Sunday, August 16, 2015

70 years since VJ Day - a victory that was necessary and moral

I remember hearing the stories of the men who endured being POWs of Japan in World War 2. Growing up with TV series such as Tenko exposed me to a taste of the sadism and violence of imperial Japan.  So it is with some sadness to note that one of the primary narratives, from the so-called "liberal" left has been not remembering the brutality, fascism and racism of Japanese militarism, but demands for American apologies for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It's a small sign that culturally, the stories of the Burma Railway (which saw around 100,000 work as slave labour), the Nanking Massacre (at least 50,000 killed, 20,000 women and girls raped) and Japan's brutal occupation of almost all of east Asia from Korea to today's Indonesia, have such a low profile. You can be sure that China's modern tyrants and the two Koreas damn well make sure nobody forgets in their countries, as they don't need to exaggerate the genocidal approach Japan took to placing their lands under the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere".  Perhaps it is because Western leftwing academics aren't excited when it isn't Europeans doing the invading and killing, as it doesn't fit the banal "only white people can be racist" narrative.   The so-called "peace" movement has no answer as to how the world should have responded to imperialist Japan, is it because it is less concerned with "peace" than it is with opposing Western civilisation, liberal democracy, freedom and capitalism, with a distinctly anti-European bent?

The endurance of those who fought militarist Japan is difficult to calculate.  There were Americans, Koreans (not Kim Il Sung after 1940 despite the complete fictional account he based his legitimacy on), Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, Australians, New Zealanders, Indians, Nepalese and many others, and they were rolling back a regime that had at its centre a philosophy of:

- Racial supremacy:  The Japanese were the master race, all others were inferior.  Indeed, Koreans  and Manchurians were so inferior that chemical and biological weapons were tested on them (and yes the Allies took the research conclusions for their own purposes after the war).  

- Militaristic fascism:  Japanese imperial rule was based on the entire militarisation of society, with no sense of consultation or input from the governed.  All were subjects, all were to do as they were told and to operate effectively as slaves, for the Empire of Japan.  It was a complete totalitarian regime, and given the superiority of Japanese rulers, its subjects were deemed to be grateful for the mercy of the Emperor.

- Religious authenticity:  The rule of the Empire was deemed to come from the Emperor, who was the living embodiment of god.  That was absolute and not able to be questioned.

One measure of the human cost of Japanese imperialism is over 6 million deaths due to murder, under its occupation from 1937 to 1945 alone, but Japan's imperialism started in 1910 (with Western consent) in Korea and its invasion of China commenced in the early 1930s.  100,000 were massacred in Manila alone in early 1945.  The "Three Alls" policy applied to China after 1940 was to "kill all, burn all, loot all" in retaliation to Chinese resistance to the occupation.  Women and girls throughout the occupied territories, particularly in Korea, were kept as sex slaves (so-called "comfort women") to please the military.   Japanese newspapers even celebrated the "contest" between army officers as to who could kill 100 with a sword first.

Japan's militarist regime was the aggressor, but it also had the compliant and enthusiastic support of a people who did what they were told, who worshipped their Emperor and basked in the propaganda that told them how superior and special they are, and how lucky they were to have been chosen to lead Asia.  What dissent there was in Japan was not organised and on a minor scale.  Japan's dictators had the effective consent of its population to conquer.

So the defeat of Japan, unconditionally, was wholly moral and justified.  The use of nuclear weapons to accelerate that defeat and contribute towards it was also moral and justified.   The reason Japan had nuclear weapons applied to it was because it had invaded the United States, it had conquered and placed much of Asia under its brutal sadistic jackboot.  The moral culpability for the deaths inflicted in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and indeed already by conventional bombing in Tokyo, Osaka and many other cities, was the Imperial Government of Japan, which was willing to continue murdering and killing innocents abroad and refusing to surrender in a war that it started.

No one can doubt the abject horror and suffering the two atomic bombs caused, the horror they inflicted undoubtedly contributed not only to them not being used in Korea by President Truman (against military advice), but also inadvertently creating the deterrent effect which remains to this day.  However, the justification for their use is not from those impacts, but because defeating a ruthless, sadistic and murderous tyranny justifies using weapons that minimise the casualties of your own population.   Better to use the atomic bombs than to suffer greater Allied casualties by ground invasion or not obtaining an unconditional defeat and complete withdrawal of Japan from Asia.

When a tyranny wages war against its neighbours, and brings death and destruction upon them, its victims cannot be constrained from inflicting defeat upon it, for fear of the inevitable deaths it causes upon the weakest who reside under that tyranny.  All tyrannies hope and expect that governments with less appetite for war than it, will weaken in the face of taking such unpalatable decisions.  These same tyrannies don't think twice of massacring others.  The children killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the responsibility of their parents - the same parents who remained in Japan, working and contributing towards a system that had been waging a sadistic expansionist war against its neighbours.

So yes, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings, appallingly dreadful and unspeakably vile though they were, were a considered, reasonable military decision to seek to accelerate an end to a war that was the responsibility of the Empire of Japan.   The attacks on Japan were acts of self-defence, to remove a regime that until the last day of the war, insisted on retaining control over Japan, on taking responsibility for prosecuting war crimes itself, and essentially no change in government.   It took the evidence of the nuclear attacks to force Japan to surrender with only one condition - that the Emperor would be protected.  That was one condition that could, grudgingly, be accepted.  You don't need to imagine what the Empire of Japan would do when it defeated a country - for it did so many times - it enslaved the entire country under martial law, and engaged in forms of genocide.

Those who fought against Japan were heroes, they defeated one of the most malignantly evil regimes of the 20th century (albeit this has quite a long list), an expansionist racist tyranny that any "true" liberal would celebrate the defeat of, without question.

The hand-wringing about the atomic attacks may be understandable, given their historic significance. However, to talk of the suffering of those attacks outside the wider context of Japanese eliminationist racism and militarism, is disingenuous.  It smacks of cheap anti-Americanism.   There are questions that can be asked about how some Japanese war criminals were effectively excused and some Japanese atrocities were deliberately ignored after the war, and bigger questions about how Japan still hasn't effectively faced up to its history (but then neither has communist China).  

However there should be no questions about the victory over Japan.  Moreover, given the enormous assistance the West gave to Japan to rebuild, reject communism, become a friend and until recently become the second biggest economy in the world (with a standard of living to match),  and be a functioning, vibrant liberal democracy,  the picture painted of an evil USA engaging in mass murder of Japanese civilians unjustifiably, seems selective indeed.   Now if only Japan's leaders could start treating their wartime history like German leaders treat theirs.   


2 comments:

Kiwiwit said...

The arguments against the atomic bombing of Japan usually include that Japan was at the point of surrender anyway and that therefore the bombings were unnecessary. Anyone who has studied the history of the wartime Japanese regime knows that that was not true - in the final months of the war, Japan armed its entire civilian population in preparation for the fight to the very last man, woman and child, and had executed senior officers and officials who even mentioned the idea of surrender. Also, Japan held over 700,000 prisoners of war and orders had been given that all of them were to be executed immediately upon a mainland invasion of Japan. At the very minimum, the killing of 200,000 Hiroshima and Nagasaki residents saved those 700,000 allied PoWs, at most, it saved the lives of millions more.

Libertyscott said...

Exactly, some argue that the Soviet announcement of invasion of Japan was what turned the tide, but that's been disproven subsequently by reports from the Japanese leadership that indicated the atomic bombs changed everything. The great fear was that Japan would be totally annihilated and "civilisation would be wiped out".