Wednesday 26 June 2002

The more things change…

At wood s lot, a link to Bush’s Grim Vision by Nat Parry:

Bush’s grim vision is of a modern “crusade,” as he once put it, with American military forces striking preemptively at “evil-doers” wherever they live, while U.S. citizens live under a redefined Constitution with rights that can be suspended selectively by one man. Beyond the enormous sacrifices of blood, money and freedom that this plan entails, there is another problem: the strategy offers no guarantee of greater security for Americans and runs the risk of deepening the pool of hatred against the United States…

The American people may learn too late that relying on repression to gain security can mean sacrificing freedom without actually achieving greater security. As counterinsurgency experts have long argued, only a wise balance between reasonable security and smart policies to address legitimate grievances can reduce violence to manageable levels over the long term. Often, repression simply breeds new generations of bitter enemies.

Saburo Ienaga (The Pacific War) explains the connection between state control and the Japanese slide into war:

The pre-war state kept the populace in a powerful vise: on one side were the internal security laws with their restrictions on freedom of speech and thought; on the other side was the conformist education that blocked the growth of a free consciousness and purposive activity for political ends. The vise was tightened whenever any individual or popular resistance challenged reckess military action. These laws and public education, used as instruments of coercion and manipulation, were the decisive factors that made it impossible for the Japanese people to stop their country from launching the Pacific War.

In Japan’s War, Edwin P. Hoyt describes the Japanese military adventure in China:

Preparations would begin now, in the spring [of 1942], for the great offensive in China, to be carried out against Chiang’s Szechuan Province in the fall. As the generals looked at the map of China, the future appeared bright. The little Rising Sun flags stuck in the map, from the Siberian border all the way south to Hongkong, and beyond, and inland past Peking and down on a line to Hankow, showed the enormous amount of Chinese territory under Japanese army control. But the little flags were misleading, as General Shunroku Hata, commander of the China Expeditionary Force, knew very well. In the north the Chinese Communist armies slipped in and around the Japanese installations, burning, shooting, killing by night. By day the Japanese controlled the countryside, by night it was Chinese territory. And in the south the same was true. Guerillas operated in every province. Every truck, every train had to be escorted by troops; if not, they were prime targets for the guerillas. The Japanese claimed they had China in their grip; the reverse was true; they were still bogged down in a war that demanded more men and more guns and more equipment every month. By the winter of 1942 the need to “settle” the China incident—which meant complete the conquest of all China—had become so ingrained an article of faith with the militarists who controlled the army that there was no way of turning back. Once the China incident was settled, the militarists promised themselves, all else would be simple.

In 1937, Emperor Hirohito had asked how long it would take to end the China Incident. “One month,” replied the War Minister, General Hajime Sugiyama. In 1941 General Sugiyama confidently told the Emperor that Japanese operations in the South Pacific would be completed within three months. In four years, Sugiyama had learned nothing. Who said that experience is the best teacher?

Book cover: The 100 million people of the Showa Period, Japanese War HIstory, Volume 3, The China-Japan WarA refusal to study the Japanese counter-insurgency war in China or the failure of the French in Indo-China led to America’s humiliating defeat in Vietnam. General Westmoreland famously asked: “Why should I study the lessons of the French? They haven’t won a war since Napoleon.”

My ten volume illustrated Japanese War History devotes four volumes to the China Incident and another four to the Pacific War. Looking through countless photographs of the Chinese campaign one can’t help but note the uncanny resemblance between these pictures and those taken during the Vietnam War. Across a thirty year period, only the nationality of the combatants and their weapons and uniforms have changed. Everything else is the same: the terrain, the strategy, the tactics, the bombed cities, the devastated countryside, the military and civilian casualties, and the final catastrophic outcome.

Yet Bush and Sharon both seem to be saying: “Trust me, this time it’ll be different.”

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Comments

Excellent analysis, and very well written. Indeed the lessons of history are almost always lost on the world leaders, and they often display a pathological lack of vision. This reminds me of the Western world's refusal to get involved against the forces of fascism in the Spanish War. I guess they all thought that the whole thing would blow over - and, really, who would care about a bunch of spanish peasants and anarchists? In retrospect, though, it is pretty clear that the Spanish War was a dress rehearsal for WWII, and that Franco's military success clearly emboldened his German and Italian allies...

On a side note, I must admit that, while I usually stay away from "personal" blogs (I specifically avoid any reference to personal matters in mine - in fact, it's not so much a blog as a "press review" of articles that have caught my attention about subjects I think are important), I must admit that I find myself enjoying your writing a great deal. I understand better now why it draws so much attention. KUTGW, Jona-san!

Posted by elie on 27 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Elie, you are absolutely correct about the Spanish War, which the Germans -- and to a lesser extent the Italians -- used as a laboratory for transforming a variety of tactical theories into practice.

It's instructive that Lt. Col. Hal Moore (whose story is told in the film We Were Soldiers) studied the French experience in Vietnam almost obsessively. As a consequence his 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry fought a vastly superior force of North Vietnamese regulars to a standstill. Almost as soon as that battle was concluded and Moore's force withdrawn, the American 2nd Battalion -- led by an inept and inexperienced commander -- was almost annihilated by the NVA.

And thank you for your kind words about my blog. Unfortunately the French I studied in high school has almost totally evaporated, leaving me unable to truly appreciate yours.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 27 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Yeah, I though about doing a bilingual blog - but this thing already takes up so much of my time! Don't get me wrong, I enjoy it very much - it's good for me to work on my own things for a change (I'm a video game designer, which is creative work, but I keep working with licenses, i.e. other people's characters...). It's just that the discipline of putting up a new entry every day or so is still difficult for me...let alone to do it in french and english! But I haven't abandoned the idea, being bilingual myself. In the meantime, I get hits from translation engines - I tried it myself and the result is, well, rather awful! We're still a long way from perfect automated translations...

Posted by elie on 28 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

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