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(DV) Fiyouzat: Japan's Modern Historical Loop







Japan’s Modern Historical Loop
by Reza Fiyouzat
August 15, 2005

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The news of world affairs these days is highly unlikely to be met with smiles of joyous delight by the Japanese survivors of the two nuclear terrorist attacks by the United States’ armed forces on Hiroshima and Nagasaki sixty years ago. Those attacks were not meant to convince the Japanese leaders to surrender, something which they were about to do anyway, but were intentionally carried out on civilian populations with the double-edged intention of, a) brandishing to the Soviets America’s newly developed weapons of mass murder, and, b) studying the effects of these weapons.

Every new weapons system needs thorough testing. This is something familiar to the Japanese scientists and doctors who, before and during World War II, worked as members of Unit 731 studying the effects of spread of disease as a weapon, as well as studying the effects of extreme cold on the human body, so as to devise preventative measures for the Japanese soldiers who by imperial order may have been sent to fight the Koreans, the Chinese or the Russians. Those scientific leaders must have been dazzled by the audacity of their US counterparts in the testing of those two ghastly bombs on the Japanese civilian population. 

The thing that most depresses the survivors of those atomic bombings may not be the fact that the current Prime Minister of Japan, Junichiro Koizumi, no longer regards it an obligation to speak to the survivors of the atomic attacks or to their representatives after the annual official ceremonies marking these barbaric events (as has been the custom since the end of World War II). 

More depressing must be the fact that the Tokyo School District is currently holding mandatory-to-attend “re-education” classes for the teachers who, as a result of exercising their freedom of movement and speech, are being punished for not standing up for the nation’s flag and refusing to sing the national anthem. Indeed, utter and total respect for the flag and the anthem are required by law in the Tokyo School District, under the right wing governorship of Mr. Ishihara, the author of the famous ultra-nationalist book about Japan’s rising self-assertion entitled, The Japan that Can Say No: Why Japan Will Be First Among Equals.

Equally depressing must be the refusal of Prime Minister Koizumi to stop visiting the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, home to the remains of two and half million soldiers of Japanese wars (all of which have been aggressive wars of invasion and colonization), as well as home to the remains of Japan’s convicted war criminals of World War II period.

The thing that is too depressing is what everybody knows yet gets zero negative mention in the official press, especially the right wing newspapers such as the Yomiuri Shimbun or its associated papers and magazines: the shame of Japan’s rapid remilitarization, much encouraged and helped along by the US since at least the 1990s, and much accelerated since the coming to power of George W. Bush.  

The International Herald Tribune of August 8, 2005, reporting on the atomic bombings’ anniversary ceremonies in Hiroshima, described the survivors’ mood as worrisome. An interviewed survivor who is a physician summed up well how the sands have shifted. “Ten years ago, few could question Article 9 of the Constitution [which bans participation in offensive wars]. But people talk about it openly now.” Another survivor, Akihiro Takahashi, former director of the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima, was quoted as saying, “The dispatch of the Self Defense Forces to Iraq is completely out of line with pacifism. In the future the peace constitution will no doubt be revised, and that will lead to conscription and, eventually, the possession of nuclear arms.”

And so it is that, sixty years later, maybe some Japanese do get to be true descendents of those scientists and doctors of Unit 731 who made careful studies of the slow death of Chinese and Korean people in those macabre laboratories. Back then, the forefathers tested the effects of various diseases as well as the effects of extremely low temperatures on human bodies in scientifically correct ways. By “tested the effects,” we do not mean that the effects of particular diseases such as typhoid, dysentery and cholera (typically left behind by Russian soldiers) were countered after the initial symptoms manifested themselves. No. Thoroughness above all! The effects were studied to the point of death.

In some cases, after being exposed to such diseases, the “subjects”, upon showing signs of relevant symptoms, would be placed on the butcher’s block while conscious, and a thorough vivisection would ensue to study the effects of particular diseases on the internal organs.

The descendents of those scientists, in turn, may indeed be conducting team research with (or maybe looking into the data gathered by) their Yankee, Brit and Israeli brothers-in-law, in detention centers all across Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Fateful Formations

From the inception of its “opening” to the West (the Meiji Restoration of 1868), Japan began to embrace not only the socio-economic relations and partly the intellectual school of rationalist (and technological) enlightenment that represented the best of capitalism as developed in the West. But, through a very astute study Japan understood clearly as well the political and not so enlightened underpinnings of this new economy. Politics and war, as discerned clearly by the Meiji reformists, were primarily the factors that rendered possible the very conditions for the spread of this capitalist world system. In this new world system, there were no options for playing the role of innocent bystanders; you either pillaged others, or got pillaged.

Jon Halliday in his book, A Political History of Japanese Capitalism, has explained in some detail how from the beginning of the capitalist transformation of Japan, her ruling classes have known that the development of their modernity required ever increasing use of ancient methods of warfare, outright plunder, and subjugation of colonies in one form or another. So, from the early days of their modernizing, the Japanese rulers studied not only the Western countries’ modern sciences and manufacturing and management methods and philosophies but also the myriad aspects of colonial administration.

In Manchuria the Japanese adopted a colonial rule-by-proxy method, while in Korea and Taiwan annexation was the preferred method.  As well, in places like China where there were colonial rivalries that pit various European powers against each other or against the US, Japan would exploit those divisions.

It is also important to bear in mind that Japan is a country infamously poor in its own sources of energy as well as raw materials such as metals and minerals. As stated by Halliday, “The lack of raw material in Japan and the pressure applied against Japan by the unequal treatise led to the delay in the development of a heavy industrial base. But as the unequal treaties were revised and Japan engaged in expansion, a heavy industrial base became a vital necessity, particularly to cope with the large military building program. Clearly, Japan could not continue to have its navy built in England.” [1]

But this expansionist urge was not fueled merely by the need for raw materials. The need for the acquisition of colonies was integral to the development of capitalism per se in Japan. “Politically, the Meiji oligarchs were content with a rural and rural-based policy. The compromise between the feudal lords and the bourgeoisie did not allow the latter to destroy the medieval structure of agriculture. Colonization was one way to reduce the contradictions between industry and the preservation of feudal relics in the economy as a whole.” [2]

The first Japanese assaults on China, the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, at a time that European powers had (for about forty years) been attempting to carve out various parts of China, led to a strategic alliance with Britain, signed in 1902 (which lasted until the conclusion of the Washington Conference in 1922); an alliance that at the time was beneficial to England, since it provided her with a key ally with own motives to move against Russia, which was a historical enemy of Britain, and a country which at that time had its own designs on Manchuria, hence a strategic enemy of Japan; hence the Anglo-Japanese alliance. [3]

This alliance with Britain in turn paved the way for the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, in which Japan defeated Russia, thereby establishing herself as a serious contender in the international colonial and imperial games.

So, by the early twentieth century, as explained by Halliday, “Japan had surprised the Western powers … It had entered the imperialist club and won Taiwan … But, the lesson was that without a countervailing alliance other imperialist powers would tend to sabotage any Japanese successes.” [4]

That moment of arrival, exactly a century old by now, proved not only fateful but definitive. Korean annexation followed shortly after that in 1910 and increasing military expansionism would ensue, climaxing in a vast tragedy; a tragedy awaiting repeat performance if the right wing militarists in Japan have things their way.

Another pattern discernable in the behavior of the imperialist countries’ economic development is manifest in the relation between Japan’s economy and her foreign policy. Christopher Howe has shown that Japanese export patterns up to 1945, for example, had their biggest expansions during Japan’s various aggressive wars for acquisition of colonies and during the two World Wars. [5] Clearly war is good business for some.

The clear imperialist traits have continued to this day, even though the acquisition of markets or penetration into new markets has not always been accomplished by war. Surely a mature system of imperial acquisitions needs periods of peaceful accumulation and naturalization as well. But, even and especially in peace times, in trade agreements and development aid programs, Japan is every bit as predatory as the US, and her lending practices every bit as Shylock-like as the IMF’s and the World Bank’s.

In the general context of the colonizing process, what the military invasions are meant to do is obviously to stake out territory, plain and simple. Such conceptualizations as “the battle for hearts and minds,” or as the Europeans liked to call it, “the civilizing mission,” or as the Japanese called it, the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” are absurdities put forth for the consumption of the people living in the bellies of the respective beasts residing at the center of the current world system.

What else are they to call it? Rape and pillage?

While the circus side of bread-n-circus show is handled by the technicians of the ideological state apparatuses such as the media or the education systems of the imperial countries, the reality of the invaded societies are forced to transform according to the wishes of the invaders, so as to get the exclusive contracts and the concessions. In other words, so as to formalize the establishment and acceptance of a particular integration of the colonized societies into the colonizer’s system of capital accumulation. Once the particular integration has been (forcefully) formalized into law, then the armies may leave. The country has been branded, and its future economic survival has become conditional on the interests and wishes of the powerful, in the center.

For example, take Japan’s attempts to introduce a particular integration of the Chinese economic resources into its own economy. In 1915, with World War I raging, China knowing that the European powers’ armies were pre-occupied on other fronts, demanded a total withdrawal of all foreign armies from Chinese soil. Japan, recognizing her chances for extortion, put forth a list of demands, known as the Twenty-One Demands, all having to do with exclusive rights and concessions. After much “negotiation”, China conceded to most Japanese demands.

Eventually, however, the early Japanese successes had to be checked by the US and European-based imperialists who stepped in and put Japan “in its proper place,” as a junior imperialist club member, in the Washington Conference of Nov. 1921- Feb. 1922. [6]

The Upgraded Model

Fast forward now, and by now the Japanese system is as sophisticated as any run by Western European powers or the US; of course without as much military hardware, as yet.

Take for example the aid mechanism. According to Hatch and Yamamura’s book, Asia in Japan’s Embrace, the Japanese government’s aid program is marked by three fundamental characteristics. First, it tends to initially focus on developing the infrastructure of countries which lack the needed infrastructure, but which the Japanese corporations wish to penetrate.

Second, the aid program is heavily loaded with credit, as opposed to grants. [7] This has the obvious advantage of more securely integrating recipient nations into the Japanese financial-industrial infrastructure.

Third, the Japanese government’s development aid packages, much like those by the US, come with inelastic strings attached. Primarily, such “aid” requires expenditure of the money on goods and services from Japanese corporations. Further, the aid is not only contingent on being spent in Japan, but even contingent on getting advised by Japanese consultants on how, where and when to spend it. [8]

But, more fundamental than the aid packages and the dependency relations they reinforce is how the Japanese capitalist production system is regionalized in East and Southeast Asia. As explained by Hatch and Yamamura, today Japan’s manufacturing and production is a three-tiered system based on a division of labor, which is predicated on technological development that determines which part of the production cycle resides where. “Japan usually supplies the high-tech inputs; the Asian NICs [Newly Industrialized Countries; e.g. Taiwan, South Korea] supply the high-to medium-tech inputs; and the ASEAN-4 nations [Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia], as well as China, supply the medium-to low-tech inputs.” [9]

And in case some believing in the freeing powers of the invisible hands of the market or the infamous “comparative advantage” stipulate that this situation works to everybody’s advantage in the long run, it must be pointed out that the entire goal and purpose of this system is to maintain a monopolistic position for the Japanese as far as possible, by maintaining the hierarchical system in exactly the same rigid relationship, ad infinitum.

The system that the Japanese multi-national corporations (with complete and active participation of Japanese government) have developed over time is one in which increasing numbers of Japanese companies operate in increasing areas and markets of countries of Southeast Asia in a way that maximally excludes the local suppliers and manufacturers from the general production cycles that dominate the world markets for manufactured and financial goods and services.

History Calls

Readers of Immanuel Wallerstein’s works, and those who generally find in the World-Systems Analysis the clearest explanatory theory around for the state we are in, know that the world capitalist system is at a bifurcation point. Meaning that the system has reached its outer limits and is disintegrating and, as a result of this disintegration, different possible outcomes may ensue; hence, the term “bifurcation”. What will be the outcome of this disintegration and what kind of social formation will displace it will be determined by the current struggles as well as those ahead.

In this crisis, the Japanese ruling class, which is highly systematic if anything, believes (therefore knows well) that its survival depends greatly on its alliance with the Anglo-Saxon axis and in participation in wars of expansion, to conquer more monopolistic positions and acquire increasing investment opportunities by any means necessary.

So, the developments to watch out for more than most are, a) the stance taken by Japanese officials regarding the North Korean “nuclear issue,” coupled with the abduction of the Japanese citizens by the N. Koreans; b) the disputed Exclusive Economic Zones that form the quasi border between China and Japan, in the East China Sea, which is really a dispute over access to energy reserves in that marine region; and, c) the question of Taiwan and Japan’s stance in that regard.

One group of subjects who have been teaching while advocating on their own behalf about the terror of wars, as they affect women, has been the so-called “Comfort Women.” Perhaps the best piece of news heard this year by any group of people who survived World War II was the opening of the Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace, Japan’s first ever resource center on sexual slavery before and during WWII, which opened in Tokyo on August 1.

Another related piece of good news was the spread of solidarity with the survivors of the Japanese Imperial Army’s practice of holding women as sex slaves. On a Global Action Day, on August 10, women worldwide held demonstrations in front of Japanese embassies and consular offices, demanding legal and full compensation for the survivors of sex slavery, a full and unambiguous apology from the Japanese government, and the implementation of recommendations made in this regard by the UN and the International Labor Organization.

The next round of history is here. We, likewise, are part of this bifurcation. We are also actors, positively alive agents and subjects that can and must affect the outcome of this historical period. It is not simply up to the generals and the gun-toting goons to determine history’s outcome. It is up to all of us, and all of us in one way or another are players. As a past revolutionary once said, “You may not be interested in history; but history is certainly interested in you!”

Reza Fiyouzat is an applied linguist/university instructor, and a freelance writer. He may be reached at: Parts of this essay are from an article that was to appear in Covert Action Quarterly #79

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[1] Halliday, Jon. A Political History of Japanese Capitalism (Pantheon, 1975), p. 101.

[2] ibid, p. 102.

[3] ibid, p. 82.

[4] ibid, p. 86; emphasis in original.

[5] Howe, Christopher. The Origins of Japanese Trade Supremacy (Chicago, 1996). See especially Table 5.1 and its related explanation, p. 116, and Table 5.2, p. 117

[6] Halliday, p. 98-99.

[7] Hatch, Walter and Kozo Yamamura. Asia in Japan’s Embrace (Cambridge, 1996), p. 124; emphasis added.

[8] ibid, p. 126.  

[9] ibid, p. 23.