It is the day after the closing of the London Olympics, and though it no longer produced the kind of "hostility" that used to accompany sporting competition, the U.S. women’s soccer team gloat redemption outscoring Japan that denied them the 2011 World Cup title. On the other hand, a South Korean fan says: "When North Korea is playing, unless it is against South Korea, we cheer for them, even when they are against military ally, the United States, but most particularly, when they are playing Japan." Korean Peninsula fidelity follows the dictum that blood is thicker than saké.
It was ABC-TV that suggested in an uncorroborated and unconfirmed report that North Koreans send athletes who fail to perform in international competition to labor camps. Internet bloggers followed it up with blown-up accounts out of proportion of the sole accusation of a defector who alleged he was sent to labor camp after failing in an international competition.
It is the Ides of August and we have already written of our personal affinity to the month having been born on the first day. That does not quite coincide with Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August that chronicles the start of WWI on Aug. 1-4 (we are not that old but as a Social Studies’ teacher, Guns was in our reading list), but it is significant that while WWI started this month, it determined WWII’s end.
August recalls Hiroshima and Nagasaki, usually used to explain Japan’s decision to surrender. What is not usually mentioned in historical accounts was the role August Storm of 1.6 million soldiers amassed by Russia against Japan that marched into Manchuria until it got to within 50 miles of the nearest Hokkaido Island.
Let’s get some background.
Japan occupied Manchuria and declared the puppet government of Manchukuo. After 1921, Russia supported Mangolia’s independence from a resurgent China. Two puppets, Mongolia and Manchuria, played a lot of horseplay at their shared border with one getting out of hand resulting in the defeat of Japanese forces from Hailar by Russian elite troops from Irkutzk. As hostilities in Europe progressed, Japan aligned with the Axis powers entered into a Treaty of Neutrality, leaving it free not only to remain in Manchuria and the Korean peninsula, but also unhampered to chase the Kuomintang into Nanjing, and later, to Chungking in the interior.
Joseph Stalin promised the Allies in Yalta that three months after Germany’s surrender, it would open a front on the Pacific War against Japan. Russia at the time still had the treaty of neutrality, and Japan was confident it had solid hold of Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula, should it need to exit an expected protracted defense of the mother islands of the Land of the Rising Sun.
Russia opened three fronts against Japan on Aug. 9, at a time when Japan was seeking Russia’s assistance to mediate an end to hostilities, confident that it can hold off any offensive assault against the Japanese islands, and access resources in Manchuria and Korea. Already, Japan reeling from the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was not prepared to face its old Russian foes who were still smarting from their naval defeat in the Battle of Tsushima in 1905.
The charge that Russia rushed into the Pacific front does not hold water in military history. It, nevertheless, does not detract from the impact of Little Boy and Fat Man launched against Japan from Tinian (We exchanged notes on this with historian Don Farrell after the 2010 Tinian Symposium he organized.). But clearly, Japan felt more comfortable surrendering to U.S. forces than to the marauding Cossacks from the steppes.
After tramping around Inner Mongolia and Manchuria the last two weeks, we are clear that the Russian August Storm offensive was no walk in the park, even with Japan’s demoralized forces then occupying Manchuria and Korea.
Add the recent visit of SoKor President Lee Myung-Bak to the disputed island and the resulting diplomatic row of Japan’s Ambassador being recalled to Tokyo is not unexpected. Tsushima, equidistant from Korea and Japan, is actively claimed by Korea and equally held by traditional Japan; it makes for lively theatre in the diplomatic and cultural fronts.
Koreans will not chopstick kimchee with the dreaded Nippongos who, in ages past, are still held as having taken liberties on their land and their population.
So in the Ides of August, we are back to old wounds and ancient aspirations, though the allure of Tsushima is more along the politics of gas than the patriotism of sovereign claims. Tsushima holds enormous supply of natural gas, not to mention the seabed deposit of crude.
Historians now clearly can trace the genesis of the two world war conflicts on access to gas and oil. The claims of Tsushima still follows the old plot, and we trust that a shooting war is not included in the agenda to resolve the conflict.
The Guns of August, we hope, will stay silent and still, as other flashpoints, Nansha in South China Sea, and the Falklands in the southern Atlantic, stay at bay. It is nigh time to think seriously, nay, air our thoughts, of our glocal options in the Ides of August.
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Jaime R. Vergara (email@example.com) previously taught at San Vicente Elementary School on Saipan and is currently a guest lecturer at Shenyang Aerospace University in China.