Friday 09 August 2002

A disagreement or three

Burningbird concluded her post The Debate falters, lying broken in the dust like this:

However, me thinks the debate on the Iraq invasion between us has run its course.

Crikey, Bb! It’s all well and good for you to declare the debate over, but I’m stuck in the middle of a “discourse” with Eric Olsen. And, the way these warbloggers argue, I think I’d have less grief converting my Movable Type templates and all my archives to XHTML 2.0 and CSS 2.1.

But, since I try to finish anything I start, I guess I’ll have to press on. Perhaps the best way to do this is to comment on Olsen’s key statements (which I’ve italicized) in the order he made them.

The museum [in Hiroshima], the city, and the country emphasize peace and conflict resolution not because they don’t feel historical guilt for WWII, but because they do.

The museum and the city emphasize peace because Hiroshima is one of only two cities to have been subjected to an atomic bomb attack.

Odd that Japan emphasizes peace by consistently ranking fourth in its percentage share of world military expenditure (after the USA, Russia, and France but ahead of the UK, Germany, China, and Saudi Arabia).

Japan emphasizes conflict resolution not because of any feelings of historical guilt for WWII but because Japanese decision making has been based for centuries on achieving consensus between conflicting parties.

The town and the museum almost revels in the details of the destruction wrought by the bomb, not out of self-pity, but out of a fundamental sense of sorrow and guilt FOR HAVING BROUGHT THIS DESTRUCTION UPON THEMSELVES. Look carefully at the “message” of the museum…

The “message” of the museum to which Olsen refers—note the artful use of quotation marks—is not actually the message of the museum in any official sense, but an interpretation of the museum’s meaning by a private group of Japanese citizens headed by Miyoko Kono:

The context used in this web page was edited by “The Group to Convey the Spirit of Hiroshima” based on the materials borrowed from Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation.

The atomic bomb brought bitter remorse, not from those who dropped it, but from those whom it was dropped upon. Why remorse? Because they believe they deserved it.

Actually the atomic bomb brought not bitter remorse but an overwhelming sense of self-pity, as Paul Musgrave rightly noted. And, far from believing they deserved it, the atomic bomb attacks served mainly to reinforce the ninonjinron, the theory of Japanese uniqueness (“We are the only people in the history of the world to have been subjected to atomic bomb attacks.”)

Immediately after the war, MacArthur and the American occupying force found remarkably little resentment in a decimated populace that had only weeks before fought with suicidal zeal for the honor of the emperor.

Against whom, precisely, had the populace fought with suicidal zeal? The B-29’s that were raining fire on every major Japanese city? (Apart from Hiroshima, Kokura, Niigata, and Nagasaki, which had been reserved as atomic bomb targets.) What weapons did they employ in their fight for the honor of the emperor? With what terrifying fanaticism did this civilian population, who were overwhelmingly the victims of the air war against the Japanese home islands, wield their shovels, sandbags, and buckets of water?

And since we didn’t enslave their entire population, or ship their women off to “comfort camps,” or plunder whatever treasure remained in the country, but in fact helped them to rebuild on every front, no opportunity was afforded to transfer any of this guilt onto America.

No rational person would deny America’s magnanimity towards its vanquished foes, but let us not also forget that the United States poured billions of dollars in aid into Japan in order to create a bulwark against Soviet and Chinese communism. One might best characterize America’s behavior as enlightened self-interest—something the Japanese understood all too well.

Olsen summarizes the Japanese attitude towards defeat as

We were all hopped up on the religion of nationalism; we began a war of aggression; we got our asses kicked; we deserved what we got.

All hopped up on the religion of nationalism. Yes, definitely. Somewhat like contemporary America.

We began a war of aggression. Yes, although some would suggest that Roosevelt deftly manouvered the Japanese into a position where it was inevitable that they would attack the United States.

We got our asses kicked. Absolutely.

We deserved what we got. Not in any way at all. Most Japanese have been taught a highly sanitized version of the history of the Pacific War. They have hardly any knowledge of the atrocities committed by Japanese forces in China, Korea, and South East Asia and little interest in revisiting the past. Primarily, as I’ve noted above, a majority of Japanese—who know nothing about the three hundred thousand killed in the American firebombing campaign—see themselves as the unique victims of the atomic bomb attacks.

Well, that’s pretty much it for Olsen’s first post. Next I’ll address his reply to my previous post. After that I’ll explain why, despite what Olsen might have been told by “the hundreds of Japanese from all walks of life,” words count for nothing. Only actions have meaning and, overwhelmingly, Japanese actions are consistent not with guilt and remorse but rather a sense of victimization and self-pity. Finally, I might get around to explaining why I believe that Truman was almost certainly justified in dropping the first atomic bomb (and perhaps had little alternative to dropping the second).

In the meantime, I’d like to suggest an Honor Roll of Warbloggers, which would display next to each name: the warblog URL, the number of years of active military service, and the likelihood of the warblogger’s being called up to fight against Iraq. It is commonly observed by students of military history that civilian enthusiasm for going to war is inversely proportional to the sum of combat experience and eligibility for military service.

Or, as Camille Paglia said in her interview with Andrew Sullivan:

When our best and brightest expect a servant class to shed their blood in the nation’s defense, we’re starting to look like late imperial Rome.

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My bad! I pulled you and left you swinging. My bad!

I have continued Jonathon. I don't want to run the risk of losing my only Tim Tam source.

Twenty lashes with a wet noodle and I'm forgiven?

Posted by Burningbird on 10 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

"Against whom, precisely, had the populace fought with suicidal zeal? The B-29's that were raining fire on every major Japanese city?"

While you're quite right that the home islanders never really had any chance to display "suicidal zeal" -- unless you count continued die-hard support of the Imperial war effort in the face of the terrific aerial attacks you mention -- it's still wholly rational to assume that an invasion of Japan would have been met with great fanaticism and resistance unto death. Fatalist zeal was not purely a phenomenon of the Japanese military: in the places where fighting did occur among a Japanese civil populace (Saipan, Okinawa), the civilian survival rate was incredibly low. This was partly because the Imperial military generally didn't take care to separate itself from the civilians, and partly because the civilians all too often joined the fight with, well, suicidal zeal.

Given this experience, and given what was known about Japanese civil preparations to meet an Allied invasion of the home islands, it's entirely supportable to assume that this "suicidal zeal" was a characteristic of the Japanese population at large. Certainly Japanese alive at the time have stated so.

"I'd like to suggest an Honor Roll of Warbloggers, which would display next to each name: the warblog URL, the number of years of active military service, and the likelihood of the warblogger's being called up to fight against Iraq.", I guess. 2.5 years of military service, albeit fairly inept service. Not sure what the likelihood of callup is. Probably not too great, though not for lack of trying -- I volunteered my services to Perscom back in September, but they said they didn't need anyone then, and they probably still don't. Still, I'm on Individual Ready Reserve like the most of the rest of my ROTC classmates. If things get truly bad, we'll go.

I dunno about this, though. It's not necessarily hypocritical to advocate something you won't be directly involved in. Restricting the war debate to soldiers would be like restricting the welfare debate to food stamp recipients.

Posted by Josh on 10 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Josh, you are absolutely correct in saying that "it's still wholly rational to assume that an invasion of Japan would have been met with great fanaticism and resistance unto death."

As you suggest, the profligate waste of Japanese lives (both military and civilian) in Saipan, Okinawa, and other Pacific islands and the correspondingly heavy American casualties meant that a successful invasion of the Home Islands could only have been accomplished at an unacceptably high cost.

But I was responding to what Eric Olsen actually wrote -- "a decimated populace that had only weeks before fought with suicidal zeal for the honor of the emperor."

I can't respond to what Olsen meant to write or what he might have written had he any real understanding of Japanese history and culture. I can only respond to what he wrote, and what he wrote was incorrect. But then, who am I to quibble? After all, he did admit in his follow-up post that he'd "overstated [his] original position to make a point." In other words, forget the facts -- just gulp down this steaming plate of ill-informed rhetoric.

Of course it's "not necessarily hypocritical to advocate something you won't be directly involved in." Nor should the war debate be restricted to soldiers. But surely it's reasonable to factor into one's evaluation of another person's opinion both their lived experience and the personal risk they face if the policy they advocate is implemented.

For example, given your prior military service, your status as a Reservist, and your willingness "to go," I take your opinions about the planned war against Iraq far more seriously than those of the run-of-the-mill warblogging blowhard.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 10 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Well, thanks. Believe me, the country is probably safer without me in uniform....

I didn't fully understand that you were involved in a great whopping multi-part war debate when I responded to your post. Chalk it up to late-night obliviousness....I see your points, though.

Posted by Josh on 11 August 2002 (Comment Permalink) - 5 years active duty including being in the gulf during the first Iraq war.
Been in reserves since.
Likelyhood of recall? I'm guessing 50+%

Posted by Kevin on 12 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Kevin, I've added your weblog to the list of warbloggers I'll take more seriously.

BTW, given that you're using Movable Type, I was disappointed that you don't display your categories -- that way I could have checked out all the Cheesecake entries on a single page instead of having to trawl through the monthly entries.

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 12 August 2002 (Comment Permalink)

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

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour