Taking Another Look at the Greater East Asia War

Translated from http://www.geocities.jp/machi0822jp/daitoa.htm

The other day, I watched the rerun of “At That Time, History Moved” on NHK. According to the show, right before the Great East Asia War started, the Japanese government had deciphered America’s secret codes! In other words, the Japanese government had a clear understanding of the international situation at the time. Nonetheless they were unable to prevent the submission of the Hull Note…. (Note: The Hull Note signified America’s readiness to immediately enter into war with Japan. Prior to that America had predicted the need for three months to prepare for war with Japan, and had presented Japan with generous offers in an ploy to buy time. If this proposal had been presented to Japan instead of the Hull Note, Japan would not have chosen to go to war with America, and America’s calculation to draw Japan into World War Two would not have become a reality.)

At the time, British Prime Minister Churchill had no choice but to draw America into the war. If America had not entered the war at an early stage, Britain would surely have been defeated by Germany, and the Nazi’s would have taken complete control of Europe. That would have meant the defeat of democracy itself.

Therefore, from the larger perspective of history, at that time (right around the outbreak of World War II), Japan already had no way of avoiding a war with the United States, and in a way, Japan became a scapegoat in the attempt to preserve democracy throughout the world.

So, at what point in time would Japan have been able to take action to avoid war with the United States?

If Japan had not joined the axis by entering into the Tripartite Defense Pact with Germany and Italy, perhaps it would have been able to avoid war with the United States. If Japan had made clear its desire to cooperate with the Anglo-Saxon powers, there would be no reason for them to go to war with the United States.

Furthermore, it’s commonly held that after that, the navy’s Big Three, Yonai Mitsumasa, Yamamoto Isoroku, and Inoue Shigeyoshi, prevented the conclusion of the Tripartite Military Pact with Germany and Italy, but after they left the navy, their successors accepted it. However, at the time, the Tripartite Pact had overwhelming popular support among people of all political persuasions. (Widespread popular support for the war began when the Asahi Newspaper, which had previously been anti-war, changed their stance and supported the Manchurian Incident in the sixth year of Showa.)

So why did the Japanese people want to join the axis powers? Looking back now, it’s clear that it was because they saw no other choice for Japan.

At the time, Japanese diplomacy could have gone in one of four directions:
1) Throw away their pride, cozying up to the Anglo-Saxon powers.
2) Maintain their pride, cutting ties with the Anglo-Saxon powers, and joining forces with the rising nation of Germany
3) Risk being isolated on the world stage, exerting power throughout East Asia and attempting to become self-sufficient and independent (the Big Japan doctrine)
4) Relinquishing all concessions in East Asia and returning to Japan’s original borders (the land belonging to Japan before the Russo-Japanese war) (the Small Japan doctrine)

Looking back after the fact, option 1 would have been most rational, but at the time Japan could simply not tolerate the despotic and tyrannical ways of the Anglo-Saxons. After World War I the Anglo-Saxons engaged in managed trade, and practically shut Japan, which had almost no colonies, out of the global market. Furthermore at the time (1920’s onward), Japan’s relationship with America was already worsening, and it would have been extremely difficult to try to repair that relationship.

3 is the option that Ishihara Kanji ended up turning into a reality. He did this by building Manchukuo. According to Ishihara’s thinking, Japan could build a country for the five Asian races to live in harmony in Manchuria, which was not under Chinese influence, creating a barrier against the Soviet Union. Japan and Manchukuo could carry out peaceful trade, and the countries of Asia which had been shut out of the world market by the managed trade policies could live in symbiotic cooperation.

Ishihara’s idea came from the same thinking as Matsuoka Yosuke’s statement that Manchuria and Mongolia were Japan’s lifeline. Proponents of option 4, the Small Japan doctrine, have been harshly critical of this way of thinking (especially the left wing, with their talk of Japan’s “aggression” in East Asia), but are only able to be so now, after the war, when Japan has become economically prosperous. However, when considering the global situation at the time, Ishihara’s ideas were quite logical. (For more, read Reassessing Ishihara Kanji.)

According to Ishihara’s thought, rather than joining forces with the West, which could not be trusted, it would be better to create an independent economy within Asia. If Manchukuo had only been accepted by the League of Nations (this was the greatest flaw in Ishihara’s thinking), I think that would have been possible.

The only reason Japan was able to become economically prosperous after the war was because free trade was guaranteed by GATT, they were able to import natural resources cheaply, and they had a market to which they could export goods freely. Isn’t it a bit extreme, from our current position, to criticize the actions of the Japanese people, who were suffering under the harsh global trade realities of the time, as mere “aggression”?(1)

Of course, Japan’s errors during the second Sino-Japanese war deserve to be denoucned. It was a huge mistake to move beyond Manchukuo and attempt to infringe on Chinese sovereignty.(2) In the end, that actually completely contradicted Ishihara’s original idea. (However, as MacArthur, who experienced the Korean War, said, when Japan attempted to take control of Korea for purposes of self-defense, they needed to have some sort of strategy for dealing with China, which would inevitably attempt to intervene. In that case, it was perhaps impossible for Japan to extend military influence into Manchuria without being forced to go even further.)

In the end, Japan was like a young girl caught between option 1: to marry the apparently vile, showy, selfish Anglo-Saxons; option 2: to marry the attractive bad-boy underdog Germany; option 3: to share the fortune of the nearby patron Manchuria (or to steal it, depending on your perspective); and option 4: to stay single despite economic hardships (the Small Japan doctrine). Japan attempted to choose option 3, but this incurred the ire of the Anglo-Saxons, so they were left with no choice but to pick option 2.

Thus, I think that no matter how hard the government or Yonai Mitsumasa had tried, they wouldn’t have been able to prevent the conclusion of the Tripartite Pact. The Japanese people implicitly understood the global situation in which they were stuck, and had no choice but to decide to join forces with Germany through a process of elimination.

History has shown that it was a mistake for Japan to join forces with Germany and Italy. The Anglo-Saxon powers, which they mistook for a showy, vile, selfish man, would have served it better. The people’s choice was wrong. But there was no way the Japanese people could have predicted that their choice would lead to horrors like the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Battle of Okinawa. (The same is true of Japan’s leaders as well…. In 1925 Japan had a regular election, so it’s fair to say that the Japanese government’s choice of option 3 was supported by at least all of the young men of Japan. After the war, it’s generally assumed that a select group of government and military leaders were to blame for the war with the U.S. and the Japanese people were victims, but that’s based on the Marxist and Mito Komon doctrines claiming that the workers and the people are all inherently good and innocent. Since there were such vast civilian casualties in the Great East Asia War, it’s understandable to argue, from an emotional perspective, that the people were victims of the war. But from a cool-headed, rational perspective, Japan was a democratic country before the start of the war, and the rise of the military too was the choice of a population sick of the superficial democracy of the time. Ergo, Shiba’s view of history that the Great East Asia War was the responsibility of the entire Japanese population is accurate.(3) In fact, I think it’s strange that Germany places all the blame for the war on the Nazis and claims that the people were innocent with no compunction.)

The theory that Japan’s only chance to join forces with the Anglo-Saxons was when the American Railroad Baron Harriman entered into the management of the Manchurian Railway after the Russo-Japanese war. At that time Inoue Kaoru and the other Senior Statesmen accepted Harriman’s proposal. Inoue and the others said that with Japan’s inferior capital power, management of the Manchurian Railway would be impossible, so it would be best to sell it to the Americans, who, upon entering into Manchuria, would also provide a barrier against the Soviet Union.

However, Komura Jutaro crushed Inoue’s proposal. Jutaro had a good idea of the finances needed to manage the Manchurian Railway, and he thought it would be a terrible thing to sell Manchuria, which Japan had finally acquired after sacrificing tens of thousands of heroic spirits in the war, to the Americans. Komura’s thinking was common sense at the time, and the vast majority of Japanese people at the time felt the same way. (It was the people who had set fire to the conditions of the Portsmouth Treaty. If they heard that the rights to their hard-won prize of Manchuria had been sold over to the Americans, they would have been outraged, especially the Communist Party.)

If Japan had accepted Harriman’s proposal and handed control of the Manchurian Railway over to the Americans, history most likely would have taken a very different course. History textbooks tell how after the Russo-Japanese war, anti-Japanese movements were carried out in the United States. However, if American had taken over the Manchurian Railway and Japan had devoted itself to peaceful relations with Manchuria without attempting to invade the Chinese mainland (Manchuria was “no-man’s land” at the time, and no country had political rule over it, so it’s possible that America itself would have built its own peaceable Manchukuo), there would be no threat from the Soviet Union, and Japan could have become a member of the League of Nations.

If Japan had maintained a good relationship with America, there’s a high chance that the Security Treaty Between The United States And Japan would have been signed then. (At the time, Britain was actually seeking a way to form a tripartite alliance between Britain, the United States, and Japan.) Before the first world war it was thought that alliances and ententes could be a key to international peace, and the Britain-Japan alliance was still intact. That may have drawn Japan into World War I, but at least there would likely have been no fighting on Japanese soil.

Thinking about it this way, I ultimately agree with the theory that refusal of Harriman’s proposal after the Russo-Japanese war was the main culprit which worsened Japanese-American relations, encouraged Japan’s incursion onto the continent, and brought about the onset of the Great East Asia War. It puzzles me to no end that Komura Jutaro, who rejected Harriman’s proposal, is praised as a historical figure. Judging from a historical perspective, it was the Senior Statesmen, the ones who had avoided a shower of bullets and carried out the Meiji Restoration, who could see what was going on.

(1) What he says about post-war Japan is very true. Basically, by controlling trade, the winners of the World Wars had complete say in whether countries prospered or, um, languished in misery. Japan wasn’t successful just because they are a hard-working and industrious race, but also because Amerika gave them all the necessary tools and finances. Likewise, countries that have issues aren’t just racially inferior. But I’m pretty sure everyone knows that, right?

(2) The word I translated as “error” also has connotations of “fault” or “blame”; the word I translated as “mistake” could also be translated as “failure”. I hate it when people talk about “mistakes” in war. I mean, I understand that war is about strategy, and making a prediction that turns out to be wrong or using unsuccessful strategies could be referred to as “making mistakes,” but that’s not ALL war is. Calling something a “mistake” only looks at the negative consequences for the person who made the mistake, not the person they harmed by doing so. I mean, if I punched someone in the face, that might be a bad idea, because they would punch me back, and it would hurt, in which case I would say, “punching that person in the face was a mistake.” But ignoring the consequences for me, one could say that punching someone in the face is a bad thing to do anyway, because it hurts the person I punched, whether or not they punch me back. See, I’m not a moral relativist!

(3) Actually, I’m pretty sure women weren’t allowed to vote, so maybe the war wasn’t their fault. I’m kidding, of course. They could have just punched their husbands in the face and said “vote for who I tell you to, bitch!” Because everyone knows women are all-powerful. I’m being facetious, of course.

Random: Apparently calling it the “Great East Asia War” is very controversial, because there was supposedly no Great East Asia War, just the China war and the Pacific war, or something? I don’t really understand why, but anyway, you’re not supposed to call it the Great East Asia War. Anyway, now I feel really bad for Komura Jutaro, along with Matsuoka Yosuke, because I always feel bad for people who accidentally do stupid things and wreck everything without meaning to, because I do stupid things and wreck everything all the time, and now I’m feeling really shitty about that, so no more about wars today, I have my much more trivial problems to worry about.

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I just realized I haven’t written any poems in a really, really long time. I feel kind of embarrassed about my pathetic “poems”, but at the same time I kind of liked writing them, so I tried to write one. I had the first lines of one I wrote ages ago in my head, so I started from there. Here’s the one I wrote on April 21, 2009:

Have you ever felt like a cherry tree
Chopped down as practice for killing a king?
And before you got that tetanus shot
Did you ever imagine how much it would sting?
Have you ever seen two lanterns in the belfry
And made a wild dash for the ocean?
And have you ever found your hands so dry
That you wished you had some Lubriderm lotion?
Have you ever tried real hard and failed
And blamed your next-door neighbor?
And when that was to no avail
Gone and asked them to be your savior?
Have you ever been given so much liberty
You wonder, should you have picked death instead?
Because that way your mind wouldn’t be so dirty
And you’d never get in so far over your head?
Have you ever asked a bunch of questions
Just because you really wanted an answer?
And have you ever born the brunt of agression
Just for asking “would you like sugar in your coffee, sir?”

And here’s the one I wrote just now:

Have you ever felt like a cherry tree
Scattering blossoms around you like snow?
And before you made that wish under the bridge
Did you ever consider how far it might go?
Have you ever fancied yourself a queen
Stuffing your face with crumpets and tea?
Or do you avoid caffeinated beverages
Knowing they’ll just make you have to pee?
Do you wail out your longings from rooftops and parks
Or keep them all bottled up safe in your bedroom?
And when you cry, which I know you do
You’re only human, after all
Do you cry for the fallen cherry tree,
Or the young one yet to fall?

From 2011/05/01. I thought I had lost these two poems forever, which made me super sad, because they were my first two cherry tree poems, but there they were hiding in my drafts folder! Yay!

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Why am I so…

If you type “why am I so..” in Japanese into google, the first page of results includes:

Why am I so ugly?
Why am I so wet?
Why do I like Yokoo-san so much?
Why am I so weak?
Why am I so beautiful?
Why am I so happy?
Why does everyone hate me so much?
Why do I get groped so much?
Why do I have so little hair?

In English you get:

Why am I so tired?
Why am I so sad?
Why am I so afraid of being alone?
Why am I so hungry after a big meal?
Why am I so popular?
Why am I so awkward and uncoordinated?
Why am I so unhappy?

I am not going through my drafts and publishing all the ones I like. This is from 2012/12/16.

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Reassessment of Ishihara Kanji, pt. 2

Continuation of translation of http://www7.plala.or.jp/machikun/ishiharakanji.htm

After the First World War, the global economy was made up of blocs, and global trade was reduced. Therefore, Japan, which had developed late and had few colonies, was shut out of the global market. Thus, aquisition of a foreign market that the West was not yet invested in was of utmost importance for Japan.

If Harriman had bought the Manchuria Railway, and Manchuria had come under the control of the U.S., it’s likely that Japan could have carried out trade there peaceably, but since Komura unfortunately rejected his proposal, Manchuria remained “no-man’s land”. (At the time Manchuria was in the hands of warlords and not a possession of the Chinese government. The Han race had never ruled Manchuria once in all of history. Therefore, if we think of Manchuria as part of China as we do today, we’ll never be able to comprehend Japan’s position at the time.)

Perhaps it is accurate to say that Ishihara’s construction of Manchukuo was a historical inevitability. By engaging in fair and equal free trade with Manchuria, Japan would have been able to procure both necessary natural resources and a market for exported goods.

However, sadly, Japan’s methods were lacking. Furthermore, even though the government was supposed to be formed under the principle of the five races living in harmony, Japanese bureaucrats took all the highest government posts. Though the latter was not Ishihara’s fault, it was unfortunate that he resorted to trickery in the building of the country. (That’s why the Manchurian Incident ended up being refered to as such, and ended up being considered equivalent to the China Incident, despite the fact that the two were nothing alike.)

Of course he could have done it differently, but in the end, his juniors (Muto Akira and others) copied his forceful tactics and started the second Sino-Japanese war. (There’s a famous story that Ishihara’s successor as head of the war strategy department Muto Akira told Ishihara, “All I did was follow in your footsteps,” and Ishihara was unable to respond.)

Ishihara himself had no intention of invading China. He merely thought that by creating a breakwater against the Soviet Union made up of the five Asian races, it would be good for both the economy and for national defense. However, the Kwantung Army, seeing how easily Ishihara had managed to take Manchuria, rashly thought it would be easy to go ahead and take all of China as well.

They say there’s no “if” when it comes to history, but if the situation in China at the time had proceeded as Ishihara Kanji had expected, how might have things turned out?

Japan would probably never have fallen into the swamp that was the Second Sino-Japanese War, and Manchukuo, the existence of which was denied by the Lytton Report, would probably have been accepted by international society if it had been developed skillfully. (That is to say, if Japan hadn’t gone overboard.)

In that case, tension between Japan and the Soviet Union would probably have continued, but relations between Japan and the U.S. wouldn’t have deteriorated to such an extent. (When Japan started the Sino-Japanese War, in order to cut off the Ensho Route that was holding them back, they had to invade French Indochina, which caused the U.S. to stop exporting oil to Japan; at that point there was no going back.)

When looking at it this way, one could say that Ishihara Kanji had a vision that actually could have led Japan in a slightly more positive direction. If he had had half as much political power as Meiji’s Ito Hirobumi, or if there had been a single politician who had been able to utilize his vision successfully, Japan may not have entered into such a reckless war, and may not have suffered such an ugly defeat.

As you know, Ishihara Kanji was not one to mince words regardless of who he was talking to (though everything he said was just). He even spoke disparagingly of Tojo Hideki, a powerful leader at the time, and eventually was demoted and relegated to the reserves right in the middle of the Sino-Japanese war. Throughout the war he continued to make many remarks, but looking at them now, most of them were right on target.

For instance, he was harshly critical of the navy’s move from Rabaul (Papua New Guinea) to Guadalcanal Island as a dangerous overstepping of the limits of aggression. He also argued from the beginning of the Greater East Asia War that Japan was sure to lose.

If Japan had been able to take advantage of Ishihara’s genius, it would have been able to move in a better direction at least to some extent. In the Meiji period, Japan fully utilized the genius of men like Akiyama Yoshifuru and Akiyama Saneyuki and succeeded in the battles of Mukden and Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese war. That was because there were powerful military leaders and politicians who were able to take advantage of their wisdom. Sadly, in the Showa period in which Ishihara lived, there were no great politicians like Ito Hirobumi, and the army was run by imperial princes and other incompetents. Since it was a case of subordinates having conquered their superiors, there were no leaders who could utilize his genius. (Itagaki Seishiro of the Manchurian Incident may have fit the bill, but in the end Itagaki was simply used by Ishihara.)

Nowadays Ishihara Kanji is notorious as the symbol of the subordinates overcoming their superiors in the old Japanese navy, but his intent was certainly not to lead Japan into destruction. Saying this would probably cause the Kwantung Army to protest that they carried out the China Incident in order to help Japan, not ruin it, but the difference between them and Ishihara was his vision and their lack of one.

The Kwantung Army, having no clear vision, simply barged on into the Chinese heartland as far as they could go. Ishihara, on the other hand, used as little violence as possible and attempted to aquire the smallest amount of land necessary. Even now it’s clear that his thought was logical and reasonable.

Even now Ishihara has a few passionate supporters, but it seems to me that they are seen as nothing more than Ishihara otaku by the rest of Japan. However, I would like to see Ishihara reevaluated as not a mere proponent of aggression, but as a talented country-building project leader or country planner.

Appendix: At the beginning of Showa, then journalist Ishibashi Tanzan, who went on to become prime minister after the war, was a proponent of the “small Japan” discourse, which proposed that Japan should make do with the meager resources within Japan’s historical borders. This was the exact opposite of Ishihara’s view.

Since after the war Japan was able to achieve astounding economic success with only the land originally within its borders, Ishibashi’s views were applauded during Japan’s period of high growth, but looking at his views from the perspective of the early Showa economy, when Japan had to survive as a trading nation just as they do today, one could say that they were strategically unrealistic.

Japan was being held by the scruff of the neck within a global bloc economy, and the procurement of Manchuria was of dire necessity. However, since Manchuria had no proper government, safe and regular trade with them was difficult. For this reason, an advance (not an invasion!) into Manchuria was unavoidable. (This is the “big Japan” discourse.)

Shidehara Kijuro’s proposal of cooperative diplomacy with Britain and the United States was lauded from a political perspective, but from a global economic perspective it was unrealistic. I think that’s why Shidehara did not receive much popular support.

Furthermore, Ishibashi has provided detailed statistical data to prove that colonial policies do not lead to economic growth, but it was based on classical colonial policies, and I don’t think his data would have applied to Ishihara’s idea of building an independent country where the five Asian races could live in harmony.

Notes of Naturemadecomplete: Umm, I’m not sure. I haven’t read any books about this topic. But I went to the gym for the first time in a long time yesterday and now my leg and butt muscles really hurt. Ahhhh, maybe I should translate something else so I have an excuse to just sit on this comfortable couch for the rest of the day.

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Reassessment of Ishihara Kanji

Translated from http://www7.plala.or.jp/machikun/ishiharakanji.htm

When we, the generation who has undergone post-war education, hear the name Ishihara Kanji, we immediately think of Manchukuo or the Manchurian Incident. He was central to the construction of Manchukuo, the very existence of which was denied by the League of Nations’ Lytton Report. At the end of the Great East Asia war, the Soviets broke their non-aggression pact with Japan and invaded Manchukuo, leading to many civilian casualties. For these reasons, Manchukuo is viewed negatively in the post-war era.

Ishihara Kanji, as the main builder of Manchukuo, is also viewed negatively. He has somehow become one of the main symbols of evil in the Greater East Asia War, along with the Kwantung Army, which is also hated in the post-war era.

However, if one were to look at various aspects of Ishihara Kanji’s life, they would see that he was actually a pacifist who opposed the Greater East Asia War. In creating Manchukuo, he had no intent of infringing upon China. By creating an independent country where the five Asian races (Japanese, Manchurian, Chinese, Korean, Mongolian) could live in harmony, he hoped he could create a barrier against the Soviet Union.

In the Portsmouth Treaty signed after the Russo-Japanese war, Japan failed to eliminate Soviet influence in northern Manchuria. In building Manchukuo, Ishihara wanted to create a buffer zone between Japan and the Soviet Union. He must have wanted to take the initiative in filling the hole left in Japan’s national defense after the Russo-Japanese war.

In textbooks in Japan today, Ishihara’s achievements are portrayed in a negative light; they imply that he conspired to carry out the Manchurian Incident so that he could build Manchukuo. However, when thinking of it as a single project one can’t deny how amazing it is that he it carried out on his own. He practically created an entire country just using his own leadership! (And nowadays most of us can barely build a house by ourselves.)

Ishihara probably wasn’t suited for working as a member of an organization, but as a project leader, he was unusually skilled.

Looking back at history, I don’t think Ishihara’s construction of Manchukuo itself was a mistake. From Meiji through Showa, people’s fear of Russia was even greater than people’s current fear of the threat of North Korea. Despite all the blood shed in the Russo-Japanese war, which was carried out in an attempt to assuage that fear, Japan didn’t manage to eliminate Soviet influence in Manchuria.

Thus, I believe that the desire to build a buffer zone (a protection against Russia) was common to all Japanese people at that time.

In reality, after the Russo-Japanese war, Japan should have just sold all of Manchuria to the American railroad baron Harriman as soon as he came looking to buy the Manchurian Railway. If it had, America would have provided protection against the Soviet Union, and in exchange for reparations Japan would have received a large amount of funds.

In addition, it would have been infinitely preferable to hide under the American umbrella than to live in fear of the Soviet threat. Inoue Kaoru and the other Senior Statesmen realized that and attempted to negotiate with Harriman, but Komura Jutaro, thinking such a thing would be an insult to the heroic spirits of the Japanese soldiers who died in the Russo-Japanese war, turned down Harriman’s proposal. It can’t be denied that that was a factor in the worsening of relations between Japan and America.

From an economic point of view, Manchukuo was necessary to Japan at that time. It was invaluable to Japan as both a source of natural resources and a market for exported goods. (Matsuoka Yosuke’s claim that “the Manmo are Japan’s lifeline” was not necessarily false.)

To be continued. I believe “Manmo” are the Japanese emigrants who were sent by the Japanese government to parts of
Manchuria and Mongolia after the Manchurian Incident, but I’m not entirely sure. I’ll try to figure it out later.

Edit: Actually it just refers to Manchuria and Mongolia in general. Sorry for the confusion, nonexistent people who read my blog.

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Three Views of History, pt. 2

Continue of translation from http://www7.plala.or.jp/machikun/essayv.htm

2. The Shiba View of History

The Shiba view of history is what managed to overturn this dominant view of history that prevailed in postwar Japan. Shiba Ryotaro depicts Meiji Japan in a particularly positive light. When I grew up and read Shiba’s works, I realized, “Hey, Meiji Japan was such a fun and positive place. So then what’s with all the stuff I learned as history before?” The Shiba view of history is as follows.

The Meiji period up until the Russo-Japanese war was a good time for Japan historically. With the Meiji Restoration, a centralized government was formed, they worked to become a prosperous country with a strong army, and Japan went from being a small Eastern country to being a world power on par with other world powers. (Although they did suffer.) It’s true that the rural people were poor, but rather than that being a result of exploitation by the ruling class, as Marxism would have it, it’s just that Japan was lacking in resources in general. It’s not poverty that should be lamented, but inequality. Everyone was poor, but for the strength of the country every citizen banded together as one and worked as hard as they could. That was the Meiji era up until the Russo-Japanese war.

However, as Japan progressed, a conflict with Russia, which was continually extending its reach further and further into East Asia, was inevitable. At the time Japanese people thought that the Korean peninsula was a lifeline for them, but looking at the international situation at the time, one can see it was an inevitability. There was no choice but to prevent Russia from exerting power on the Korean peninsula. However, Russia tried to get involved in Korea. Japan had no choice but to fight. Therefore, the Russo-Japanese war was not a planned war, but rather a defensive war. (Shiba writes that if Japan had given into Russia’s demands, his own last name would probably now end with “-sky”.)

However, the Russo-Japanese war changed the Japanese people. The pride of having defeated a country as big as Russia got the better of them. A symbol of that is the Hibiya Incendiary Incident that occurred after the signing of the Portsmouth Treaty. After that Japan started meddling in the Chinese continent. Eventually this led to a conflict with the Anglo-Saxons (Britain and America) who had special rights in China, which led to the Pacific War. Therefore, it must be said that the Pacific war was a war of aggression. In other words, from the Russo-Japanese war until the twentieth year of Showa (1945) when Japan lost the Pacific war, Japan mutated into an abnormal country. After the war Japan went back to how it had been during the Meiji period, and things were good.

This is the gist of the Shiba view of history. The crux of Shiba’s view of history is that only the first 20 years of Showa were really a bad time for Japan. Another important quality of Shiba’s view is that unlike the progressive view that states that the outbreak of the Pacific war was caused by a few individual leaders, it was actually the responsibility of all the Japanese people.

When Shiba’s most famous work, “The Cloud over the Hill,” was published in the fourth decade of Showa (late 1960s), his view of history garnered much support from the salarymen who at the time were supporting Japan and it’s economic growth. His view that Meiji had been a good and positive era in Japan’s history was greeted with passionate approval from those who had grown up learning a view of history poisoned by progressive ideology. I, too, upon reading Shiba’s works, felt like a cloud in front of my eyes had been cleared away.

3. The Libertarian View of History

Recently, a new view, which I call the libertarian view of history, has emerged. The thought of Fujioka Nobukatsu and Watanabe Shokichi is representative of this view. This view proposes that since the Meiji period Japan’s history has followed a cohesive path and nothing about it was bad. This view asserts that not only the Russo-Japanese war but also the Pacific war were defensive wars. Of course, the 1911 annexation of Korea was a lawful annexation sanctioned by all the other foreign countries, and considering the world situation at the time, it was a necessary move for Japan. The Nanking Massacre of course never happened, the Marco Polo Bridge Incident was a fabrication of the Chinese Communist Party, and so on and so forth.

This new Libertarian view of history probably resulted from the weakening of the Left following the fall of the Soviet Union. After the war, the Japanese education system came to be completely dominated by powerful Leftist forces like the Japanese Teacher’s Union. It could be observed that following the decline power of Communist ideology around the world, negative reactions to this Leftist ideological domination of the education system joined together and developed into a powerful movement. In other words, this view of history did not just appear suddenly out of nowhere; rather, it was the surfacing of a view of history that had just been oppressed previously. It’s not clear how influential this Libertarian view of history will become in the future, but it seems clear that it is a direct continuation of the Imperial view of history held before the war (in which Japan was a holy land ruled by the Imperial family), and it seems likely that it will develop into a legitimate view of history. (Additionally, according to Fujioka Nobukatsu, this Libertarian view is similar to the Shiba view and does not necessarily affirm the period between the Russo-Japanese and Pacific wars, but in reality, it seems that many supporters of this view veer away from the core values of its original proponents. Therefore, I here describe the universally accepted definition of “the Libertarian view of history.”)

4. The Various Views of History

Every person should be able to decide independently which view of history they choose to believe. No one should have any single view of history forced on them. Therefore, I feel that the extremely biased history education fed by the Japanese Teacher’s Union and others to middle- and high-schoolers who are unable to make reasoned decisions for themselves is extremely problematic. It will be difficult, but I would like to see a removal of bias from history textbooks, and teachers should be extremely careful not to push their own view of history on their students.

Therefore, as I wrote in my article, “Does History Consist of Memorization?”, it can’t be helped if the study of history in high schools develops an overemphasis on memorization and becomes boring. Rather than history education that overtly propounds a specific view of history with lessons like “thinking about the Nanking Massacre,” an education based on facts and memorization would be much more beneficial for the children.

Appendix: the Machida View of History.

Here I will explain my own view of history. I, Machida, will add a slight correction to the Shiba view of history. That is, I affirm the period between the Russo-Japanese war and the Manchurian Incident, but I hold a negative view of the period between the second Sino-Japanese war and the Pacific war.

Japan’s decision to build the country of Manchukuo could not be helped. At the time, the global economy was made up of blocs, and Japan was pushed out of the world market. Japan needed a large market in a nearby area. In addition, in order to defend against a Russia that was consistently progressing southward, Japan needed a line of defense in this area.

At the time, Chinese power did not reach as far as Manchuria. It was literally “no-man’s land.” Therefore, building a country there could not be considered an infringement of sovereignty under international law.

Originally, American capital had a stake in this area. After the Russo-Japanese war, the American railroad king Harriman proposed joint operation of the South Manchuria railway. Japan failed to take advantage of this offer, but if they had agreed, they most likely could have entered into a peaceful relationship with America and would not have needed to risk the danger inherent in building the country of Manchukuo.

Since the end of the war, Manchukuo has usually been referred to as a puppet regime, but Ishihara Kanji, the mastermind behind its construction, had no intention of making it such. He proposed “harmony between the five races of the world” and desired to build Manchukuo as an independent country. From the perspective of quality of human resources, it’s inevitable that the central government was mostly made up of Japanese people.

If Japan had only stopped moving further into the continent after Manchukuo, I don’t think the Great East Asia War would have occurred. Japan would have conducted trade with Manchukuo on a basis of equality, importing natural resources from Manchukuo and providing them with processed goods.

Manchukuo was judged unfavorably in the Lytton Report, but that was based on the subjective perspective of Britain and America, and was not a fair assessment. If Japan had followed Ishihara Kanji’s plans and carried out equal and peaceful trade with Manchukuo and had not desired to gain military influence on the continent, Britain and America would have had no choice but to accept the existence of Manchukuo. The aggressive tactics carried out by Ishihara and others in the building of the country would have been accepted as no different from Western imperialism. (In the past, Britain and America had done quite horrible things and created many colonies. Japan wasn’t even creating colonies, so in that sense, America and Britain were really in no position to judge.)

Thus, when considering Japan’s national prosperity and the global situation at the time, it is impossible to continue to espouse the view that the construction of Manchukuo was a military invasion. The problem was what happened afterwards.

Unfortunately, Japan ended up breaking loose from Ishihara Kanji’s influence and infringing on the sovereignty of China. This led to war between Japan and China, which turned into a catastrophe. Japan came to view Chiang Kai-shek as an enemy, and incurred the wrath of his supporters, Britain and America.

A table depicting positive and negative opinions in each of the views of history:

Progressive view of history: negative portrayal of Japan up until the Greater East Asia war; positive portrayal of Japan since the end of the Greater East Asia war.
Shiba view of history: positive portrayal of Japan until the Russo-Japanese war; negative portrayal of Japan from the Russo-Japanese war until the Greater East Asia war; positive portrayal of Japan since the end of the Greater east Asia war.
Libertarian view of history: Positive portrayal of Japan throughout.
Machida view of history: Positive portrayal of Japan except between the Manchurian Incident and the Greater East Asia war.

Notes of Naturemadecomplete: The following is all my biased and uneducated opinion so feel free to scorn me. I don’t agree with any of these views. How can we decide retroactively what was right and wrong? Who decides what a country is “allowed” to do or isn’t? Since the U.S. has been SO ridiculously hypocritical and despicable in its dealings with Japan and others, I’ve come to give Japan a lot of leeway, which I definitely didn’t used to. Basically, “principles” don’t work and there is no such thing as objectivity in practice. So while the concept of international law is all nice and good, it has never actually been carried out in a completely fair and just way, because such a thing would simple be impossible. A certain someone named, I forget but I won’t look it up because I don’t like him, but some guy I don’t like claimed that there are three different realms, the normal human realm and two spiritual realms, let’s call them the A realm and the C realm. According to him, the A realm is all about emotion and subjectivity, and the C realm is all about objectivity and higher principles. I think the concept of the C realm is a load of bullshit, and so did Motoori Norinaga, who criticized the “karagokoro” (“Chinese heart”) of Neo-Confucian teachings in the 18th century, which claimed to provide a rational and objective basis for morality based on higher principles, and proposed that everything is all about subjective emotion and story-telling. So he was like a post-modernist to the Neo-Confucian modernists or something, I don’t know. Anyway, my opinion is that I don’t think the concept of objectivity is bad, but it must be realized that its perfect achievement is literally impossible. So we should always aim for objectivity, while realizing that we’ll never actually attain it. Kind of like how we should always strive for perfection in what we do, while still understanding that we’ll never achieve it. That’s just how humans grow and learn and get good at stuff. Umm, so, I kind of 話をずらしてしまいましたが、got off topic, but I don’t think it’s possible to say “this is how history was, and this was good, and this was bad, and that’s final!” It’s impossible to grow and learn and improve if you think you’re already perfectly right. I also don’t believe in ideology, but I’m not a moral relativist because being mean is bad and mean people should go to their rooms and think about what they’ve done and stuff like that. Anyway, Motoori Norinaga was pretty cool, but he also said “Japan is better than China just because it’s Japan!” which doesn’t make much sense.

I also don’t think it can ever be accurate to define a mode of thought, or a “view of history” in this case, in such a simplified and concrete way. Within every school of thought, each individual has a slightly different perspective, and even each individual has conflicting views within their own mind. Also, these are certainly not the only “views” of history: some people think Japan is STILL bad, some people think it was great from Meiji until the end of the war and THEN it got bad, some people think it was good until the Russo-Japanese war and then got and stayed bad, etc. I think looking at periods of history as “good” and “bad” is silly. So there.

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Three Views of History

Translated from http://www7.plala.or.jp/machikun/essayv.htm

In present-day Japan, ways of viewing history can be divided into roughly three categories. On this page I want to take a look at these different views of history. The three views are as follows: 1) the progressive view of history; 2) the Shiba view of history; 3) the libertarian view of history.

1. The progressive view of history
This is the view of history originally propounded by Marxist scholars. After the war, these scholars were referred to as the “progressive school” and “progressive intellectuals,” which is where the name came from.

Marxism comprehends human history as constantly progressing forward towards the future. Human history begins with primitive collectivism, then moves through feudalism, absolute monarchy, capitalism, imperialism, and eventually, through a violent revolution, inevitably reaches communism. They believe that when communism has been achieved throughout the entire world, the human race no longer has a need for progress; a utopia will be achieved where there are no rich or poor, everyone is nice to each other, and of course wars and other forms of conflict are entirely absent. The following is a description of the progressive view of history based on this Marxist foundation.

The further back you go in human history, the more miserable people’s lives were. For instance, in the Edo period, the peasants suffered from oppressive taxes, lived in fear of cruel, power-hungry elites, and were forced to live not knowing if they would see another day. Even in the Meiji period this stayed the same, and although things did become better, the proletariat, forced to live in abject poverty due to contraditions in the structure of society, carried out a miserable existence.

In the latter part of the Meiji era the Russo-Japanese war occured, initiated of course by Japanese imperialism. Japan’s aggressive ideology led to the deployment of troops on the Chinese mainland. Ergo, the Russo-Japanese war was clearly a war of aggression on the part of Japan. After the Russo-Japanese war Japanese ideology became more and more focused on aggression and expansion, and of course the culmination of this was the Pacific War. That was, needless to say, also a war of aggression on the part of Japan. Furthermore it is thought that the Pacific War was arranged by a small number of powerful leaders as a tactic used to maintain their power. The people of Japan had no desire for war and all responsibility for the war lies in these few leaders. (This way of thinking just so happens to correlate perfectly with the view perpetuated by Allies at the Tokyo Tribunal. This is why the “progressive view of history” is also called the “Tokyo Tribunal view of history.”)

After the Pacific War ended, modern Japanese history finally took a turn for the better. Ideally a communist revolution would have been carried out in the second decade of Showa (shortly after the war), and the Emperor system would have been abolished, but unfortunately due to tyrannical despotism this was unable to occur. (Actually, a communist revolution was necessary, but it was prevented by those in power. Thus, Japan had no choice but to become a capitalist country.) This is the general outline of the progressive view of history.

After the war this way of thinking, due in part to the rise in power of the Japanese Teacher’s Union, came to dominate post-war Japanese education. For instance, I’m sure you all learned about the Russo-Japanese war in junior high school, but did you learn the names of its heroes Togo Heihachiro, Kodama Gentaro, and Nogi Maresuke? (Actually Nogi was not a hero, but I will not get into that here. Please see my “aa, nihyakusankochi” page for more.) I have no memory of learning those names. Instead, I remember learning Yosano Akiko’s famous anti-war poem, “you died and are no longer here,” which was always in the textbooks; and Uchimura Kanzo’s anti-war thought. Those kinds of things indirectly teach us that the Russo-Japanese war was a war of aggression.

In this way, the progressive view of history caused a great bias in post-war Japanese education. I recall learning history and always feeling sick of reading the dark, pessimistic passages about the years between the Russo-Japanese war and the Pacific war. In my childish naivete, I remember thinking, “wow, after the Pacific War, Japan finally became a real country.”

To be continued…

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