptions began to change about how it all started. Perhaps in an effort to be less Eurocentric, many came to date the first year of the war as 1931, going back to the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. This is certainly viewed as the start of conflict as far as the Chinese are concerned, yet it would be hard to seriously assert that World War II began in 1931 considering that no one seemed to care very much about it. There were no declarations of war against Japan for occupying Manchuria and that includes the Chinese themselves who actually did not declare war on Japan until the end of 1941 when Japanese attacks on American, British and Dutch territories prompted those countries to do so. In the decade between 1931 and 1941 the Republic of China had been engaged in open conflict with the Empire of Japan and yet neither side had actually declared war on the other. It was in the interests of Japan to play down the entire affair, referred to as the “China incident” so as not to invite third-party intervention and the Chinese, likewise, preferred not to declare war so as to make it easier to come to terms with Japan if the danger ever arose of the communists seizing power during the conflict and thus threatening the Kuomintang’s hold on power.

Today, decades after the war has ended, Communist China has made extensive use of World War II as a political tool, both to solidify their own rule at home and in an effort to isolate Japan in the international community. However, for all of their demands that Japan “face up” to their history, the Chinese and the Chinese Communist Party in particular, have much in their own historical record they would rather not answer for. In the first place, the Japanese occupation of Manchuria should not have involved China at all as the Chinese claims on Manchuria were totally spurious. Later, when the conflict escalated, starting with the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937, it was the Chinese who were the aggressors (and most likely the communist element). However, in the war that followed, the Chinese communists played very little part in it, to the point of their participation being negligible. They were content to sit back and wait for the Japanese to destroy their nationalist rivals after which time they could take on the depleted victor and gain control of China for themselves. On the nationalist side, Chiang Kai-shek made no secret of the fact that he considered the communists a more serious threat than the Japanese and so refrained from declaring all-out war against them so that, if the communists began to gain in power, he could make concessions to end the hostilities with Japan and then focus his forces on the communist threat.

If everyone were completely honest about their actions in and leading up to wartime, most would come out looking more duplicitous and underhanded than they would like to admit. However, most are not as fixated on the subject as mainland China, Korea and Japan. In this part of the world, probably more than any other, World War II is not just an historical event but a political tool and the legacy of the war is used for political purposes, to one degree or another, by every side. This is certainly true for China and Japan. One can see it most clearly in the stark difference between how The People’s Republic of China, on the mainland, and the Republic of China, on Taiwan, deal with the Japanese. It was the Republic of China, after all, that fought the war against Japan and it was the Republic of China that suffered the most from Japanese occupation and acts of retaliation. Yet, Taiwan rarely makes much of a fuss about issues relating to World War II and generally has very good relations with Japan today. This is because Taiwan has been under constant threat and is anxious for friendship from any quarter. They are more concerned with today than yesterday.

General Matsui reviewing troops in Nanking
Mainland, communist China, on the other hand, has used the Japanese as their primary bogeyman to foster greater public unity. They have also adopted the habit of giving the impression that it was they who fought the Japanese in World War II. And, when it comes to World War II-related issues, if Korea has the comfort women, China has the “Rape of Nanking”. In China today you will not find much mention of the millions of people killed in the “Great Leap Forward”, all the Tibetans, religious people or democracy-advocates that have been massacred but you will find plenty about the “Rape of Nanking” including a huge, multi-million dollar monument and visitor’s center to tell people all about how horrible the Japanese are. Having posted a lengthy article on this subject before, I will not repeat myself but here are a few basic facts that people should know about what happened when the Japanese Imperial Army took the city of Nanking in December of 1937: First of all, evidence even from the Japanese commanders as well as numerous witnesses indicates that a terrible atrocity occurred at Nanking. Second, the first hand accounts of exactly how bad the atrocity was vary dramatically, so dramatically that none can be considered very reliable. Third, there were Chinese soldiers who acted as guerillas while posing as civilians and fourth, granting that whatever the extent of the incident was, it was terrible enough, the Chinese government has used it for propaganda purposes. The idea, touted by China, that 300,000 people were massacred should be considered no more credible than the claim by Japanese nationalists that the incident was entirely fabricated. Neither is realistic but, due to the modern obsession with glorifying victimization, the ridiculous claim that 300,000 people were killed is taken as fact by many people.

It is also usually China that makes the most of World War II in general for propaganda purposes, though more frequently these days Russia is joining in as well in order to, as they call it, “defend the post-World War II world order”. China loves to bring up the war and the Nanking controversy because it sets the context to Axis vs. Allies and thus China=good guys and Japan=bad guys even though neither regime is what it was during the war. It is all about casting certain countries in general as villains or victims and both sides want to be the victims these days. Did the Japanese do some terrible things in China? Yes. Did the Chinese help start the war? Yes. Were war crimes committed at Nanking? Yes. Have the Chinese grossly exaggerated the crimes for political purposes? Yes. It is also true that even if one takes the most extreme Chinese accusations at face value, the Japanese still were not guilty of killing anywhere near as many Chinese people as the Chinese republican government itself has (either one in fact and certainly the communists by far). However, framing everything in relation to World War II is something China always does because it is always to their benefit, rather like how, in the west, advocates of military intervention always see every tin-pot dictator as the next Hitler and accuse everyone of being an “isolationist” or an “appeaser” or another Chamberlain who opposes military intervention. Everyone does it because Allies=good and Axis=evil often seems like the only thing that the vast majority of people on this planet actually agree on.

Poster showing the Japanese saving China from the
communists who are puppets of the 'White' devil
The fact that the People’s Republic of Chinese Sweatshops is using the war and the Nanking incident in particular for political purposes more than anything else is evident by the fact that, when you get down to it, what even the most stalwart Japanese nationalists accept as fact still leaves the Empire of Japan far from in the clear. Masaaki Tanaka, who wrote the book “The Fabrication of the ‘Nanjing Massacre” asserts that the whole thing was invented by the Allies to portray Japan as the villains and even he admits that about 2,000 civilians were killed after Japanese forces took the city. Is the butchering of 2,000 innocent people still not a horrible wrong? Does the death toll really have to be in the hundreds of thousands for it to be considered outrageous? In other words, if everyone accepted the version of events as told by this man, Japan would still not be blameless. Similarly, the war museum on the grounds of Yasukuni Shrine, which attracts so much controversy and condemnation from China, asserts that there was no massacre at Nanking but also, inadvertently, sets out Japan as being the only combatant in World War II (besting even Nazi Germany) that was fighting a purely racist war in which they claim that Japan was not fighting for power, resources or domination nor against any particular government or political system but for the elimination of the “White” race from Asia.

If the communist bandits ruling in Peking really had no political agenda of their own in all of this, they could literally just withdraw from the entire argument and allow the Japanese radicals to make Japan look bad on their own. These types would win no small amount of hostility from the rest of the world by pointing to facts which they are quite proud of; that Japan conquered a greater surface area of the earth than Germany and Italy combined and that Japan was fighting with a more explicitly racist mentality than even Hitler had been. That’s not what the enemies of Japan say but what the Japanese apologists themselves claim. But the Chinese People’s Kleptocracy doesn’t do that because they really do not care in the least about history or who killed who or how many people was brutalized during the war. What they care about is trying to keep Japan as militarily weak and diplomatically isolated as possible in the present day. They must see no other viable option. How else can they have such expansionist policies and the largest military on earth and still try to make people alarmed by Japan, a country with a tiny self-defense force, only a single official ally and an aging, rapidly shrinking population? The only way they can cause alarm is by trying to convince the world that the Japan of today is always just one step away from being the Empire of Japan of the 1930’s and 40’s, right on the precipice of invading over a dozen countries.

The Goliad Massacre
If the legacy of World War II between China and Japan was really just a matter of history, there would be nothing to get that excited about. Allow me to give an illustration which may be more understandable to a largely western and American audience. During the War for Texas Independence the most infamous atrocity that occurred was the Goliad massacre in which roughly just under 400 unarmed prisoners were butchered on orders from the dictator Santa Anna. This is something every little Texan learns about in school and most everyone is aware of. There is a monument in Goliad honoring the victims and memorial services are held there annually. It has no effect on current relations between Texas and Mexico nor in all my life have I ever met one, single Texan who knew, cared or even thought about whether or not Mexico felt bad about this or if Mexican schools taught it to children in that country. It is remembered and that is all. It is an historical event, not a political issue.

The same could be true for China and Japan if both sides wished it to be so. As far as Japan is concerned, in my experience, most people today do wish it were so but the Chinese do not. Likewise, there will be, for the foreseeable future, that element in Japan that will view any criticism of Japan in the past as unwarranted and totally unjustified no matter what it is. I have heard many people, both Japanese and foreigners sympathetic to Japan, who ask, in exasperation, when China will ever “get over it”. Will China ever “get over” Nanking? Probably not. China will “get over” Nanking perhaps when Japan decides to “get over” Hiroshima or the fire-bombing of Tokyo. In other words, not likely. People these days, the world over, like to view everything in the context of victims and victimizers and everyone wants to be a victim. China wants to be perceived as the victim of Japanese aggression and Japan wants to be perceived as the victim of Chinese deception and misinformation. And both of them want to be perceived as the victims of western imperialism. So, in the end, both the Chinese communists and the Japanese nationalists can at least agree on their shared hatred of “White” people. Perhaps there is hope for reconciliation after all.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Monarch Profile: King Alfonso XIII of Spain

The Spanish monarchy entered the 20th Century with a tumultuous history and a royal succession in which monarchs had rarely had a chance to be groomed for their position in the natural, traditional way. Since the end of absolutism, no Spanish monarch had come to the throne as an adult, raised for the position in Spain itself. There was Queen Isabella II, who came to the throne as a child, then there was King Amadeo I who was imported from Italy, never given a fair chance and who soon returned home in disgust, then there was King Alfonso XII who had been forced into exile when he was young and returned for a relatively short reign before passing away at the age of only 27. He was immediately succeeded by his son, King Alfonso XIII, who was literally born a king. So it was that the last Spanish monarch before the horror of the Second Republic was a man who was not allowed the usual sort of preparation for his royal position but who, rather, had to go through what lesser mortals would term “on the job training”. His reign would be one of the most pivotal in Spanish history and yet, at almost every stage, others would be far more involved in these events than he would.

His Catholic Majesty Alfonso Leon Fernando Maria Jaime Isidro Pascual Antonio de Borbon y Habsburgo-Lorena, King of the Spanish, King of Castile, of Leon, or Aragon, of the Two Sicilies, of Jerusalem etc, etc was born in Madrid on May 17, 1886, the year following the death of his father King Alfonso XII. During the interval, Spain had no monarch as everyone awaited the birth of the last child of the royal couple; if it were a boy, he would immediately be king and if a girl then the eldest daughter, the Princess Mercedes, would become queen. As a male child, he was King of Spain from the moment of his birth and his Hapsburg mother, Queen Maria Christina, ruled as regent on his behalf until he came of age in 1902. However, his earliest years as the official, if nominal, King of Spain were eventful ones for his country. At home, divisions remained between the two feuding factions of royalists and the troublesome republican minority but these were less serious than they had been after the successes of his father’s reign. The economy was not in great shape but seemed to be on the mend. However, there were problems overseas in the last remnants of the once mighty Spanish empire. There was trouble in The Philippines but few took much notice of it but the ongoing rebellion in Cuba was gaining a great deal of attention, particularly from the United States.

The boy king was blissfully un-involved when, in 1898, the Kingdom of Spain fought and lost a 10-week war with the United States as a result of which Spain lost her last colonies in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Had he been older, and able to rule, it is doubtful it would have made any difference. His mother was a strong woman with a good head on her shoulders and there simply was not much Spain could possibly have done in the face of the American media that whipped the public in the U.S. into hysteria for a war against Spain. The loss, combined with a deteriorating situation at home, probably motivated the Spanish government to push for King Alfonso XIII to take up his duties as soon as possible and he was declared of age and given his full constitutional powers in 1902 at the age of sixteen. Many hopes were pinned on the young man as the event was celebrated with parties, patriotic demonstrations and bullfights in the traditional fashion. However, King Alfonso XIII was under no illusions about the daunting task that stood before him. There was fighting in north Africa, a worsening economy, social and political divisions at home and widespread corruption amongst public officials.

In an effort to gain good-will abroad, the young King of Spain traveled to Great Britain, Germany and France (where he was attacked while riding with the French President). To secure the succession there was also a pressing need for King Alfonso to marry and start a family. While he was in London, a guest of King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace, he met Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, King Edward’s Scottish-born niece. There seemed to be a spark between the two and King Alfonso inquired about marrying her. There was immediately some objections from both countries. The British had long been taught to have a negative view of the Spanish and did not relish the thought of a British, Protestant princess having to convert to Catholicism. Likewise, in Spain, Queen Mother Maria Christina had hoped that her son would marry a Hapsburg princess like his father or at least a Catholic princess from a more prestigious family. It was also known that Princess Victoria’s brother Leopold was afflicted with hemophilia and thus she could be a carrier of the hereditary disease. However, King Alfonso seemed adamant. Princess Victoria said she would be willing to become Catholic and as far as the hemophilia threat was concerned, there was just as much chance that she would not be a carrier as there was that such would be the case.

On May 31, 1906 Alfonso and Victoria were married in Madrid at the Royal Monastery of San Jeronimo, Victoria having converted to Catholicism two months before. It was a grand affair but the enemies of the monarchy were determined to ruin it. A Catalan anarchist tried to assassinate the royal couple with a bomb. Thankfully, they survived but sadly several bystanders were killed or wounded in the attack. It was an ugly scar on what was otherwise a happy occasion. At the start of their married life, King Alfonso and Queen Victoria Eugenia seemed the ideal, happy, devoted couple. However, things began to change after the birth of their first child, Prince Alfonso of the Asturias. He was born with hemophilia, proving that Victoria had been a carrier after all. Two subsequent daughters and a son were born without the disease but, sadly, their last child and third son was afflicted as well. Despite knowing the facts from the beginning, human nature is what it is and King Alfonso tended to blame his wife for the disease that kept his sons in constant danger and from that time on he became increasingly distant from his wife. After 1914 he then had a succession of mistresses by whom he had six illegitimate children.

With no attachment to either side in the conflict, King Alfonso XIII kept Spain neutral during the First World War, not wishing to side against his mother’s relatives in Austria-Hungary or his British in-laws. This made Spain a hotbed for espionage but spared the country from the pain and losses the combatants suffered. The King was stricken by the influenza epidemic that swept the world at the end of the conflict but he eventually recovered. In the aftermath, Spain fought another colonial war in north Africa which ended in victory for the Spanish forces but which was widely condemned by the revolutionary crowd at home. Their strikes and uprisings were a constant irritant to the Spanish government, a drain on resources and a hindrance to real reform. There was also an increasing unity amongst the socialist enemies of the monarchy while the rest of Spanish society remained divided between supporters of the central government and those who wanted greater regional autonomy as well as between supporters of the existing monarchy and the fractured and feuding but still defiant Carlists. It was a recipe for disaster and, just as in times past, some began to take the view that authoritarianism was the only answer to the divisions and problems plaguing Spain.

In 1923 the Captain-General of Catalonia, Miguel Primo de Rivera, seized power in a military coup, at the head of an indignant Spanish army and endorsed by King Alfonso XIII who named him to the post of prime minister (after the general had taken power). General Primo de Rivera became, effectively, dictator of Spain but told the public it was only a temporary measure to clean up the mess created by the corrupt and feuding political class. He set up a military junta, called the Directory, and when government ministers complained to the King, Alfonso dismissed them. The dictator established martial law and began cracking down on the regional separatists. In cooperation with the French, he restored order to north Africa and began extensive infrastructure upgrades in Spain. Unemployment all but vanished but massive loans were required for all of these government expenditures. Primo de Rivera assured the public that these would be paid back by the increase in tax revenues from the business his changes would stimulate. However, as he tried to establish an entirely new political system for Spain, economic prosperity remained unseen and opposition to the dictator began to increase. King Alfonso was fully aware of who was running the country and introduced the general to King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy as, “my Mussolini”.

The country had a period of law and order and many improvements during this time but while the divisions were suppressed, they were not eliminated. King Alfonso XIII tried to carry on with business as usual. With a dictator running the country, he had little governmental business to attend to and plenty of time for leisure. He played golf, polo, enjoyed driving and even learned to fly. However, as opposition to the dictatorship increased and the period of economic wealth remained out of reach, Primo de Rivera tried to extend his hold on power by appealing to his brother army officers. At this the King took action as, if left un-checked, it would have made the military the source of authority in the country rather than the Crown and Alfonso XIII could not stand idly by while that happened. In 1930 Primo de Rivera resigned and went into exile in France where he died a short time later. King Alfonso XIII then tried to carry on governing the country himself with the power structure that had been erected. However, the enemies of the monarchy quickly reappeared and the supporters of the former dictator among the military then viewed the King as their enemy. The republican movement had also been thoroughly infiltrated by radical socialists with ties to likeminded groups around the world and had promises of support from the Soviet Union. The left was increasingly united while the right was increasingly divided.

In 1931 the republicans won a massive electoral victory and General Jose Sanjurjo warned the King that the army was no longer loyal to him (the son of a Carlist, Sanjurjo would later pledge loyalty to the republic, join in an attempted Carlist plot that failed, disavow the Carlists and proclaim his support for the republic only to then join in the national coup against the republic at the start of the civil war). King Alfonso XIII was finally persuaded by his closest friends to leave the country for his own safety. When he departed, he defiantly pledged to triumph over all those who opposed the monarchy but that he would not be the cause of a fratricidal war. He refused to abdicate but went into exile in Rome where he was given sanctuary by King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. In Spain, the radicals seized power and immediately proclaimed the Second Spanish Republic that became increasingly socialistic and then communistic until it was effectively a client state of the Soviet Union in all but name.

King Alfonso XIII, a man known for his reckless bravery, a man who had a collection of ‘souvenirs’ from the many assassination attempts made against him, remained determined to one day reclaim his throne and was adamant that he remained the legitimate King of the Spanish. In 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out when General Francisco Franco led a nationalist coalition in rebellion against the republican government. King Alfonso XIII did not remain neutral but clearly expressed his support for the nationalists. However, General Franco was trying to forge unity out of a very divided coalition of people opposed to the republic and that coalition included the Carlists. Franco knew that the Carlists would drop their support for him if they thought he intended to restore King Alfonso XIII to the throne whereas, if he put off the question of who would be king, he could continue to enjoy the support of both factions in the hope that they would be chosen in the end. As such, Franco announced that his victory would not mean a restoration of King Alfonso XIII. Nonetheless, the King continued to support the nationalists and sent his son and heir, Infante Juan Count of Barcelona (the Prince of Asturias having renounced his rights due to his marriage to a commoner) to join the nationalist forces. However, he was arrested at the border and sent back into exile.

It is too bad that such divisions continued to plague the Spanish royalist cause particularly as, in the same year that the civil war began, the senior Carlist line died out and King Alfonso XIII thus became the legitimate monarch according to the rationale of the original Carlists though, as we know, most who remained opposed by that time would remain opposed no matter what the circumstances. The Spanish Civil War was a brutal affair and came to be seen as something of a dress-rehearsal for World War II. The Soviets and socialist governments from France to Mexico as well as leftist volunteers from various countries supported the republic while Franco and the nationalists received most of their support from Nazi Germany and especially Fascist Italy. In the end, the nationalists were victorious and Franco became dictator of Spain by 1939. He was a monarchist but his success depended on keeping the support of more republican minded nationalists among the Falange movement as well as the two opposing royalist factions so, while everyone expected a restoration of the monarchy, Franco refused to commit himself too much on the subject.

As a political tactic, it worked brilliantly as each side remained hopeful that Franco would eventually side with them. In Rome, in 1941, King Alfonso XIII abdicated his rights in favor of his son the Count of Barcelona in the expectation that this would help pave the way for the restoration of the monarchy by Franco. However, while Franco did legally declare the monarchy restored in 1947, the throne remained vacant while the Generalissimo would rule as regent for the rest of his life. King Alfonso XIII, however, would not live to see any of that as he died in Rome not long after his abdication a month later on February 28, 1941. His remains were later returned to Spain in 1980 after his grandson, Juan Carlos, became King of Spain after the death of General Franco. Thrust onto the throne from his very birth, King Alfonso XIII had lived through the greatest changes in the recent history of Spain; the loss of the last of the empire, the First World War, the downfall of the monarchy and the horrors of the Second Republic and Spanish Civil War. Yet, he seemed to constantly be on the outside looking in on these historic events. Given the chaotic state of affairs that existed, perhaps his greatest triumph was simply his survival and the survival of his family to one day manage the seemingly impossible and see a monarchy restored where it had been torn down and his descendants returned to the Spanish throne.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Japan and Korea, Wartime Legacy

Today, relations between the Republic of Korea and the State of Japan remain relatively poor (relations between the State of Japan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are all but non-existent) and most would say that this is a result of the legacy of World War II. Primarily, it is that many in Korea have a problem with Japan but trying to determine the precise reason for this can be difficult. The usual reason given, by the Koreans, is the rather vague statement that the Japanese have not “faced up” to their history and the crimes that Japan committed during World War II. How is one to answer an accusation that is so vague? What exactly is Japan supposed to do that would be accepted as proof that they have “faced up” to their history? If that sounds difficult, it is actually worse than that. The call for the Japanese to apologize for their actions in World War II has been one of the most common demands from Korea and yet the Japanese can point to an extensive list of occasions in which their leaders have apologized but which many Koreans have not accepted, sometimes because they have a problem with the wording of the apology, sometimes because the person making the apology was not sufficiently important, other times because the apology was taken to be a personal one rather than one on behalf of the entire country and so on.

Crown Princes of Japan & Korea
This can, obviously, be extremely frustrating for anyone trying to get at the root of the problem and, as usual, both sides make some fair points. Given the number of times Japanese officials have apologized, it is perfectly understandable that many in Japan would say that it needs to stop because there is no sense in continually apologizing if the apology is never to be accepted. Yet, if arguments about wording seem pedantic, the Korean accusations are not always baseless. A case in point is the preference for many Japanese leaders to express “regret” or “remorse” for events of the past which, for them, is politically safe and seemingly sufficient. They have said, “I am sorry”. However, there is a difference between telling someone, “I am sorry your car was stolen”, and telling them, “I am sorry I stole your car”. It is on such occasions that Koreans have a valid point, putting aside the issue of whether you think Japan should be apologizing or not. To express regret at events that have happened is not the same as accepting responsibility for those events. Some Japanese have given apologies that include the acceptance of guilt but others have not and there have always been those in Japan who argue that such leaders should not have apologized and that Japan has nothing to apologize for.

That is essentially what seems to be at the root of the on-going problems between Japan and Korea. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the populations of the two countries view the war in very different ways. In Korea, it is pretty simple and there is very little diversity of opinion on the subject; the Japanese were the bad guys. In Japan, however, things are not so simple. Many people don’t think about the war and don’t really care to. They have other priorities and this group, in my view, seems to be the majority. However, there is another group that has adopted the self-hating attitude of the liberal west that thinks Japan should be constantly apologizing and should expunge all remnants of the Empire of Japan that existed prior to 1945. This crowd is, not surprisingly, very well represented in the media and education. Finally, there is another group in Japan that takes the other extreme which does not want to apologize for anything because they firmly believe that Japan has never done anything wrong to anyone in their entire history and they focus on the period including and leading up to World War II in particular. This is the group that is most antagonistic in regards to Korea in this case.

call for Japan-Korea teamwork
When dealing with that particular group, the Koreans certainly have a valid case. The problem is, the Korean government and assorted pressure groups do not tend to confront the big issue head-on. The only possible reason I can come up with is some trepidation over the different way World War II is viewed in East Asia compared to the rest of the world. Instead, they tend to focus on affiliated issues that really make no sense. The most well known example is probably that of the comfort women, which has been discussed here before, as well as more general accusations of criminal and cruel behavior on the part of the Imperial Japanese Army and attacks on symbols of the Empire of Japan. None of these make much sense. If anyone gives it more than a minute of thought, such attacks are positively bewildering. Rather than making their case on an issue wherein the facts are on their side, these pressure groups and sometimes the Korean government itself, focuses on issues that result in making Korea look bad as well as Japan. After all, Korea was a part of the Empire of Japan throughout World War II. Koreans served in the Imperial Japanese military, availed themselves of the services of comfort women and were themselves often guilty of vicious behavior according to the Allied investigations after the war. Over a hundred Koreans were convicted of war crimes and 23 were sentenced to death.

Targeted Japanese naval flag
Another odd habit is the constant attacks on the flag of the Imperial Japanese Navy which is, today, the flag of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force. This is sometimes used as an alternative national flag simply because it is an attractive and thus popular design that is probably more recognizable than the actual national flag. Why the naval flag in particular should be singled out as offensive or symbolizing something villainous, I have never heard explained. Many who attack it have said it is the equivalent of the Nazi flag (and comparing anyone or anything you don’t like to the Nazis has really become a tired tactic in my view) but exactly how or why is never explained. Certainly the Japanese navy never committed any specifically horrendous crime against Korea and it is simply baffling that one particular flag, which happens to be popular with many people, even non-Japanese people around the world, should be singled out as offensive or more offensive than others. Again, if there is a reason for this, I have never heard it. You can hear a long list of Japanese crimes and accusations of despicable acts but never one word about how any of that relates to this one particular flag.

Prince Yi Wu of Korea
All of these issues relating to World War II, stand out as odd for Korea to take issue with because, again, Korea was on the side of Japan in that conflict. Most Koreans who served in the war, served in the Japanese military. The Crown Prince of Korea was a lieutenant general in the Japanese Air Force and a member of the Supreme War Council. Prince Yi Geon of Korea was the instructor of cavalry at the Japanese Military Academy and served in the war, Prince Yi Wu was a lieutenant colonel in the Japanese army, served in China and Manchuria and was killed in the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. In the case of Prince Yi Wu, his Japanese adjutant committed seppuku afterwards because of his sorrow at not being able to save the life of his commanding officer. Many thousands of Koreans served in the Japanese military and the vast majority of them were volunteers. Many more volunteered, in fact, than were accepted for military service and Koreans were not conscripted until the last two years of the conflict.

Of course, this does not mean that all Koreans were happy about their situation or supportive of the Japanese war effort. No doubt many volunteered simply to raise their social status, to have a regular salary and employment and so on. Yet, there were doubtless those who were truly loyal to the Empire of Japan as there had always been a segment of the Korean population that favored the annexation of Korea by Japan. There was no consensus on this issue just as there was never such a consensus in virtually any such similar colonial relationship. This is partly why the level of antagonism between Korea and Japan stands out so much because there are very few similar examples one could point to of relations being so bad between a former colonial subject and colonial master, even in cases in which colonial rule lasted for centuries. There may be little love lost between countries such as Ireland and the United Kingdom or Mexico and Spain but their leaders do talk to each other, they do meet and cooperate and are not consumed by arguments over historical guilt or innocence.

Nationalist activists in Japan
It is not that the Koreans have absolutely nothing in their history with Japan to complain about. The problem is that most seem to focus on the wrong issues such as ridiculous, trivial obsessions with a flag or issues such as the comfort women which the Koreans themselves were complicit in. These groups also tend to present their argument in a bad way. The oft-repeated demand that Japan should apologize is an example for this. Japan has apologized, in various ways, numerous times but what, I think, is really bothering a great many Koreans is not that Japan has never apologized but that certain segments of the Japanese population keep trying to ‘take back’ those apologies or bemoan the fact that they were ever made in the first place. Many Japanese are rightly frustrated that they keep being asked to apologize again and again but a large part of that is because one segment of their population is continuously un-apologizing. This goes back to the previous point that while there is widespread consensus in Korea about World War II and their history with Japan, there is no such consensus on the Japanese side. Some people in Japan think that their country committed great crimes in the past, others think some crimes were committed but that these were no worse than any other country and still others think that Japan has never done anything wrong to anyone and has nothing to be sorry for. So, you have one group saying, “We are sorry” while another group says, “No, we’re not” and the Koreans condemn the Japanese for being misleading and contradictory.

Nationalist activists in Korea
Without getting in to the nature of Japanese actions in World War II right now, the bottom line that needs to be understood in regard to Korean-Japanese relations is this: there is never going to be uniformity of opinion or agreement on these issues. Those in Japan who deny any and all wrong doing on the part of Japan in World War II are never going to change their view. There are no facts or no evidence anyone can present that they will not dismiss as being falsified in some way. Present them with thousands of examples of victim testimonies; they say first-hand accounts are inadmissible. Present them with Japanese documents ordering attacks on civilians or the execution of prisoners, they say they are forgeries. There is just no point to it. Likewise, their counterparts in Korea are just as oblivious to reality as they seem committed to carrying on as they are until absolutely everyone in Japan accepts their point of view and imposes the Korean view of Japanese history on the people of Japan. And that is, frankly, never going to happen. So, at the end of the day, the only way the wartime legacy of Japan and Korea is ever going to be overcome is for the bulk of the two populations to simply ignore these two groups and get on with the business of nations. Until that happens, this bickering will just go on and on with no change for either side.
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