Column: Letters from Japan (Part 1)
This Spring I have been granted a sabbatical leave from the University of Nevada,Las Vegas. I have chosen to study a broad topic--gambling in Asia and gambling by Asian people. My central question is: do Asians gamble more, and if so, why? The question has led me to a consideration of Eastern religions. Also as I am starting my sabbatical travels in Japan, I am seeking to observe matters Japanese and of historical relevance re Japan and the U.S. and perhaps even relevant to events today.
A first thought re the start of our recent and current war in Iraq.
To prepare for this trip I watched several movies--Lost in Translation and also, Tora, Tora, Tora. In the latter movie there was a scene that may or may not be factual, but since the movie was presented as a dramatic account of a factual course of events, the scene deserves observation and comment or at least inquiry.
In the scene an American military ship cruising INTERNATIONAL waters near Hawaii makes a sensing--or discovery--of an unknown (and obviously not
American) submarine. The captain clearly presumes that the submarine is Japanese.
He responds by ordering depth charges and other responses which will have the result of militarily destroying the submarine. The submarine is destroyed. All this occurs the week BEFORE Pearl Harbor is attacked.
My questions--is this true, but if not, why was the scene in the film?
If indeed this happened, should we not revise our history a bit and recognize that we fired the first shot, a PREEMPTIVE shot, that became the initial military action in our hostilities with Japan in World War II.? If such might be the case, could we ask if the Pentagon and even President Roosevelt himself had established the position that we should when the opportunity presents itself take advantage of the opportunity and make a preemptive strike against the Japanese military?
Just something I wonder about as I hear those who have elevated Mr Roosevelt to an almost heavenly emperor status in our "history books"
condemn our current president for engaging in the use of preemptive strikes in our recent and current war.
In 1942, the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, Joe Louis Barrow, proclaimed for public consumption that the United States was certain to win the military struggle which already was known as World War II. In his words, this would be the case, because "God is on our side."
As I was (hopefully) growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, I did so under the very dark shadow of an unlikely but still possibly imminent nuclear attack on my country from the Soviet Union. While doing the "duck and cover" and "stock the basement with foodstuffs" things, my friends and I shared a belief, one strong enough that we actually expressed it in words on occasion. When we did so, it was rare that anyone would contradict us. Namely, we said that "God" would not allow an enemy to attack the United States. And certainly, if there ever was such an attack and hostile forces sought to engage us in a war, even a nuclear (then called "atomic") war, that "God" would intervene, and "God" would assure that the United States would be victorious.
Implicit in our thought patterns was the notion that Americans were a people superior to other peoples of the Earth, or that at least our "culture," and "way of life" was superior to that of other peoples. This was the culture and way of thinking that had permitted our polity to conquer our land mass from "sea to shining sea" under the banner of "Manifest (ergo, Godly) Destiny."
From the time of World War II through Korea, Vietnam and conflict that followed, I have heard prayers seeking God's intervention on behalf of the health and fortune of peoples everywhere, but always especially for our "boys" and our "men and women" in uniform who stand in harm's way facing an enemy. The prayers have been made at regular weekly intervals in churches I have attended, but I have also heard the prayers evoked from the lips of political leaders both Democrat and Republican, Americans all.
I have also visited with reverence Arlington National Cemetery, and I have visited other national cemeteries (from Gettysburg and Vicksburg to Boulder
City) all of which are supported by public taxpayer dollars, and all of which display religious signs proclaiming faith in our "God," that is one God of our "Christian-Judaic" heritage. Indeed I cannot recall seeing a military grave that did not have some religious symbol on it. All part of our public persona, our faith in "the" "God" that will bring us through our military struggles with other countries, such as the need may present itself.
NOW, Let's just conjure up the unthinkable thought for but a moment. We engage in a war, and the United States is defeated, that is defeated, destroyed, vanquished--the country that has fought under the banner of "God is on our side" is subjected to the need to totally surrender. Assume that a population does survive.
The enemy will occupy our streets, and the enemy will put our war criminals on trial (Bush and Rumsfeld--too bad, but hey, it happened to Tojo, so, fair game), and the public will have to be reeducated. The enemy commander of the occupation will have to issue a decree. Our "God" religion that carried our armies into war cannot no longer be our state religion, that is, we can no longer make public demonstrations that this is our religion, that this "God" is part of our religion or religions, our government can no longer support military cemeteries proclaiming our adherence to this or these "God" religion(s), our public buildings can no longer have signs recognizing our "God." Our public meetings can no longer begin with prayers to our "God." The schools can not talk about our "God." In fact the schools will now teach the children about the tenets of other religions, ones that might have many Gods--gods of ancestors, gods of trees and the environment, gods of casinos and luck, gods with human type names like "Karl Marx." The occupying enemy will decree who shall be the leader of our "God" religious organizations, and what those people's standing will be in terms of their "godliness." No religion will be allowed to be evoked in support of the notion that the American culture or way of life is better than that of any other peoples. All religions shall be equal--as long as our "God" is not taken seriously.
I have taken the ridiculous to the extreme. Moreover, I do recognize that many Americans (and even at sometimes--me too) wish to have a totally secularized (me too for partially secularized) society and way of life. But the current effort at secularization is an effort that is being taken FREELY by American people and by means that are endorsed by our system of laws, be they called democratic or republican in form. I have taken the ridiculous to the extreme. But have I? In MY next Letter from Japan I'll discuss the course of the military occupation of Japan and the overt and VERY SUCCESSFUL effort of the American government (under another cult hero of the Democrats--Harry Truman) to DESTROY religion in Japan. But then, what the hell, they "lost."
God was on our side.
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Josh S Narins - 4/6/2004
I play Go.
Rumor has it that the Korean people gamble the most, compared to Japanese or Chinese. At least in that
Grant W Jones - 3/21/2004
Or did you forget, Bill?
Grant W Jones - 3/21/2004
The Japanese Army started landing troops at Kota Bharu in Malaya approx. 1 hour and 35 minutes before the first bombs dropped at Pearl Harbor. Japanese forces opened hostilities with the British at 4:55 P.M. Dec. 7, Greenwich Time. The Pearl Harbor attack started at 6:30 P.M. Dec. 7, Greenwich Time. _The Grand Alliance_ Winston S. Churchill.
Perhaps the Japanese warlords anticipated the U.S. Navy's attack on their wandering baby-sub and attacked European colonial holdings in the far East in self-defense, or something. Bill, your point also escapes me.
Tom L Cox - 3/19/2004
The point I was trying to make and probably didn't make very well was that it was in the interest of the USA and the other Allies at war with Japan in the later stages of WWII to encourage participation of the USSR to shorten the war and ultimately save lives. By necessity that meant that Soviet forces would occupy large areas of Korea and Manchuria.
If by giving North Korea to the USSR/Communists Prof Thompson means the policy to encourage Soviet involvement in the war against Japan was wrong I disagree. However, I will admit that I am not one of those people that believe all the Allies had to do in August 1945 was wait and Japan would surrender, without the use of the atomic bomb or Soviet entry into the war.
Steve Brody - 3/19/2004
Frankly, Tom, I’m not sure what you’re driving at.
I question the proposition that Prof Thomson posited that we gave North Korea to the Soviets. They took it and then refused to give it back.
The South Koreans were extremely lucky that we got the Soviets to stop at the 38th parallel. And that we defended them when the North Koreans invaded.
I’m not sure how much the Russian attack factored into the Japanese surrender. It undoubtedly was a factor. But the Russians didn’t attack until August 8, 1945, a few days after the first A-bomb was dropped. A few days after the Russian attack, the second A-bomb was dropped and a few days after that the Japanese threw in the towel. The Russians participated in the war against Japan for a grand total of less than a week. I’m not sure North Korea was worth the Russian contribution.
Tom L Cox - 3/18/2004
The part about the Ward has been covered and there were five subs that tried to enter Pearl Harbor on 12/7/41, but on North Korea you question the Allies pressuring the USSR to attack Japan after the fall of Hitler. Contrary to what many think the bomb along with the Soviet attack was what pushed Japan to quit fighting.
Steve Brody - 3/18/2004
The mini-sub was located by the USS Ward just outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor, well within US territorial waters. It had positioned itself between the USS Antares and a target that the Antares was towing. The Antares was attempting to enter Pearl Harbor at the time.
Prof Thompson, you keep misstating the facts. You ask, â€œHow did we tell the Japanese where our defensive perimeter was?â€ The answer is that the Japanese sub was inside our territorial waters, trying to sneak into Pearl Harbor. I donâ€™t know where youâ€™re getting the term â€œdefensive perimeterâ€.
Whatâ€™s more, we know that the Japanese knew that they were inside our waters, because we know they were operating under orders to enter Pearl Harbor and sink our ships. Your question implies that the Japanese may have blundered into our Territorial waters.
You also make an issue that it was the US that â€œfired the first shotâ€. This is evidence of what, exactly? The Japanese were in the process of attacking us and we defended ourselves. I now ask you directly, if our Air Forces had intercepted the Japanese aircraft enroute to attack Pearl Harbor, is it your position that our forces would have to wait until the Japanese actually dropped bombs and torpedoes before they could engage the Japanese aircraft? If they didnâ€™t wait, would they be guilty of preemptive action?
By the way, while you ask yourself why the â€œUS seems to have been the moving force in giving North Korea to the Soviet Union?â€, know this: The Soviets entered the war against Japan just before the Japanese surrendered. Soviet troops were pouring into Korea, which was occupied by the Japanese. The US was able to get the Soviets to stop at the 38th parallel. If we hadnâ€™t gotten the Soviets to stop at the 38th parallel, there would not be a North Korea. There would only be Korea and that Korea would look a lot like North Korea does.
HNN - 3/18/2004
May be I should be begging forgiveness with mea culpas but I was JUST ASKING A QUESTION. In my quest for history that is precisely how I gather information and FACTS. The fact I gather is that we DID fire the first shot in our war with Japan. The issue becomes what is preemptive. Was the mini-sub in international waters, or just in our defense perimeter? (a Dean Acheson term) If the latter, how did we convey to Japanese and others what our defense perimeter was? How many miles out was it? Are we to conclude that a mini-sub was indeed an imminent threat to the United States of America? It was just a movie scene, but I wonder why one captain was so alert and the rest of our forces were so asleep? I will ask other questions about events on the mid 20th century that may merit mea culpas as well, but those I shall hold those back pending (all) the FACTS. Honest thanks for responding and helping me sort some things out. I just went to the DMZ, and I am asking myself a series of questions concerning just WHY the United States of America seemed to have been the moving force in giving North Korea to the Soviet Union. More to follow.
Steve Brody - 3/16/2004
Hey Bill, maybe you haven’t quite got the hang of this history thing yet. History starts with getting your facts straight.
“In the scene an American military ship cruising INTERNATIONAL waters near Hawaii makes a sensing--or discovery--of an unknown (and obviously not
American) submarine. The captain clearly presumes that the submarine is Japanese.
He responds by ordering depth charges and other responses which will have the result of militarily destroying the submarine. The submarine is destroyed. All this occurs the week BEFORE Pearl Harbor is attacked.”
You are undoubtedly referring to the USS Ward’s sinking of a Japanese mini-sub. The facts are these:
1.The Japanese sub wasn’t in “INTERNATIONAL waters”. It was in the restricted area just outside Pearl Harbor.
2.The Japanese sub was clearly attempting to surreptitiously enter Pearl Harbor by closely following the USS Antares.
3.This occurred 1 hour, not 1 week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
You then posted:
“If indeed this happened, should we not revise our history a bit and recognize that we fired the first shot, a PREEMPTIVE shot, that became the initial military action in our hostilities with Japan in World War II.? If such might be the case, could we ask if the Pentagon and even President Roosevelt himself had established the position that we should when the opportunity presents itself take advantage of the opportunity and make a preemptive strike against the Japanese military?”
Are you serious? This submarine had been dispatched weeks before with orders to sneak into Pearl Harbor and sink our ships. Are you seriously suggesting that sinking it represents “PREEMPTIVE” action?
I guess by your logic, if our Air Force had chanced to intercept the Japanese Naval aircraft enroute to bomb Pearl Harbor, they would have to wait until the Japanese actually started dropping their bombs and torpedoes before they opened fire. Otherwise, we would be guilty of engaging in “PREEMPTIVE” action.
Bill, you’re really incredible.
- Did a historian who said he’s a victim of McCarthyism get the story wrong?
- Stephanie Coontz’s work on the history of marriage cited by the Supreme Court.
- How Does It Feel To Have One’s Work as a Historian Cited by the Supreme Court? Cool. Very Cool. Thank You Very Much.
- NYT History Book Reviews: Who Got Noticed this Week?
- David Hackett Fischer wins $100,000 prize for lifetime achievement in military writing