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Japanese Whitewashing of the Past

[ 72 ] May 9, 2015 |


187 of the world’s most prominent historians of Japan have written an open letter to Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, urging that he stop whitewashing the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II. You can read the letter here. Of course, Japanese right-wingers refuse to allow this to happen, denying horrors ranging from the sexual slavery of comfort women to the depredations at Nanking. Abe has been pretty awful on these issues:

Earlier this year Japan took the unusual step of requesting the US textbook company McGraw-Hill to change its account of Japan’s wartime practice of rounding up women in occupied nations and providing them as sex partners for its soldiers. Abe himself has been part of an effort to suggest the women behaved in a voluntary manner in nations like Korea, and that local Koreans organized the military brothels, not Japan.

The 187 historians took exception with that revision:

“The ‘comfort women’ system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan,” their letter said.

Incidentally, I just watched this documentary on Nanking earlier this week and I highly recommend it, disturbing as it is.


Japanese Flying Fortresses

[ 19 ] September 10, 2014 |

This is a fascinating picture:

Some more information here.

The first B-17 to come under Japanese control was an B-17D which was pieced together from the remnants of other destroyed B-17Ds on Clark Field in the Philippines. The same thing was done to to two B-17Es on Bandung Field on Java. At the time, this was the newest model of the B-17 available. The Japanese were impressed with the simplicity of the cockpit for such a large aircraft. One of the B-17Es was used for a test bed for a captured Norden bombsight, coupled to the Sperry automatic flight control system. Also of great interest was the B-17’s gunnery equipment, especially the Sperry automatic computing gunsight. The May 1943 issue of Koku-Asahi was devoted almost completely to the captured B-17s. Nearly every major component was shown in photos and drawings. Since the Japanese also had instruction manuals for the aircraft, no detail was overlooked.

Japanese Air Warfare Footage

[ 94 ] November 14, 2013 |

More Farley’s beat, but this footage of air warfare from Japanese archives in 1945 is pretty amazing to watch.

The Japanese Counter-Insurgency Experience in China

[ 11 ] January 12, 2013 |

This week’s Diplomat column takes a look at COIN in the Second Sino-Japanese War, based on the Murray-Mansoor edited volume Hybrid Warfare:

Yamaguchi suggests that elements of the Japanese Army and a variety of hybrid civil-military organizations took the problem of COIN quite seriously from a strategic point of view, appreciating that the only way to victory in China was the establishment of a self-sustaining, pro-Japanese Chinese government.

However, the Japanese Army suffered from problems of focus and resources.  Rather than concentrating on counter-insurgency operations, the Army needed to prepare for conventional operations against Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Army, defensive operations in jungle and island theatres against British and American forces, and finally the long-anticipated Soviet invasion of Manchuria.  These threats all posed radically different challenges, making training haphazard and incoherent. The Japanese also faced unity of effort challenges, with civilian and military agencies organized around pacification and institution building losing out in intra-agency battles against conventionally oriented officers.

Long story short, the history of Japanese operations in China was more complicated in process, if not in effect, than the “Kill All, Loot All, Destroy All” that has come to characterize the war*.

*Standard caveat: I trust that readers are bright enough to understand that this does not constitute an apology for the Japanese Imperial Army.

And Medicare is like a mini Japanese-American internment program

[ 0 ] August 5, 2009 |

Well, this pretty much beats the shit out of anything Juan Williams has said recently. Given Liasson’s record on Katrina itself, one supposes she ought to avoid mentioning the subject altogether. Is NPR offering its reporters funnel cakes for making stupid on cable TV?

So Why No Fortune at Japanese Restaurants?

[ 0 ] January 18, 2008 |

It seems that the fortune cookie originated in late 19th century Japan:

There is one place where fortune cookies are conspicuously absent: China.

Now a researcher in Japan believes she can explain the disconnect, which has long perplexed American tourists in China. Fortune cookies, Yasuko Nakamachi says, are almost certainly originally from Japan.

Her prime pieces of evidence are the generations-old small family bakeries making obscure fortune cookie-shaped crackers by hand near a temple outside Kyoto. She has also turned up many references to the cookies in Japanese literature and history, including an 1878 image of a man making them in a bakery – decades before the first reports of American fortune cookies.

The idea that fortune cookies come from Japan is counterintuitive, to say the least. “I am surprised,” said Derrick Wong, the vice president of the largest fortune cookie manufacturer in the world, Wonton Food, based in Brooklyn. “People see it and think of it as a Chinese food dessert, not a Japanese food dessert,” he said.

Japanese Defense

[ 0 ] July 23, 2007 |

There’s a good article in the NYT today about Japan’s increasingly aggressive defense posture. In addition to slight increases in defense spending, the deployment of assets farther away from Japan, and the purchase of new weapon systems, the Japanese Self-Defense Force is carrying out more aggressive and realistic training exercises.

For a few reasons, this doesn’t bother me a bit. First, the dichotomy between “offensive” and “defensive” weapons is and always has been nonsense. Almost any weapon (including a wall, or even a missile defense system) can be used for both offensive and defensive purposes. The inter-war arms agreement negotiators tried to ban offensive weapons, but failed to come to any plausible determination of what constituted offensive and defensive. Political scientists have played around with the “offense-defense balance” concept for years, with few sound results. The idea, therefore, of a military organization built around “defensive” weaponry suffers from some serious conceptual problems.

In the specific case of Japan these problems are exacerbated by Japanese dependence on foreign trade. While Japan remains under the US security umbrella, it doesn’t need to worry too much about attacks on its supply lines. If that umbrella ever weakened, or if Japan wished to contribute more, defense would necessarily include deployments well outside Japanese waters. Similarly, an attack on Chinese, US, Korean, or Russian missile or air bases capable of striking Japan could plausibly be defined as “defensive”. Long story short, the idea of a “defensive” Japanese military makes no sense whatsoever outside the context of American military hegemony. As long as the US conducts all of the distant operations for Japanese defense, we can pretend that Japan has a Self-Defense Force instead of a military, but that designation amounts to little more than a charade.

Of course, all things military are also political, and Japanese defense re-organization (Japan is already heavily armed, so re-armament doesn’t make any sense) has political effects at home and in the region. Rightist politicians have long argued for a more substantive military profile, but such arguments don’t weaken the case itself. China and the Koreas have expressed a lot of concern about Japanese revanchism, and could meet a more aggressive Japanese military posture with additional spending of their own. Since China is already increasing its defense spending (and orienting that spending around Taiwan, rather than Japan), and North Korea is pretty much tapped out, this puts South Korea on the spot. Call me a sap, but if Japan and South Korea go to war again in my lifetime, I’ll buy every reader of TAPPED and LGM a Coke. Nationalist politicians in China, South Korea, and Japan have become remarkably adept at playing off one another for domestic political gain over the past twenty years or so; re-organizing or re-titling the Self-Defense Force isn’t going to change that, or even affect the dynamic very much.

Cross-posted to TAPPED.

. . . and somewhere in Omaha, the Chunichi Dragons are the lords of Japanese baseball

[ 0 ] February 4, 2007 |

I’m not sure why I found this article so irritating and compelling at the same time. I’ve known for years that the losers of major sporting events have their “championship” t-shirts swiftly dumped on Romania or Thailand, so the substance of the piece isn’t really surprising. What struck me, however was the degree to which the NFL wants to flush the offending apparel down the proverbial memory hole.

By order of the National Football League, those items are never to appear on television or on eBay. They are never even to be seen on American soil.

They will be shipped Monday morning to a warehouse in Sewickley, Pa., near Pittsburgh, where they will become property of World Vision, a relief organization that will package the clothing in wooden boxes and send it to a developing nation, usually in Africa.

This way, the N.F.L. can help one of its charities and avoid traumatizing one of its teams.

There’s a side of me that loves counterfactuals, and so I would probably pay decent money for a 1997 Cleveland Indians shirt or a 1980 Los Angeles Rams Super Bowl hat. I would pay even more for New York Yankees’ shirts from 2001 or 2003, or Atlanta Braves merchandise from 1991 or 1992 — though my motives there would be of a purely spiteful nature.

There’s also a side of me that thinks this is one more reason that terrorists are correct to hate our freedoms. Post-championship marketing is so aggressive that we can’t wait a few minutes to see the MVP in his victory paraphernalia? How long can it possibly take to silk screen a fucking pile of t-shirts?

Of course charity is the big winner here, obviously. If we didn’t send our losers’ gear to the third world, what on earth would they wear? Nice of us to send them our ships and broken computers, too.

The Times didn’t mention whether Larry Summers is behind this, but I have my suspicions.

Japanese F-22

[ 0 ] February 25, 2006 |

Ryan at Capital Cadre highlights this story on the F-22:

Momentum is building within the Air Force to sell the service’s prized F-22A Raptor — which is loaded with super-secret systems — to trusted U.S. allies, with Japan viewed as the most likely buyer, service and industry officials tell Inside the Air Force.

A Lockheed Martin official heavily involved in the Raptor program told ITAF Feb. 14 that a proposal to alter course and sell the Raptor to Japan is working its way through the Air Force. Lockheed is leading development and production work on the service’s newest fighter.

Several interesting things are going on here. Obviously, it’s no surprise that Lockheed and Boeing like the idea of selling the F-22 on the international market. It’s a little bit more puzzling that Air Force brass like the idea. The notion of selling the most advanced aircraft in the US arsenal even to a committed US ally would seem to make them mildly twitchy. However, given that so many different countries are part of the Joint Strike Fighter research, perhaps this isn’t the case.

Another way to think of this is to interpret it in terms of the more general expansion of Japan’s military role, and of the slow redefinition of the US-Japanese military alliance.

Japanese Normalization

[ 0 ] September 13, 2005 |

I disagree with John Ikenberry. I don’t believe that Article 9 of the Japanese constitution serves any further purpose, and I think it should be abolished.

Ikenberry’s case is built around three arguments. First, the Japanese ought to resist normalization because normalization is being strongly pushed by the United States. The United States is pursuing this in order to make Japan a more useful military ally, and presumably to free up forces that could more profitably be used elsewhere in the world. Ikenberry’s second argument is tied to his first. Rather than becoming “normal” by establishing a set of regular military institutions, Japan ought to fulfill its global responsibilities through more peaceful means, thus setting a good example for the rest of the world. Finally, Ikenberry suspects that a remilitarized Japan will destabilize East Asia. I find all of these arguments uncompelling.

[Japanese] feel pressure from the United States to “step up to the plate” and be a more fully capable ally. Even before September 11, the U.S. has been urging Japan to breakout of its old postwar straightjacket. The so-called Armitage report – a bipartisan group of Japan foreign policy specialists and diplomats – called for the U.S. and Japan to transform their relationship into something akin to the U.S.-British special relationship.

I don’t see a problem here. Why is it a bad thing for anyone if one of the world wealthiest states, and one that has a deeply vested interest in maintenance of the political and economic status quo, takes more vigorous military steps to maintain that status quo? Why, exactly, would it be bad for the Japanese to become a military power on par with Britain or France (or, likely, even stronger than that)? Ikenberry does not present a compelling argument, but seems concerned that a stronger Japanese military will simply become a pawn in some neoconservative fantasy. This is absurd; whatever foreign policy goals Japan could be imagined to have, invading countries and installing liberal democratic governments can’t possibly be one of them. Japan is never going to be a driver of US military adventurism, and I doubt very much that it will even be an enthusiastic participant. Neocons are idiots, and just because they think that a re-militarized Japan will enable them to further pursue their fantasies doesn’t make it a reality. Indeed, I would expect a re-militarized Japan to be less amenable to US hegemony, rather than more. If the Japanese military can solve problems on its own, it will need to rely less on the United States. Moreover, I’m not really even sold on how strengthening the hand of the United States in hegemonic maintenance is a bad thing.

Ikenberry is concerned that international responsibility is being defined to narrowly by advocates of re-militarization:

I agree that Japan ought to be a “responsible” power. But I think it is incorrect to simply equate “responsibility” with the ability to use force. Is Japan being responsible when it alters its constitution so that it can more fully join the Bush administration’s war on terrorism – or is it being responsible when it engages America on its own terms and articulates its own vision of security and international community?

It seems to me that this is rather a question for the Japanese to answer. I am uncompelled by the argument that Japan ought to pursue some kind of pacific form of responsibility while it is obviously dependent on the military force of other nations for the maintenance of the global economic system on which its prosperity is contingent. Sure, there are plenty of ways to influence world politics without using military force, and certainly the Bush administration would be well advised to learn at least one. There are also lots of ways in which military force is a useful tool of statecraft. I see no reason why Japan should eschew this tool while Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, India, and the United States do not.

Finally, Ikenberry uses a form of the old argument about Japanese war guilt:

I am not convinced that Japanese national identity – particularly as it is manifest in military/constitutional terms – is strictly an internal matter. Nor is Chinese, Korean or American national identity, for that matter. As is international politics more generally, national identity is profoundly relational. In Japan’s complicated historical case, this is all the more true. The revision of Article 9 is a major “regional event” – and Japan is headed for trouble if its leaders say:

It’s true that Japan has not evaluated its behavior in World War II as clearly as, say, Germany. It’s also clear that the Japanese have done a much better job of assessing their responsibility than, for example, the Russians. Yes, I am certain that the abolition of Article 9 will disconcert many of the Asian countries that suffered from Japanese imperialism sixty years ago. I am just as certain that Japan has no interest in reasserting the imperial project, and doubt very much that it could even if it wanted. I suspect that the abolition of Article 9 will arouse a fair amount of indignation at first, and will then be largely forgotten. I doubt that the Chinese, for example, put much trust in the argument that a constitutional clause will restrain Japanese imperialism in any case. Because Chinese defense policy is oriented around the conquest of Taiwan rather than defense against an outside aggressor anyway, I’m unconvinced that the Chinese leadership view Japan as a genuine threat, rather than as a useful sounding board for nationalist rhetoric.

Again, I see no further use for Article 9. If Japan wishes to build a more powerful military, capable of foreign intervention and hegemonic maintenance, then it ought to be able to. To be quite honest, I think that the world will benefit from a more militarily capable Japan.

General Elections Are Not the Place for Dealbreakers

[ 115 ] November 30, 2015 |


As Shakezula says, John Bel Edwards’s positions on reproductive rights are deplorable, and important. Does that mean that Louisiana progressives should have refused to vote for him? It does not. And the thing is, outside of a few select jurisdictions progressives have faced similar dilemmas in every election ever:

Reproductive rights are a core Democratic value, period. National and blue-state Democrats should all favor reproductive rights. Edwards’ terrible positions on reproductive rights shouldn’t be ignored. Even if an opponent of reproductive rights has to be supported for tactical reasons, we shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of reproductive freedom.

Given the importance of protecting a woman’s right to choose, it is tempting to go further than that, and suggest that opposing reproductive rights should be a “dealbreaker” that makes supporting any candidate unacceptable regardless of the context. Tempting, but very wrong.


The Louisiana election was not a question of whether the Medicaid expansion is more important than reproductive rights. Vitter is also a steadfast opponent of abortion rights, and for that matter, even a pro-choice governor would not be able to get rid of Louisiana’s bad anti-abortion laws all by himself. The choice was between someone who is bad for reproductive rights and against Medicaid expansion and someone who is bad for reproductive rights and for Medicaid expansion. There’s no choice for liberals there at all: You obviously vote for the latter. Telling poor people to wait for health care until an across-the-board liberal can win statewide election in Louisiana is a really bad idea. Not because reproductive freedom isn’t extremely important, but because there are other crucial issues, and denying poor people health care wouldn’t protect anyone’s reproductive rights.

Indeed, “dealbreaker” logic simply doesn’t work in the context of elections between polarized parties. The inevitable outcome of waiting until it’s possible to address every major priority is that you would address none of them. Progressive voters in most elections, including every election for president ever, face the dilemma faced by progressive voters in Louisiana.

Let’s consider the most progressive presidents of the last century. None would even come close to meeting every single progressive ideal. FDR? Not only was the New Deal suffused with white supremacist values, denying African-Americans their fair share of benefits, he ordered more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent into camps based on claims of military necessity many members of his administration knew to be specious at the time. LBJ, who signed probably the greatest package of progressive legislation since Reconstruction, ordered the escalation of the Vietnam War, leading to the pointless slaughter of a huge number of people. I don’t think I need to belabor the many ways in which Barack Obama, the most progressive president since Johnson, has disappointed his liberal supporters.

The brutal truth is that politics requires making common cause with people who disagree with you. Putting off the Medicaid expansion in Louisiana until someone who would agree with blue state liberal Democrats on every issue would be as cruel and counterproductive as not passing Social Security and the National Labor Relations Act until the votes of segregationists were unnecessary, or to tell African-Americans and women that their civil rights could not be protected until Cold War liberals could be ejected from the Democratic coalition.

In the context of an election in which one party is significantly better than the other, “dealbreakers” represent a puerile form of anti-politics that make life worse for many people and better for nobody. When the Election Day comes, you pick the least bad choice, and you fight long-term to make the choices better.

The moral necessity of voting for Edwards doesn’t mean that he should be exempt from criticism for his terrible record on reproductive rights, any more than Bill Clinton’s admirably steadfast support for reproductive rights means that he gets a pass for his lousy record on welfare and regulatory policy. But, as Paul said recently, the choice between Edwards and Vitter is no choice at all.

Public Space at Night

[ 36 ] November 29, 2015 |


One might quibble with some of the activities of Bradley Garrett but his broader point about the need to protect the use of public space at night, as opposed to militarizing the night through curfews, is quite valuable.

Those that read the PSPOs piece will appreciate the overlaps. Curfews, by closing access to space, prevent us from staking a political claim in the public realm after dark. The wilful violation of curfews, such as in Tahrir Square in 2011, when protesters ignored a curfew imposed by Hosni Mubarak, can be a powerful political statement.

As A Roger Ekirch writes in his 2005 book At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, as early as 1068, William the Conqueror set a curfew (from the French couvre-feu or cover fire) at 8pm, which was widely adopted across medieval Europe. Though this was ostensibly imposed to prevent fires from catching while people slept, those who will have read William I – 1066 by Eleanor Farjeon in school will recall that it was more likely about preventing candlelit late-night public plotting. People found not in their homes after the curfew were subject to incarceration, with particular ire levelled at those found outdoors in public squares and on roads.

Current law describes a curfew as “a regulation that forbids people (or certain classes of them) from being outdoors between certain hours”. Curfews, like ABSOs and PSPOs, are often directed at particular groups to prohibit them from being in public places after a particular time. In the United States, where the first Curfew law was passed in Nebraska in 1880, youth are circumscribed with particular vigilance. As of 2009, at least 500 US cities had curfews prohibiting anyone under 18 from being on the streets at night. Around 100 cities also have daytime curfews to keep children off the streets during school hours, making the hours when youths actually have a right to be in public space extremely narrow.

During the second world war, all people of Japanese ancestry in the United States, regardless of resident status, were forced to stay home between the hours of 8pm and 6am. In 1942, a 32-year-old student named Gordon Hirabayashi walked the streets of Seattle after curfew until he was arrested. He then brought a constitutional challenge to the law. His challenge was rejected, but in 1986 a federal court in Seattle overturned Hirabayashi’s conviction as a form of public apology.

As urbanist Rowland Atkinson writes, “places at different times may change in their role for accommodating different social groups – for example, a city square may serve as a place for lunching office workers while providing a place for skateboarders or potential muggers as the day progresses.”

Assuming that space becomes unsafe at night, however, is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the night is a place where we think only violence happens, then people go into the night expecting that and make it manifest. However, if night-time is when people of diverse backgrounds and motivations gather, the night becomes safer, a space monitored by the “eyes upon the street” in the words of Jane Jacobs. Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities that in order for a street to be a safe place, “there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street.”

He then goes on to discuss cities like Amsterdam that celebrate a night culture as opposed to cities from Baltimore to Sydney that are scared of the night and thus are limiting the citizenry’s freedoms. Given the drug violence that infects so much of the country this might seem like an odd comparison, but I’ve long found the night culture of Mexican cities refreshing. People are simply out at night. They are on the plaza, eating at food stalls, playing with other kids, drinking at bars, and generally enjoying themselves. The only place in Mexican cities where I am nervous at night is where there are no people. In the plazas and zocalos and parks of Mexican cities though, it’s a great time. I was instantly struck by the difference between Mexico and the United States on this point, where people out at night are automatically suspect and scary. That’s really sad. Militarizing public space at night is simply not a good idea for creating safe cities.

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