Focusing on the future

A very smart Japanese businessman, Joi Ito, looks back at Hiroshima and explains the importance of not looking back. It was Japan’s ability to focus on the future without dwelling on its past misery that allowed its economy and success to be the envy of the world for more than 30 years. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all “victims” could get over the past and strive for greatness in the future? Dwelling on whether something that happened 60 years ago was right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust is such a futile and unhealthy waste.

The Discussion: 43 Comments

With the worries regarding North Korea’s ability to threaten Japan and others with nuclear weapons, I think it is important to remind people of the consequences. To question its use 60 years ago is essential so long as 7, 8 or 9 countries now have the means to deploy them (and as a result consider its use, otherwise why the effort to develop them?). The question is: if it was OK for using them way back in August 1945, why not again?
I agree with your point about incessant victimisation (perhaps you mean more precisely self-pity) especially from the Japanese, but at the same time if people are still suffering from the effects 6 decades after, should they not scream this out and prevent the world from brushing it off?

August 7, 2005 @ 8:02 pm | Comment

Yes, Keir, agreed. We can’t forget the consequences of nuclear warfare. But to live in the past and let that sense of victimization dictate your future, as some groups continue to do today, is a losing strategy. You learn, and you move on.

August 7, 2005 @ 8:26 pm | Comment

The conseqences of nuclear weapons look pretty damned positive, so far. Dropping the bombs on Japan certainly shortened the war and prevented many millions more deaths (both allied and Japanese). While it sucked to be at ground zero in Hiroshima, for the average Japanese, the explosion was a net positive thing.

The threat of MAD prevented active hostilities between the US and USSR, aboiding a third world war that would have killed God knows how many millions and the destruction, yet again, of much of Europe.

August 7, 2005 @ 9:19 pm | Comment

I concurr with Conrad on this issue. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not really exemplary of what keir had in mind. In addition to Conrads examples, the atomic bombings, although more efficient, were not more destructive to human life than the carpet bombing of Tokyo or Dresden, etc.

I think Joi Ito’s article is far more constructive and useful than clinging to past hurts and damages. Northern Ireland is a good example where many are still fighting wars concucted three hundred years ago.

Healthy societies do not live in the past, they live in the present building for a better future. I am one who enjoys history, but I do not think it is necessarily a useful tool to conduct policy today.

August 7, 2005 @ 9:45 pm | Comment

Conrad’s comment highlights the difference between conservatives today and back then.

Back then, Eisenhower and MacArthur both condemned the bombings, and Admiral William D. Leahy (Chief of Staff at the time) said:

The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan…we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make wars in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.

Of course, Conrad is welcome to make the equation that the life of a single US serviceman is worth the lives of several innocent Japanese women and children, but we should at least understand the lack of moral foundation implicit in such an equation.

And Conrad, where do you get “prevented millions of deaths?” Worst-case casualty estimates of a full-scale invasion of Kyushu put the US casualty rate at less than 50,000.

August 7, 2005 @ 10:35 pm | Comment

Mr Ito is righ. Adn wrong.
Right because we progress by looking forward – who wants to wear sackcloth and ashes if you can have a new Marc Jacobs every season?
Wrong – because there coems a time when individuals and nations lose the way and must look back, to find our bearings again.
There is a Malay proverb:Sesat dihujung jalan, balik kepangkal semula (Lost at the end of the road, go back to the start).
Mr Koizumi is attempting to lead Japan to a new future – as a `normal’ nation – after a decade of malaise and in response to rising China. And rightly so – because the world is a more dangerous place when dominated by a unilateral power, as GWB has proven.
But there must be a starting point for this return to normalcy – and that point, for Japan’s neighbours it must interact with – is that period of Imperial Japan’s aggression that must be laid to rest.
If the past is not important – as Mr Ito attempts to impress upon NYT readers, with his magnamity about the atomic bombings – why should Japan’s right-wing, and swathes of its voting public, deny that past?
Perhaps Mr Ito can look to China, a nation soon at a crossroads, to see why the past matters.
Mao set out to destroy everything about the old civil society.
But today, after two decades of transformation, how much further can the party take the country, when it only has its own broken milestones, such as the Cultural Revolution, to refer to?

BTW: at least it is acknowledged that some things on your blog can be distressing to people of ethnic Chinese origin, wherever they are.

It was good to visit.
Melba = a dessert with peach = Momo
Baru = Malay for new, fresh = Hatsu

So deska, Richard
Yours forever, Momo. Goodbye.

August 7, 2005 @ 11:07 pm | Comment

That’s news to me. Would you have a cite or url for this interesting piece of information. One that is contemporary with its time, and not 20/20 quarterbacking? More importantly, one that the war planners of 1945 would have been using?

August 7, 2005 @ 11:24 pm | Comment


You are demonstrably and wildly wrong regarding numbers. The decision to drop the nuclear bombs on Japan was a morally complex one. On the one hand, it can be argued that deliberately targeting innocent civilians is never morally correct. For a long time I accepted that argument and thought Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not definible.

Unfortunately, that argument died very early in the war the the hands of first the Japanese, then the Germans, then the allies. The the end of the war, intentional targeting of civilian centers was widely carried out by all of the parties.

On the other hand, far more Japanese and American lives (including Japanese civilian lives) would have been lost had the bombs not been dropped. The figures that you put forth above are simply not reliable or believable.

I won’t take up excess space here in Richard’s comments demonstrating why you are worng. Any reader with an an interest in this debate should read the 5 part post on the decision to drop the bomb posted at the site Plunge Pontificates (Url below).

The bottom line, there would have been at least 1 million additional casualties and perhaps as many as 5 million had Truman done other than what he did. On balance, therefore, I think the decision to drop the bombs was the correct one. I do not and have never claimed that it was an easy, happy or painless decision. Just that, considering all relevant factors, that it was the least bad one available one.

August 8, 2005 @ 12:55 am | Comment

I agree with Conrad too, and would like to add something I read last week in letters to the Guardian where former GIS wrote in saying how they were chosen for the mainland invasion. They were told they’d be dead within 90 seconds approximately. No plans for getting out given , as there were expected to be no survivors. As one wrote, he didn’t buy the argument that those in Hiroshima were civilians as he had been a civilian, he certainly hadn’t volunteered to fight, and wouldn’t have been in such a situation if it hadn’t been the Japanese starting the whole acts of aggression in the first place. As good a response as any to those engaged in their own victimisation in Japan…

August 8, 2005 @ 1:26 am | Comment


Hisatsune Sakomizu, Japan’s wartime Chief Cabinet Secretary in 1945 called the bombings “a golden opportunity given by heaven for Japan to end the war.”

The Japan War Ministry’s Special Order of August 4, 1944 required that Japanese forces immediately execute all Allied POW’s, numbering over 100,000, in the event of any invasion of the Japanese home islands.

Japanese historian Daikichi Irokawa estimates that in the event of an allied blockade to force Japan to surrender, “10 million people were likely to starve to death”.

In preparation for an invasion of the Japanese home islands, the US War Department order that 500,000 Purple Heart medals be made, in order to meet anticipated needs. Over 100,000 of these 1945 medals remain in staock today and they are currently given to US military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even after Hirshimna and Nagasaki and the Emperors announcment of surrender, prominant Japanese military officers attempted to sieze power in a coup and continue to resist to the death.

Nearly 10,000,000 civilians lived on Kyushu, the site of the planned allied landings. Every village and town was required to form defence units.
All men ages 15-60 and women 17-40 were subject to being called to duty. They had no uniforms, no weapons and little training. They were taught to use farming implements and other items to fight with. They were told they would be tortured, raped and murdered if captured by the Americans and told that to kill a single American before dying would fulfill their obligation to teh emperor.

August 8, 2005 @ 1:44 am | Comment

I read something several days ago – I think on Yahoo – about how the bomb didn’t really end the war – the Japanese were trying to set up negotiations with the US since early 1945 over terms of surrender, and it was believed that as long as Japan was able to maintain their emperor (which they did after the bombings too), they would have readily surrendered. The article implied that the long-held belief that the bomb “stopped the war” was totally a myth, and that the bomb’s use was more of a means of setting the stage for the impending show-down between stalin and the allied powers.

I find this argument compelling, although I’m sure Conrad would disagree.

Finally – my two cents on the “move on” or “remember” debate – the problem with Japan is that the debate is polarised around either moving on OR remembering, but not both. It’s like the debate on abortion – either you are for choice or against it. Unfortunately it would be better in both cases if the debate were less polarised, particularly in the case of Japan, where the right wing has become so out of touch with reality that they have started to aggressively revise history.

August 8, 2005 @ 1:44 am | Comment

Yes, but did the article go on to explain that “maintaining the emperor” also meant maintaining the imperial system, unchanged? What emerged after the war was a constutional monarchy, which was most definitely NOT the case prior to 1945. I’m with Conrad on this argument.

August 8, 2005 @ 2:31 am | Comment

I find it totally disingenuous to say in order to interact with her asian neighbors in ‘normalcy’, Japan has to go back to her past about 60 years ago. Are you sure you wouldn’t want to set the date of destination of thiS time travel back much earlier? As if all those aids and investment received by much of Asia if not the rest of the world courtesy of Japan in the past few decades were not indicative something approaching normal. And presently how is Japan so lost that an answer can only be found in the past? Is generosity of such kind to be rejected pending a tear wrenching kiss and make up formal apology moment? Most of Asians and Japan Im sure would rather let the past be and move on and concentrate more on how much more Japan can help enrich her neighbors. Those groups or individuals that still obsess over that period in history I would say do so for political and financial reasons, and that include your ‘Japanese right wing’.
Take China. Hardly Communist or socialist yet to justify their proletarian grip on power the ruling class ie Politburo et al like so many that came before them had to find some rallying point to maintain the loyalty of most of inland China who are left out of The economic bubble whatever that means and are being led to believe their continuing sufferance under economic disparity are for the good of the Party and State in the meantime vent your frustration on an historical foe.
Im not that big a fan of the Japanese and did find amusement in when Harvey Keitel’s character in the Rising Sun calls them ‘world class perverts’ and indeed their bedside manners do leave a lot to be desired especially when it comes to some peroxidal specimens-though thats a phenomenon prevalent in all of East Asia. Fair is fair, Japan has done enough and then some in the recent past to atone, make good, compensate or some of your fancy Jap words that I ll only have to take at face value.

August 8, 2005 @ 4:26 am | Comment

And said compensation in the form of aids or investment or whatnots aren’t any less significant because they aren’t offered as per demands of some greivance merchants.

August 8, 2005 @ 4:47 am | Comment

The ‘demonstration to Stalin’ thing is the myth, as has been repeatedly shown by recent studies; it was an idea that grew in the 1960s, fostered by a generation detached from the realities of how goddamn awful the war was in all regards. Paul Fussell’s essay ‘Thank God for the Atom Bomb’ puts the argument best, I think. Here’s a recent summary by another historian –

Anyway, Serling and Peggy Seagrave’s latest book, I gather, argues that Japanese economic success after the war was actually initially built on the plunder from East Asia, hidden from the American authorities. They’re good journalists, and seem to have something of a case. Certainly the Japanese post-war success was partially built on *ignoring* what the Japanese had done to other Asians – see Dower’s excellent EMBRACING DEFEAT – and the establishment of a conservative anti-Communist power base that mostly consisted of politicians who had been enthusiastic supporters of the war.

Around here there tends to be an underplaying of the extent of the very real failure of Japan to come to terms with the past. Partially that’s because people tend to be arguing against the extreme Chinese position, but it is a real problem; this is a country in which the mayor of Nagasaki risked his life by blaming the Emperor for the war (he was shot by a extreme right-winger.) The denial of wartime guilt also helps enable the continuing Japanese prejudices against minorities in Japan, especially Koreans.

August 8, 2005 @ 5:57 am | Comment

In fact, the Japanese have a very strong ‘sense of victimisation’ – Hiroshima and the bombings in general allowed them to recast themselves as ‘victims’ and ‘war’ in general – rather than Japanese militarism and imperialism – as the villain. Again, Dower’s EMBRACING DEFEAT is excellent on this.

August 8, 2005 @ 5:59 am | Comment

You’re bang on, that the “demonstration to Stalin” argument is nonsense cultivated by (mostly young dupes) anti-American conspiracy theorists around the 1960s – and it was started by the KGB as one of their disinformation campaigns, although I cannot prove that point here as an anonymous commenter….
….but what I CAN say – and any and all eyewitnesses (INCLUDING Russian veterans) of the situation in Europe in 1945 can corraborate this:
By May of 1945, the Red Army (the “Russians”, but “Red Army” is the proper term of respect for them)
were tired, hungry, ill supplied, worn out, and NOT the least bit capable of pressing any farther into Western Europe. AND, this was NO secret at the time – it was obvious, and everyone saw it and knew it. Sure, the Germans were even more worn out than the Russians, but the Russians had exhausted themselves by 1945. Yes they occupied half of Europe – but only because the Eastern half of Europe had been devastated by then. (And also, the Russian invasion of Eastern Europe WAS a true “liberation” for the peoples there, at least in 1945 – bad as the (later) Soviet rule was, still, it was far better than the Nazis….and so, the Russians were considered liberators, even if grudgingly and with reservations….)
In 1945, the Russians had NO capability to press any farther into Western Europe, OR into Japan. They were worn out, while the Americans were stronger than ever. And everyone knew it, on both sides.
Ask any American or Brit OR Russian, who was there in 1945. They’ll all tell you that the Russians were tired, thin, worn out – and sick of war. And the Americans knew this. And Truman knew it.
We didn’t nuke Japan to make a “demonstration” to the Russians. We nuked Japan because we could, because it seemed like a way to make a quick and final end to it all at the time, and also for revenge. Yes there was a dark reason for nuking Japan, and part of it was revenge against the Japanese….
…but making a “demonstration” to the Russians, had nothing to do with it. Revenge and hatred, yes, that was part of it – but it had nothing to do with making a “show” to frighten the Russians.

August 8, 2005 @ 6:18 am | Comment


Many, many thanks for that link. It’s a great article, wonderful stuff. I’d recommend everyone to make the effort to read it.

August 8, 2005 @ 7:59 am | Comment

The two best books on World War 2, by the way, are Paul Fussell’s WARTIME and Gerhard Weinberg’s A WORLD AT ARMS (Fussell was an American infantryman and is America’s best cultural/literary critic; Weinberg was a German refugee and is a historian with a frighteningly massive grasp on the complexities of the war.) Both come to the same conclusion about the atomic bomb; horribly necessary and probably a lifesaver.

I think one of the reasons people believe the ‘Japan would have surrendered anyway’ stuff is the old myth of rationality. Looked at objectively, Japan’s position in 1945 was totally, utterly untenable – hell, really they were screwed by 1943. Without knowing the fanatical belief in will (common to all the Fascist powers), the complete misreading of the American character at war (if we kill enough of them, they will make a better peace!), and the ideology of heroic sacrifice (like a shattered gem … one of the crimes of the Japanese leaders was to delude so many young men into dying pointlessly), it’s easy to think ‘Japan must have been ready to surrender.’

August 8, 2005 @ 9:04 am | Comment

Strangely enough, until very recently I held your current opinion but reading Catholic philosopher G.E.M. Abscombe’s essay “War and Murder” started to change my mind about it.

Clearly some people here haven’t heard this POV so I mentioned it here, only to let people know that this is still being argued among historians.

Anyway, I think Abscombe correctly identified the real problem being the insistence on unconditional surrender. Truman lengthened the war with this policy before he brought it to an end with the high-tech equivalent of razing more villages.

The policy of obliterating cities was adopted by the Allies…they need not have taken that step, and it was taken largely out of a villainous hatred, and as a corollary to the policy, now universally denigrated, of seeking “unconditional surrender.” (That policy itself was visibly wicked, and could be and was judged so at the time; it is not surprising that it led to disastrous consequences, even if no one was clever and detached enough to foresee this at the time.)

August 8, 2005 @ 9:06 am | Comment

Ivan, you rather overstate the exhaustion of the Red Army. While an invasion of the Home Islands was certainly beyond their capacities in 1945, let’s not forget that they swept through a well-guarded and fortified Manchuria in a matter of weeks, using the skills learnt in Europe – and then handed it over to Mao, of course.

August 8, 2005 @ 9:13 am | Comment

Unconditional surrender was, I think, the only moral position to take at the end of the war. Anything less – in particular allowing the Japanese to keep any of their conquests, which was what they desperately wanted – would have been a disgrace. It was also necessary, earlier in the war, to reassure the Soviets that the Allies weren’t about to make a deal with the Axis; a perennial Russian paranoia. Beyond that, of course, were the mem. To say it’s ‘universally denigrated’ is a complete lie, and speaks to a wilful ignorance of history by Abscombe. To blame Truman is nonsense, given the policy was put into effect and enthusiastically supported by Roosevelt.

As for the destruction of cities, yes, it was terrible and wrong. But to speak of it as willful murder ignores much of the moral debate of the war; the degree to which, for instance, the bombing campaigns took on a momentum of their own – and, of course, the history of brutality of the Axis powers. Attacks on civilians, while always a part of war, were brought into modern warfare by Germany and Japan in the 1930s (the terror-bombing of Rotterdam); that the Allies adopted some of the same methods is horrible, but understandable. The best book on this is Sebald’s ON THE NATURAL HISTORY OF DESTRUCTION, though that deals with the German rather than the Japanese bombing campaigns.

August 8, 2005 @ 9:24 am | Comment

‘Villainous hatred’ also seems far too strong – although, as Dower argues in WAR WITHOUT MERCY, racism played a strong part in the war. (Though that can be overstated; exactly the same policy of mass bombing was pursued against Germany, and there’s almost no doubt that if the bomb had been ready in, say, 1944, it would have been dropped on Berlin. ) For one thing, the advocates of bombing were actually quite cold and ‘rational’ about it – a frightening thing in itself, mind. For another, the atrocities committed by the Axis powers, while not justifying atrocities in return, should surely lead us to be a little less harsh when judging the ‘hatred’ of others towards them. I read Abscombe in university, and she seemed to me to be a prime example of the kind of wartime philosopher that Fussell lays into very thoroughly in ‘Thank God for the Atom Bomb.’ (Though he’s meanest about Glenn Gray in THE WARRIORS.)

August 8, 2005 @ 9:31 am | Comment

Sorry, meant to say ‘Beyond that were the memories of WWI, where the failure of the Allied Powers to demonstrate Germany’s complete defeat allowed the stab-in-the-back legend to be born, leading in turn to the second war. Unconditional surrender, therefore, was widely – and quite probably rightly – seen by the Allied leadership as necessary to ensure a future peace.’

August 8, 2005 @ 9:38 am | Comment

James, I am a big Fusell fan, for The Great War and Human Memory and Boy Soldiers. What does he have to say about the bomb and Japan? Now I want to go read his book on WWII.

August 8, 2005 @ 9:42 am | Comment

He says that the bomb was a lifesaver, that virtually every American soldier was deeply grateful for it (pace Glenn Gray), and that the condemnation of it as a unique atrocity ignores how absolutely fucking awful the war was in every other way as well.

The essay is in THANK GOD FOR THE ATOM BOMB AND OTHER ESSAYS. Ah, it’s also available here, I’ve just discovered – WARTIME is well worth reading; do read Weinberg as well, though (Fussell reviewed him enthusiastically, I notice.)

August 8, 2005 @ 9:53 am | Comment

Hey, Richard, when are you coming to Beijing next? I’ll lend you my copies of Fussell if you get here either in the next three weeks or sometime next year. ๐Ÿ™‚

August 8, 2005 @ 9:55 am | Comment

Ach, it’s only excerpts, not the full essay, at the link I posted. Still well worth reading.

August 8, 2005 @ 9:57 am | Comment

No, it is the full essay. Duh. I thought they’d snipped parts. This site needs an edit button …

August 8, 2005 @ 9:58 am | Comment

James, I arrive in Beijing on August 27, leave the 31st. Let’s meet up.

August 8, 2005 @ 10:05 am | Comment

I truly appreciate your remarks, some of which are historically accurate.
However, when you say I “overstate the exhaustion of the Red Army”, then I cannot give you any unimpeachable evidence to the contrary (because I was not an eyewitness, but I think neither are you) but I CAN tell you what I have heard from one American soldier and from several Russian soldiers who were there in Germany in 1945:
1. My father, who was in the US Eighth Army Air Corps 1944-45, who was part of the US occupation of Germany in Spring and Summer of 1945, told me:
“I shook hands with the Russians in Germany….they were good guys but we felt sorry for them…they looked like refugees…they were thin little guys, they had’nt eaten for God knows how long…the were in rags, they could barely stand up…we were glad to see them but we felt sorry for them…don’t ever worry about Russians invading anywhere, all the Russians I saw were almost as bad off as the people in the concentrations camps….
2. Every old Brit I have ever met, who saw what the Red Army was like in 1945, has said the same kinds of things as my Dad did. Good guys, glad to see them, but DAMN, they were so thin and weak and worn out, a sorry bunch. AND, every Russian vet of WW II whom I have met, has told me the same kinds of stories. They were just tired and worn out by then, and they just wanted to go home – as any sensible Humans would.
3. Most people today (including most Americans and Brits) do NOT know, that in spring of 1945, the Americans were charging across Germany very fast, and then General Eisenhower ordered the Americans to pull back so that the Russians could take their part of Germany. (And FDR – whom I admire for other reasons – gave this order.) In spring of 1945, the American Army was able and ready to sweep across ALL of Germany and then into Poland – but we foolishly idealistic Americans, like FDR and Eisenhower, decided to pull back, to give the Russians their “fair share”.
3. Richard, I am also a Paul Fussell fan, for some personal reasons. ๐Ÿ™‚
4. I know, personally, some Russian veterans of WW II. Some of them are my relatives. And they will all tell you, that after Hitler was destroyed in May 1945, ALL Russians just wanted to go home, and they were all very tired, more tired than any non-Russian can imagine……

August 8, 2005 @ 10:09 am | Comment

Richard – we may just miss each other, it depends on when my flight to Mongolia is (sometime between the 25th and the 30th). I’ll mail you when I know; hopefully we can grab a drink or something.

August 8, 2005 @ 10:19 am | Comment

Ivan, that’s some nice anecdotal evidence, but I’ll take the evidence of the Soviet conquest of Manchuria.

August 8, 2005 @ 10:21 am | Comment

W/regards to forgive & forget … it’s a bit hard when the Japanese PM pays visits to Yasukuni, which feels free to publish shite like this:

A pamphlet published by the shrine says “War is a really tragic thing to happen, but it was necessary in order for us to protect the independence of Japan and to prosper together with Asian neighbors.” In others, the shrine runs a museum on the history of Japan, commemorating the soldiers who fought for Japan, remembering them as kami. The English website claims that “Japan’s dream of building a Great East Asia was necessitated by history and it was sought after by the countries of Asia.” The Japanese website claims that “Comfort women were not forced to serve by the Japanese Empire. Koreans were not forced to change their names to Japanese ones.” The shrine also points to atrocities committed by the Allied forces, such as the sinking of the Tsushima Maru, a transport ship torpedoed and sunk leading to the deaths over 1,500 people, of which 700 were elementary school children. A documentary-style video shown to museum visitors portrays Japan’s conquest of East Asia during the pre-World War II as an effort to save East Asia from the imperial advances of western powers.

About 1,000 POWs executed for war crimes during World War II are enshrined here. This was not a political issue back then as Yasukuni was supposed to enshrine all Japanese war casualties. However, on October 17, 1978, 14 Class A war criminals (according to the judgement of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East), including Hideki Tojo, were quietly enshrined as “Martyrs of Shรดwa”

the same pamphlet mentioned above also claims: “Some 1,068 people, who were wrongly accused as war criminals by the Allied court, were enshrined here.” The shrine’s English-language website refers to those 1,068 as those “who were cruelly and unjustly tried as war criminals by a sham-like tribunal of the Allied forces.”

August 8, 2005 @ 10:31 am | Comment

Hey Ivan –

I think you’re forgetting that *that’s what the Russians looked like through the whole war.* ๐Ÿ™‚ They were exhausted, half-starving, and under-equipped the whole damn time; 1945 was actually probably their best period. You’re also rather overstating the speed of the Americans and the slowness of the Russians – while there was a decision to hold back from Berlin, America couldn’t have taken vast swathes of territory before Russia. Max Hastings’ recent ARMAGEDDON is good on this. Remember, too, that the opinion of the ordinary Soviet soldier meant jack to the leadership.

The Red Army was certainly capable of launching a successful offensive – Manchuria stands to that. It couldn’t threaten Western Europe, but the potential for that threat was certainly there, and was a major player in the opinions of the Allied leadership. I recommend Weinberg again, who always emphasises the diplomatic element.

August 8, 2005 @ 10:32 am | Comment

Yasakuni is a complicated issue; it generally ties into not the extreme-militarist side of the Japanese view, but the ‘all were victims’ excuse. Ian Buruma, in his excellent THE WAGES OF GUILT (on Germany and Japan), speaks of going to Yasakuni and seeing the exultation of the kamakazi pilots as having ‘given their lives for peace.’

August 8, 2005 @ 10:35 am | Comment

James, that Yasukuni pamphlet is nothing more than extremist right-wing apologism that could have come from a Japanese government newsreel in 1945. It proclaims Japanese victimhood while outright denying the victimhood of others.

August 8, 2005 @ 11:04 am | Comment

Yes, but I’m not certain that it’s actually an official pamphlet – extremist right-wing groups often associate themselves unofficially with Yasakuni, and it doesn’t seem in keeping with the tone that the shrine keepers usually take. It’s classic Japanese apologetics, though, but in the shrine’s normal material they tend to push the ‘we all learned the value of peace’ stuff more.

August 8, 2005 @ 11:49 am | Comment

I’m just reading the SCMP. These are the stories on offer. Not a happy time for China by the look of it….:-)

โ€ข Officials claim anthrax outbreak under control.
โ€ข Officials fired for negligence in pig disease outbreak.
โ€ข Men receive death penalty for trafficking children.
โ€ข Rescuers search for 102 miners trapped by coal mine flood.
โ€ข Typhoon causes millions of dollars in losses.
โ€ข Beijing fails to reverse flight of corrupt officials.
โ€ข Mainland faces up to the scourge of domestic violence.

August 8, 2005 @ 12:54 pm | Comment

Ooops! That above post was meant for the open thread. Sorry Richard.

August 8, 2005 @ 12:55 pm | Comment


One must remember what it was the Japanese were willing to accept at the time. Conditional surrender meant: (1) retention of the emperor as absolute and devine ruler; (2) no agreement to demilitarize; (3) no war crimes trials or admission of war crimes; (4) no foreign occupation of Japan.

Furthermore, none of Japan’s “surrender” feelers offered to abandon totally Korea of Manchuria.

In effect, the Japanese military would have come home, as did Germany’s after WWI, able to claim that they were not really defeated but were betrayed by politicians (disloyal to the emperor). This led directly to Hitler’s rise and WWII.

The allies learned their lesson from WWI, which was why unconditional surrender and a prolonged occuparion were non-negotiable demands in both Europe and Asia.

If you think the Chinese and Louth Koreans are edgy now and Asian relations tense, imagine how they would be had Japan been permitted to end the war on the terms it proposed?

“Keeping” the Emperor was never the issue. The allies had already largely decided it was in their best interests to keep the Emperor in reduced role. Abandoning absolute Imperial rule, the militarist system and accepting occupation and democracy were the issue, and Japan’s “peace feelers” never contemplated such a result.

August 8, 2005 @ 8:37 pm | Comment

I am impressed with many of you for your extensive knowledge of Asia and China and Japan. James appears to be well read, indeed.

I have not read the Seagraves book, but I would be rather sceptical of their thesis, if it is that the Japanese economic development after WWII was due to plunder. Just a quick overview, during the colonial period, Japan made huge investments in their overseas colonies, especially Korea (North primarily) and Manchuria. Not quite, but it is in the same league as the USA now is investing in China. It was useful to the colonial areas, but not partiuclarly good for the Japanese mainland. After WWII, any plunder that the Japanese would have been able to keep in Japan was miniscule to the needs for the economic development required. Fortunately for Japan, the United States assumed much of the economic burden of running the country, especially the military aspects. One should keep in mind that government is a big consumer, and the less that goernment consumes leaves more for the people with the consequence that savings can increase, hence investments. Also The USA opened its market to cheap Japanese imports. Open markets and limited government consumption is a good model for economic development anywhere.

I have read a number of books by journalists about Japan and its economics, they are quite often well written and have a reasonable narrative to tell, but just as often their economic theory is not very good and leads them astray into rather useless and arbitrary positions.

August 8, 2005 @ 10:31 pm | Comment

Remember the past, but don’t live in it.

August 9, 2005 @ 1:29 am | Comment

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