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Japanese Whitewashing of the Past

[ 72 ] May 9, 2015 |

Nanking_bodies_1937

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.

Book Review: Jacob Darwin Hamblin, Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism

[ 15 ] June 28, 2015 |

napalm-1

When teaching about postwar America, I always tell my students that just about anything that happened in this nation during the Cold War has its roots in Cold War politics or fed back into Cold War issues. Jacob Hamblin’s 2013 book Arming Mother Nature demonstrates how this is true for what he calls “catastrophic environmentalism,” or the idea that human activities will transform the world in shocking and horrible ways. Hamblin shows how this thinking comes straight out of the military-industrial complex that was researching how total war of the quite possible World War III would also be an environmental war. By using biological weapons and detonating hydrogen bombs, the death of millions of people could bring a nation to its knees. But in planning for these future wars, the military also needed to understand just how turning the environment into a catastrophe would affect humans. Thus the same scientists that were developing these weapons were also providing early ecological understanding of how humans impacted the planet. The apocalyptic language of people like Paul Ehrlich and Rachel Carson makes a great deal of sense in this context, when much of our early environmentalism used Cold War language as a response to the threat of technological development to the planet. After all, those researching and promulgating Cold War doctrine used the exact same language to describe their own plans.

American scientists expected to arm nature in war against the USSR. World War II scientists had already explored this sort of warfare and the Japanese had gone forward with it. To briefly quote Hamblin “scientists in the decades after World War II worked on radiological contamination, biological weapons, weather control and several other projects that united scientific knowledge of the natural environment with the strategic goal of killing large numbers of people”(4). This could be everything from experiments with bull semen and seed storage to help Americans survive such an attack to destroying regional food supplies to starve nations into submission or launching disease bombs to spread deadly illness. In all of these plans, scientists wanted to deploy nature itself as a weapon.

But wouldn’t such warfare kill millions of Americans as well? Sure, but these scientists held two strong beliefs that made them optimistic about long-term recovery. First, they largely did not believe humans could really control nature in the long term. Thus, they might make short-term alternations that could win a war but in the long term nature held all the cards and the old natural balance would eventually be restored. Second, they believed Americans had a better capacity to rebuild their society than the Soviets because they felt the American free market economy would recover more quickly than socialist state planning. Pure ideology at play here.

The Soviets, North Koreans, and eastern Europeans did accuse the Americans of actually deploying these plans, such as the Czechs blaming the expansion of the Colorado potato bug across their nation on American biological warfare. But mercifully, actual deployment remained largely theoretical, even if Al Gore Sr. suggested dumping all of our nuclear waste on the border between North Korea and South Korea to stop any further communist incursions. But far too much of this program did become active in Vietnam where the U.S. engaged in significant environmental warfare through the use of napalm and other herbicides. Students at Penn discovered in 1966 that one of its chemistry professors was researching a government project to create diseases in rice that could be used in Vietnam. This not only led to campus protests in the country but a rethinking of ethical relationships between scientists and the government, leading to pressure for academic scientists to break ties with its military sponsors working on biological warfare.

Interestingly, the overwhelming public and international reaction to American environmental warfare led Richard Nixon to harness the growing popular movement of environmentalism to his own international agenda. Nixon decided to sacrifice the most far-fetched parts of the American environmental warfare program such as weather control and biological weapons through international treaties in order to save what mattered to him–the nuclear program. He tapped into not only the rhetoric of ecocide coming out of the anti-Vietnam movement but broader environmentalism to make him seem like a strong leader on the issue, but always within a Cold War context. First, he forced NATO to create a committee on environmental issues for collective security around the issue. Then he tried to make the U.S. the international leader on the environment, leading to the Stockholm conference of 1972 and the UN Environment Programme. Nixon had shed the U.S. of programs that now seemed more trouble than they were worth, made himself look like a global environmental leader, and ensured that the core mission of U.S. military research remain untouched. Smart politics if typically cynical.

My one critique of the book is that when discussing the rise of environmentalism, Hamblin does not really engage with how it was a truly a popular movement and how such catastrophic ideas affected the grassroots either before or after people like Barry Commoner, Carson, and Ehrlich wrote their famous books. Particularly frustrating is how he defines Nixon in this environmentalism, noting “many of the key pro-environment national developments came during his presidency, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.” (190) I have said many times on this blog, this says almost nothing about Nixon and much about the overwhelming congressional majorities responding to popular pressure that passed these bills. In the bigger picture of the book, this is pretty minor and I realize that Hamblin is not a bottom-up historian of the environmental movement, but I don’t see how reinforcing myths about Nixon the environmentalist is useful.

Finally, the question of whether catastrophic environmentalism is effective in dealing climate change remains a bit unclear. Hamblin does not come down strongly on this issue, but he’s a bit skeptical. He notes that the major problem with such claims is that they are fairly easily debunked and notes how Bjorn Lomberg has taken up that mantle on climate change. Yet it’s unclear to what extent Lomborg has really made much difference in these debates and I think far more effective is what Hamblin notes earlier–the embrace of free-market economics and use of patriotism to attack environmentalism as well as the belief that humans can’t really truly control the natural world that finds its way into right-wing talking points around the earth naturally warming or extinction or other parts of the “debate.” The end of the Cold War ended the threat of catastrophic warfare but not the language or culture that rose up around it, attitudes that still influence both environmentalism and those who oppose the environmental movement.

In truth, this complex and fascinating book has a lot more going on than I can say here. You should read it.

Kentucky and the APAC

[ 1 ] May 29, 2015 |
Toyota carlogo.svg

“Toyota carlogo” by Unknown – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Toyota.svg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The first in a series of posts looking at the relationship between the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the Asia Pacific is up at the Diplomat:

TMMK came to Kentucky during a period of stress between Japan and the United States, with Washington making near-constant complaints about Japanese trade practices. The wounds of World War II were fresher in the 1980s than they are today. The Kentucky state government pushed hard against this tide, making clear that Toyota was welcome in the area. Indeed, many argued that it pushed too hard; the inducement package produced protests, and became a key issue in the 1987 Kentucky gubernatorial campaign.

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