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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Rise and Fall of the Empire of the Sun

I decided to honor Pearl Harbor Day with an overview of the rise and fall of the Japanese Empire, and try to shed some light on just why they attacked us. Please forgive any misspellings or poor wording; I had to get this out FAST and will try to clean it up later!

On December 7, in the Year of Our Lord 1941, the Empire of Japan launched a spectacular air-raid on the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. This daring attack marked the open involvement of the United States in World War II, and would forever change the world`s alignment of power. Most Americans (well, those who didn`t attend public schools) are intimately acquainted with this story, and I don`t intend on retelling it here. My purpose, instead, is to look back into the WHY of Pearl Harbor, into what lead up to the deathstruggle between the Kingdom of the Rising Sun and the Great Republic of the West. This is seldom discussed, or is given little attention; and most Americans know little and care even less. Still, history is important in and of itself, because if we understand where we have come from, we can (sometimes) understand where we are going.

America awakened a sleeping giant. This occured on on July 8, 1853 when a fleet of four U.S. ships anchored at Edo Bay (Tokyo) with the express purpose of opening trade with the feudal Kingdom of Japan. Commadore Matthew Perry, in command of the Powhatan, frightened the Japanese, who had never seen a steamship and thought they were dragons! Before this historic event, trade with Japan was limited to Chinese and Portuguese merchants, who were only allowed to enter through officially approved ports for very limited trade. The Japanese feared what would happen to them if corrupting outside influences were allowed, and they had seen the disgrace heaped upon their Confucian brothers in China as a result of opening relations with the West. (China had been forced to surrender certain ports to Western powers, and the Middle Kingdom had become a quasi-colonial entity.) Japan, under the Tokugawa Shogunate, had maintained an insular feudal system, and sought to protect that system through limiting contact with the outside world; this was possible, of course, because Japan is an island, and must be visited by ship. (A Shogun was a military leader, or warlord. At the time of Perry Japan was ruled in practice by the Shogun, with the Emperor acting as a figurehead.) The old sailing vessels were not strong enough to force their way into protected harbors, so Japan was safe-until Western naval power became irresistable. The developement of the steamship made Western naval power irresistable, and Commodore Perry illustrated the vulnerability of Japan; it became obvious that any unscrupulous Western power could overwhelm the Kingdom.

The next year, Japan and the United States signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, officially opening relations between America and Japan. It became obvious to the Japanese that they were going to have to westernize, to compete with the Western powers or face becoming a colony. They began an ambitious program of reform, transforming Japan from a Confucian, agrarian society into a militaristic, industrial one.

The restoration of the Emperors under the rule of newly crowned Meiji after the fall of the Kanagawa Shogunate in 1868 began the full flowering of Japanese modernization. The Meiji Restoration came about as a result of pressure from the merchant coalitions and from the Kanagawa`s old rivals, the Satsuma and Choshu clans. The death of the Shogun Lemochi in 1866 seriously weakened the already tenuous grip of the Shogunate, and the new Emperor was reinstated as a result of a brief civil war. In 1869 the Emperor moved his court from Kyoto to the city of Edo, which he renamed Tokyo (Eastern Capital). The rise of a modern Japan had begun.

The Japanese approach to modernization was wildly successful, and should act as a model for developing nations today. Their primary emphasis was, initially, on the developement of agriculture. They understood that a stable food supply was vital to their national security. How can any nation maintain their independence when they are reliant on food from abroad? Any nation with sufficient naval power could cut the lifeline and starve Japan into submission. The emphasis on food production made industrialization possible in Japan. (This is the lesson most developing countries have failed to learn in our modern era-they mostly concentrate on industry to build weapons, or on socialist schemes to enrich the leaders.) With a stable food base it was possible for the population to rise, possible to engage more people in work outside of the agricultural sector.

Not that Japan neglected building weaponry; as their industrial base grew, so did their military. The Japanese were always a militaristic people, and during the Shogunate their feudal knights were called Samurai. They followed a strict life and death code of honor known as Bushido (literally ``the way of the warrior``);

"It puts emphasis on loyalty, self sacrifice, justice, sense of shame, refined manners, purity, modesty, frugality, martial spirit, honor and affection" (Nippon Steel Human Resources Development Co. Ltd. 329).

The deep roots of Bushido made the Japanese soldier a formidable, merciless foe. Surrender was absolutely disgraceful, so Japanese mistreated POW`s, while few ever surrendered themselves. Once the Japanese developed modern military hardware and techniques they became the dominant power in the far east.

Japan would ascend to that lofty position in 1905, when they would become the first non-western nation to defeat one of the great European powers. The Russo-Japanese War followed on the heels of the Sino-Japanese war of 1894 in which the Japanese pummelled the Middle Kingdom. Japan seized, among other things, Port Arthur from China but were forced to lease it to the Russians as a result of European diplomatic pressures, while the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 lead to Russian troops occupying Manchuria. Both Japan and Russia cast covetous eyes on Korea (Japan had always refered to the peninsula as a dagger pointed at Japan`s heart.) The Japanese, encouraged by an alliance with Britain, launched a surprise attack on the hapless Russkies, and Russia was forced to attempt to send it`s famed Baltic Fleet around the Cape of Good Hope to engage Japan, but to no avail. Peace talks were held at Portsmouth, New Hampshire where Secretary of War Taft brokered a treaty. What was not generally known was that Taft made a deal with the Japanese to recognize their hegemony in Korea in return for their recognition of our control of the Phillippines.

This victory of the Empire of the Sun over the Russian Bear propelled Japan into world power status, while accelerated the demise of the Tsar of All the Russias, who would abdicate his throne 13 years later.

Japan fought bravely on the side of the British during the First World War, but would later sour on their Anglo alliance. At the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 France, Britain, Australia, and The United States rejected a proposal to insert a ``racial equality clause`` in the League of Nations Covenant at Versailles. The obvious perception of Japan as inferior galled the Japanese, and began the deterioration of relations between Nipon and the Allied Powers.

This would be followed by a series of perceived slights, including the 1924 Exclusion Act which restricted immigration by Japanese and other ``coloreds`` to America, as well as the Washington Naval Conference of 1922 at which the Japanese delegate walked out in anger at being accorded second-rate status.

The Great Depression was hard on Japan; the Japanese economy was heavily dependent on imported oil and steel, and these commodities became increasingly difficult to obtain. People were out of work, and the solution to economic deprivation is often military adventurism. This occured in 1931 with the occupation of Manchuria. The Japanese instituted a puppet government in Manchuria, renaming the newly ``independent`` country Manchukuo and incurring the wrath of Wilson`s folly, the League of Nations.

In 1933 Japan withdrew from that idiotic institution in anger over their treatment for behaving as they believed western nations behaved, and by 1937 the second Sino-Japanese War broke out. The Japanese were beastly in China, committing numerous atrocities including the infamous ``rape of Nanking`` in which women were raped, children killed, etc. It was said that babies were thrown into the air to be caught on the bayonettes of the Japanese soldiers. This war would continue to smolder until the Japanese surrender on VJ Day. (This would also, ultimately, hand China over to the Communists, as the Nationalist government was driven into exile in Chungking, while the Communists hid in the countryside to fight a partisan war. It left them in a perfect position to conduct a revolution against the Nationalists after the War.)

In 1940 Japan occupied Indochina. The French Vichy government acquiesed to this occupation, and Japan joined Hitler and the Axis. Hitler made a mutual defense treaty with the Japanese, and both sides promised to fight if the other was attacked. Germany seemed content to allow Japan to create ``Pan Asia``, in which the European powers would be kicked out, and Japan would attain hegemony in the Far East.

There was only one thing standing in their way.

Far to the East, the nation which started it all, the nation which humiliated Japan into their great rise in the first place, still roamed the Pacific. If Japan was to dominate East Asia, her only serious rival would have to be removed. England was busy with Germany, occupied France had given them what they wanted. Australia was to sparsely populated to stop them. Only the United States, that nation of free men and free commerce, could oppose them. America owned Hawaii. America controlled the Phillipines. America had bases throughout the Pacific, and had friendly relations with China and The Soviet Union.

And there was an old score to settle.

Meanwhile, the United States and Britain, concerned about the rising militarization and hostility of Japan, instituted an embargo on steel and oil.

Any modern nation MUST have steel and oil, and Japan had no resources to draw these from. America was attempting to strangle Japan economically. Japan reacted by seizing the oil-rich Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).

It became apparent to Prime Minister Tojo and the other Japanese leaders that America must be destroyed.

They hatched up a daring plot; they would use their aircraft-the Zero-to destroy the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, then would launch a full-scale invasion of the American mainland. The strategy was essentially sound, and was reminiscent of the way they handled the Russians. Admiral Yamamoto was ordered to draw up plans for this, and he made his plans with fear and trepidation; Yamamoto had studied in the United States, and understood the industrial might of America, as well as the iron in the character of the American People. The government of Japan thought Americans were weak, and would fold after the first attacks. Yamamoto knew better, and he told his superiors that he would run wild for 6 months, after which he would be forced to sue for peace.

The plan called for an invasion of California, then a peace negotiation which would be extremely favorable to the United States-except that America would stop pushing Japan. The destruction of the American fleet was critical to this.

America had broken the Japanese code.

Unfortunately, there were far too many intercepted messages to know for certain exactly where Japan was going to hit; the American military knew an attack was immanent, but everyone thought they were going to attack McArthur in the Phillipines. Just to be on the safe side, Roosevelt ordered the bulk of the fleet on manuevers, so Japan was only able to destroy part of our strength.

The code signal was ``East wind, Rain``.

And the East Wind blew.

The rest, as they say, is history. Admiral Yamamoto said it best, ``I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant``. In spite of the terrible slaughter at Pearl Harbor, Japan was unable to destroy our fleet, and we seriously hurt them at Midway. Hitler, honoring his agreement with Japan, declared war on the United States immediately after the attack, solving a difficult problem for Roosevelt; had Hitler NOT declared war, Roosevelt would have been in the position of having to fight Japan, while Germany would have been allowed to run free in the Atlantic. Roosevelt could not have gotten a declaration of war against Germany.

And so the World went to war. The tremendous might of the American industrial complex went into high gear, and Japan began the slow, painful retreat in the face of overwhelming force of arms and spirit.

In the end, a blinding flash over a major city forced the Emperor to order his people to ``endure the unendurable`` and America would remake the Empire of the Sun in her own image.

Strange, all had come full circle; We were the Alpha and Omega to Imperial Japan. They began their rise to power because of us, and their Empire was destroyed by us.

It is worth remembering on this day, when we honor the many who fell on that fateful day, December 7, 1941.

May God have mercy on their souls!



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well written. Thank you for the insght.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant! For the same reasons we start modern wars. Yep, the Japs were ahead of the times.

2:48 PM  

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