marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

Japan's War

Japan's War:  The Great Pacific Conflict by Edwin P. Hoyt

Where to begin an account of World War II from the Japanese perspective?  Why, with a brisk history of Japan up to the Meiji Constitution (in two chapters), a few chapters hitting such highlights as Japan's turn to imperialism in Korea -- and why the heck not, when every other Great Power was?  Up to the China Incident, which is perhaps the outbreak of World War II because the fighting went on and on and on until it merged with what is unquestionably World War II.  (I note that the chapter titles are all Japanese sayings, which are all chosen well and striking, but not entirely useful when trying to locate something.)

And so onward, through the alliance with Germany and Italy, the outbreak of war in the West, the American, British, and Dutch cut-off of oil, the battles of World War II, all the way to the defeat and the trials of war criminals.

Lots of interesting stuff. 

The junior officers who deliberately provoked the China Incident and got away with it.  Other junior officers whose attempts at overthrowing the government got handled mildly except for the time that the Emperor blew his stake and insisted on harshness.   Also, the local commanders often ran basically on their own, which accounted for a lot of the atrocities.  (Though I think he pushes it too far when he argues that therefore their superiors were not responsible.  Who allowed them to run wild?  It wasn't as if atrocities were incidental or isolated, and their superiors did not even try to rein them in.)

The insanity of requiring a general or admiral on active duty to act as Minister of War.  The effect was that the armed forces could prevent a government by refusing to fill the post and it was impossible for civilians to control them.  It was intended to prevent civilian meddling, but the results were not pretty.

Army-navy hostility.  In spades.

Some Japanese officers were visiting Germany and then Italy when Hitler summoned them back to Germany to explain that he expected an attack from the Soviet Union any time, and they had best get back. The army officers went.  The naval ones dismissed it.  After Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, they were shipped, without their luggage, to Argentina by submarine.  Took 'em months to get back to Japan.

Corregidor was a serious embarrassment.  This is where American forces held out the longest.  Propaganda would announce it was on the verge of conquest, and then fall silent for a few weeks, to announce it again and then fall silent again -- and this in a time of unbroken successes.

A general who objected to the Bataan Death March to an officer involved was stabbed by him on the stop.  And then made a scapegoat for the unfriendly attitudes of the Phillippines in spite of his acting much more generously toward them than his successors -- though things weren't rosy while he was there.  The officer who stabbed him also secretly arranged the execution of Filipinos who worked for Americans.

Midway.  The Americans were almost sure the Japanese were about to attack Midway, that it was the AF in their messages.  Then some officers were talking in Naval Intelligence.  One had been an engineer and knew Midway was dependent on rain or its distillery for drinking water.  Another said that the Japanese would send back word if it broke.  So they told Midway to broadcast a message in the clear that it had broken, and Hawaii to broadcast back that they would send fresh water.  When the Japanese sent a message that AF's plant had broken down -- they knew.

Midway  undermined some propaganda claims at first, the Japanese pilots saw that however unskilled the American pilots were, they were obviously trying to attack with much courage.  Then the dive bombers hit.  It was presented to the Japanese public as a glorious victory.  The navy didn't tell Tojo -- the Prime Minister -- what a disaster it had been for a month.  Which began a whole string of lies about defeats, ones that got hard and harder to maintain.

The enormous battle at Guadalcanal and Henderson Field, which was the airport that the Americans landed to prevent the Japanese from building and then built themselves.  If they had sent enough men, they might have won, but they never did until the Americans had managed to make supplying them too difficult.  A lot of Japanese soldiers died of hunger.

It was also the point at which newspapers started to have less fun.  When you used to be able to plaster the front page with Victory, Victory, Victory! while telling the truth, it got harder about here.

The funerals for "hero gods" would slip through the cracks of censorship.  People would be told of the deaths of soldiers in battles -- and so hear of the battles for the first time.

American island-hopping produced a PR problem even in a state like Imperial Japan.  The public demanded some effort to feed the soldiers that the Americans had left behind to die on the vine.  They tried to send in seeds they could plant by submarine.

The Japanese tried to push to win in China under the impression that would remove the reason to fight.  Then, they also thought the effect of Pearl Harbor would be to demoralize the United States.

Saipan was among the last of the "We're winning!  Our glorious fighting spirit!  Massive loss inflicted!"  Partly because they would announce where they were fighting, and anyone with a map could see that they were driven back.  Until finally they lost the island, and had to admit that they had -- shudder -- been defeated.  Tojo's government fell.  (Most of the civilian population died, heavily from suicide.  Bad effects all around.   Helped convince American soldiers that they wouldn't surrender so you might as well kill them, which of course encouraged Japanese to continue to fight.)

It was the firebombing that really brought around the Emperor and various other ministers to a peace position, not the atom bomb, which after all did not kill as many as some of the firebombing raids.  They had to finagle around the military officials who wanted to fight to the last man.  (It was the realization that the Americans were as willing to fight to the last Japanese subject as the Japanese were that brought about the willingness to surrender.)  Indeed, some army officers tried to forcibly prevent the Emperor's broadcast, seizing and searching the Imperial Palace.  (The recordings had been safely hidden.)  They of course claimed they were trying to deal with his corrupt advisers who were all to blame.

Which brings me to the part I found most interesting.  You have to read the entire book to get the full impression it gives of Hirohito.  It's debatable, and in fact fiercely debated, but the picture of a monarch whose big problems are that he thinks too highly of his status as a constitutional monarch rather than an absolute one and therefore does not throw his weight around, and is too mild-mannered to keep his rage going and ensure that the military clean up its act after it enraged him.  Certainly the attempt to prevent the broadcast showed that the military was willing to thwart him.  It would perhaps be too subversive to actually have such a fictional monarch.
Tags: history reviews: far east, history reviews: world war ii era, politics

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