Showing posts with label World War II. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World War II. Show all posts

Friday, June 6, 2014

The World War II World Order

As this is the seventieth anniversary of the invasion of France, cited by many as the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany, it seemed an appropriate time to talk a little about the new world order that was created by World War II, the world we all live in today. This is, of course, a bigger issue than that of monarchy alone but while it may be seldom talked about, monarchy in general was certainly impacted by the outcome of World War II and the new world order created in the aftermath of the conflict. This world order is something many take for granted or even fail to notice altogether because it is so commonplace. It is the world we grew up in (I doubt many are reading this who can recall much of the world prior to World War II) and since it is all we have ever known, many pay it no mind. It is simply accepted as the way things are. It is also something that is almost universally celebrated and that is not something to take lightly. It is very rare to have the vast majority of countries agree on anything and yet the vast majority of people and countries in the world today all agree that World War II was the most righteous of causes and the victory of the Allied nations over the Axis powers was the most ideal outcome and made for a better world. Every war since, it seems, has been the subject of debate, protest and controversy but not World War II; it stands above as sacred and inviolable.

Allied heroes: King George VI with US Generals Mark Clark
and George S. Patton Jr.
Part of that is because most of the major conflicts since that time involved, to one degree or another, the United States and the Soviet Union who were on the same side in World War II. As much as each of these countries hated the other, they could never take that back to the war because to condemn the other there would be to condemn themselves. That dynamic, of course, is one of the most obvious results of World War II. For the first time in human history the world was dominated by two super-powers: the United States and the Soviet Union. Prior to the conflict the world had a number of major powers. There was still the Soviet Union and the United States (though a USA somewhat frustrated with being a major player in world affairs) but there was also the British Empire, the French Republic, the Kingdom of Italy and the Empire of Japan that were all significant on either the global level or at least a regional level. The Kingdoms of Yugoslavia and Romania as well as others were also significant on a more localized scale. After the war, on the other hand, France was in ruins, Britain was bankrupt, Italy was defeated and Japan had been bombed to a burnt crisp and was under American occupation. The British, French, Dutch and other colonial empires were not to last much longer.

The main organizational structure of the new post-war world order was to be the United Nations and many seem to have forgotten that the UN was the creation of the Allies in the Second World War. In fact, even before the conflict had concluded, the Allies were already referring to themselves as the “United Nations”. In this regard, they were a little bit late to the game but, despite all the talk about freedom and liberty, what it all came down to was one of two possible outcomes; the world would either be dominated by the Axis or by the Allies. That does not mean, despite what many think, because it has been endlessly repeated, that the Axis powers had some grand scheme to conquer the world. That is ridiculous and people should really know better than to swallow something that absurd. However, it does mean that if the Axis powers had won, the world would be dominated to one degree or another by Germany, Italy and Japan in the same way that it is now dominated by America, Britain, France, Russia and China. Some, I am sure, may argue that these powers do not “dominate” the world but they do to an extent and some more than others certainly. However, it is no coincidence that the United Nations was established with the Allied nations serving as the five permanent members of the Security Council, each with veto power to stop the world community from taking any military action. The idea was that there would be no more wars unless America, Britain, France, Russia and China agreed on it and any one of them could stop any of the others from taking action against some other country. Therefore, the only people who are truly safe from the UN are, still today, the former Allies of World War II or those countries which are protected by them.

The United Nations is the League of Nations with more money, thus more corruption and with military forces. It was also set up in such a way as to have considerable staying power (and there is nothing more permanent than a huge bureaucracy) so that it survives even though the world and the governments which first established it have changed dramatically. Of the five members of the Security Council, it is worth remembering, only two have the same governments that they did at the time of World War II which are, of course, the United States and the United Kingdom. The French are now on their fifth republic, the Soviet Union collapsed and is now the Russian Federation and the Republic of China had its seat taken away and given to their communist rivals of the People’s Republic of China which had almost nothing to do with World War II at all. And yet, more than anyone else, it is Russia and China that one is most likely to hear talking about the post-World War II world order and defending this world order. Part of that involves the UN as well as it helps to maintain the status quo. As most know, Germany, Brazil, India and Japan have tried to obtain seats on the Security Council but so far without success, partly because of the opposition bordering on paranoia of the Chinese Communist Party toward Japan. Most other Security Council members have been supportive of enlarging the group but China has refused any cooperation that would give a seat to Japan. Later, China did speak favorably of India gaining a seat but only if India would drop its support for Japan joining.

It is also worth remembering that, before India and Pakistan went nuclear, the five Security Council members, who were the main Allies of World War II, were the only powers with nuclear weapons and that is the way they wanted to keep it. The significant thing about this grouping is not that they can tell the rest of the world what to do but that it is they and only they who can decide who the global community can take action against and it is only they who can stop the global community from taking action against a certain country. This was recently highlighted when the United Nations failed to take action against the Assad regime in Syria because any such proposal would have been vetoed by Russia and China. Oftentimes this is more important than being able to take action. Every member is practically untouchable and can decide who else can be untouchable by use of their veto power. The Korean War was possible only because, at the time, the Soviet Union was boycotting the UN and, despite the fact that North Korea has acted aggressively and broken numerous agreements, no one takes any action against them at the UN because it is a forgone conclusion that China would not allow it. For the same reason, the UN will never take any action against Iran because Russia or China would never allow it.

Tsar Simeon II of Bulgaria
Now, speaking strictly in terms of the institution of monarchy, the results of World War II and the new world order that followed it have not been very good. It does depend on where one is in the world and saying that does not mean that a different outcome would have been better for monarchy, again, depending in part on what part of the world one is referring to. Monarchy fared the worst in Eastern and Southern Europe after World War II with the former Kingdoms of Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia being handed over to Soviet domination. Their monarchies were doomed the instant that agreement was made. Albania was likewise doomed. It had remained a kingdom in personal union with the Italian monarchy which ended when Italy dropped out of the Axis in 1943 but as it was within the Soviet post-war sphere of influence there was no question of the deposed self-proclaimed King Zog being allowed back in to resume his reign. The Italian monarchy did not long survive the end of the war and while the western Allies (particularly Britain) were supportive in making sure the Greek monarchy came back, it was still weakened from the civil war that raged in Greece and, as we know, was not to survive in the long-term.

The Norwegian monarchy was restored, which it certainly would not have been if the Allies had not been victorious and though the Danish monarchy had continued throughout the German occupation, it seems doubtful that it would have remained untouched in the aftermath of a Nazi victory. The Dutch monarchy was restored, as again it certainly would not have been without the Allied victory and though the Belgian monarchy survived it was a much more sad state of affairs. There was a regency and finally the abdication of King Leopold III but any observer can clearly see that the Belgian monarch never had the sort of influence after World War II that he had enjoyed before. In the Far East the Allied victory meant the end for the restored monarchy in Manchuria (particularly due to the Soviet intervention), the end for any monarchist aspirations in China or Mongolia and the end of the monarchy in Vietnam (where the United States aided the communist insurgency). The monarchy in Japan survived, barely but the Allied victory also meant that monarchy in Korea was a lost cause. Had the Axis prevailed, of course, Korea would have remained a part of the Empire of Japan and thus not an independent monarchy but while the Japanese allowed the Korean Royal Family to retain their status and titles, neither the Soviet Union or the United States were prepared to be so generous. Korea was occupied, divided and split into rival republics.

Doctor and Mrs Ba Maw
The Kingdom of Malaysia was never in any danger of being abolished. The local monarchies were retained by both the British and the Japanese. The reign of the Dutch crown over Indonesia (the Dutch East Indies at the time) was ended and would have remained so if the Axis had won the war whereas the Allied victory brought about a restoration of the Dutch monarchy in Indonesia though it proved only temporary. However, what the alternative to this might have been we cannot say. The Japanese never recognized Indonesian independence, partly because some considered it too valuable to relinquish and partly because the leader of the independence movement, Sukarno, was someone the Japanese had started to have second thoughts about (and rightly so). Had the war turned out differently, either Indonesia would have become an independent republic under Sukarno or been incorporated into the Japanese Empire so, no discernable difference. The reign of the British monarchy over Burma was ended when Japan sponsored the independent State of Burma but is it at least possible that Burma might have gone back to being a monarchy if Japan had won the war. Dr. Ba Maw, who ruled Burma after the British were driven out by Japan, had a monarchial style about his government and was the son of a staunch Burmese monarchist, so that is at least possible. With the Allied victory British rule was restored but, as we know, only briefly. One can only feel sorry for the British troops who fought so hard to regain Burma only to see it handed over again shortly after the war was over. And it was handed over to a man who had also collaborated with the Japanese and had served as Foreign Minister in the government of Ba Maw, so it really makes no sense. They might have just left Ba Maw in charge and been done with it.

Over the long-term, the fall of the Vietnamese monarchy was more damaging than many realize. It did come back, in an unofficial sort of way, during the First Indochina War but that did not survive the French defeat in 1954. What makes it more damaging is that the Vietnamese communists were instrumental in the downfall of the monarchies of Laos and Cambodia as well. Eventually, as we know, the monarchy in Cambodia was restored, though with even less power than it had under French colonial rule but in Laos such has not been the case and the victory of the communists in Vietnam has meant that Laos remains effectively a communist Vietnamese satellite state to this day. Also, on the global scale, the ruination experienced by Britain during the war meant that the British Empire was all but doomed after it was over. This was partly because socialists were voted into power and it was impossible to fund the empire and a welfare state at the same time, partly because it put Britain at the economic mercy of the United States and partly because America had surpassed Britain as the power that weaker countries looked to for support. Even in countries where the monarchy survived this was obvious such as in Australia. With Britain so heavily engaged in Europe, Australia had no one to turn to for protection but the United States.

and they claim to be the "good guys"
So, as a result of World War II some very important things happened that were not to the benefit of the monarchist cause. The world was largely divided into two camps, each of which was dominated by a power that did not look favorably on monarchy. The United States was, at best, indifferent while the Soviet Union was uniformly hostile to the institution. Europe was effectively divided between these two powers with all the monarchies in the east being destroyed and those in the west, while surviving, were nonetheless absorbed by the republican mentality that had been upheld as what the “western democracies” were fighting for. Africa became contested ground for pro-Soviet and pro-American forces each competing against the European colonialism that preceded them and in Asia the regional powerhouse ceased to be the very monarchist Empire of Japan and became, ultimately, the very anti-monarchist People’s Republic of China. There too, the continent became a battleground for two competing ideologies, neither of which were friendly to monarchy. Again, this does not mean things would have been better for monarchy in general if the Axis had won, particularly in Europe and Africa. Hitler barely tolerated monarchies under the best of circumstances and while it fared better in the Italian sphere of influence some have speculated that a Mussolini flushed with victory might have abolished the monarchy himself as he never enjoyed having to share the stage with the King and certainly was not favorable to the eventual succession of King Umberto II. We can never know for sure what would have happened in that event.

What we do know is that world affairs are never quite so simple as some would like to believe. Most everyone agrees that the “good guys” won in the Second World War but the fact is that many “bad guys” emerged victorious as well. This has been problematic and continues to be so because it gave extremely malicious powers a cloak of righteousness to cover themselves in. It is also why many of the worst players are the most protective of the post-World War II world order, it is why the Soviets loved to refer to all of their enemies as “fascists” (a habit Russia has still not entirely given up) and why Communist China never ceases to associate the modern State of Japan with the Empire of Japan of history, because doing so automatically casts themselves as the “good guys” and Japan as the villains. That is the situation and while most, obviously, would prefer to not even imagine what a world would be like in which the Axis powers had been victorious in World War II, that should not blind us to the shortcomings that exist today or stop us from trying to correct them. Just because one alternative would have been worse does not mean that the other must be entirely good. There was a great deal of injustice, misery and suffering that resulted from World War II and we should not be timid in addressing that. We must be grateful and pay respectful tribute to those who sacrificed in the cause and always honor their memory but we must also not be shackled by the past and allow old grudges to cloud our judgment in the here and now.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Monarch Profile: King Tomislav II of Croatia

Ever since the end of World War II, during which it was created, lived and died, everything about the Independent State of Croatia is subject to controversy and that has extended to the nominal King of the newly freed Croatia; the Italian Duke of Spoleto who was, on paper at least, His Majesty Tomislav II. He has been accused of being a puppet for puppets, a fascist (what a surprise) and probably more than anything else that he was an uninterested playboy who was a never a real king. However, because he is not often remembered, and when he is it is mostly as the nominal King of Croatia during World War II, it is easy to allow opinion to overtake the facts and much of what is assumed about the last King of the Croats may not be anywhere near the truth at all. He was born Prince Aimone Roberto Margherita Maria Giuseppe Torino of the Italian royal house of Savoy on March 9, 1900 in Turin. He was the second son of Prince Emanuele Filiberto, 2nd Duke of Aosta and Princess Helene. His paternal grandparents were the controversial King Amadeus I of Spain and Princess Maria Vittoria and his maternal grandparents were Prince Philippe of Orleans and the Infanta Maria Isabel of Spain. King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy was his great grandfather and, as such, on September 22, 1904 he was given the title of Duke of Spoleto to be held for the rest of his life.

An avid outdoorsman, the Duke of Spoleto made the news when he tried to climb K2 in Karakorum in the Himalayas, the second highest mountain on earth in 1929. His uncle, the Duke of the Abruzzi had tried twenty years before and Prince Aimone decided to focus his efforts purely on scientific research rather than a race for the top. He also became known, in his adulthood, as something of a ladies man. The tall, handsome prince was considered quite a prize by most women and there were numerous rumors about him, especially concerning a relationship with the daughter of King Alfonso XIII of Spain the Infanta Beatriz. However, he did finally settle down when he married Princess Irene of Greece on July 1, 1939 in Florence. This brought about some new family connections for the House of Savoy as Princess Irene was the daughter of the Greek King Constantine I and Princess Sophie of the German Imperial Family of Prussia. The couple eventually had one son, Prince Amedeo, who was born on September 27, 1942. Little did he know on his wedding day in 1939 that in a few years he would be declared the reigning monarch of a new country.

In April of 1941 the Axis forces of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy invaded and conquered the Serbian dominated Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Of the many minority nationalities who had been handed over to Serbia after the Allied victory in World War I none were so eager for liberation as the Croatians and they quickly set up the Independent State of Croatia under the leadership of the Ustashe party of Head Man Ante Pavelic. A new government was quickly established under Italian supervision as southern Europe was considered by the Axis to be within the sphere of the Kingdom of Italy and the new Roman Empire Benito Mussolini dreamed of creating around the Mediterranean. The following month Ante Pavelic went to the Quirinal Palace in Rome to meet with His Majesty Victor Emmanuel III, King of Italy, Albania and Emperor of Ethiopia, to request that he appoint a member of the House of Savoy to be the king over the new Croatian State recently established. On May 18, 1941 the ceremony was held in which the Italian monarch named his cousin Prince Aimone as the new King over Croatia, which also included what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This is where the story becomes really interesting since many enemies of Croatia, especially enemies of the Ustashe but really enemies of a free Croatia period, like to state that Aimone was never really a true Croatian monarch. However, that argument is obviously false and these people contradict their claim by their own arguments as we shall see. The ancient Crown of Zvonimir was solemnly given to Prince Aimone who took as his reigning name King Tomislav II in honor of the heroic Tomislav who was the first King of an independent Croatia in ancient times. This in itself shows that Aimone or Tomislav II was serious about his new position. Enemies like to repeat the story that when Aimone first heard of the appointment he thought his cousin the King was playing a joke on him, implying that he never considered the job anything more than that himself, but such an implication is obviously false. By taking the name of an honored hero from Croatian history Tomislav II was obviously making an effort to adopt the culture of his land and illustrate that a new period of greatness was upon them again and that free Croatia had been reborn.

The enemies of Tomislav II and Croatia also like to point out that the reigning monarch never actually set foot in Croatia, trying to make the case that his reign was never more than a matter of titles which he nor anyone else gave the slightest thought to. This is an argument that is a lot like rat poison; mostly good food but just enough strychnine to kill you. It is true that Tomislav II never resided in Croatia yet it was specifically because he took his job so seriously and was committed to being a truly Croatian monarch for his people and not simply an Axis puppet for Italy. Everything was set up for him to be given a formal Catholic coronation in Duvansko Polje in Bosnia but he refused to do so out of protest to the seizure of certain coastal areas of Dalmatia by Italy. He refused on the grounds of the sovereignty and national integrity of the country over which he was king! Tomislav II stated that this land was never going to be able to be fully integrated into Italy and by the Italian seizure of the territory it only served as an obstacle to better Italian and Croatian friendship. His refusal to enter the country was well thought out and based on a principled stand of putting his new country first, even before Italy.

This was based on agreement by which Mussolini would support Pavelic in restoring Croatian independence, in exchange for which the Italians would receive territorial concessions on the coast, basically consisting of Dalmatia. As compensation, the new Croatia was to include all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which it did. And, actually, Italian and Croatian nationalist collaboration actually had a history behind, united as they were by a shared opposition to Yugoslavia and the extensive territorial concessions to Serbia after World War I. When Gabriele D’Annunzio and his Italian nationalists had seized Fiume, on the Dalmatian coast, they gave their moral support to the Croatian nationalists of the region, encouraging them to rise up against the Serbs to reclaim their independence. It is also true that, in the past, even under the Empire of Austria-Hungary (Croatia being a part of the Kingdom of Hungary) that Dalmatia and Croatia were always identified separately. So, there was certainly grounds for a legitimate difference of opinion over who Dalmatia should belong to. However, King Tomislav II, an Italian by birth and by blood a member of the proud Italian House of Savoy, took his new title seriously and refused to automatically take the Italian point of view and instead insisted that Dalmatia was Croatian and would not just be instantly turned over to Italy.

Enemies of the Croatian King also like to say that Tomislav II was simply a powerless figurehead who had nothing to do with Croatian life, cared nothing about it and was only a symbol of the Ustashe regime of Ante Pavelic which held the real power in the country (and which has the worst reputation). An easy response to that allegation is simple: Well So What?! Was King George VI of the UK and the British Empire no less a real monarch because he reigned while a government ruled in his name? What other monarch in any European country at the time actually ruled his country personally in an absolutist manner during World War II? He reigned but did not rule and this was the accepted practice of all monarchs of his time and still is today. He was, like any monarch then or now, a symbol of Croatian unity and tradition and was never meant to be a political administrator. However, that does not mean he did nothing or took no interest in his country. In the areas for which the monarchy was responsible he was quite active. For instance, while King he granted 60 titles of nobility such as duke, marquis, count, viscount and baron for Croatia; something he certainly would not have done if he considered his position purely honorary and nothing more than an additional title. He had enough of those anyway as one year after becoming King his full title was extended to: His Majesty Tomislav II (or Zvonimir II) King of Croatia, Prince of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Voivode of Dalmatia, Tuzla and Temun, Duke of Aosta, Prince of Cisterna and of Belriguardo, Marquess of Voghera and Count of Ponderano.

The final change came on March 3, 1942 when he inherited the title of Duke of Aosta from his elder brother Prince Amedeo, Third Duke of Aosta who died in Tanzania as a British prisoner of war after having been taken in the fighting in Italian East Africa. His time as King of Croatia came to an end the following year though when the fortunes of war forced the Italians to seek an armistice and King Tomislav II abdicated the throne on July 31, 1943. One of the absurd things about the enemies of the King and Croatia is that they will claim he was never really king and yet know by heart and openly talk about the date of his abdication. They never care to explain how someone who was never really a king can abdicate his throne. In any event, Prince Aimone, now Fourth Duke of Aosta, went on doing his duty as best he could for his native land. Before World War II ended he took command of the important Italian naval base at Taranto however he was soon labeled as “too fascist” by the new powers that be when he expressed his disapproval of the judges who had handed a guilty verdict to General Mario Roatta. The Duke of Aosta, by then a Squadron Admiral in the Royal Italian Navy, was dismissed and at the end of the war pressure forced him to move to South America. He died in Buenos Aires in 1948. As far as Axis military figures go he was mostly forgotten but he is still widely remembered today as the last King of the Croatian people and their first (and so far only) independent monarch of modern times.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

December 7 and the American Double-Standard with Japan

In writing this article, first let me state that today the United States and Japan are close friends and allies and I for one am very pleased about that. For the most part, both countries have gotten beyond the events of World War II and relatively few hold any grudges about it. This demonstrates a great deal of character and goodwill on the part of both countries. Unfortunately, despite the fact that none of what I shall relate in this article is anything less than documented, established fact, a great many still seem to have a very warped view regarding the war against Japan. In spite of all the evidence known even at the time of the war and other information which has been declassified since, many people in both the United States and Japan for that matter, continue to view the start of the war as being the result of Japanese aggression against the United States and nothing more. Some have even tried to twist the facts or simply fabricate their own in order to spread anti-Japanese bigotry to as many countries as possible. It is for that reason, and because truth is to be pursued for its own sake that I address this subject. I do so because I have touched on it a number of times in the past without ever giving a full explanation and I do so today simply because I enjoy offending people who are wrong. It is certainly not my intention to fuel any bad feelings between America and Japan. I wish nothing more sincerely than for the friendship between America and Japan to continue and would prefer that America was friends rather than enemies with all monarchies.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor
To start at the beginning of the war, even the most extreme depths of hatred and often unbridled racism against Japan on the part of the United States in World War II is usually forgiven because of the “treacherous” surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The problem with that scenario is the fact that Japan did not intend the attack to come without warning and indeed it was only incompetence on the part of the American government that prevented Pearl Harbor from being warned that an attack by Japan was expected. However, even that is rather disingenuous as the United States had not only planned and worked for quite some time to maneuver Japan into attacking American forces in the Far East or Pacific area but, in fact, had authorized a plan to attack Japan first. Never heard about that? It is true and has been declassified since the 1970’s, the order exists with the signature of President Roosevelt right on it. You have probably even seen at least some evidence of this, even if you do not realize it. For example, most people have probably seen the film, a Japanese and American co-production, about the attack on Pearl Harbor called, “Tora! Tora! Tora!”. If so, you will remember that on the morning of the attack the Japanese planes were picked up on radar but the officer on watch dismissed the report because it was assumed that the planes were a flight of B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers coming in from the mainland. Those who have seen the movie will also recall the dramatic scene when these bombers arrived later, during the attack, unarmed and out of gas.

Why do I bring this up? Well, ask yourself a question; why were these land-based bombers being sent to Hawaii? They served no purpose in Hawaii but that was actually the first leg of their longer flight to U.S. bases in The Philippines. Why were they being sent to The Philippines and was that their final destination? Remember that the B-17 was a heavy, strategic bomber. Bombers are not defensive weapons, they are offensive weapons. You can defend yourself with fighter planes, you cannot defend yourself with bombers. All you can do with them is attack someone else. Who in the neighborhood of The Philippines would the United States want to attack other than Japan? Of course it was Japan and we have known since the order was declassified in the 1970’s (though it is still mostly unknown) that President Roosevelt had signed off on a plan to attach a bomber force to the American mercenary fighter group in the service of the Republic of China known as the “Flying Tigers”. The plan, JB-355, was for a first-strike against Japan by American pilots flying American bombers but under the flag of China for political cover that entailed the fire-bombing of Osaka, Tokyo and Nagasaki. It was authorized by the President five months before Pearl Harbor was attacked.

It should also be kept in mind that the Roosevelt administration was breaking American neutrality laws already by funding the American forces fighting for the Chinese against Japan. They were not really mercenaries at all since they were trained, armed, equipped and even paid by the U.S. government secretly while simply being listed as volunteers of the Chinese army of Chiang Kai-shek. Still, many would and have said that all of this was justified because the Japanese were the “bad guys” and “everyone knows that”. The same sentiment is used to justify the undeniable fact that President Roosevelt had maneuvered Japan into a position in which they would be forced to attack the United States. By cutting off all trade with Japan, including the export of iron and oil, persuading the British Empire and the Dutch government-in-exile to do the same, the United States effectively delivered an ultimatum to Japan: they could do nothing and suffer the total collapse of Japanese society for lack of the vital resources all industrialized countries require (and, indeed, Japan had only 18 months of oil left, in total by December of 1941), they could effectively surrender their sovereignty to the United States by giving up the right to manage their own affairs and allow America to dictate Japanese foreign policy or the Japanese could go to war with the United States. Obviously, only one outcome was in any way remotely possible. Again, however, even amongst the relatively few who are aware of these facts (and they are plain for all to see), some still try to justify it by claiming that the Japanese were “bad guys” who would have to be fought sooner or later, one way or another. Well, why was that?

Certainly the Empire of Japan had never attacked or threatened the United States or any part of the American “empire” in the Far East. What were they doing that so outraged the Roosevelt administration that war was the only option, even if America had to be the one to start it? The standard answer, of course, is that Japan had invaded China and the United States didn’t like that. Japan had set up the Empire of Manchukuo in Manchuria and restored the last Manchu Emperor to the throne there and had then gone on to fight Chinese republican forces south of the Great Wall in China proper. There were reasons and “incidents” behind every escalation of this conflict but we do not need to go into those now. The bottom line is that Japanese forces were in China and America did not like that (even though, at that point, China had not declared war on Japan and would not until after America and Britain did). It was an invasion of a sovereign country after all. Whether one thinks it was justified (as Japan did) or not (as America did) this is a fact. The problem with America being so offended by it and compelled to act against Japan because of it arises from another question one cannot help but ask; why was America not similarly prompted to action by other invasions in the East Asia area?

Bogd Khan of Mongolia
After the collapse of the Qing Empire in China both Tibet and Mongolia reasserted their independence. Mongolia had never been part of China after all. The Manchu Qing dynasty had gained control of Mongolia prior to taking over China and so, even while the Qing came to rule over all of China, Mongolia could more correctly be said to have belonged to Manchuria but never China. Besides which, it had been the United States, at least since the time of the Democrat Woodrow Wilson, that liked to talk about “self-determination” so, presumably, regardless of their prior relationship with China, the Mongolians could declare independence if they wanted to. However, in 1919 the Republic of China sent troops into Mongolia, seized power and deposed the reigning monarch; the Bogd Khan. No one seemed to care in America. The only one who did care was the rogue White Russian general Baron von Ungern-Sternberg who drove out the Chinese and restored the Bogd Khan to his throne in 1921. However, his forces were soon driven out by the Soviet Red Army that took control of Mongolia and made it a part of the Soviet Union in all but name. Again, no one in America seemed to care.

Some may be wondering what any of this has to do with the matter at hand. It matters because American security or interests were no more threatened by the invasion of Manchuria or China than the invasion of Mongolia. Why was it wrong for Japan to invade China but okay for China to invade Mongolia and then for Soviet Russia to invade Mongolia? Is it only wrong if the country is big enough? Is it only wrong if there are large populations which equate to lucrative markets for foreign businesses at risk? And if Japan was “invading China” by occupying Manchuria because Manchuria had been part of the Qing Empire, why did Roosevelt not condemn Soviet Russia for “invading China” by occupying Mongolia which had also been part of the Qing Empire or when the Soviets invaded Xinjiang in 1934 which had been part of the Qing Empire and is still part of China today? Why the blatant double-standard? Of course, one could also ask why the Soviet attack on Finland was okay or the Soviet occupation and annexation of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and eastern Poland was okay but an, as yet, undeclared war between Japan and the Republic of China demanded that America take action, freeze Japanese assets, cut of all trade with Japan, ban Japanese ships from the Panama Canal and even plan to fire-bomb three Japanese cities to start a war. Yes, I think one can very well see that the Empire of Japan was being held to a very different standard from other countries in the neighborhood.

Tokyo -when it did happen
It is rather interesting to just take a look at the text of both the American declaration of war against Japan and the much more lengthy Japanese declaration of war against America. The justifications put forward by the United States, that, “the Imperial Government of Japan has committed unprovoked acts of war against the Government and the people of the United States of America:” is a total lie. It has been a matter of public record since the McCollum memo was first widely publicized in 2001 that the Roosevelt administration was doing everything it could to provoke an act of war by Japan against the United States. And even if one disregards the memo, the same President who denounced the “dastardly and unprovoked attack” on Pearl Harbor was also the President who months earlier had signed off on the fire-bombing of several major Japanese cities with the stated intention of causing as much death and destruction as possible. Keep that comparison in mind; fire-bombing major, heavily populated cities versus the attack on Pearl Harbor in which great care was taken so that no civilian areas or targets were hit. Again, that is a matter of public record that has never been in dispute. For the United States to say the attack on Pearl Harbor was “unprovoked” is nothing short of an outright lie.

In comparison, the Japanese declaration of war relates a lengthy list of provocations by the United States and Great Britain (and most of what Britain did was done at the insistence of the United States, in fact going all the way back to the breaking off of the British-Japanese alliance) which are all perfectly true and, again, not in dispute. Japan mentions British and American support for the Republic of China that was waging war against Japan (which also violated U.S. neutrality laws), the build-up of American military forces in East Asia and the severance of all trade with Japan by America and Britain. All perfectly true. Just consider the situation for a moment. Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor the U.S. President had authorized and paid for American pilots and American fighter planes to be sent to China to fight against the Japanese, the Allies were sending 10,000 tons of supplies to the Chinese every month through French Indochina and finally had frozen all Japanese assets in the United States, cut off all trade with Japan and banned Japanese ships from the Panama Canal. Would anyone call these the acts of a neutral or indifferent power?

Chinese Republican troops
Also remember that, at that time, about the only sources of oil exports in the world were the United States, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and Malaysia and the Gulf States which were all under the control of Britain. When the U.S. cut off all oil exports to Japan and persuaded Britain and the Dutch to do the same, this cut off all oil entirely. Can anyone imagine, even with the more diverse sources of energy and greater number of oil producing countries in the world today, just what sort of social and economic collapse would befall a country like the United States if, for example, just the countries of the Middle East decided to cut off all oil exports? It would be nothing short of disastrous and this was exactly the situation that Japan was facing. Likewise, other justifications for American actions do not stand up to scrutiny either. For example, the occupation of bases in French Indochina is often cited as a reason for America to take action against Japan. The problem with that is that it was done with the consent of the French government in Vichy. Aha! I know some are already shouting that this was the terrible, collaborationist government that was pro-Nazi and completely illegitimate. Unfortunately, regardless of how good or bad the Vichy regime was, at that time, the United States itself still recognized it as the legitimate government of France. So try again. In that case, there is the accusation that Japan was simply keeping bad company by having joined the Rome-Berlin Axis with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The problem with that argument is this; guess who was the biggest supporter of those heroic “freedom fighters” of the Republic of China prior to Japan joining the Axis? Go ahead, guess. Give up? It was Nazi Germany of course. Before the outbreak of war more than half of all armaments exported from Nazi Germany went to the nationalists of the Republic of China and Nazi Germany had, for years, been helping China industrialize and modernize their army.

The President who wanted war
So, again, we come down to a blatant double-standard concerning the Empire of Japan. If being friendly with Germany was a crime, why was it not for China? If the occupation of Manchuria was an invasion of China, why wasn’t the Soviet invasion of Mongolia and Xinjiang not treated the same? Given that America was sending military forces to aid the Chinese, diverting long-rang bombers to within striking distance of the Japanese mainland, cutting off all vital resources to Japan and funding those who were waging war against Japan, how can anyone honestly say that the attack on Pearl Harbor was “unprovoked”? And, I will repeat, none of these facts are in dispute. The sanctions against Japan can be found in any history book as can the history of the American volunteers in China. The order for the fire-bombing of Japan before the two countries were at war was declassified and is now a matter of public record. This is not, furthermore, an attempt to whitewash history. Many terrible things happened during the war that are inexcusable. However, it is a matter of fact that the undeclared war between Japan and certain factions of the Republic of China became part of a world war spreading across the whole of East Asia and the South Pacific because of the actions and desires of the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and not those of the Empire of Japan.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Soldier of Monarchy: General Tomoyuki Yamashita

When one thinks of the great military figures of World War II, the names most likely to come to mind are, naturally, those from the winning side; names like General Eisenhower, General Patton, General MacArthur or Field Marshal Montgomery. Some, even at the time, did also point out the military talent employed by the Axis forces and names like Manstein, Model and Rommel are remembered as well. Not as often remembered is the name of General Yamashita of the Japanese Imperial Army. Yet it was General Yamashita, nicknamed the “Tiger of Malaya” who inflicted the most stunning defeat ever suffered by the forces of the British Empire. One would think the man who accomplished what so many at the time considered absolutely impossible, the capture of the British fortress-city of Singapore, would be better known. It was possibly the most astounding single victory of the entire war and yet, while the fall of Singapore has certainly not been forgotten, little is ever said about the man who carried it out. There are presumably a number of reasons for this, but it may also be possible that part of the reason is that the fate of General Yamashita after the war must stand as one of the great injustices of the period which the presiding Allied powers would prefer to be forgotten.

Yamashita Tomoyuki was born on November 8, 1885 in Osugi village (today Otoyo village) in Kochi prefecture on Shikoku. His father was the town doctor but Yamashita was trained for a military career from early in life, his family sacrificing to send him to military school and finally to the Imperial Japanese Army Academy from which he graduated, a respectable eighteenth place in 1905. Promoted in the following years, Yamashita saw his first combat as a junior officer in World War I in the capture of the German colony in Shantung, China in 1914. Promoted to captain, he graduated from the Army War College, sixth in his class, in 1916. That same year he married the daughter of a veteran, retired general. From World War I and into the following years Yamashita became known as an expert on Germany. He was posted to Switzerland and Germany in those years before returning to Japan in 1922, was promoted to major and served at the Staff College and the Imperial high command. He earned further promotion but his career suffered due to the political intrigues within the Imperial Japanese Army.

As part of the “Imperial Way Faction”, Colonel Yamashita was part of the group that wanted to return to ancient Japanese values, eradicate all western influences, socialism, capitalism, bureaucrats and political parties. They imagined having a “Showa Restoration” that would restore the Emperor to total, direct power over the government and then wage a climactic fight to the death against the emerging power of the Soviet Union. However, opposing them was the “Control Faction” led by General Hideki Tojo, composed of more mainstream conservatives who favored a more cautious and defensive approach to national expansion. They also tended to favor more industrialization and technological developments in weaponry over spiritual purity and the samurai warrior code (and the big business capitalists would be key to funding that) while keeping politics centralized and apart from the person of the Emperor. When General Tojo and the “Control Faction” gained ascendancy Colonel Yamashita and his compatriots were moved out of the way and he was transferred to Austria in 1928, though still promoted to full colonel the next year.

Fortunately for Yamashita, his talent continually allowed him to escape from difficult situations brought on by his nationalist political beliefs. In 1930 he was given the very prestigious command of the third infantry regiment of the Imperial Guard. By the summer of 1934 he had achieved the rank of major general. However, on February 26, 1936 a group of young army officers attempted a coup. Part of the plan included the assassination of the prime minister and taking control of the Imperial Palace. They were unsuccessful and Yamashita had no part in it, however, he asked for leniency toward the perpetrators and because of that earned the disapproval of the Emperor who was appalled by such a breakdown of discipline. In the aftermath of this incident, Yamashita changed his politics somewhat and became increasingly alarmed by the belligerency of many of those in power. He opposed expanding the war with China, in fact he favored ending it completely as Yamashita viewed it as a drain on the Japanese army with little to gain from it. He also opposed those in power who advocated a war against the United States and Great Britain. This was not a total break from the past, however, as the Imperial Army in general and the faction Yamashita had been associated with in particular had always focused on the Soviets as the real threat Japan faced while the Imperial Navy tended to favor a focus on southeast Asia which would have meant war with Britain and America.

After good service fighting insurgents in northern China as commander of the Fourth Division, General Yamashita was given command of the 25th Army in November of 1941, part of the Southern Expeditionary Army Group in what was then French Indochina (Vietnam). After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the outbreak of war between Japan, the United States and Great Britain, General Yamashita launched the invasion of British-held Malaya on December 8, 1941. This would prove to be the high point of his military career and he performed his assigned duties brilliantly, defying the odds and astonishing military experts around the world. Thanks to careful study beforehand and the assistance of Malaysians opposed to British colonial rule, General Yamashita had far more information on his enemy than they had on his forces. Undermanned to begin with, the British forces suffered a setback at the start when Japanese air forces (operating out of French bases in Saigon) managed to destroy most British warplanes on the ground, giving them almost uncontested control of the skies over the battlefield. With initial attacks coming overland from Thailand and from amphibious landings by the sea, the British were pressed on multiple fronts and had to fall back. However, most expected that the rough terrain and dense jungles of the Malaysian peninsula would force the Japanese advance to be painfully slow and that the British would have plenty of time to counter them.

However, General Yamashita surprised everyone with the speed of his advance, making use of light tanks (British forces in the region had none) and most famously bicycles which allowed his men to move quickly through narrow jungle paths. When necessary the Japanese could also be picked up on the coast and moved by sea around impenetrable areas of the jungle. Troops brought in from India were soon defeated by the more experienced Japanese and as the British retreated, moving European residents to safety, many Malaysians felt themselves abandoned and began to turn against the British. On January 11, 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army marched unopposed into the capitol of Kuala Lumpur. This was blitzkrieg Asian style and observers were astonished by the speed and strength of General Yamashita’s advance. The 11th Indian Division offered stout resistance at Kampar, holding up the Japanese advance for a few days, but with control of the coastal seas, General Yamashita was able to outflank them with an amphibious landing and resume his advance southward. British imperial forces (mostly Indian troops) fell back to the Slim River where General Yamashita launched a daring nighttime attack that utterly devastated two Indian brigades and which prompted the top British commander, General Arthur Percival to replace the Indian Division with Australian troops.

At Johor, the British forces made their ‘last stand’ as it were on the Malaysian peninsula and the defending Australian troops made a ferocious and determined defense which held up the Japanese advance and inflicted heavy casualties. Again, General Yamashita moved to outflank the strong point and, unfortunately for the British, the west coast was defended by an Indian brigade that was inexperienced and poorly trained. The Japanese forces easily defeated them and the supporting Australian units also suffered heavy casualties before being cut off and forced to withdraw. However, their determination had bought time for the bulk of the British colonial forces to retreat. However, there was no real safe place for them to retreat to as General Percival had not allowed the construction of any defensive fortifications on the grounds that these would be bad for morale! Such an attitude, not uncommon amongst American forces at the beginning of the war either, can only be attributed to a (probably racist) over-confidence and underestimation of the military prowess of the Japanese. By January 31, 1942 the last of the British forces had left the Malaysian peninsula and blown up the causeway connecting Johor and Singapore. General Yamashita had conquered Malaysia and done it with greater speed and ease than anyone had thought possible.

Singapore was the great British bastion of the region, known as the “Gibraltar of the Far East” it had long been deemed an impregnable fortress by military experts. Yet, the British had never expected an Asian power to attack from the mainland and the fortifications of Singapore were built to withstand an attack from the sea by rival colonial powers from Europe. Still, they were fighting a defensive battle from a fortified base against an enemy they had outnumbered to a considerable extent. Nonetheless, General Yamashita knew he had the momentum of his offensive behind him. Already he was being called the “Tiger of Malaya” for his rapid advance and he kept up the pressure, doing all in his power to give the British the impression of having an irrepressible force. To an extent, the battle came down to nerve and General Yamashita successfully gambled that the British were already beaten in their minds. When the British requested a truce to discuss terms, General Yamashita executed a perfect bluff, giving the impression that Singapore was already at his mercy and that the garrison could be crushed swiftly and easily. The ferocity of his repetitive attacks, combined with his confident attitude made it all work perfectly. General Arthur Percival believed he was totally outmatched and surrendered Singapore and his entire garrison to General Yamashita on February 15, 1942. The most formidable British military base in Asia had fallen to a Japanese force of only about 30,000 that, by that time, were practically out of ammunition. In the whole campaign over 100,000 British and Commonwealth troops had been captured and the fall of Singapore marked the largest mass surrender of British troops in history.

General Yamashita became an instant hero in Japan and British morale suffered with Prime Minister Churchill calling the loss of Singapore the worst disaster in British military history. However, Yamashita still had enemies in high places and his success worked against him. Not long after his greatest triumph, General Hideki Tojo had Yamashita reassigned to a relatively unimportant command in the Empire of Manchukuo. He did not return to front-line duty until 1944 when, after Tojo and his government had fallen due to the worsening war situation, he was assigned to the Japanese forces defending The Philippines. Unfortunately for the general, he had little time to organize things as American forces began landing only ten days after his arrival. The fighting was brutal and ugly but General Yamashita performed with his old brilliance. Against impossible odds he maintained a slow, fighting withdrawal that inflicted heavy losses on the Allies. He was still holding out, his army reduced to around 50,000 men, when the Emperor announced the unconditional surrender of Japan. Upon learning of this, General Yamashita surrendered his army to Allied forces led by U.S. General Wainwright and British General Percival, the same man who had surrendered Singapore to him.

What happened next was a disgraceful display of injustice by the victorious Allied nations. Rather than wait for a full, formal trial, General Yamashita was accused of war crimes and brought before an American military tribunal in Manila. A full re-telling of the complete travesty of justice that was the “trial” of General Yamashita would be extensive but, in brief, he was being held responsible for atrocities carried out without his orders and, indeed, without even his knowledge. Even a number of American personnel were outraged by the treatment of General Yamashita and warned their countrymen to consider the possibility that someday that same measure of justice might be employed against their own generals. Their championing of his case, though futile, was enough to impress General Yamashita who, despite having every justification for feeling nothing but hatred toward the United States, came away impressed with the integrity of those who defended him so vigorously even if unsuccessfully. As expected, he was swiftly condemned and ordered to face execution, yet even at the end, General Yamashita had nothing but kind words for the Americans who had argued his case saying, “I don’t blame my executioner. I’ll pray the gods bless them.”

Just to be clear, not only was General Yamashita not guilty of wrongdoing, he had displayed his honorable and upright attitude as a soldier on many occasions. For example, after the fall of Singapore, a small group of Japanese soldiers massacred most of the staff and patients at Alexandra Hospital. When he learned of this, General Yamashita had the officer in charge executed and he personally apologized to the survivors for what had happened. In the aftermath he had several Japanese soldiers executed for looting and unlawful killings. The larger atrocities for which he was blamed occurred in the Philippines but the truth is that Yamashita had not known of these events, he certainly had not ordered them and he was not even in a position to have stopped them had he known as he was not the senior officer present. It was Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi who had taken command and decided to make a fight in Manila, an operation General Yamashita had opposed as futile and wasteful. However, Admiral Iwabuchi was not available for punishment as he had killed himself with a hand grenade just before Manila fell to the American forces. General Yamashita was made to become a scapegoat and it also helped that he had been responsible for one of the worst defeats the Allies had suffered in World War II.

General Tomoyuki Yamashita was hanged on February 23, 1946 at Laguna Prison Camp, 30 miles south of Manila. His lawyers appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court which upheld the decision (not surprisingly as few would even think of sparing so prominent a Japanese general in the aftermath of World War II) but the two justices who dissented from the decision, for the first time, spoke of international human rights and called the entire trial “a miscarriage of justice, an exercise in vengeance, and a denial of human rights”. Nonetheless, the precedent set by the trial of General Yamashita remains in effect to this day. It is only fortunate for the Allies, particularly the Americans, that they have never yet suffered a defeat which placed any of their commanders in the position of being held responsible for the crimes of others even if they had no knowledge of them whatsoever. What should be perfectly clear is that General Yamashita was not a war criminal. He was an honorable man, one of the most successful commanders the Imperial Japanese Army has ever had and a commander who won a campaign and a battle that must stand as one of the most astounding in military history.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Why They Fought

I am sure quite a few people have seen the Frank Capra films, commissioned by the U.S. government when America entered World War II called, “Why We Fight”. They used to be shown in school and are still replayed on the History Channel (on one of those very rare occasions when they actually show something historical rather than construction or pawn shop shows). I would say that those were the days when the U.S. government still made openly blatant propaganda movies but they still do, they are just more partisan these days. Those were also the days when it was considered normal and even okay to actually hate your enemies since, as anyone who has seen the films will recall, they do not just make the case that Adolf Hitler, Mussolini and General Tojo were bad guys but that their entire nations are basically pure evil and always have been. They are the enemies of mankind, hate everything that is decent and pure and will conquer the world if they are not totally destroyed. So, that was “Why We Fight” but what about why “they” fought? Monarchists probably pay more attention to the First World War than the Second (for obvious reasons) but a great many monarchies hung in the balance in World War II. Many did not survive the Allied victory and likewise quite a few would certainly not have survived in the event of an Axis victory.

Some may be surprised at what seemingly trivial issues caused the start of the largest and deadliest war ever fought in human history. Certainly that is the case with the most prominent member of the Axis, Nazi Germany. Contrary to what many may think, Germany did not go to war in 1939 as part of a grand scheme to conquer the world. Putting aside the absurdity of any one country being strong enough to subdue every other nation on the planet, any country even wishing to fight such an intercontinental conflict could never think of doing so without a large fleet of aircraft carriers of which Nazi Germany had none. Planning to attack North or South America without aircraft carriers would be like planning to land on the moon without having any rockets; you can plan all you like but you are never going to get there. The most simple reason for why Germany went to war in 1939 was, anticlimactic though it may be, the city of Danzig. This was a German-populated city that had been given to Poland by the Allies after World War I and Germany wanted it back just as it wished to incorporate all German populations into the new “Third Reich” (as Hitler rather blasphemously called his regime). This goal was what was behind the annexation of Austria and the occupation of Czechoslovakia (or at least the Czech half of it). Hitler wanted Danzig and after what had happened with Austria and Czechoslovakia he was probably convinced that, while the Allies might grumble, no one would try to stop him.

Much of his genuine popularity at that time rested on the fact that Hitler had delivered great victories, in the sense of expanding the German borders, without actually having to fight. He was called the “miracle man”, the man who “conquers with words”. As such, Hitler first tried to gain Danzig by diplomatic means, proposing to Poland that the city be allowed to vote on annexation to the Reich (which would surely be favorable to Germany) but promising the Poles that they would still be allowed to keep their Baltic Sea coastline with Germany being given only a narrow corridor of road and rail lines to link Germany proper with Danzig and East Prussia. By that time, however, the Allies (primarily Britain and France) had decided that they would oppose any further moves Hitler made even if that meant a European war. A “war guarantee” was given to Poland by which Britain and France promised to declare war on Germany if Hitler made any aggressive move toward Poland. Armed with this promise, the Poles could be more strident in their opposition than Austria or Czechoslovakia had been and they refused all German proposals. National pride was also at risk and, after a stunning victory over the Soviets, the Polish military rulers may have thought things were not as bad as they seemed. Hitler, never the sort to handle defiance very well, ordered his troops to invade, perhaps still not really believing that Britain and France would go to war on behalf of a country they could do nothing to help when in the past they had done everything possible to avoid it.

It seems incredible that it could have been that simple, as simple as the city of Danzig, but when you boil it down, that was it. Every other aggressive move Hitler made was a reaction to circumstances rather than a pre-planned strategy, except to some degree the invasion of the USSR which was both a war to obtain Russian grain and other resources as well as a war of intense ideological hatred between national and international socialists. Why did Hitler invade France? Because France first declared war on Germany. Why did Hitler invade the Low Countries? For the same reason the Kaiser did (sans Netherlands) in the First World War; practical military necessity. Why did Hitler invade Denmark and Norway? Because the British mined Norwegian ports to cut off supplies going to Germany. Why did Hitler invade the Balkans? Because the Prince-Regent of Yugoslavia had been overthrown by a pro-Allied faction and Hitler wanted his southern flank secure before invading Russia and that meant stomping on any government there that was not Axis-aligned and putting a quick end to the war in Greece where the British had diverted considerable resources. Why did Hitler invade north Africa? Because the premature Italian invasion of Egypt ordered by Mussolini had ended in total failure and the British were about to takeover the whole of Libya. Although Hitler liked to portray himself as a man of action, these were all reactions and not part of a grand strategy.

The next question is; why did the Kingdom of Italy fight? The answer, again, is not very satisfying. Italy had stayed out of the fight at first (which the King thought best) and Mussolini had even tried to arrange peace talks, which may sound odd but is not surprising considering how high his popularity shot up after the Munich agreement. However, both Mussolini and the Allied leadership wanted Italy in the war but for very different reasons obviously. Most have heard the motivation for Mussolini. France was nearing defeat, few expected Britain to carry on after such an event and Mussolini feared that if Italy did not get into the war before it was over they would gain nothing from it. The famous line of his was that he needed only a few thousand dead to be able to sit at the conference table at which he hoped to gain Savoy, Nice, Corsica, Tunisia and a corridor across the Sudan to link Libya with Italian East Africa. The Allies, for their part, realized that Mussolini would be getting into the war sooner or later and they preferred it to come sooner. The Italian armed forces were fairly worn and weary by 1940. In the twenty years since World War I the Italians had suppressed a guerilla war in Libya, conquered Ethiopia, successfully intervened in the Spanish Civil War and occupied Albania (which was done virtually without resistance but was still a logistical and economic strain). All of this had put stress on a war machine that was not exactly ‘up to code’ in the first place. Italy needed time to fully modernize their military and the Allies (primarily Britain) did not want to give them that time and preferred Italy to enter the war before they were fully prepared.

So, why did Italy fight? Coal. True, it seems about as anticlimactic as saying, “Danzig” but that was the given excuse. In March of 1940 the Allies ordered the seizure of all Italian coal shipments coming out of Germany, bound for the industrial heartland of northern Italy. At the time the Kingdom of Italy was still neutral and at peace with both sides and Mussolini seized on this (as the Allied leaders surely knew he would) as an outrageous act of piracy and a violation of Italian sovereignty. Mussolini could also point out (and did) that with Britain holding Gibraltar and the Suez Canal, and determined to cut off their overseas trade, Italy was effectively bottled up in the Mediterranean and cut off from the rest of the world, all before Italy had taken any aggressive moves against any of the Allies. In truth, of course, Mussolini wanted to get into the war and the Allies were simply being good enough to provide him with a reason to. On June 10, much to the horror of the King, Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. Later Italian troops would participate in the invasions of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union for the same reasons as Germany but the only other attack Mussolini launched entirely on his own was the invasion of Greece, which did not go exactly as planned nor are the reasons for it entirely clear. Was it simply an act of mad aggression? Fascist paranoia? Was it a ruse meant to draw British support out of Egypt prior to the Italian invasion? Only Mussolini would know for sure and he never said, and it would be even money if he could have been believed if he had.

Finally we come to the last question; why did the Empire of Japan fight? One big difference between Japan and the other principle Axis powers was that Japan was already fighting and had been fighting for a decade in an undeclared war with China. This arose out of the Japanese desire to secure a buffer in northeast Asia between themselves and the Soviet Union which had already suppressed efforts to form an opposition government in the Russian Far East and occupied Mongolia, making it a part of the Soviet Union in all but name. There was also the desire for the natural resources of Manchuria and control of Chinese markets (with whom their primary competitor was the United States). Economic interest in China was also the basic reason for why many other nations maintained military forces in China. At the time war broke out in Europe, Japan was focused on consolidation and winning the war in China (having already been burned in a border clash with the Soviets). The situation was not fundamentally different in the Far East in 1941 than it had been in 1931 but the United States decided to get involved in what had, until then, been the Second Sino-Japanese War. Why did Japan fight? To sum it up in another one-word answer, it was about oil.

As an island nation with a small population and no sources of oil of their own, Japan depended on imports of oil to maintain their war effort and (it is often forgotten) to simply maintain a modern standard of living such as every other industrialized country enjoyed. The United States cut off all trade with Japan, froze Japanese assets in the United States and encouraged Great Britain and the Dutch government-in-exile to do the same. The U.S. also sent Japan an ultimatum ordering the Japanese to withdraw from China completely, including Manchuria. This might have been simply ignored were it not for the stoppage of oil imports by America, Britain and Holland as the only sources of oil available to Japan in those days were those in the United States, Malaysia (controlled by the British) or Indonesia (controlled by the Dutch). So, with virtually no oil at all coming in, Japan faced either total military and social collapse or the surrender of all they had been fighting for over the last ten years to comply with American orders. The only other option was to fight and occupy the areas of southeast Asia that had the resources they needed. Oddly enough, part of the reason Japan had been so interested in taking control of Manchuria was so that they would not be dependent on foreign sources of oil and subject to the sort of pressure the U.S. was placing on them.

The result was the “surprise” attack on Pearl Harbor which turned the American public from isolationist to interventionist overnight. In condemning this “dastardly” attack by Japan, what President Roosevelt failed to mention was that he had signed off on a surprise, first-strike fire bombing of Japan several months earlier, using American personnel in American planes but under the flag of republican China. Logistical slowness simply allowed Japan to beat America to the punch but that information was not declassified until many years after the war was over. FDR was mostly concerned with the struggle against Nazi Germany but had been unable to make the case to the American public that would dissuade them from their desire to stay out of any more foreign wars. Japan was simply the only Axis power against which sufficient pressure could be brought to force them to take the first swing at the United States. Republican Representative Clare Boothe Luce said that FDR was, “the only American president who ever lied us into a war because he did not have the political courage to lead us into it” (who, I might point out was a Dame of the Order of Malta and a Catholic convert).

When reduced down to the bare minimum, words like Danzig, coal and oil hardly seem sufficient in justifying war but when it is a global conflict with many millions of dead any words would certainly seem insufficient justification. The Allies certainly had more noble words or at least noble-sounding words which they presented to their people as the reason for going to war. However, words like “freedom”, “democracy” and “self-determination” were certainly not the rewards of a great many people after the war ended in an Allied victory. If you were on the wrong side of the “Iron Curtain” when it was over, it would not be unreasonable to wonder if you might not have been better off if the Axis had won. Certainly it must have been a bitter pill for Poland in particular. Britain and France went to war with Germany, starting a second world war, in defense of the independence of Poland only to have the war end with Poland being subject to a red-shirted dictator rather than a brown-shirted one. Sometimes war is the only way, yet at the same time, losses on such a monumental and global scale cause any reason or attempt at justification to shrink in comparison. In the end, the Allies won but everyone knows that did not mean everything got better for everyone in the world afterwards.

This was a victory that left half of Europe in communist slavery and ultimately would leave most of East Asia in communist slavery as well, in several cases of an even more murderous variety than the worst Stalin ever managed. It was a victory that saw the downfall of many monarchies; Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia and Italy all went republican because of the war. It could be argued that the downfall of the Greek monarchy started with the civil war that emerged from World War II. In Asia the monarchies of Korea, Manchuria and Vietnam fell and it was only by the narrowest of margins that the Japanese monarchy did not go as well (thankfully cooler heads prevailed) though even there things have never been the same since. The gains made by communism also meant that the days were numbered for the monarchies of Laos and Cambodia. Finally, with the fall of the British Empire, a direct result of the war, many more republics would emerge all over the world. How things would have turned out if the Axis powers had been victorious we can never know and most would prefer not to even imagine such a thing. Even conceding that though, given the state of the world since, it seems rather elementary to say that Danzig, coal and oil were certainly not worth it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

America and Japan, Who Wanted War?

It was last Saturday, December 8, 1941 that the United States and the Republic of China (or at least the leading faction claiming power) declared war on the Empire of Japan in reaction to the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The first questionable thing that should jump out to the public about that is that China, which had been engaged in hostilities with Japan for most of the last decade, was not at war with Japan already. Why do you suppose that was? We’ll get back to that in a moment, but the first, preliminary fact which must be addressed is whether or not this was a just action on the part of the United States. To even pose such a question will outrage not a few. The United States had just been attacked and had most of her Pacific fleet bombed to bits. However, I have often been challenged, as a monarchist, on the subject of World War II, specifically as it relates to the Empire of Japan as that was the last time that the United States went to war against a monarchy (and actually more than one of course, but few realize it).

The Showa Emperor
Two of the three main Axis powers in World War II were monarchies but since Mussolini so obviously dominated Italy, the King there is usually ignored, but in the case of Japan, U.S. propagandists early on singled out the Showa Emperor as the great villain, not because he was actually managing all policies in Japan, but mostly because the U.S. propagandists wished to highlight the Japanese monarchy as something backward, foreign and creepy. Since Japan was not a dictatorship like Germany, but was a constitutional monarchy with several changes in government leadership and prime ministers throughout this period, the Emperor was the only consistent figure that the U.S. could label as the “bad guy” comparable to Hitler and Mussolini (though later Prime Minister Tojo would be used to fit the bill). So the war with Japan has often been brought up to me as the challenge against monarchy that cannot be refuted because World War II was the “good war” and President Roosevelt was one of the greatest American presidents and so on and so forth.

In my book, FDR was one of the worst presidents in American history, partly because of the actions listed here. As for World War II being the “good war” I have no sweeping statement on the subject. Some people think no wars are ever “good” but I am not one of them. However, even World War II was not as clear-cut as some people think. The fight against Hitler meant an alliance with Joseph Stalin (who actually killed more people than Hitler did) and ended with half of Europe being consigned to slavery behind the Soviet “Iron Curtain”. Likewise, in the Far East, it meant the expansion of communism and gave rise to many brutal dictators and many bloody civil wars as well as ending with a nuclear attack that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Roosevelt could have made an argument for U.S. intervention in the war in Europe against Hitler. There were circumstances of course, but Hitler had conquered Poland, Denmark, Norway, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Yugoslavia and Greece so a case could be made that he was a menace to world peace and needed to be stopped. However, Japan was a completely different story.

President Roosevelt -his own cabinet didn't trust him
By that same point, the Empire of Japan had made no hostile moves against any neutral or Allied powers. Japanese forces were occupied in fighting the Chinese, as they had been for years, and even the fact that America, Britain and others were funneling money, weapons and even personnel to help the Chinese had not prompted Japan to take any action. Even China had not admitted that their “trouble” with Japan was an actual war, mostly because no one faction wanted to take the risk. The nationalists and the communists both hated each other as much if not more than the Japanese and when Japanese forces occupied Manchuria the republican government, so bitterly divided among itself, made no official effort to defend the region. In any event, from a legal standpoint, according to China as well as Japan, there was no “war” in the Far East at all. Japan had made no aggressive moves against anyone and even the “occupation” of French Indochina (actually only a few bases in Vietnam) was done with the permission of the French government in Vichy which the United States itself still recognized as the legal government of France. Hitler was attacking countries left, right and center but Japan certainly was not.

Roosevelt, however, did first involve himself in World War II in Europe but only around the spring and summer of 1941. The summer of 41 was of course when Hitler launched his invasion of the Soviet Union. President Roosevelt had been the first U.S. President to recognize the Soviet Union as a legitimate government by the way. FDR took such measures against Germany that he told the American Ambassador to France that conflict with Germany was “certain” and only waited for Hitler to cause some incident that FDR could point to in order to gain public support for the war. However, Hitler refused to bite and there was not much the President could do to “get at” Hitler directly. However, unlike Germany, Japan was an island nation that depended on resources and raw materials imported from abroad to survive. He could wage an economic war against Japan that would back them into a corner and force them to strike the first blow, allowing FDR to be “forced” to take the U.S. into the war against Germany as well as Japan.

What it was all about
In the summer of 1941 FDR enacted a number of anti-Japanese policies which he knew would force Japan to respond. It was a conflict he wanted and not the Japanese who knew full well that any war with the United States would be disastrous at best and most probably end in their defeat. The last thing Japan wanted to do was to fight the United States. Most historians have long agreed that the Japanese were increasingly desperate to negotiate some sort of settlement with the United States but we now know that Roosevelt and Secretary Hull refused to negotiate at all. Japan would offer compromises and concessions which the Roosevelt administration would counter with even more demands. When Japan decided that, after a certain point, war would be their only option, Roosevelt broke off the negotiations, hoping for that very calamity. His own Attorney General said that FDR told him he was hoping for some “incident” in the Pacific that would unite the American people in support of his administration and for going to war (a war he had promised to keep the U.S. out of when running for reelection, but, hey, Wilson had done the same thing in WW1).

There really should be nothing “new” or “controversial” about any of this. Admirers of FDR even praise him for doing this. There is really no room for debate on the point any more that the embargo FDR put on Japan, and he persuaded the British government and the Dutch government-in-exile to do the same, were intended to force Japan to either surrender their national sovereignty and control over their own affairs or to launch an attack on the United States or one of the Allied powers. All of this was undertaken against a country that had made no aggressive move against any foreign power aside from China who they were already fighting and had been for some time. FDR’s soon-to-be ally Joseph Stalin had invaded more foreign countries than Japan had, having occupied Mongolia, attacked Finland, conquered Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and who had joined Hitler in the partition of Poland. None of these facts are in dispute. FDR and members of his cabinet had long advocated the use of sanctions against Japan to thwart their progress and, it must be said, their economic competition with the United States for control of the vast markets of China.

There is no doubt at all that FDR intended to use economic measures to force Japan into an impossible position. There is no doubt that the administration knew that Japan was going to launch an attack and, since they had already broken the Japanese naval codes, there is no doubt that they knew Pearl Harbor would be a target. There is no doubt that Washington DC knew but failed to warn the commanders at Pearl Harbor that an attack was eminent on the morning of December 7, 1941 just as there is no doubt that the Japanese government, including the Emperor, intended for a declaration of war to be given at least half an hour before the attack was to take place. It was only due to a poor typist at the Japanese embassy that this did not happen, yet it was portrayed as a sneaky, underhanded, “surprise” attack by the FDR administration. I cannot stress enough that there is no disputing these facts. Even the BBC did a special documentary recounting how the “surprise attack” on Pearl Harbor was no surprise at all.

Unfortunately, very few people choose to point these facts out. Today it is largely the libertarians who are isolationist and against any intervention under any circumstances, that will even talk about these facts. Some also make the mistake of attributing it to FDR being an Anglophile. If only that were true! On the contrary, FDR made it perfectly clear that he considered the dismantling of the British Empire a top priority, second only to the defeat of the Axis. It seems to me that if FDR admired anyone that was fighting against Hitler at that time it was Joseph Stalin. FDR was always suspicious of British motives but never of Stalin, famously saying that Stalin was at least “not an imperialist”. By the time the war ended the British Empire was on the road to collapse while the Soviet Union was bigger and more powerful than ever, having been handed all of Eastern Europe and Northeast Asia. It should also be remembered that the entire foreign policy of Japan on the Asian mainland was motivated by anti-communism and their desire to protect themselves from communist expansion. I cannot say that I know for certain what the motivations of Roosevelt were in his intentionally provoking Japan into war. What is certain is that he did it. He wanted war, Japan did not. He could have made a compelling case for intervention in Europe against Germany but he could not have made such a case against Japan. Roosevelt is not an admirable figure, he was certainly not honest with the Japanese, nor was he honest with the British and he was not honest with the American people either.

The American troops who went to war on December 8, 1941 did so with courage, valor and righteous ideals. They sacrificed for their country, committed great deeds of heroism and won a hard fought victory. No one can ever, ever take that away from them. The same can be said for all of the British, Canadian, Australian, South African, Indian and other imperial and commonwealth troops who fought for their King and country. None of that is in dispute. Neither, however, is the unfortunate fact that their courage and heroism was matched by the callousness and duplicity of the Roosevelt administration, particularly in regards to the war against Japan which had not wanted war with America, which had enough trouble on hand already and refused to join the German invasion of Russia, which had not wanted to stop being allies with Britain for that matter but which was forced into a terrible conflict that ended with things being worse rather than better for the region as a whole as with Japan standing as the only country in the world (so far) to be subject to a nuclear attack. These things should be considered before holding on to grudges or making sweeping generalizations about the nations involved in World War II. Pleasant or not, facts are facts.
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