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.

2 comments:

  1. I am afraid I have to disagree with the last sentence. Japan is now a 'puppet state' of the USA and China in the eyes of many, will rule the world after the 'Pax America'. Both don't like Europe, but Europe (sadly) is as global joke at the dawn of this century.

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    1. Yeah, I've heard this 'Japan isn't a real country' argument before. What I've never heard is another example of a puppet/colony/client state that can and does refuse to buy what their overlord is selling. Nor have I ever seen another example of a colonial master freaking out because they think their colony is about to surpass them in buying power (which I can well remember). But, of course, I don't really expect too ...it all comes from an emotional response rather than a reasonable one.

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