Friday, August 15, 2008

Slightly-off-the-beaten-path news

A couple of items:
1) The Japanese p.m. has decided not to go to Yasukuni shrine to mark the 63rd anniversary of Japan's defeat in WW2. (A few members of his cabinet did go to the shrine, however.) The decision is seen as part of his effort to mend fences with neighbors who were ruffled by his predecessor Koizumi's shrine visits (among other things). See here.

2) Complying, six years late, with a 2002 decision of the International Court of Justice in the Hague (a/k/a the World Court), Nigeria handed the Bakassi peninsula over to Cameroon. The peninsula, which juts into the Gulf of Guinea, has oil reserves, though activities by several armed groups in the region may prevent Cameroon from getting the oil out. See here.


El Jefe Maximo said...

Putting on my Japanese hat, I can see the arguments on visiting Yasukuni Shrine both ways. Some of those Class A war criminals were bad, bad guys.

Others who did not survive to render an accounting should not be forgotten by us. I have always hoped, in particular, that Rear Admiral Ariga Kosaku (among the war dead enshrined at Yasukuni), might have reflected a little (as his battleship Yamato went to the bottom) on the fate of an American torpedo bomber pilot, tortured and killed on his destroyer-flagship at Midway.

Still, if I were Japanese, as I am American, I expect I would probably visit Yasukuni. It is for us, the heirs of the enemies of those enshrined at Yasukuni, to remember and honor our own dead, as it is for the Japanese to honor their own.

The war is over, and the dead remembered at Yasukuni can do us no harm now. The account books are with God.

LFC said...

Yes, I take your point that for the ordinary Japanese citizen -- or at least some percentage of them -- this is probably a pretty straightforward issue of patriotism or nationalism.

I was pointing, however, to the well-known and continuing sensitivities of Koreans and Chinese, in particular, to the symbolic aspects of Japanese prime ministerial visits to Yasukuni. In this sense it remains a factor in current Korea-Japan and China-Japan relations.

Nick said...

Nations almost never feel shame about the atrocities committed in their name. The selective memories employed by Britain and France regarding the horrors committed under their empires, but are quick to trumpet the positive consequences of imperial rule. Surprisingly, the victims of war crimes forget less swiftly and are less inclined to relativise such outrages. One wonders how the Japanese would react if the US president made a yearly pilgrimage to commemorate Robert Lewis and Paul Tibbets of the Enola Gay.

LFC said...

Point well taken -- I'd add however that the fact that the crewmen of the Enola Gay are not regarded as particular heroes in the US (though admittedly not seen as war criminals either) may say something about some lingering uneasiness concerning Truman's decision to drop the atomic bomb(s). Or it may not -- I'm speculating here, obviously.
I note also that the Enola Gay itself is on display in an aviation museum located now about an hour's drive from downtown Washington, D.C. (it's near Dulles airport). I once had occasion to walk through this museum and so have seen the Enola Gay up close. What percentage of visitors to this place really comprehend what they are looking at is, alas, an open question, given that a sizable number of US schoolchildren are not taught history (or not taught it well).

El Jefe Maximo said...

On the subject of the atomic bombing of Japan, have a look sometime at Richard Frank's Downfall which goes into the reasons behind the use of atomic weapons on Japan, and the alternatives available to the decision-makers in 1945.

High points: first, the use of the atomic bomb was a logical outgrowth of the strategic bombing program, followed from that logically, and probably would not have been contemplated if military developments hadn't already gone that way. I would point out that strategic bombing had been extensively discussed in the relevant military literature by virtually all powers with air forces since the 1920's and 30's, and that, in any case, the Americans were not the first to resort to its use.

Frank also discusses the alternatives to the bomb: namely submarine strangulation and mining of Japan and/or amphibious invasion, might well have been worse in numbers of lives lost -- Americans and most especially Japanese. In particular, the mining of Japanese coastal waters (throttling inter-island traffic),by the US Navy, which got into high gear in spring/early summer 1945, probably would have starved the country, although that was not fully appreciated by either side until later.

LFC said...

I agree with you (and Richard Frank, whose book I've heard of but not read) that the atomic bombing grew out of strategic bombing -- a euphemism, especially in this case, for the bombing of cities (e.g. the fire-bombing of Tokyo). That in itself doesn't address its justification.
Your second point, about the alternatives, does. I think Truman should have ordered a 'demonstration shot' on some uninhabited atoll first, as at least a few people at the time suggested. True, no one was sure the weapon would work and they perhaps didn't want to 'waste' one, but when you consider it might possibly have made it unnecessary to use on a city....
I'm aware this has been endlessly debated. I believe Paul Fussell some years ago wrote an article with the deliberately provocative title "thank God for the atomic bomb" (or something close to that), arguing that it saved lives (including perhaps his own and/or those of his friends, who had been infantrymen in the European theater and could expect to be involved in an invasion of Japan). I'm sure someone has dug up this piece and the replies it no doubt generated.
Then of course there is a large literature by historians and others on the decision, including one major book I think published as recently as last year. Author's name is escaping me at the moment.

LFC said...

I just ran across the Fussell reference:
'Thank God for the Atom Bomb and Other Essays'(Summit Books, 1988).