Japan’s Pearl Harbor infamy


One thing I agree with PM Shinzo Abe of Japan is the nation’s sole option to decide who they visit among their dead, and whichever Shinto shrine they need to go to. Whether Japan is sufficiently contrite about its actions and/or response to other’s experiences of its “atrocities” from the Meiji restoration period to the end of World War II are separate issues. Its contrition is its business; morality cannot be coerced or imposed.

Imperial forces of Japan dealing with the Koreas and China must be judged by standards at the time the “atrocities” happened in the context of relations contemporaneous to the events being judged. In this light, it shall be obvious that military behavior of Japan, China, and Korea (subordinate to Japan’s command since Nippon’s occupation of the peninsula) when judged has none coming out with clean hands.

Historical accounts on the Philippines, Singapore, Malaya and Burma have to be read in view of the relationships Japan had with the US and the UK particularly as it involved oil. Some in Indonesia welcomed Japan because it emboldened their national movements against the Dutch in the same way that it fueled nascent nationalism in Singapore and Malaya vis-a-vis the Brits. Some of Manila’s highly regarded families collaborated with Japan as the latter encouraged Co-Prosperity Sphere among Asians, and the promise to banish dominant colonial powers.

This is not to excuse Japan from the judgment of history, though we recognize that victors get to write the historical account. Nor were Koreans whose atrocities in the Philippines under Nippon’s command are waived. It is to make us aware that the images we have made of Japan’s actions have been painted with the victorious brush of political whine more than the concrete celluloid of what is real.

What do we make now of Roosevelt’s famous “a date which will live in infamy” speech after the attack on Pearl Harbor? Japan warred against China before the Manchus lost their rule at the end of the Qing Dynasty. The Great Wall is north of Tianjin in Hebei and Manchuria was north of the China of the Han, thus fair game to Tojo. The Qing Dynasty regulated Han settlement in Manchuria during its rule but like the Mongols’ Mongolia that was absorbed by China, the Han took over Manchu land that Japan later expanded into from the Koreas. The rising sun rose high. Ironically, after Japan lost WWII, the area became the launch pad of Mao Zedong’s revolution.

That’s chronologically ahead of our story. Japan needed coal and oil from Manchuria. The Japanese, like the Americans after the Depression, were split between isolationists and expansionists.

Japan’s expansionist military prevailed against Russia’s Navy at the turn of the century, encouraged massive migration of Japanese farm workers into Manchuria (a region in Imperial Japan’s view geographically and culturally outside of Zhongguo), and drooled over a share of the minerals in Indonesia and Malaysia that the Dutch and the British exploited. China was in turmoil as nationalists and communists battled for the nation’s heart and geography, so it was easy picking for Nippon’s army to march China’s nationals out of its capitals. 

Japan’s oil supply, critical for its industrialization, was blocked in the Strait of Malacca by the US Navy, itself feeling its oats in the Philippines, sending Nippon’s militants to the drawing board to attack the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor.

U.S. educated Admiral Yamamoto who commanded the assault on Pearl Harbor was lucid that unless the assault incapacitated the US Navy, getting Uncle Sam into the World War would not do well for Japan. It thus came to pass that the “sneak attack” on Oahu got the expansionists of America to prevail against their isolationist compatriots to gear up for “life, liberty and democracy.”

Imperial Japan’s overextended forces in the Pacific, KMT’s hold on China, resistance in the Philippines and Malaya, and the resurgent Allies at the periphery, made Nippon’s war machine one hell of an operation. The reluctant Admiral Yamamoto would not live to see the reality of his heartache as his plane was ambushed in Bougainville after the US broke Nippon’s code. Japan slid back into its island fortress and ended up becoming the testing ground for America’s nuclear arsenal.

Expansionist America turned imperial after Breton Woods and found use of Nippon’s material production, its zaibatsu (Mitsubishi made the Zero) were kept intact to support the new thrust in Korea that turned it to America’s unofficial 51st State; Vietnam’s oil was denied by Ho Chi Minh, and US military presence in Pinas got wiped out by Pinatubo’s volcanic lahar.

Abe drumming up Japanese nationalism is in order. Time to put the mono-heartstrings of “a date which will live in infamy” to rest. China, Japan, the Koreas and East Pacific Asia (US West Coast) trace the same DNA. Time to salve the scars of war without forgetting history, and communally sing and dance.

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at pinoypanda2031@aol.com.

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