• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    Means to an end

    At Pajamas Media, Jules Crittenden reacts to Minister of Defense Kyuma’s resignation:

    Japanese Defense Minister forced to resign for pointing out that Japan was asking for it.

    Quick back story. Fumio Kyuma, native of Nagasaki, was in Chiba the other day addressing university students when he pointed out that the A-bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima “couldn’t be helped” and was “inevitable.” He noted it had the desireable efffect of preventing Japan from suffering the kind of decades-long Soviet nightmare suffered by Germany, Eastern Europe and Korea.

    In my experience, rank-and-file Japanese people acknowledge that, too, when the topic comes up in one-on-one conversation. They don’t affect gratitude at having their countrymen incinerated, no, but they acknowledge that a swift end to the war was probably preferable to a protracted one and that the Allied occupation helped set the stage for Japan’s economic hypergrowth, with its drastic improvements in quality of life for Japanese citizens.

    Several of my Japanese friends do maintain that we Westerners are hypocritical to moralize about the Japanese occupation of Korea and China. The democracies of Western Europe built their economic and geopolitical might through colonization; the United States and Australia, among other Allies, owe their existence to colonization. But when Japan decided that colonization was the way to become a world-class power (my friends argue), the West flipped out and said, “No, you’re not supposed to do that anymore. No more resources for you until you learn to behave!” (Atsushi and Jun’ichiro, if you think I’m misrepresenting you, feel free to let me know here.)

    I don’t think that’s an invalid point. But Japan’s high-minded talk about an “Asian Co-prosperity Sphere” was malarkey–every bit as disingenuous as any Westerner’s contention that colonization was no longer something a nice, civilized people did.

    BTW, along those lines, it may interest readers to know that Prime Minister Tojo’s granddaughter is running for a Diet seat:

    The granddaughter of wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo said Tuesday if she wins election later this month for a seat in the Diet she will push to strengthen the military, rewrite the history of the Rape of Nanking and move to censure the United States for dropping atomic bombs on Japan.

    On Japan’s mobilization of tens to hundreds of thousands of “comfort women” to serve in front-line brothels, Tojo said the government was not directly involved, a commonly held belief among Japanese conservatives despite evidence to the contrary.

    Tojo said the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki went “beyond all the savage acts that occurred in history up until that time,” and accused the United States of being racially motivated. She claimed the U.S. would not have dropped such bombs on other “white” nations.

    Japan, meanwhile, went to war to “liberate people of color from the white nations in the world” who were colonizing Asia at the time, she said.

    Now, before anyone starts bloviating about how this shows what “the Japanese” think of World War II, let me just point out that Ms. Tojo is regarded as a far-right nutcase, albeit one who appears to have learned well the PC locutions that can be used to guilt-trip Westerners. (About that: One must acknowledge that there was plenty of racism abroad in the world back then, though my opinion is that the bombing of Dresden, say, casts considerable doubt on her specific contention about what violence the Allies would have been willing to commit against whom in order to win.) Most Japanese think of World War II what they think of all thorny subjects: they wish it would go away. Why, they wonder, do the Chinese and Koreans and Japan’s own ultra-nationalists have to keep bringing it up when it’s over and done with? I don’t condone that attitude, understand, but it is the prevailing one.

    In any case, Japan went to war to compete for resources. It lost. It had the great good fortune to lose to honorable enemies, ruthlessly committed to victory in wartime but willing to set it on the path to renewed sovereignty and unprecedented economic recovery within a decade after peace had been achieved.

    Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans.

    8 Responses to “Means to an end”

    1. Fenneke says:

      Ofcourse colonization never was a good thing. But what the Japanese convenienty forget is that their colonization of Asia was done so much more harshly and aggressively than that by their western predecessors (NB, in Asia, that is!). F.e., the Indonesians were very happy to become independent and rightly so, but they always said that they much preferred the 500 years of Dutch rule than the 5 years of Japanese rule…

    2. But did the Japanese really want to move to those other Asian countries (China, Indonesia, etc.) and set up new homes, or did they just want to rule those countries and take all their stuff? I don’t recall reading anywhere about a big push to go to the “new land” and start new countries on the part of the Japanese that were part of the colonization of the Americas (at least North America — the South American story is a bit different) and Australia.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:


      I’ve heard that before, and I have no doubt it’s true in the main. It’s probably good to bear in mind, though, that there was more brutality involved in establishing colonies than there was in running them once they were going concerns. The Dutch had learned a lot about working successfully in the East Indies over time, and the Japanese could very well have adapted similarly if they’d held China and Korea for the next five hundred years.


      East Asia was indeed seen as a partial solution to Japan’s “overpopulation” as well as as a source of natural resources. Being stationed abroad for too long tends to carry a stigma in post-war Japan–people who return home are informed that they act foreign. I’m not sure whether that would have existed as a disincentive to moving abroad long-term for Meiji/Taisho/early Showa Japanese, but it certainly might have. OTOH, plenty of Japanese fled to, for example, South America when Japan was poor but industrializing during the Meiji Era, and those sorts of people might have been convinced to stay within Japanese territory if there had been colonies for them to go to in order to try their luck.

    4. Fenneke says:

      Good point, Sean. Actually, my granny used to tell all those stories about my forefathers (who ruled the Dutch East-Indies) and how kind they were to the locals, stimulating their development, ‘no oppressors at all’, but she once mentioned one forefather from about the 1600’s whom she did not like at all for he was ‘so brutal’…

    5. Jun'ichiro says:

      To be fair with the matter,the period of Japanese millitary occupation in S.E.Asia must have been harder than that of late European colonization, because it was at war time. It came also hard time after independence. It`s clear just to see East Timor suffering now. I don’t justify Japanese occupation because it intended to make use of their natural resources that European prohibited to provide for Japan. But the independence(that European wouldn’t allowed but Japanese promised) and colonization are totally defferent. If not for WW2, S.E.Asia would have had suffered longer colonization.(Malaysia celebrates 50 years of independence this year,58 years in Indonesia though they declared independence in 1945)

    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      Fenneke, that’s interesting. Did your grandmother herself ever live in the colonies, or was she from a branch of the family that stayed at home?

      Jun’ichiro, you’re right that the war hastened independence for the colonies, but I’m not sure I agree that colonization would have lasted a whole lot longer without it. World War II happened, so we’ll never know how things would have turned out if it hadn’t; but the reason formerly colonies were in a position to get their sovereignty was that Japan lost and therefore wasn’t controlling them anymore. Well, that’s not the only reason, but it’s the Japan-related reason.

    7. Fenneke says:

      Sean, yes, my granny and a lot of other ancestors lived in the colony, right up to my father who lived there until he was nine.

      And speaking of independence, my great-grandfather, who was ranked high in the East-Indies government, was working on developing a system of gradual independence for Indonesia, starting with a certain group of Indonesians (Minankarbau), but this was stopped because of the war. The plan was to gradually make them more and more independent, and this was done gradually to prevent problems, to make the transition go smoothly, and to prepare them for making it on their own. It might have been arrogant to think they were the ones to decide when Indonesia was ready for it, but at least they did it with the best intent.

    8. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, developing a timetable for independence seems a lot more humane than throwing them to the wolves. Peoples that are no longer used to governing themselves and will need to navigate through a system that includes some institutions that were imported from elsewhere are going to need some time to adjust. I don’t think there’s anything arrogant about acknowledging that.

    Leave a Reply