Wednesday, December 8, 2010

War with Japan

It was on this day in 1941, following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii that U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Congress to declare that, “a state of war has existed between the United States of America and the Japanese Empire”. In a show of solidarity with their Axis partner Nazi Germany and the Kingdom of Italy subsequently declared war on the United States, bringing America fully into the Second World War. It is worth reflecting on a moment such as this that the popular perception of the war with Japan is not as simple and clear-cut as many think it is, especially in regards to the United States. Now, this is not an effort at revisionism. Some things are simple. Japan attacked the U.S. and this provoked American entry into the war. Firing the first shot can be extremely important. It is also true that this attack did not come completely out of nowhere but rather was the culmination of a long and often antagonistic relationship between the U.S. and Japan.

Not long ago it was revealed that, in the process of his negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War, Theodore Roosevelt had endorsed the expansion of Japan on the grounds that the Japanese Empire was the one modern, dynamic power among the nations of the Far East. It is also true that it was the United States which had pressured Great Britain to spurn Japan, who had long been their loyal ally, in order to have a closer friendship with the United States. Of course, Great Britain did not have to give in to that pressure, and I think it was a huge mistake that they did, but this added to anger Japan felt toward the west in general. The Japanese had entered World War I alongside their British allies, later joined by the United States, yet were not treated with great respect afterwards. Furthermore, Japanese efforts to expand their influence and colonial holdings were denounced as aggressive imperialism by the western powers like America and Britain. The Japanese viewed this as rank hypocrisy and again as something of a betrayal.

When the United States opposed Japanese expansion into Manchuria the vast majority of people in Japan, not just the government, wondered why America thought it was any of their business what Japan did in Manchuria. While the U.S. asked Japan what “right” they had to Manchuria the Japanese could likewise ask what “right” the U.S. had to the Philippines; on the path to independence it was true but where they had previously used quite brutal methods to suppress a rebellion against U.S. authority. How could Japan take it as anything other than bigotry when they were lectured about “imperialism” by the west when every East Asian country besides Japan and Thailand was ruled by a western power or in the case of China heavily influenced by foreign spheres of influence? As one Japanese minister said the west had taught the Japanese how to play poker and then, once they had all the chips, declared the game immoral and took up bridge.

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor the U.S. had taken their opposition to Japanese aggression in China to the extent of imposing an oil embargo on Japan. This was not something Japan could endure indefinitely and the only other source of quick, ready-to-ship oil was the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). Moreover, the U.S. sent an ultimatum to Japan along with harsher restrictions which would not be removed unless the Japanese retreated from mainland China and effectively abandoned their whole colonial enterprise. That was obviously not going to happen. Japan had been fighting for years, expending huge amounts of money and thousands of lives in their campaign and they were not prepared to say it was all for nothing just to please the United States. The only other choice was attacking south to seize the Dutch oil fields which would certainly provoke a war with the U.S. anyway. Seeing that as inevitable they decided on a surprise attack that would at least give them a better chance of evening the odds at the outset.

All the aggressive propaganda aside, Japan did not want a war with the United States. Although in terms of quality the Imperial Navy was more than a match for the American Pacific fleet the Japanese certainly knew that the industrial capacity of the United States would ensure that they would be totally outmatched. When it came to land fighting the Japanese had a formidable army but they already had their hands full in China and had recently taken a drubbing from a soon to be famous Soviet general named Zhukov on the Mongol border. When confronted with the plans for war with the U.S. the Emperor was extremely skeptical and bluntly asked how they could expect to conquer the Pacific in only a few months when they had not conquered China in nearly ten years. Yet, from their point of view, there was no choice. Likewise, most in the United States had, at that point, already accepted that a war with Japan for dominance in the Pacific area was inevitable. They could not have realistically believed that Japan would have actually responded to the American ultimatum by pulling, lock, stock and barrel out of China.

The result, as we all know, was a slow and extremely deadly war to bring down the Empire of Japan, ending finally in a nuclear holocaust that took hundreds of thousands of lives in an instant. It also meant an East Asia that was made safe for communism. Let me assure everyone that, in going over all of this, I am in no way trying to deny the fact that Japanese military forces committed some unspeakable atrocities over the course of their war in China. What I would like everyone to remember is that, in spite of those atrocities and the fact that battles had been fought since as far back as 1931, the Republic of China never actually declared war on Japan until the United States did so in 1941. Does that seem odd to anyone? Furthermore, and I have taken a lot of heat for pointing this out in the past and no doubt will continue to do so, even the highest accusations of those killed by the Japanese in World War II in Korea, Manchuria, China and Indochina are positively miniscule when compared to the millions wiped out by the communist dictators of those countries themselves after the Japanese had long gone home. Keep that in mind the next time someone refers lightly to the Emperor of Japan as a ‘war criminal’.


  1. The West is always hypocritical. Hating nations for being so imperialist when all of them were imperialist once. Then they bring down a few monarchies and establish a "democracy" that would leave it to a communist tyrant like Pol Pot. They would "liberate" that country again and just leave it when it is in ruins. Next thing you know, the old country might come back richer but start to hate the west who started the whole thing. And the cycle would continue again. Asia could be a huge powerhouse if the West had left it alone.


  2. You mention "a long and often antagonistic relationship" between the U.S. and Japan. This is just anecdotal, but according to my late grandfather, when he was in Yokohama in 1920, Japanese children were already talking about "when we fight the Americans."

    - Edward M. Bridle

  3. For what it's worth, there are those of us who can appreciate that one can point out the crimes of one side in a war without excusing the crimes of another.

    After the Meiji Restoration, Japan's leadership could see that there were, essentially, two types of nations in the rest of the world - imperial powers and the colonies of imperial powers. Though still immoral, Japan's decision to build an empire of its own was probably the rational choice.

  4. True, especially in East Asia at that point one either eating or eaten. It is also true that the countries colonized by Japan were better off than those that were not. As you say, there were some terrible cruelties that went along with this at times, but for simple reasons of efficiency the Japanese developed their colonies more and so they had a headstart when it came to industrial development.

  5. One thing I have never understood is the sense of proportion in the Pacific Theater. I don't understand the need for their to be a unconditional surrender of the Japanese, they were not interested in the same with us, were they?

  6. Not many think about that but it is true. The Japanese, again contrary to what many think, never had any illusion that they would be able to force the US to unconditionally surrender to them. Their hope was that they could make enough gains in the first few months and inflict such losses on the Americans trying to dislodge them that America would come to a negotiated peace with Japan. On the other hand, especially after the first atom bomb, the Japanese were willing to surrender but the inistence on "unconditional" was a problem for them since they were worried the US would humiliate or harm the Emperor. It was only after the second a-bomb and a grudging US assurance that the fate of the Emperor would be left to the Japanese that they surrendered.

  7. MadMonarchist, cool blog. Just found my way here via a fan of Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

    Interesting points about Japan. I wonder, why did Japan treat some of its colonies so different than others. Taiwan really lucked out under Japanese rule, and the Japanese colonization was no doubt critical to that nation's leap to the front of the pack in development indicators during the second half the century.

    China, Korea and the Philippines did not receive the same sort of treatment, to say the least. And as for American POWs ...

    Which brings up a more general question about monarchy. What is the method of social change under a monarchy? Given that monarchies can mistreat their subjects, and treat non-subjects even worse as history definitively shows, what remedies are available to the subjects of a king? Because violent revolution seems somewhat inconvenient relative to a regular election cycle.

    Your thoughts are appreciated. If you've already blogged on this subject a link to the appropriate post would be great. Thanks.

    1. The way that Japan ruled Taiwan and Korea were much more similar than the mainstream would have you believe. Here are a couple of replies I made on Quora:

      Why was Japanese rule in Taiwan (1895 - 1945) much less brutal than Japanese rule of Korea (1910 - 1945)?

      History of Asia: Why is the relationship between Japan/Taiwan and Japan/Korea so much different?

  8. There are a number of reasons, probably none above debate. One thing to keep in mind is that Korea and Japan had a long history of animosity. Past attempts to conquer Korea likely led to harder feelings. With China there was also an element of surpassing the traditional superpower and some contempt probably went with that. As for the Philippines, Japan did not rule them long enough to judge them. Most countries do not look so nice when they are in the middle of a war.

    As for the second half of your question I reject the very premise of it. Any government of any kind can mistreat its people but all know that to do so widely would be to their own detriment. No matter how total the government may seem they all depend on the support or passivity of their populace. Monarchs have been the least in mistreating their people for the simple reason that monarchy is a family business and a monarch would no more mistreat their people than most parents would mistreat their children. As far as their treatment of non-subjects, I'm not sure I know what you mean as a monarch would have no control over non-subjects. If you mean different types of people there is no room for generalizations there. Such is why most African slaves and Native Americans sided with King George during the American Revolution.

    Now, if a king just goes insanely cruel then he can be deposed. It has not often been necessary but it has happened. No one would allow a raving lunatic to rule a country no matter who they were. At worst they can be murdered which rather gives monarchs that rule a little more incentive to do their best. Being beheaded rather than impeached can be a helluva motivation.

  9. "Monarchs have been the least in mistreating their people"

    Now that's a very interesting assertion. There's no contest in which form of government causes the worst atrocities (Socialism, obviously), but I would think that generally speaking democracies have a better record than monarchies. That's just my general sense of the matter however, and not a careful tally of history's evidence.

    "Now, if a king just goes insanely cruel then he can be deposed ... murdered ... beheaded"

    Yeah, that was sort of my point. Elections are quite a bit less messy, and you don't have to wait for "insanely cruel" before having one. Even "mildly annoying" can cause you to lose an election.

    Not that elections are a panacea, obviously. Many a corrupt buffoon has won them. Republics just seem to less likely to have bad people in office than a monarchy, due to the greater number of choices in office-holder and the greater number of people involved in choosing them.

  10. You are being very selective in your examples -as republicans are wont to do. "Republics just seem to less likely to have bad people in office than a monarchy" THAT'S a very interesting assertion considering that republics gave the world Max Robspierre, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Fidel Castro, I could go on and on.

    You try to differentiate between socialists and democrats (though not between constitutional and absolute monarchies which is usual) and yet all of those leaders I mentioned called their countries democracies and for most of their careers were widely popular amongst the vast majority of their people. How can republics be less likely to have bad people in office when they depend on far more variables than the single variable of birth. In a monarchy you only have to "take a risk" once in a lifetime whereas in even the most benevolent democratic republics you have to run the risk every few years that good people will stand for election, be upright in their campaign and that the majority of the whole populace makes a good and wise decision as to who to choose.

  11. PART 1 OF 2

    Hm, okay. Part of our problem is one of terminology. When I say "democratic republic", I mean one that has regular elections, like the USA or UK. Cuba, the USSR and Third Reich Germany lost the "democratic" half of that appellation and became tyrannies. I agree that Tyrannies are no good. Some of those leaders (e.g., Hitler) may have been elected into office, but once there they tossed away the primary check on their power and went crazy.

    Now that's sort of my point. Democratic republics have at least two checks on power that Monarchies lack. One, leaders are chosen. Two, that decision is subject to review every few years.

    Let's divide leaders into three groups:
    1. Benevolent and/or effective leadership.
    2. Indifferent and/or mediocre leadership.
    3. Psychopathic nutjob

    Under a Monarchy, leader category #1 is great, because you get the benefits of a great leader for his entire lifetime. A democratic republic loses him after his term(s) is up

    Under leadership category #3, neither Monarchy nor Republic seem to be better off, because the Psychopathic Tyrant destroys all checks on his power and reigns for life. See also, Castro. But your list of leaders who went bad is also selective. We all know some Kings and Emperors did some pretty fucked up stuff. Monarchies are not immune to this. And maybe they became Type #3 BECAUSE they were not subject to an election. Maybe if they'd known an election was coming up, and the Army would support the results of that election, they'd have not gone to the excesses they did. So Monarchies may actually be more at risk of a Type #3 than Republics.

    Under category #2, the Republic is better off, because the indifferent leader can be booted from office when his term is over. A Monarchy is stuck with him for life.

    But there's more to it than that. There's also the process of choosing leaders. If a Monarchy uses strict primogeniture, it's a crap shoot which type of leader you get, and you're most likely to get Leader Type #2 (because most people are nice enough but don't have any particular skill at leadership). But you could also get a Type #3, because some people are born bad. An election is a sorting process that improves the odds of getting Type #1 and lowers the odds of getting Type #3. It happens sometimes, but consider the history of the Anglospheric democracies. Not one Type #3 I can think of has been elected, and many Type #1's have been.

    So that's sort of the point I was trying to get at. Monarchies aren't necessarily bad by any means, but "What do you do when you get a bad Monarch?", or "What do you do when you get a Monarch who isn't particularly evil, but is foolish and misguided?". A Monarch's lifetime seems to be a long time to get stuck with a weak leader like Jimmy Carter. Or someone who converts to a crazy religion like Scientology. Or someone who thinks that taking taxpayer dollars and giving them to banks and labor unions is a great idea. Or someone (and this is the most important point) isn't a Hitler or Castro but selectively ignores the citizenry's rights in the Constitution. Or is perfectly nice, but weak and gives in to demands of stronger-willed members of society bent on pushing a pet tyranny.


  12. PART 2 OF 2

    Of course, if there's non-strict primogeniture, and a Monarch is "elected for life" by some body (like a House of Lords), it could work out pretty well most of the time. Assuming 3~5 possible heirs (a couple children and/or nieces and nephews of the current Monarch), and them being trained and observed from an early age for rulership, chances are you won't get a Type #3 and they'll certainly be better prepared for running a country than, say, Barack Obama.

    But that doesn't alleviate the issue of "Whoops, we made a mistake in electing this guy." Mistakes happen. It's inevitable. It just seems to me that "No take backs" is a risky way to choose a leader.


    By the way, it's perfectly fair to admit that this is a weakness in the Monarchial system, but other benefits make up for it and make monarchy superior. I don't know if I'd agree with you on the cost-benefit of that, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but if that's how you feel I can at least understand that.

    Of course, it's also possible that I'm wrong or I misundstand in some respect the form of government you are arguing for. Perhaps I get around to reading "Democracy, The God that Failed" will understand better. I'm not really a "Republican", after all, just someone who supports life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When it comes to government I'm much more for "Whatever works."

    Anyway, thanks for responding.

  13. You say "like the US or UK" -but of course the UK is a monarchy. That is the problem with many republican arguments; comparing absolute monarchies of centuries ago with the minority of modern republics that are moderate and democratic. Furthermore, Cuba does have regular elections, so did the USSR. In most republics today the President is not elected by popular vote by the people but elected by the government. You can say I'm being selective all you like but there is little choice when you refuse to give specific examples of the "danger" of monarchy you describe or to limit yourself to a certain time.

    Today most monarchs have far less power than any leader of a republic whether elected or dictatorial. They function as a check on those who do have power, not to wield power themselves but holding a position which denies certain powers to the politicians. They have their position imposed on them whereas politicians strive, struggle, lie, cheat and steal to get that position. That in itself is enough to make me prefer the monarch to the politician.

    Even under the "best" of republics, power is not so easily given and taken as you imply. In the USA, in over 200 hundred years, only 2 presidents have ever been impeached and neither of them were removed from office. France is currently on its 5th republic and most were established by armed force rather than popular vote. The German republic was imposed rather than elected, the Italian republic was born out of a fraudulent referendum and the republics of eastern Europe were, again, imposed by armed force rather than popular will. If your only preference is for 'what works' numerous studies over the last few decades have shown that constitutional monarchies top the list of the most free and prosperous countries in the world.

  14. I would also say that a bad monarch can be removed, via the ame mechanism by which you can impeach a president

  15. Nice blog MM. I do have some views about US being hypocrisy. I do have to claim I have personal favor for Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt claimed that "Japan is the only nation in Asia that understands the principles and methods of Western civilization". Theodore Roosevelt hoped the Emperor be the leader of Asia in order to help and protect the American interest. That also other speculation stated that Theodore Roosevelt's plan was hoping that Asia, in order to keep the Russian out, to be ruled by the British Empire, the American, and the Empire of Japan. I don't think US was really being hypocrite. The problem was the swift of political view in America. First, the split of Republican Party after TR stepped down. Second, WWI caused the America to step in and stand on the "moral high ground" to be "anti-imperialist". These two reasons changed America. TR's plan didn't work out because the rose of liberal and lack of support from his following successor and party.


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