Feeds:
Entradas
Comentarios

Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

El panafricanismo y el nacionalismo negro no son temas ajenos a esta bitácora. En varias ocasiones hemos abordado ambos, especialmente al enfocar la figura de Marcus Garvey. Lo que no hemos atendido en la visión internacional y geopolítica de éstos. En este interesante ensayo publicado en JStor Daily, Mohammed Elnaiem, estudiante graduado de Sociología en la Universidad de Cambridge, analiza la compleja relación entre la intelectualidad negra estadounidense y el ascenso del Imperio Japonés.

September 1905. Japan had just become the first Asian power to defeat a European Empire with the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War. For more than a year, the Japanese Empire and Tsarist Russia had been vying for control over Korea and Manchuria. On September 5th, Japan forced a Russian retreat, sending shockwaves across the intellectual sphere of black America and the colonial world. As Bill V. Mullen of Purdue University eloquently notes in his 2016 book, W.E.B. Du Bois: Revolutionary Across the Color Line, Du Bois was so moved that he declared: “The magic of the word ‘white’ is already broken.” Du Bois was convinced that “the awakening of the yellow races is certain… the awakening of the brown and black races will follow in time.”

For anti-colonial intellectuals and black activists in the U.S., the Japanese victory presented a moment of realization: If, with the right strategy, European colonialists could be forced to retreat from far east Asia, why couldn’t they be forced to leave the Caribbean and Africa?

By the time World War I began, Du Bois would write a seminal essay, “The African Roots of War,” wherein he would ask why African workers and laborers would participate in a war they couldn’t understand. Why, he wondered, would “Africans, Indians and other colonial subjects” fight for the sole aim of “the exploitation of the wealth of the world mainly outside the European circle of nations?” He demanded that they take inspiration from “the awakened Japanese.” By the end of World War I, African American and Japanese intellectuals would develop a transpacific camaraderie.

For Du Bois and his contemporaries, the Japanese victory proved that the empire could be a fulcrum for the colored peoples of the world, a means by which European expansion could be dislodged. But what a paradox this was: The Japanese empire, which sought nothing but the occupation of Korea, Manchuria, and if possible, the whole Far East, was being cheered on by self-identified anti-colonial intellectuals.

Regardless, Japan cast its spell on black consciousness, and by the end of World War I, African American and Japanese intellectuals would develop a transpacific camaraderie. African Americans would praise Japanese diplomacy, and Japanese intellectuals—left-wing or right-wing—would condemn Jim Crow. To understand this relationship, one must look to Paris.

The Paris Peace Conference & the End of WWI

To conclude the first World War, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson laid out a structure that would inspire the UN decades later. In Paris, he announced his fourteen points for a new world order built on peace and self-determination of oppressed peoples. He called it the League of Nations.

 William Monroe Trotter
William Monroe Trotter

Meanwhile, in the States, the lynching of blacks went unanswered and segregation continued unabated. A liberal abroad, and a so-called pragmatist at home, Wilson was seen as hypocritical by many of the black-left intelligentsia. In fact, William Monroe Trotter—an eminent voice against segregation in the early twentieth century, and a man who once campaigned for Wilson’s presidency—became one of his greatest foes.

Trotter gained nationwide infamy after being kicked out of the White House for challenging Wilson. He had been invited to speak on civil rights issues, but challenged the president on racial segregation among federal employees. Trotter called this segregation humiliating. Wilson responded firmly, exclaiming, “Your tone, sir, offends me.” Trotter was subsequently expelled from the premises.

From then on, Trotter made it his mission to embarrass Wilson on the global stage. When Wilson declared his plan to espouse his “fourteen points” for a global, post-war order at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Trotter not only proposed a fifteenth point for racial equality, but travelled to Paris to protest and ensure its inclusion in the negotiations.

A. Phillip Randolph, a pioneer of the civil rights movement, sought to highlight the symbolism of Trotter’s actions. As Yuichiro Onishi, an African Americanist at the University of Minnesota notes, in a March 1919 issue of The Messenger, Randolph remarked that:

Trotter wanted to use his presence as a weapon to demonstrate Washington’s failure to reconcile Jim Crow laws with the liberal principles that Wilson espoused abroad. It was an ingenious, albeit unprepared, plan: Trotter arrived too late.

At the time, Japanese politicians seemed to be watching U.S. race relations closely. It could have been coincidental or it could it have been intentional, but Baron Nobuaki Makino, a senior diplomat in the Japanese government and the principal delegate for the Empire, proposed Japan’s “racial equality bill” at the meeting to found the League of Nations. Japan only said that all nations were equal, but this seemingly offended Wilson (and the leaders of Australia and the UK). The proposal was immediately struck down.Was it love? Solidarity? Or a pragmatic way to highlight the hypocrisy of the United States?

The symbolic value of these actions nonetheless reignited African American intellectual admiration for Japan. Fumiko Sakashita, a professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan, shows how Japanese intellectuals were humbled by this. One Pan-Asian, and self-described “right-wing literary,” Kametaro Mitsukawa, hyperbolically asked why “black people exhibit the portrait of our baron Nobuaki Makino alongside that of the liberator Abraham Lincoln on the walls of their houses?” A correspondent in Chicago, Sei Kawashima, told his readers that “Japan’s proposal of abolishing racial discrimination at the peace conference… gave black people a great psychological impact at that time.”

That it did. Marcus Garvey, a leading nationalist and Pan-Africanist who advocated for African Americans to return to Africa, was so impassioned that he believed that after the Great War, “the next war will be between the Negroes and the whites unless our demands for justice are recognized… With Japan to fight with us, we can win such a war.”

Marcus Garvey

Japan’s newfound interest in African American affairs only blossomed. As Sakashita notes, Fumimaro Konoe, a delegate at the Paris Peace Conference and future prime minister of Japan, wrote in his book that “black rage against white persecutions and insults” were at an all-time high. Fusae Ichikawa, a Japanese woman suffragist, wrote an article about the struggle of black women, which she saw first hand after touring the country with the NAACP. She called it a “disgrace to civilization.” It’s not entirely clear why Japanese thinkers glanced across the Pacific with such concern for the U.S.’s blacks. Was it love? Solidarity? Or a pragmatic way to highlight the hypocrisy of the United States?

Even in Paris, Onishi argues, Japan won German concessions in Shantung China, and demanded control in the Marshalls, the Marianas, and the Carolines. “Reference to lynching,” Onishi writes “served as one of the best rhetorical defences of Japan’s imperialist policy.” Whatever the intentions of Japanese intellectuals may have been, in other words, the Japanese government found this preoccupation useful and even promoted it.

Some black intellectuals caught on to this, and suspicion arose. “A word of warning, however, to the unsuspecting,” wrote A. Phillip Randolph and Chandler Owen in 1919. “The smug and oily Japanese diplomats are no different from Woodrow Wilson, Lloyd George or Orlando. They care nothing for even the Japanese people and at this very same moment are suppressing and oppressing mercilessly the people of Korea and forcing hard bargains upon unfortunate China.”

Garvey’s followers disagreed, seeing Japan as a source of messianic salvation.

Decades later, during World War II, when Japan began to steer towards the direction of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, an African American ambivalence would develop towards Tokyo. As described by Kenneth C. Barnes, a professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas, there were on the one hand the Neo-Garveyites, those who infused his belief of an apocalyptic race war with religious, redemptive overtones. You could find them in the unlikeliest of places; as black sharecroppers in rural Mississippi County, Arkansas, for instance. On the other hand, there were the liberals, socialists, and mainstream black intellectuals who compared Jim Crow at home to Japanese repression abroad, reminding Washington that, at least in their view, the U.S. was the very monster it was fighting.

Japan in the Axis & a Divided Black Diaspora

In 1921, in the small community of Nodena in Misissippi County, Arkansas, a man was lynched. Henry Lowry was a forty-year-old black sharecropper. A mob of six hundred people poured gasoline over his body and set it ablaze atop a bonfire. Perhaps it was the only way to die with dignity, or maybe he wanted to end the misery, but Lowry grabbed the first pieces of hot coal he could find and swallowed them.

The event was traumatic for the blacks of Mississippi County. One in five residents of the county was black. Many of them were enraged, and many became susceptible to the oratory of Marcus Garvey, a Jamaican immigrant who called for black self-reliance, economic independence, and a military alliance among blacks and Japanese against white power. Not long after Lowry was lynched, eight chapters of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), Garvey’s organization, were formed in Mississippi County.

By 1934, the influence of the UNIA had already made its mark on the sharecroppers, and many were devout followers. In that year, a Filipino man who was honourably discharged from the Navy showed up in Mississippi County, Arkansas, one day. He was a former member of the Pacific Movement of the Eastern World, an organisation linked to the UNIA that tried to organize blacks to commit treason and support Japan in the war effort.

His real name was Policarpio Manansala, but he went by the name Ashima Takis. He was Filipino but faked a Japanese accent. Manansala had thousands of followers in the rural south. In his study on Mississipi county, Barnes recounts the story of how Takis attracted a Filipino-Mexican couple and a black man. They were arrested after giving a speech contending that “this country could be taken over entirely by the colored races” if they united with Japan. They did their time, but managed to evade the prosecutor’s recommendation that they be arrested for anarchy and an alleged plot to overthrow the government. They got off easier than most.

In fact, during the second world war, hundreds of African Americans were arrested on charges of sedition, including Elijah Muhammed, the mentor of Malcolm X and the spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam. One article in the Times Daily, dated August 19, 1942, talked about Robert Jordan, a “West Indian negro,” and four others who were arrested on a sedition conspiracy indictment due to their role in an Ethiopian Pacific movement which envisioned “a coalition of Africa and Japan in an Axis-dominated world.” The four leaders in charge were arrested amid a lecture they gave to hundreds of African Americans in a Harlem hall.

But this approach was not the only one. Others sought to resist black oppression through another discourse. Particularly after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japan became a rhetorical target for the African American elite, Sakashita notes. Insofar as Japan was an ally of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy, it needed to be critiqued in the “war against Hitlerism at home, and Hitlerism abroad.” Just as liberals and socialists criticized the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps set up by the United States government—asking, as one George Schuyler did, if “this may be a prelude to our own fate”—they took the opportunity to remind the U.S. that its condemnations of Japan were warranted, although hypocritical.

One cartoon featured in the Baltimore Afro-American put this prevailing sentiment the best. As Sakashita reconstructs it, it shows “a grinning Hitler and smiling slant-eyes Japanese soldiers witness hanging and burning… [a] lynching.” The cartoon didn’t stop short of marshalling the very American patriotism that the U.S. used in its war effort to say that the U.S. was complicit in fascism at home. For some blacks, even in the latter half of the twentieth century, Japan remained as “leader of the darker races.” For others, it was a wartime enemy. What is for certain is that Imperial Japan was a preoccupation of the black radical imagination.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Harry Truman’s Atomic Bomb Decision: After 70 Years We Need to Get Beyond the Myths 

HNN August 2, 2015

President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb against Japan in 1945 is arguably the most contentious issue in all of American history. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have generated an acrimonious debate that has raged with exceptional intensity for five decades. The spectrum of differing views ranges from unequivocal assertions that the atomic attacks were militarily and morally justified to claims that they were unconscionable war crimes. The highly polarized nature of the controversy has obscured the reasons Truman authorized the dropping of the bomb and the historical context in which he acted.

The dispute over the atomic bomb has focused on competing myths that have received wide currency but are seriously flawed. The central question is, “was the bomb necessary to end the war as quickly as possible on terms that were acceptable to the United States and its allies?”

The “traditional” view answers the question with a resounding “Yes.” It maintains that Truman either had to use the bomb or order an invasion of Japan that would have cost hundreds of thousands of American lives, and that he made the only reasonable choice. This interpretation prevailed with little dissent among scholars and the public for the first two decades after the end of World War II. It still wins the support of a majority of Americans. A Pew Research Center poll published in April 2015 showed that 56% of those surveyed, including 70% aged 65 and over, agreed that “using the atomic bomb on Japanese cities in 1945 was justified,” while 34% thought it was unjustified.

The “revisionist” interpretation that rose to prominence after the mid-1960s answers the question about whether the bomb was necessary with an emphatic “No.” Revisionists contend that Japan was seeking to surrender on the sole condition that the emperor, Hirohito, be allowed to remain on his throne. They claim that Truman elected to use the bomb despite his awareness that Japan was in desperate straits and wanted to end the war. Many revisionists argue that the principal motivation was not to defeat Japan but to intimidate the Soviet Union with America’s atomic might in the emerging cold war.

It is now clear that the conflicting interpretations are unsound in their pure forms. Both are based on fallacies that have been exposed by the research of scholars who have moved away from the doctrinaire arguments at the poles of the debate.

The traditional insistence that Truman faced a stark choice between the bomb and an invasion is at once the most prevalent myth and the easiest to dismiss. U.S. officials did not regard an invasion of Japan, which was scheduled for November 1, 1945, as inevitable. They were keenly aware of other possible means of achieving a decisive victory without an invasion. Their options included allowing the emperor to remain on the throne with sharply reduced power, continuing the massive conventional bombing and naval blockade that had destroyed many cities and threatened the entire Japanese nation with mass starvation, and waiting for the Soviets to attack Japanese troops in Manchuria. Traditionalists have generally played down the full range of options for ending the war and failed to explain why Truman regarded the bomb as the best alternative.

A staple of the traditional interpretation is that an invasion of Japan would have caused hundreds of thousands of American deaths, as Truman and other officials claimed after the war. But it is not supported by contemporaneous evidence. Military chiefs did not provide estimates in the summer of 1945 that approached numbers of that magnitude. When Truman asked high-level administration officials to comment on former president Herbert Hoover’s claim that an invasion would cost 500,000 to 1,000,000 American lives, General Thomas T. Handy, General Marshall’s deputy chief of staff, reported that those estimates were “entirely too high.” Hoover apparently based his projections on an invasion of the entire Japanese mainland, but military planners were convinced that landings on southern Kyushu and perhaps later on Honshu, if they became necessary, would force a Japanese surrender.

The revisionist interpretation suffers from even more grievous flaws. Japanese sources opened in the past few years have shown beyond reasonable doubt that Japan had not decided to surrender before Hiroshima. It is also clear from an abundance of evidence that U.S. officials were deeply concerned about how to end the war and how long it would take. The arguments that Japan was seeking to surrender on reasonable terms and that Truman knew it are cornerstones of the revisionist thesis. They have been refuted by recent scholarship, though impressing the Soviets was a secondary incentive for using the bomb.

The answer to the question about whether the bomb was necessary is “Yes”. . . and “No.” Yes, it was necessary to end the war at the earliest possible moment, and that was Truman’s primary concern. Without the bomb, the war would have lasted longer than it did. Nobody in a position of authority told Truman that the bomb would save hundreds of thousands of American lives, but saving a far smaller number was ample reason for him to use it. He hoped that the bomb would end the war quickly and in that way reduce American casualties to zero.

No, the bomb was not necessary to avoid an invasion of Japan. The war would almost certainly have ended before the scheduled invasion. A combination of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, the effects of conventional bombing and the blockade, the steady deterioration of conditions in Japan, and growing concerns among the emperor’s advisers about domestic unrest would probably have brought about a Japanese surrender before November 1. And no, the bomb was not necessary to save hundreds of thousands of American lives.

The controversy over Truman’s decision seems certain to continue. The use of a bomb that killed tens of thousands instantaneously needs to be constantly re-examined and re-evaluated. This process should be carried out on the basis of documentary evidence and not on the basis of myths that have taken hold and dominated the discussion for 70 years.

J. Samuel Walker is the author of Prompt and Utter Destruction: Truman and the Use of Atomic Bombs against Japan (University of North Carolina Press, 1997, second edition, 2004). He is now working on a third edition of the book.

Read Full Post »

Okinawa: Why They Chose Death

Jonathan Mirsky

The New York Review of Books    October 23, 2014

A Japanese naval lieutenant surrounded by American soldiers in Okinawa, July 14, 1945. Keystone/Getty Images

Would the Japanese have surrendered without Hiroshima? For decades the question has lingered, as historians have challenged one of the most important American rationales for dropping the bomb. While we can never know what the Japanese would have done in other circumstances, the question comes freshly into view in Descent into Hell: Civilian Memories of the Battle of Okinawa, a remarkable new book based on Japanese eyewitness testimony from one of the bloodiest land battles of the war.

Two things jump out about this big book. One is that it is unusual to read extensive personal accounts of civilians on the enemy side who suffered in large numbers during World War II. The second is that, at least to judge by the inhabitants of Okinawa, many Japanese civilians, together with their emperor, were unwilling to surrender.

The huge US offensive in Okinawa—the only part of Japan where US forces fought on the ground—lasted eighty-two days in the spring of 1945 and cost about as many lives altogether as the atom bombs themselves. The US invading force of 1,050 ships carrying 548,000 men vastly outnumbered the 110,000 Japanese soldiers defending the island. But the Japanese held out with remarkable tenacity, and 77,000 Japanese soldiers and over 140,000 civilians would be killed before the US could declare victory. On the US side, more than 14,000 troops lost their lives, including 4,900 sailors felled by Japanese kamikaze—“divine wind”—suicide pilots, of which there were 3,050. As Hanson W. Baldwin, the New York Times war correspondent, described it, “Never before had there been, probably never again will there be, such a vicious sprawling struggle.”

I was thirteen at the time and recall my feelings of pride that American soldiers were yet again beating the fiendish, barely human Japanese. This was bolstered by the press and by super-patriotic films like Wake Island, in which Americans lost but only temporarily. Later, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a new belief took hold among liberal and leftist Americans: that the reasons given for dropping the bombs—among them, above all, that the Japanese would never surrender unless pulverized—were self-serving and false. Because of this new book I am thinking again.

The survivors’ accounts contained in Descent into Hell were originally gathered in the early 1980s by the Okinawan newspaper Ryukyu Shimpo, in which reporters discovered that these civilian wartime memories had been repressed in postwar Japan. Nearly thirty years later, the translator and Okinawan specialist Mark Ealey, together with Alastair McLauchlan, secured permission from the newspaper to use these testimonies as the basis of a new, English-language account of the battle from the eyes of Japanese civilians. In assembling this nearly five-hundred-page book, the translators have incorporated the testimony into a chapter-by-chapter account of the battle that includes their own extensive commentary and analysis, as well as notes on specific themes, maps, and a timeline of the battle itself. In an introductory essay, the former governor of Okinawa, Ota Masahide, writes that, “The Battle of Okinawa was distinct from all other battles in the Pacific War in that it was fought…with the majority of the resident civilian population still present.” According to Ota, “The horrific death toll and the fanatical resistance by the Japanese soldiers affected the thinking of the American leaders and was a significant factor leading to the decision to drop atomic bombs on mainland Japan.”

Out of a population on the island of 450,000, one third were killed and many more wounded. Many of those killed were young teenagers, totally untrained but keen to scout, carry ammunition, and to nurse. Others died in caves where they had sought refuge. Entire families were wiped out—whether by American shelling and bombing, by committing suicide, or by Japanese soldiers who feared they might surrender or were spies. The testimonies of those young people and their parents are detailed, unrancorous, and poignant.

“We wanted to be of use to the country as quickly as we could,” the sole survivor of a signal corps unit made up of teenage boys recalls. “We were consumed by a burning desire to offer our lives in defense of the nation. We had no fear of death whatsoever.” Another who was a boy at the time similarly describes the so-called “infiltration raids” in which he and his friends were sent to disrupt enemy lines: “Classmates dropped in front of my eyes, one after the other, launching those raids where death was the only possible outcome. They went on those raids simply to get killed. That’s how war is.” Some felt regret about their own survival. “I was envious of my school friends who died,” one Okinawan recalls. “I thought that it was just a matter of time before my number was up too….I really thought that it would be easier to die sooner than later.”

Another student remembers how those already sent to fight would write letters to friends saying they would “meet at the Yasukuni Shrine” on the mainland where people who died for the emperor were commemorated. “We always felt that, however grim things seemed, there was no way that our divine nation would lose the war….That’s because we were all more than happy to die for our country.”

Civilians returning from hiding places in the hills following the American invasion of Okinawa, April 17, 1945. Fox Photos/Getty Images

 

In some ways, the experience of the war seems to have been even more traumatic for young girls, who were enlisted as nurses to care for the wounded or even to deal with dead bodies in the most horrific circumstances. Many were given hand grenades by the military or phials of potassium cyanide by medical staff so they could take their own lives rather than risk capture. One, who dealt with the dead, says, “There were so many bodies out there that we weren’t able to carry out a proper burial. There were blowflies all over the swollen, bluish-black corpses. They no longer looked like human beings. But the thing that frightened me most was myself. It was as though I’d become some sort of hard-hearted person who couldn’t cry even when I saw a dead body. I felt that I’d turned into a cold human being.”

All we hoped for, one schoolgirl nurse says, was to “die in an appropriate manner.” Another recalls how ten of her classmates who were about to be captured by the Americans decided to commit group suicide with their teacher. “When I went over to look, I could see Mr. Taira lying on the ground surrounded by the girls, all lying limp and inert around him. Pieces of flesh were all around. The face of one of the third year students was just covered in blood. I remember that I was so shocked that it didn’t seem to register.”

So pervasive was the cult of self-sacrifice that several women say they had to be reminded that survival was important too: “Death is not the only way to serve your country,” one unit commander told the schoolgirl nurses under his watch. “I’ve got children your age and think of all of you as my children, so I can’t lead you to your deaths. You have been through an experience that children from other prefectures could not even begin to imagine.”

Throughout the terrific shelling and bombing of the island and gassing of the caves where civilians had taken refuge, the Americans called loudly on the Japanese to surrender. It was apparent from the outset that the US forces were overwhelmingly superior; survivors recall that enemy pilots’ faces could be seen. Paradoxically, for those that did get captured, the dreaded Americans seem to have taken care of their prisoners—military and civilian—relatively well. “I hated and feared those Americans,” one survivor recalls, “but they treated me with great care and kindness, while my classmates, my teachers, left me behind.”

Bolstered by Ealey and McLauchlan’s extensive research, Descent into Hell records that from the late nineteenth century, Japanese education became highly nationalistic and militarized. On Okinawa, students were commanded to show total devotion to the emperor and therefore to the nation, and during the war most Okinawans obeyed military orders as though they had been given by the emperor himself. Any form of coercive message from the Imperial Japanese Army, the translators write, was manifested in a determination to die rather than surrender—a determination heightened by what the soldiers told Okinawans, especially children: that the Americans would commit terrible depredations on anyone who fell into their hands. (The book suggests that Japanese soldiers were re-telling actual atrocities they had committed in China.) This explains why many civilians killed themselves after killing helpless but acquiescent members of their families. Such tale-telling by the military to encourage suicide was embarrassing enough years later for it to be edited substantially from history textbooks.

The result for Okinawa—and Japan—was cataclysmic. In early 1945, the Japanese prime minister had recommended that the war be brought to an end, but as Ealey and McLauchlin write, Hirohito believed that one last military success “would force the United States and its allies to offer peace terms that would allow Japan to maintain its national polity, which of course hinged on the status and institution of the emperor.“ Had the prime minister’s advice been followed, they observe, “there may never have been a Battle of Okinawa, or atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.” Indeed. General Douglas MacArthur urged that the emperor’s status be preserved, and there is a memorable photograph of the two recent adversaries standing side by side in Tokyo not long after the war ended. Hirohito’s descendants have remained on the throne to this day. What we learn from this profoundly disturbing and enlightening book is that tens of thousands of misled Okinawans died for nothing.

Jonathan Mirsky is a historian of China and was formerly the East Asia Editor of The Times of London.
 (July 2014)


Descent into Hell: Civilian Memories of the Battle of Okinawa, translated by Mark Ealey and Alastair McLauchlan, has just been published by Merwin Asia and is distributed by University of Hawaii Press.

Read Full Post »

Hiroshima: What People Think Now

HNN  August 8, 2010

Hiroshima Peace Memorial, also known as the A-Bomb Dome. The atomic bomb which destroyed Hiroshima detonated almost precisely above the building. Credit: Wikipedia

Related Links

News

Commentary: Historians

Commentary: Media

 

Read Full Post »