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War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been another long day of work in the house and dealing with contractors but we are making progress. We stopped work about 8;15 this evening. Tomorrow the contractor crew arrives between seven and seven-thirty in the morning. As they work we too will be working to set conditions so I can start, painting, and then ripping out old laminate and re-flooring our guest room and hallway.

Specifically that mean sorting through all of the stuff that we moved into the guest room. I have to find what was damaged during the flooding from our air conditioning condenser pan, things that we will be keeping and taking to the attic or storage space, and things that we will either throw out or give to Goodwill.

So anyway, I am re-posting an older article, a review and reflection on John Dower’s classic book War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The study of war cannot simply be confined to the study of battles, weapons and leaders. While all of these are important one must as Clausewitz understood examine the human element of policy, ideology and the motivations of nations as they wage war. Clausewitz understood that war could not be reduced to formulas and templates but involved what he called the “remarkable trinity” which he described in on war as (1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity; (2) the play of chance and probability; and (3) war’s element of subordination to rational policy. Clausewitz connects this with the people being connected to the primordial forces of war, the military with the non-rational elements of friction, chance and probability and the government.

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The Clausewitzian understanding of war is rooted in the Enlightenment and classic German Liberalism, born out of his experience in the Napoleonic Wars, which forever changed the face of warfare.  From the defeat of Prussia and its liberation from Napoleonic rule under Scharnhorst and Gneisenau Clausewitz developed the understanding that war was more than simply tactics and weapons.  Thus when we examine war today we deprive ourselves of properly understanding the dynamic of war if we fail to appreciate the human factor which is frequently not rational.  Such is especially the case when one fights an enemy who wages war on religious, racial or ideological grounds as is the case in the current war against Al Qaida and other extremist Moslem groups. Such groups would like to turn this war into such a conflict as do certain figures in the American political milieu who repeatedly label all of Islam as the enemy.  In such a climate it is imperative to look at history to show us the results of such primal passions.

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It is in such conflict as we are engaged in today it is good to look at previous wars from the human experiential component and not simply military operations.  If one wants to look at how inflamed passion driven by racial prejudice and hatred took war to a level of barbarity and totality that defy our comprehension we only need to look back to the Pacific war between Japan and the United States.  In another post I dealt with the how racial ideology influenced Nazi Germany’s conduct of the war against Poland and the Soviet Union.  https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/the-ideological-war-how-hitlers-racial-theories-influenced-german-operations-in-poland-and-russia/

To do this I will look at John Dower’s “War Without Mercy.” In this book Dower examines World War Two in the Pacific from the cultural and ideological viewpoints of the opposing sides.  He looks at the war as a race war, which he says “remains one of the great neglected subjects of World War Two.”[i] Dower examines race hated and its influence on both the Japanese and the Allies, particularly in the way that each side viewed one another and conducted the war.  He examines the nature of racial prejudice and hate in each society, including its religious, psychological, ideological, scientific and mythological components.  He also examines the use of media and propaganda, and how racial attitudes not only influenced national and individual attitudes, but also the military and intelligence operations of both sides.  This book is not about military campaigns, thus it is much more like “In the Name of War” by Jill Lepore [ii] than any history of the Pacific war.

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Dower uses sources such as songs, movies, cartoons and various writings of the times to demonstrate the totality of the war.  Dower admits many of these are difficult to handle and “not respectable sources in some academic sources.”[iii]Despite this he puts together a work that is sometimes chilling, especially when one looks at the current war that our country is engaged in. He also endeavors to explain how after a war where “extraordinarily fierce and Manichean”[iv] race hate predominated, it could “have dissipated so easily”[v] after the war was over.

Dower divides his work into three major sections.  The first which examines how the aspect of race effected the fighting of the war, the second, the war through Western eyes and the third the war through Japanese eyes.  The first section begins with how racial attitudes in Western and Japanese societies helped fuel the war and compares similar attitudes and concepts in Western and Japanese thought, including how “prejudice and racial stereotypes frequently distorted both Japanese and Allied evaluations of the enemy’s intentions and capabilities.”[vi] He looks at the language of the conflict; at how war words and race words came together “in a manner which did not reflect the savagery of the war, but truly contributed to it….”[vii] the result being “an obsession with extermination on both sides.”[viii] He comes back to this theme throughout the book comparing the two sides and occasionally contrasting these attitudes with corresponding attitudes of the Allies to their German and Italian foes in Europe.[ix]

In the first chapter Dower examines the role played by the propaganda used by both sides.  In particular he expalins how the “Know Your Enemy: Japan”movies commissioned by the War Department and directed by Frank Capra, and the Japanese works “Read this and the War is Won” and “The Way of the Subject” helped shape the view of each side. Propaganda developed the idea of the war in terms of good versus evil and the mortal threat posed to their respective cultures by the enemy.

From this he looks at the visceral emotions that the war engendered and how those emotions spilled over into the conduct of the war especially in regard to its ferocity and the war crimes that were spawned by the unbridled hatred of both sides.  He notes the targeted terror bombings of civilians by both sides and how those actions were portrayed as “barbaric” by the other side when they were the victim.[x] He notes the viciousness of the war and how for the Americans the war brought forth “emotions forgotten since our most savage Indian wars.”[xi]He contrasts this with European war in particular how the Japanese and their actions were portrayed in Western media, and how similar actions by the Germans, such as the Holocaust, were ignored by Western media until the war was over.[xii] He traces some of this to the understanding of the psychological effects of the defeats and humiliations of the Allies at the hands of the Japanese, and the corresponding brutality toward Allied prisoners by the Japanese as compared to that of the Germans.[xiii] He uses this section to also examine the prevailing attitudes of the Japanese toward the Allies as being weak and “psychologically incapable of recovery” from blows such as the Pearl Harbor attack, and the Allied view of the Japanese as “treacherous.”[xiv]

Dower’s second major section describes the attitudes and actions of the Americans and British toward their Japanese enemy.  He looks at the view that the Japanese were less than human and often portrayed as apes or other primates such as monkeys.  To do this he examines cartoons and illustrations in popular magazines and military publications, and includes those cartoons in the book.   The sheer vulgarity of these cartoons is easily contrasted with those promoted and published by Nazis such as Julius Streicher in Der Stürmer, something often overlooked or ignored in other histories.[xv] The early Western views of Japan as sub-human continued throughout the war, while at the same time, especially after the rapid series of Allied defeats and Japanese victories they were viewed as almost “super-human.”  Paradoxically some allied leaders turned the Japanese from “the one time “little man” into a Goliath.”[xvi] They were now “tough, disciplined and well equipped.”[xvii] Ambassador Joseph Grew, reported on his return from Japan, that the Japanese were; “”sturdy,” “Spartan,” “clever and dangerous,” and that “his will to conquer was “utterly ruthless, utterly cruel and utterly blind to the values that make up our civilization….””[xviii] The juxtaposition of such conflicting attitudes is curious, although understandable, especially in light of other Western wars against Asians or Arabs.[xix]

Dower then examines how some Americans and British explained the Japanese “National Character,” their approach to war, and actions during the war from Freudian psychiatry as well as Anthropology and other social and behavioral sciences.   Beginning with the widespread Allied understanding that the Japanese were “dressed-up primitives-or “savages” in modern garb…”[xx] he notes that these interpretations of the Japanese national character stemmed from “child-rearing practices and early childhood experiences,”[xxi] including toilet training and Freudian interpretations that saw an arrested psychic development at the “infantile (anal or genital) stage of development.”[xxii]Dower deduces that it was not hard to see how “Japanese overseas aggression became explicable in terms of penis envy or a castration complex….”[xxiii] The views were widespread and emphasized  that the “Japanese were collectively unstable.”[xxiv] Dower notes that the “very notion of “national character”-was the application to whole nations and cultures of an analytical language that had been developed through personal case studies…”[xxv] which he is rightly critical in suggesting that this premise “was itself questionable.”[xxvi] In addition to this was the understanding of Margaret Mead and others of the Japanese as “adolescents” and “bullies,”[xxvii] and notes that from “the diagnosis of the Japanese as problem children and juvenile delinquents, it was but a small step to see them as emotionally maladjusted adolescents and, finally as a deranged race in general.”[xxviii] Dower cites numerous other “experts” of the time and their interpretations of the Japanese national character, but the overwhelming message is that the application of these theories, regardless of their validity had a major impact on the Allied war against Japan.

He follows this chapter with one with much importance in explaining the similarities in how Americans and Westerners in general viewed the Japanese in relationship to other races that they had dealt with including Blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, and American Indians.  Common themes include the views of each as primitives, children and madmen and the view of the Japanese as part of the “Yellow Peril.”  Of particular note is his analysis of the work of Homer Lea’s 1909 book The Valor of Ignorance and the vision of Japanese supermen which enjoyed a revival after Pearl Harbor.[xxix] Dower examines depictions of Asians in general in the Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan series of films and other racial aspects hearkening back to the “specter of Genghis Khan and the prospect that the white races “may be liquidated.”[xxx] He notes how Japanese propagandists attempted to use Allied prejudice to influence the Chinese and other Asians against the Allies[xxxi] and American blacks against whites,[xxxii] while attempting to maintain their own racial superiority which is the subject of the next section.

The chapters dealing with the Japanese view of themselves and their opponents tie together neatly.  These deal with the Japanese view of themselves as the leading race in Asia and the world.  Dower talks about symbols and the understanding of racial purity that motivated the Japanese from the 1800s to the rejection of Japan’s request for a declaration of “racial equity” at the League of Nations.[xxxiii] He notes the “propagation of an elaborate mythohistory in Japan and the time spent “wrestling with the question of what it really meant to be “Japanese” and how the “Yamato race” was unique among races….”[xxxiv] He notes the relationship of Shinto with whiteness and purity and connotations of how the Japanese indulged in “Caucasianization” of themselves vis-à-vis other Asians during World War Two,”[xxxv] and their emphasis on a Japanese racial worldview.[xxxvi] He also tackles the way in which the Japanese wrestled with evolution and its relationship to other racial theories contrasting books such as A History of Changing Theories about the Japanese Race and Evolution of Life with Cardinal Principles of the National Polity published by the Thought Bureau of the Ministry of Education in1937.  These declared that the Japanese were “intrinsically different from the so-called citizens of Occidental countries.”[xxxvii] He also deals with the Kyoto school and the Taiwa concept.[xxxviii] In Chapter Nine Dower looks at how the Japanese viewed themselves and outsiders, in particular the characterization of Westerners as nanbanjin or  barbarians and how this eventually train of thought carried through the war led to the “Anglo-American foe emerged full blown as the demonic other.”[xxxix]Dowers final chapter deals with how quickly the race hatred dissipated and genuine goodwill that developed between the Japanese and Americans after the war.[xl]

This book holds a unique place in the literature of the Pacific war.  It is not a comfortable book, it is challenging. No other deals with these matters in any systemic way.  If there is a weakness in Dower is that he does not, like Lepore in “In the Name of War” deal with the attitudes of soldiers and those who actually fought the war.  His examples are good and go a long way in explaining the savagery with which the war was conducted, but could have been enhanced with reflections and accounts of those who fought the war and survived as well as the writings of those who did not, and the way those attitudes were reflected in different services, times and theaters during the war, including adjustments that commanders made during the war.[xli] His description of how Japanese “reluctance to surrender had meshed horrifically with Allied disinterest …in contemplating anything short of Japan’s “thoroughgoing defeat.”[xlii]

The lessons of the book are also contemporary in light of the cultural and religious differences between the West and its Moslem opponents in the current war. Possibly even more so than the war between the United States and Japan which was fought by nation states that still were signatories to international conventions, not nation states against terrorists unbound by any Western code or law or indigenous forces engaged in revolutionary war against the west such as the Taliban.[xliii] The temptation is for both sides to demonize one’s opponent while exalting one’s own way of life through official propaganda and popular media, with a result of increased viciousness and inhumanity in pursuit of ultimate victory.   In today’s world with the exponential rise in the radicalization of whole people groups and the availability of weapons of mass destruction, it is possibility that the war could develop into one that is a racial as well as religious and ideological war that would make the War in the Pacific look like a schoolyard brawl.

Bibliography

Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995

Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.”Pantheon Books, A Division  of Random House, New York, NY 1986.

Leckie, Robert. Okinawa. Penguin Books USA, New York NY, 1996

Lepore, Jill  The Name of War Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1998

Tregaskis, Richard Guadalcanal Diary Random House, New York NY 1943, Modern Library Edition, 2000.


[i] Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.”Pantheon Books, A Division  of Random House, New York, NY 1986. p.4

[ii] Lepore, Jill  The Name of War Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1998.  Lepore’s book deals with King Phillip’s War and how that war shaped the future of American war and how it shaped the views of Indians and the English Colonists and their later American descendants both in the language used to describe it, the histories written of it and the viciousness of the war.

[iii] Ibid. p.x

[iv] Ibid. p.ix

[v] Ibid. p.x

[vi] Ibid. p.11

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.   Also see Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995 Alexander notes an incident that shows a practical application of the Japanese views and the ruthlessness inflicted on their enemies, in this case prisoners in response to an American bombing raid. In 1942 the commander of the Japanese Garrison of Makin Island ordered 22 prisoners beheaded after one cheered following a bombing raid. (p.32)

[ix] An interesting point which Dower does not mention but is interesting for this study is how the Germans referred to the British and Americans as “Die gegener” (opponents) and the Soviets as “Die Feinde” (the enemy), the implication being that one die gegener was a common foe, much like an opposing team in a sport, and the other a mortal enemy, the implication of Feinde being evil, or demonic.

[x] In particular he makes note of the Japanese actions during the “Rape of Nanking,” and the 1945 sack of Manila, as well as the fire bombing of Japanese cities by the US Army Air Corps in 1945.

[xi] Ibid. Dower. p.33

[xii] Ibid. p.35

[xiii] Ibid.  This is important in the fact that the Allies tended not to make much of German brutality to the Jews, Russians and other Eastern Europeans.

[xiv] Ibid. p.36.

[xv] Dower does not make this implicit comparison, but having seen both and studied the Nazi propaganda directed toward the Jews, Russians and other Slavic peoples considered to be Untermenschen (sub-humans) by the Nazis the similarities are striking.

[xvi] Ibid. pp.112-113.

[xvii] Ibid. p.113

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] In the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Israeli soldiers who previously showed no respect to any Arab fighter described their Hezbollah opponents as “soldiers and warriors.”  Similar attitudes were voiced by American soldiers in Vietnam when they fought NVA regulars.

[xx] Ibid. p.123

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid. p.124

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid. p.129

[xxviii] Ibid. p.143

[xxix] Ibid. P.157.  Lea is interesting because he predicts a decline in the stature of the British Empire and softness of both the Americans and British as peoples.  Also see John Costello in The Pacific War 1941-1945 Quill Books, New York, NY 1982 pp.31-32 notes Lea’s concerns and how they drove the American Pacific strategy until the outbreak of World War Two.

[xxx] Ibid. p.161

[xxxi] Ibid. p.169

[xxxii] Ibid. pp.174-180.  This is an interesting section.  One of the most interesting topics being the reaction of the NAACP’s Walter White’s book A Rising Wind published which “suggested a sense of kinship with other colored-and also oppressed-peoples of the world….he senses that the struggle of the Negro in the United States is part and parcel of the struggle against imperialism and exploitation in India, China, Burma….” (p.177-178)

[xxxiii] Ibid. p.204

[xxxiv] Ibid. p.205

[xxxv] Ibid. p.209  This is interesting when one compares the Japanese emphasis on “Pan-Asianism” and the inherent contradiction between the two.

[xxxvi] Ibid. p.211  Dower notes that the article Establishing a Japanese Racial Worldview in the monthly Bungei Shunju “clarified the Japanese character, whose basic traits were brightness, strength and uprightness.  These qualities made the Japanese “the most superior race in the world.”

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.221

[xxxviii] Ibid. p.227 This was the theory of Zen Buddhism’s Suzuki Daisetsu (D.T. Suzuki) in his teaching of the struggle for the Great Harmony “Taiwa” which attempted to identify “an intuitive sense of harmony and oneness that he declared to be characteristic of Oriental thought.”

[xxxix] Ibid. p.247.  Descriptions of the Allies as Barbarians, Gangsters and Demons permeated Japanese propaganda.

[xl] Ibid. Dower makes a number of observations relating to how the Japanese were able to use their own self concept to adapt to their defeat.  He also notes that the Japanese were able to transfer their self concept to a peaceful orientation.

[xli] See Leckie, Robert. Okinawa. Penguin Books USA, New York NY, 1996 p.35.  Leckie quotes General Ushijima “You cannot regard the enemy as on par with you,” he told his men. “You must realize that material power usually overcomes spiritual power in the present war. The enemy is clearly our superior in machines. Do not depend on your spirits overcoming this enemy. Devise combat method [sic] based on mathematical precision-then think about displaying your spiritual power.”  Leckie comments: “Ushijima’s order was perhaps the most honest issued by a Japanese commander during the war. It was Bushido revised, turned upside down and inside out-but the revision had been made too late.”

[xlii] Ibid. Dower. p.37

[xliii] See Tregaskis, Richard Guadalcanal Diary Random House, New York NY 1943, Modern Library Edition, 2000. p.95.  Tregaskis notes when commenting on Japanese POWs on Guadalcanal “We stared at them and they stared back at us. There was no doubt what we or they would have liked to do at that moment-if we had not remembered our code of civilization or if they had not been unarmed.”

 

 

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“Our World in Stupor Lies…” December 6th 1941 at 75 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Walter Lord wrote this perceptive and prophetic comment about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, “A nation brought up on peace was going to war and didn’t know how.” His words still resonate as most people have no idea about the reality of war. Despite terrorist attacks on major cites and unending war in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and parts of Africa, for most Americans and Western Europeans this is time of peace. Well, at least the illusion of peace.

Today tens of thousands of American, NATO and European Union troops operating in a number of mandates are in harm’s way. In some places like Afghanistan they are at war, in others attempting to keep the peace amidst a resurgence of the Taliban. Around the world regional conflicts, civil wars, insurgencies  and revolutions threaten not only regional peace but the world peace and economy. Traditional national rivalries and ethnic and religious tensions especially in Asia and the broader Middle East have great potential to escalate into wars that should they actually break will involve the US, NATO and the EU, if not militarily economically and diplomatically.

But, we live in a dream world an illusory world of peace, that entraps political leaders across the political spectrum. It is as W.H. Auden wrote in his poem September 1st 1939:

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies…

On December 6th 1941 the world was already at war and the United States was edging into the war. The blood of Americans has already been shed but for the vast majority of Americans the events in Europe and Asia were far away and not our problem. Though President Roosevelt had began the expansion of the military there were those in Congress seeking to demobilize troops and who fought all attempts at to intervene.

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Most people went about their business that last furtive day of peace. People went about doing their Christmas shopping, going to movies like The Maltese Falcon staring Humphrey Bogart or the new short Tom and Jerry cartoon, The Night Before Christmas.

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Others went to football games. UCLA and USC had played their annual rivalry game to a 7-7 tie, Texas crushed Oregon in Austin by a score of 71-7 while Texas A&M defeated Washington State in the Evergreen Bowl in Tacoma by a score of 7-0.

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In Europe a Soviet counter-offensive was hammering a freezing and exhausted German Wehrmacht at the gates of Moscow. U-Boats were taking a distressing toll of ships bound for Britain including neutral US merchant ships and warships, including the USS Reuben James. American Airmen were flying as the volunteer Flying Tigers for the Nationalist Chinese against the Japanese invaders.

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War was everywhere but there was still the illusion of peace. When the messages came out of Pearl Harbor the next morning it was already early afternoon on the East Coast. The Japanese Ambassador had been delayed in delivering the declaration of war, people across the country going about their Sunday business, going to church, relaxing or listening to the radio. Thus when war came, despite all the precursors and warnings war came. When it happened it took the nation by surprise. Walter Lord wrote in his classic account of the Pearl Harbor attack Day of Infamy: “A nation brought up on peace was going to war and didn’t know how.”

By the end of the day over 2400 Americans were dead and over 1200 more wounded. The battleships of the Pacific Fleet were shattered. 4 sunk, one grounded and 3 more damaged. 10 other ships were sunk or damaged in the attack. 188 aircraft were destroyed and 159 damaged.

 

The next day President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the nation to action requesting that Congress declare war on Japan. 

Mr. Vice President, and Mr. Speaker, and Members of the Senate and House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that Nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American Island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island. And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our Nation.

As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

But always will our whole Nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces- with the unbounding determination of our people- we will gain the inevitable triumph- so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

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Today thousands of US and NATO troops are deployed in Afghanistan, while others are advising Iraqi forces and Syrian rebels in the fight against the so called Islamic State. Some of them are dying in places that most of us do not care about in the least, so that others might have a chance at peace and a better life. Eleanor Roosevelt reflected:

“Lest I keep my complacent way I must remember somewhere out there a person died for me today. As long as there must be war, I ask and I must answer was I worth dying for?”

Wars, revolutions and other tensions in other parts of the world threaten on every side, but most Americans and Europeans live in the illusion of peace.  A very few professionals are given the task of preparing for and fighting wars that our politicians, business leaders, Armageddon seeking preachers and the talking heads of the media sow the seeds. As such many have no idea of the human, material and spiritual cost of war and when it comes again in all of its awful splendor few will be prepared.

We do not know what tomorrow will bring and unfortunately for the vast bulk of Americans and Western Europeans the comments of Walter Lord and W.H. Auden are as applicable today as they were on December 7th 1941 for our world in stupor lies…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Coming this Week: Midway, D-Day and the Greatest Generation

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I hope that your week is starting out well. This week promises to be interesting on Padre Steve’s World as I will be doing some writing about  the Battle of Midway and the Normandy landings. I have done a lot on both subjects before but will try to be doing something different with them. The reason why I do this is because both battles are important. Each in their own way was a watershed that helped to change the course of the war.

Now those who know me and probably many who regularly follow my writings know that I don’t readily fit into anyone’s mold. I am a career military officer, chaplain and military historian and I am certainly a liberal-progressive  in most of my politics, at least as defined in the current American political-ideological climate. I am a curious blend of idealist and realist, I like to think the best about my country, but know that we don’t always live up to the ideals enunciated in the Declaration of Independence. This makes me true minority group. But I digress…

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The Battle of Midway, which was fought on June 4-6 1942 turned back the previously undefeated Japanese Imperial Navy by all that the U.S. Navy had left, three aircraft carriers and a handful of surface ships in a classic David versus Goliath encounter. The battle is referred sometimes referred to, with good reason, as the Miracle at Midway or the Incredible Victory. Had the U.S. Navy lost at Midway, the Japanese would have held a dominant position in the Pacific, and though the United States would probably still won the war, it may have taken at least an extra  year, maybe more for that to happen.

british commandos d-day

The Allied invasion of France on in Normandy was another watershed moment. In June 1944 Nazi Germany still had a stranglehold on much of Europe. Finally, the Allied Expeditionary Force under Dwight D. Eisenhower was ready to attack. It was the greatest amphibious operation ever conducted. Six Allied Infantry divisions and three Airborne Divisions supported by an invasion fleet of 5,000 ships and landing craft and thousands of warplanes were sent against the Germans. Had the invasion failed, the result would have been disastrous. The Germans would have been able to shift troops to the Eastern Front where Josef Stalin’s Soviet Red Army was about to launch its offensive on the German Army Group Center, an event that might have led to stalemate in the East.

Political pressure was already going against Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt as the war continued and a defeat could have brought to power politicians in Britain and the United States willing to make a deal for peace with the Nazis. Such an occurrence would have led to even more genocide in Nazi occupied territories and the possibility of a Nazi atomic bomb, and please remember the Germans were far beyond the United States in building delivery systems, including ballistic missiles for such weapons. The thought of either instance is too horrifying to imagine. Likewise the thought of Imperial Japan continuing to rape China and Indochina, the East Indies and to possibly even to threaten Australia and India is equally horrifying.

These are things that more than seventy years later that we forget, to our detriment,  but they were the reality that our grandparents and great-grandparents who were part of that Greatest Generation faced.

Now, these seventy years later most of the men and women of that generation who defeated the mortal enemies of freedom, and I do not use that term flippantly are passing away. The young ones are in their late eighties, soon most will be gone, and the question has to be asked: Would we find the wherewithal to stand against mortal enemies of freedom, and then when the war was over, help them rebuild their shattered nations and turn former enemies into friends, even while ensuring that war criminals were brought to justice?

I would hope so, but I don’t know. I guess that is why I am a realist.

So until tomorrow I wish you a good night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Wars Without Mercy: The New Old Way of War

MacArthur Shigemitsu

Today is significant for it marks the end of the World War Two in the Pacific. Sixty-nine years ago a delegation from the Imperial Japanese government signed surrender documents with the Americans and their Allies aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The surrender marked the end of one of the most brutal wars ever fought, a war between two sides where in many cases no quarter was given. Violations of the Geneva and Hague conventions ran rampant on both sides as the respective governments and the media of each nation dehumanized and demonized their opponents, making it that much easier to excuse wanton barbarism and cruelty. 

Today another American reporter, Steven Sotloff, was beheaded by the ISIS/ISIL Islamic Caliphate, and as it does so often it released the video of the execution. The Caliphate, which developed out of Al Qaeda fighting the United States in Iraq has become a formidable fighting organization, with deep financial resource is gaining radicalized adherents around the world, and its brutality toward all enemies, even other Moslems is unmatched. The propaganda of the Caliphate against its enemies is similar to what was used by both sides in the Second World War and with each massacre of civilians, each execution of innocent reporters, humanitarian workers and others they ensure that they will reap the whirlwind.

What ISIS forgets is that beneath the civilized veneer of the West, that part of us that likes to abide by treaties and focus on human rights, is that when enraged Americans, Britons, Australians, Germans, Russians and even the French can be just as brutal and also fight wars without mercy. Our histories are full of such examples. The problem is that since we haven’t had to fight such a total war since the Second World War, the leaders of groups such as ISIS assume we are weak and decadent, easy targets. They forget the manner in which all sides, even the Allies waged the Second World War, especially in the Pacific, where the war was fought without mercy. 

isis-terrorists

By waging war in the manner it is doing, ISIS will ensure that its leaders and members will receive no mercy. The post 9-11 response of the United States to Al Qaeda will look like a game compared to what is coming. And unfortunately, we will all lose a bit of our humanity, maybe even a lot of it the longer this war goes on. As far as propaganda, many U.S. politicians , corporate interests and our corporate media are great at promoting war and demonizing opponents. This will be brutal my friends and I for one wish it had never come about. I want peace, I went to Iraq believing that the Iraqis I served alongside and those who had me in their homes would eventually know peace. I grieve for them, as I grieve for all that will suffer in this new war without mercy. 

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I have reposted a book review of John Dower’s book “War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1986. I highly recommend the book to anyone who thinks that the conflict with ISIS will be anything but uncivilized and barbarous. It has all the elements to make it so: race, religion, ideology and power, it will mark a return to barbarism that many of us thought would never happen again. 

Here is that review.

The study of war cannot simply be confined to the study of battles, weapons and leaders. While all of these are important one must as Clausewitz understood examine the human element of policy, ideology and the motivations of nations as they wage war. Clausewitz understood that war could not be reduced to formulas and templates but involved what he called the “remarkable trinity” which he described in on war as (1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity; (2) the play of chance and probability; and (3) war’s element of subordination to rational policy. Clausewitz connects this with the people being connected to the primordial forces of war, the military with the non-rational elements of friction, chance and probability and the government.

The Clausewitzian understanding of war is rooted in the Enlightenment and classic German Liberalism, born out of his experience in the Napoleonic Wars, which forever changed the face of warfare. From the defeat of Prussia and its liberation from Napoleonic rule under Scharnhorst and Gneisenau Clausewitz developed the understanding that war was more than simply tactics and weapons. Thus when we examine war today we deprive ourselves of properly understanding the dynamic of war if we fail to appreciate the human factor which is frequently not rational. Such is especially the case when one fights an enemy who wages war on religious, racial or ideological grounds as is the case in the current war against Al Qaida and other extremist Moslem groups. Such groups would like to turn this war into such a conflict as do certain figures in the American political milieu who repeatedly label all of Islam as the enemy. In such a climate it is imperative to look at history to show us the results of such primal passions.

It is in such conflict as we are engaged in today it is good to look at previous wars from the human experiential component and not simply military operations. If one wants to look at how inflamed passion driven by racial prejudice and hatred took war to a level of barbarity and totality that defy our comprehension we only need to look back to the Pacific war between Japan and the United States. In another post I dealt with the how racial ideology influenced Nazi Germany’s conduct of the war against Poland and the Soviet Union. https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/the-ideological-war-how-hitlers-racial-theories-influenced-german-operations-in-poland-and-russia/

To do this I will look at John Dower’s “War Without Mercy.” In this book Dower examines World War Two in the Pacific from the cultural and ideological viewpoints of the opposing sides. He looks at the war as a race war, which he says “remains one of the great neglected subjects of World War Two.”[i] Dower examines race hated and its influence on both the Japanese and the Allies, particularly in the way that each side viewed one another and conducted the war. He examines the nature of racial prejudice and hate in each society, including its religious, psychological, ideological, scientific and mythological components. He also examines the use of media and propaganda, and how racial attitudes not only influenced national and individual attitudes, but also the military and intelligence operations of both sides. This book is not about military campaigns, thus it is much more like “In the Name of War” by Jill Lepore[ii] than any history of the Pacific war.

Dower uses sources such as songs, movies, cartoons and various writings of the times to demonstrate the totality of the war. Dower admits many of these are difficult to handle and “not respectable sources in some academic sources.”[iii] Despite this he puts together a work that is sometimes chilling, especially when one looks at the current war that our country is engaged in. He also endeavors to explain how after a war where “extraordinarily fierce and Manichean”[iv] race hate predominated, it could “have dissipated so easily”[v] after the war was over.

Dower divides his work into three major sections. The first which examines how the aspect of race effected the fighting of the war, the second, the war through Western eyes and the third the war through Japanese eyes. The first section begins with how racial attitudes in Western and Japanese societies helped fuel the war and compares similar attitudes and concepts in Western and Japanese thought, including how “prejudice and racial stereotypes frequently distorted both Japanese and Allied evaluations of the enemy’s intentions and capabilities.”[vi] He looks at the language of the conflict; at how war words and race words came together “in a manner which did not reflect the savagery of the war, but truly contributed to it….”[vii] the result being “an obsession with extermination on both sides.”[viii] He comes back to this theme throughout the book comparing the two sides and occasionally contrasting these attitudes with corresponding attitudes of the Allies to their German and Italian foes in Europe.[ix]

In the first chapter Dower examines the role played by the propaganda used by both sides. In particular he expalins how the “Know Your Enemy: Japan” movies commissioned by the War Department and directed by Frank Capra, and the Japanese works “Read this and the War is Won” and “The Way of the Subject” helped shape the view of each side. Propaganda developed the idea of the war in terms of good versus evil and the mortal threat posed to their respective cultures by the enemy.

From this he looks at the visceral emotions that the war engendered and how those emotions spilled over into the conduct of the war especially in regard to its ferocity and the war crimes that were spawned by the unbridled hatred of both sides. He notes the targeted terror bombings of civilians by both sides and how those actions were portrayed as “barbaric” by the other side when they were the victim.[x] He notes the viciousness of the war and how for the Americans the war brought forth “emotions forgotten since our most savage Indian wars.”[xi] He contrasts this with European war in particular how the Japanese and their actions were portrayed in Western media, and how similar actions by the Germans, such as the Holocaust, were ignored by Western media until the war was over.[xii] He traces some of this to the understanding of the psychological effects of the defeats and humiliations of the Allies at the hands of the Japanese, and the corresponding brutality toward Allied prisoners by the Japanese as compared to that of the Germans.[xiii] He uses this section to also examine the prevailing attitudes of the Japanese toward the Allies as being weak and “psychologically incapable of recovery” from blows such as the Pearl Harbor attack, and the Allied view of the Japanese as “treacherous.”[xiv]

Dower’s second major section describes the attitudes and actions of the Americans and British toward their Japanese enemy. He looks at the view that the Japanese were less than human and often portrayed as apes or other primates such as monkeys. To do this he examines cartoons and illustrations in popular magazines and military publications, and includes those cartoons in the book. The sheer vulgarity of these cartoons is easily contrasted with those promoted and published by Nazis such as Julius Streicher in Der Stürmer, something often overlooked or ignored in other histories.[xv] The early Western views of Japan as sub-human continued throughout the war, while at the same time, especially after the rapid series of Allied defeats and Japanese victories they were viewed as almost “super-human.” Paradoxically some allied leaders turned the Japanese from “the one time “little man” into a Goliath.”[xvi] They were now “tough, disciplined and well equipped.”[xvii] Ambassador Joseph Grew, reported on his return from Japan, that the Japanese were; “”sturdy,” “Spartan,” “clever and dangerous,” and that “his will to conquer was “utterly ruthless, utterly cruel and utterly blind to the values that make up our civilization….””[xviii] The juxtaposition of such conflicting attitudes is curious, although understandable, especially in light of other Western wars against Asians or Arabs.[xix]

Dower then examines how some Americans and British explained the Japanese “National Character,” their approach to war, and actions during the war from Freudian psychiatry as well as Anthropology and other social and behavioral sciences. Beginning with the widespread Allied understanding that the Japanese were “dressed-up primitives-or “savages” in modern garb…”[xx] he notes that these interpretations of the Japanese national character stemmed from “child-rearing practices and early childhood experiences,”[xxi] including toilet training and Freudian interpretations that saw an arrested psychic development at the “infantile (anal or genital) stage of development.”[xxii] Dower deduces that it was not hard to see how “Japanese overseas aggression became explicable in terms of penis envy or a castration complex….”[xxiii] The views were widespread and emphasized that the “Japanese were collectively unstable.”[xxiv] Dower notes that the “very notion of “national character”-was the application to whole nations and cultures of an analytical language that had been developed through personal case studies…”[xxv] which he is rightly critical in suggesting that this premise “was itself questionable.”[xxvi] In addition to this was the understanding of Margaret Mead and others of the Japanese as “adolescents” and “bullies,”[xxvii] and notes that from “the diagnosis of the Japanese as problem children and juvenile delinquents, it was but a small step to see them as emotionally maladjusted adolescents and, finally as a deranged race in general.”[xxviii] Dower cites numerous other “experts” of the time and their interpretations of the Japanese national character, but the overwhelming message is that the application of these theories, regardless of their validity had a major impact on the Allied war against Japan.

He follows this chapter with one with much importance in explaining the similarities in how Americans and Westerners in general viewed the Japanese in relationship to other races that they had dealt with including Blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, and American Indians. Common themes include the views of each as primitives, children and madmen and the view of the Japanese as part of the “Yellow Peril.” Of particular note is his analysis of the work of Homer Lea’s 1909 book The Valor of Ignorance and the vision of Japanese supermen which enjoyed a revival after Pearl Harbor.[xxix] Dower examines depictions of Asians in general in the Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan series of films and other racial aspects hearkening back to the “specter of Genghis Khan and the prospect that the white races “may be liquidated.”[xxx] He notes how Japanese propagandists attempted to use Allied prejudice to influence the Chinese and other Asians against the Allies[xxxi] and American blacks against whites,[xxxii] while attempting to maintain their own racial superiority which is the subject of the next section.

The chapters dealing with the Japanese view of themselves and their opponents tie together neatly. These deal with the Japanese view of themselves as the leading race in Asia and the world. Dower talks about symbols and the understanding of racial purity that motivated the Japanese from the 1800s to the rejection of Japan’s request for a declaration of “racial equity” at the League of Nations.[xxxiii] He notes the “propagation of an elaborate mythohistory in Japan and the time spent “wrestling with the question of what it really meant to be “Japanese” and how the “Yamato race” was unique among races….”[xxxiv] He notes the relationship of Shinto with whiteness and purity and connotations of how the Japanese indulged in “Caucasianization” of themselves vis-à-vis other Asians during World War Two,”[xxxv] and their emphasis on a Japanese racial worldview.[xxxvi] He also tackles the way in which the Japanese wrestled with evolution and its relationship to other racial theories contrasting books such as A History of Changing Theories about the Japanese Race and Evolution of Life with Cardinal Principles of the National Polity published by the Thought Bureau of the Ministry of Education in1937. These declared that the Japanese were “intrinsically different from the so-called citizens of Occidental countries.”[xxxvii] He also deals with the Kyoto school and the Taiwa concept.[xxxviii] In Chapter Nine Dower looks at how the Japanese viewed themselves and outsiders, in particular the characterization of Westerners as nanbanjin or barbarians and how this eventually train of thought carried through the war led to the “Anglo-American foe emerged full blown as the demonic other.”[xxxix] Dowers final chapter deals with how quickly the race hatred dissipated and genuine goodwill that developed between the Japanese and Americans after the war.[xl]

This book holds a unique place in the literature of the Pacific war. It is not a comfortable book, it is challenging. No other deals with these matters in any systemic way. If there is a weakness in Dower is that he does not, like Lepore in “In the Name of War” deal with the attitudes of soldiers and those who actually fought the war. His examples are good and go a long way in explaining the savagery with which the war was conducted, but could have been enhanced with reflections and accounts of those who fought the war and survived as well as the writings of those who did not, and the way those attitudes were reflected in different services, times and theaters during the war, including adjustments that commanders made during the war.[xli] His description of how Japanese “reluctance to surrender had meshed horrifically with Allied disinterest …in contemplating anything short of Japan’s “thoroughgoing defeat.”[xlii]

The lessons of the book are also contemporary in light of the cultural and religious differences between the West and its Moslem opponents in the current war. Possibly even more so than the war between the United States and Japan which was fought by nation states that still were signatories to international conventions, not nation states against terrorists unbound by any Western code or law or indigenous forces engaged in revolutionary war against the west such as the Taliban.[xliii] The temptation is for both sides to demonize one’s opponent while exalting one’s own way of life through official propaganda and popular media, with a result of increased viciousness and inhumanity in pursuit of ultimate victory. In today’s world with the exponential rise in the radicalization of whole people groups and the availability of weapons of mass destruction, it is possibility that the war could develop into one that is a racial as well as religious and ideological war that would make the War in the Pacific look like a schoolyard brawl.

As William Tecumseh Sherman said: “You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it…”

Bibliography

Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995

Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, A Division of Random House, New York, NY 1986.

Leckie, Robert. Okinawa. Penguin Books USA, New York NY, 1996

Lepore, Jill The Name of War Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1998

Tregaskis, Richard Guadalcanal Diary Random House, New York NY 1943, Modern Library Edition, 2000.

[i] Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, A Division of Random House, New York, NY 1986. p.4
[ii] Lepore, Jill The Name of War Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1998. Lepore’s book deals with King Phillip’s War and how that war shaped the future of American war and how it shaped the views of Indians and the English Colonists and their later American descendants both in the language used to describe it, the histories written of it and the viciousness of the war.

[iii] Ibid. p.x

[iv] Ibid. p.ix

[v] Ibid. p.x

[vi] Ibid. p.11

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid. Also see Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995 Alexander notes an incident that shows a practical application of the Japanese views and the ruthlessness inflicted on their enemies, in this case prisoners in response to an American bombing raid. In 1942 the commander of the Japanese Garrison of Makin Island ordered 22 prisoners beheaded after one cheered following a bombing raid. (p.32)

[ix] An interesting point which Dower does not mention but is interesting for this study is how the Germans referred to the British and Americans as “Die gegener” (opponents) and the Soviets as “Die Feinde” (the enemy), the implication being that one die gegener was a common foe, much like an opposing team in a sport, and the other a mortal enemy, the implication of Feinde being evil, or demonic.

[x] In particular he makes note of the Japanese actions during the “Rape of Nanking,” and the 1945 sack of Manila, as well as the fire bombing of Japanese cities by the US Army Air Corps in 1945.

[xi] Ibid. Dower. p.33

[xii] Ibid. p.35

[xiii] Ibid. This is important in the fact that the Allies tended not to make much of German brutality to the Jews, Russians and other Eastern Europeans.

[xiv] Ibid. p.36.

[xv] Dower does not make this implicit comparison, but having seen both and studied the Nazi propaganda directed toward the Jews, Russians and other Slavic peoples considered to be Untermenschen (sub-humans) by the Nazis the similarities are striking.

[xvi] Ibid. pp.112-113.

[xvii] Ibid. p.113

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] In the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Israeli soldiers who previously showed no respect to any Arab fighter described their Hezbollah opponents as “soldiers and warriors.” Similar attitudes were voiced by American soldiers in Vietnam when they fought NVA regulars.

[xx] Ibid. p.123

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid. p.124

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid. p.129

[xxviii] Ibid. p.143

[xxix] Ibid. P.157. Lea is interesting because he predicts a decline in the stature of the British Empire and softness of both the Americans and British as peoples. Also see John Costello in The Pacific War 1941-1945 Quill Books, New York, NY 1982 pp.31-32 notes Lea’s concerns and how they drove the American Pacific strategy until the outbreak of World War Two.

[xxx] Ibid. p.161

[xxxi] Ibid. p.169

[xxxii] Ibid. pp.174-180. This is an interesting section. One of the most interesting topics being the reaction of the NAACP’s Walter White’s book A Rising Wind published which “suggested a sense of kinship with other colored-and also oppressed-peoples of the world….he senses that the struggle of the Negro in the United States is part and parcel of the struggle against imperialism and exploitation in India, China, Burma….” (p.177-178)

[xxxiii] Ibid. p.204

[xxxiv] Ibid. p.205

[xxxv] Ibid. p.209 This is interesting when one compares the Japanese emphasis on “Pan-Asianism” and the inherent contradiction between the two.

[xxxvi] Ibid. p.211 Dower notes that the article Establishing a Japanese Racial Worldview in the monthly Bungei Shunju “clarified the Japanese character, whose basic traits were brightness, strength and uprightness. These qualities made the Japanese “the most superior race in the world.”

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.221

[xxxviii] Ibid. p.227 This was the theory of Zen Buddhism’s Suzuki Daisetsu (D.T. Suzuki) in his teaching of the struggle for the Great Harmony “Taiwa” which attempted to identify “an intuitive sense of harmony and oneness that he declared to be characteristic of Oriental thought.”

[xxxix] Ibid. p.247. Descriptions of the Allies as Barbarians, Gangsters and Demons permeated Japanese propaganda.

[xl] Ibid. Dower makes a number of observations relating to how the Japanese were able to use their own self concept to adapt to their defeat. He also notes that the Japanese were able to transfer their self concept to a peaceful orientation.

[xli] See Leckie, Robert. Okinawa. Penguin Books USA, New York NY, 1996 p.35. Leckie quotes General Ushijima “You cannot regard the enemy as on par with you,” he told his men. “You must realize that material power usually overcomes spiritual power in the present war. The enemy is clearly our superior in machines. Do not depend on your spirits overcoming this enemy. Devise combat method [sic] based on mathematical precision-then think about displaying your spiritual power.” Leckie comments: “Ushijima’s order was perhaps the most honest issued by a Japanese commander during the war. It was Bushido revised, turned upside down and inside out-but the revision had been made too late.”

[xlii] Ibid. Dower. p.37

[xliii] See Tregaskis, Richard Guadalcanal Diary Random House, New York NY 1943, Modern Library Edition, 2000. p.95. Tregaskis notes when commenting on Japanese POWs on Guadalcanal “We stared at them and they stared back at us. There was no doubt what we or they would have liked to do at that moment-if we had not remembered our code of civilization or if they had not been unarmed.”

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Adjusting Strategy to Reality: The Pacific War- Why the Japanese Lost

Lead aircraft ready to take off of IJN Carrier Akagi to attack Pearl Harbor beginning a 6 month chain of Japanese victories in the Pacific

The outcome of the Pacific war was directly related to the ability of the Americans to adjust strategy to the realities of the Pacific war, a unity of effort directed by the National Command Authority and superior industrial, technological and logistical capabilities. The Japanese after initial success did little to adapt and were hamstrung by inter-service rivalries and inadequate industrial capacity and limited natural resources.

US Destroyer USS Pope being blasted out of the water by Japanese Cruisers at the Battle of Java Sea

The Japanese and the Americans each had war plans in place for the Pacific campaign.  The American plans, Plan Orange had been developed since the early part of the 20th Century after the Spanish-American War and Russo-Japanese War.  Predicated on holding the Philippines until relief could arrive Orange assumed that the US Pacific Fleet would sail across the Pacific and fight the Japanese Navy in a manner written about by Alfred Thayer Mahan; see Weigley in The American Way of War and Ronald Spector in “Eagle Against the Sun: The American War Against Japan.”

IJN Carrier Hiryu heavily damaged and abandoned at Midway. Hiryu, Akagi, Kaga and Soryu the creme of the Japanese carrier fleet were lost at Midway, the Japanese found it hard to replace them or their decimated air crews

The Japanese were conflicted.  The Navy desired a campaign that would destroy the American Navy and expand the Empire to the East and to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. The Army was fixated on the China strategy having been embroiled on the Asian continent since the early 1930s. John Toland discusses this in good detail in his book “Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire 1936-1945” In addition other Japanese Army leaders had designs on Siberia and fought a brief campaign against the Soviets which ended in a defeat.

Japanese destroyer shown sinking after being torpedoed by a US submarine

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor as well as the Philippines and Southeast Asia defeating American and Allied forces in detail, crippling the American Navy and dooming the Philippines the Americans were able to adjust strategy to first a defensive one supplemented by raids against the Japanese perimeter by carrier forces and the beginnings of a nascent submarine campaign against Japanese merchant shipping.  The Americans were able to parry the Japanese thrust at the Coral Sea and inflict a major defeat on the Japanese Carrier Forces at Midway prior to launching the first limited offensive by the Navy and the Marines at Guadalcanal.

Aircraft like the F6F Hellcat drove Japanese aircraft such as the A6M2 Zero from the skies in the Pacific


The Japanese remained mired in their conflicting strategies with the Navy primarily fighting the Pacific campaign aided by limited Army and Army Air Forces on the islands Japan had occupied or fortified while the bulk of the Army was engaged in China, Southeast Asia or sitting on the Manchurian-Soviet border.

Heavily fortified Japanese islands were either bypassed or taken in bloody assaults, here a 8″ gun on Tarawa

Once the Americans shifted to the offensive a campaign of island hopping coordinated between the Southwest Pacific Area under General MacArthur and the Central Pacific Area under Admiral Nimitz focused on gaining control of islands which contained airbases and anchorages capable of sustaining the American advance while bypassing islands not necessary for this along with their Army garrisons. Both American advances in the South Pacific and Central Pacific focused on retaking the Philippines and cutting the Japanese lines of communication and supply with Southeast Asia. From late 1942 on the Japanese strategy was focused on individual areas of danger versus a overall coordinated defensive effort.

Japanese war industries were woefully ill equipped to match US war production. Here a factory producing Oscar fighter planes

The Japanese were hamstrung from the beginning of the war by limited natural resources, especially oil and oil refining capacities, limited industrial capacity, especially in the realm of the manufacture of steel and machining tools.  All of these were supplied in large part by their opponents and were cut off once the war began.

The Carrier Taiho was the equivalent of the Essex Class but the Japanese could only produce one unit

Michael Barnhart in his book Japan Prepares for Total War” has an excellent account of the limitations of Japanese economic, industrial and natural resource capacities, as well as the continual struggle by the Army and the Navy for priority in access to them and the inability of Japanese planners, both civilian and military to resolve this conflict. The Americans had a different situation; although American industrial capacity was enormous it had to be split between to Theaters of Operations and support the needs of American Allies, Britain, the Soviet Union, Canada and China.

An Armada of US Essex Class Carriers in 1944 the Japanese could not keep pace with US Naval production

Despite this the Americans in a relatively short time were able to amass forces equal to or great than the Japanese who were unable to replace losses in ships, aircraft or the highly trained personnel needed to man them.  At the beginning of the war Japanese Air and Naval forces in the Pacific outmatched everything the Allies could offer, however once they began to experience significant losses at Midway and during the Guadalcanal Campaign their air and naval capabilities diminished to the point that they had to conserve ships and aircraft hoping to be able to gain local advantage in critical defensive areas.

The US Amphibious warfare capacity was a key factor in the ability of the United States to take the war to Japan

New American ships and aircraft introduced during the war were superior to Japanese designs, many of which had reached their apex by 1942.  American advantages in radar, communications equipment added to American advantages throughout the war.  Japanese ground forces in the Pacific were dependant on the Navy and merchant marine for supply and reinforcements. As the American submarine campaign became better organized this became more difficult as the American submarines copying German Wolf pack tactics decimated the Japanese merchant Marine. I particularly like Samuel Elliott Morrison’s account of this in “The Two Ocean War” and “The History of US Navy Operations in World War II” which has a volume devoted to this subject.

US Navy Submarines cut off Japan from its vital natural resources in Southeast Asia. A Sub Squadron above and USS Barb below

Japanese forces would always fight determined battles but they often expended great amounts of manpower in senseless Banzai charges rather than make the Americans force them out of well prepared positions.  Where the Japanese maintained excellent defense such as at Tarawa and Iwo Jima they made the Americans pay greatly for their gains.  American Marines were apart from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were the best infantry in the US Military and their skill at amphibious operations and integrated air-ground and naval warfare increased as the war went on.  The Americans were well equipped with modern weapons while the Japanese operated antiquated tanks and often substandard artillery.

Japanese leadership at the strategic and political level was inept throughout the war. They failed to coordinate any strategy with the Germans and failed to enunciate any sort of Grand Strategy.  On the operational and tactical levels the Japanese forces, especially the surface navy performed well, however as the American numeric and technologic advantage increased the Navy became less effective.  After the death of Admiral Yamamoto in 1943 Japanese Naval Leadership became far less effective. The Americans as mentioned before were able to devise a Grand Strategy which not only dealt with Japan but also Germany and coordinated the efforts of forces, war production, planning and logistics to advance their war aims.  At the operational and tactical level American forces, especially the Navy and Marines and later the Army Air Forces and Army became more skilled and than their Japanese counterparts with the possible exception of General Simon Bolívar Buckner at Okinawa. See Spector and Thomas Costello “The Pacific War.” In the air the Americans continued to increase their combat capabilities at the tactical and strategic level and used massed fire bombing raids to devastate the Japanese homeland.  The Japanese in contrast due to inexperienced pilots and fewer competitive aircraft were forced into suicide or Kamikaze missions as the war neared Japan.

B-29 Super-fortresses leveled Japanese cities and even excellent fighters like the Mitsubishi J2M Raiden could not stop them


The outcome of the Pacific war was directly related to the ability of the Americans to adjust strategy to the realities of the Pacific war as well as the unity of effort which enabled the American superiority in industrial, technological and logistical capabilities to overwhelm the Japanese. The Japanese after initial success did little to adapt and were hamstrung by inter-service rivalries and inadequate industrial capacity and limited natural resources, fell behind in technology and were unable to replace losses among the ships, men and aircraft that they needed to fight an effective war.  Japanese leaders at many levels failed to adapt strategy, tactics or methods to match the reality of the war and the places that they did do so were done by local commanders and never instituted throughout the Japanese military.

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War Without Mercy: Race, Religion, Ideology and Total War

Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1986.

The study of war cannot simply be confined to the study of battles, weapons and leaders. While all of these are important one must as Clausewitz understood examine the human element of policy, ideology and the motivations of nations as they wage war. Clausewitz understood that war could not be reduced to formulas and templates but involved what he called the “remarkable trinity” which he described in on war as (1) primordial violence, hatred, and enmity; (2) the play of chance and probability; and (3) war’s element of subordination to rational policy. Clausewitz connects this with the people being connected to the primordial forces of war, the military with the non-rational elements of friction, chance and probability and the government.

The Clausewitzian understanding of war is rooted in the Enlightenment and classic German Liberalism, born out of his experience in the Napoleonic Wars, which forever changed the face of warfare.  From the defeat of Prussia and its liberation from Napoleonic rule under Scharnhorst and Gneisenau Clausewitz developed the understanding that war was more than simply tactics and weapons.  Thus when we examine war today we deprive ourselves of properly understanding the dynamic of war if we fail to appreciate the human factor which is frequently not rational.  Such is especially the case when one fights an enemy who wages war on religious, racial or ideological grounds as is the case in the current war against Al Qaida and other extremist Moslem groups. Such groups would like to turn this war into such a conflict as do certain figures in the American political milieu who repeatedly label all of Islam as the enemy.  In such a climate it is imperative to look at history to show us the results of such primal passions.

It is in such conflict as we are engaged in today it is good to look at previous wars from the human experiential component and not simply military operations.  If one wants to look at how inflamed passion driven by racial prejudice and hatred took war to a level of barbarity and totality that defy our comprehension we only need to look back to the Pacific war between Japan and the United States.  In another post I dealt with the how racial ideology influenced Nazi Germany’s conduct of the war against Poland and the Soviet Union.  https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/the-ideological-war-how-hitlers-racial-theories-influenced-german-operations-in-poland-and-russia/

To do this I will look at John Dower’s “War Without Mercy.” In this book Dower examines World War Two in the Pacific from the cultural and ideological viewpoints of the opposing sides.  He looks at the war as a race war, which he says “remains one of the great neglected subjects of World War Two.”[i] Dower examines race hated and its influence on both the Japanese and the Allies, particularly in the way that each side viewed one another and conducted the war.  He examines the nature of racial prejudice and hate in each society, including its religious, psychological, ideological, scientific and mythological components.  He also examines the use of media and propaganda, and how racial attitudes not only influenced national and individual attitudes, but also the military and intelligence operations of both sides.  This book is not about military campaigns, thus it is much more like “In the Name of War” by Jill Lepore[ii] than any history of the Pacific war.

Dower uses sources such as songs, movies, cartoons and various writings of the times to demonstrate the totality of the war.  Dower admits many of these are difficult to handle and “not respectable sources in some academic sources.”[iii] Despite this he puts together a work that is sometimes chilling, especially when one looks at the current war that our country is engaged in. He also endeavors to explain how after a war where “extraordinarily fierce and Manichean”[iv] race hate predominated, it could “have dissipated so easily”[v] after the war was over.

Dower divides his work into three major sections.  The first which examines how the aspect of race effected the fighting of the war, the second, the war through Western eyes and the third the war through Japanese eyes.  The first section begins with how racial attitudes in Western and Japanese societies helped fuel the war and compares similar attitudes and concepts in Western and Japanese thought, including how “prejudice and racial stereotypes frequently distorted both Japanese and Allied evaluations of the enemy’s intentions and capabilities.”[vi] He looks at the language of the conflict; at how war words and race words came together “in a manner which did not reflect the savagery of the war, but truly contributed to it….”[vii] the result being “an obsession with extermination on both sides.”[viii] He comes back to this theme throughout the book comparing the two sides and occasionally contrasting these attitudes with corresponding attitudes of the Allies to their German and Italian foes in Europe.[ix]

In the first chapter Dower examines the role played by the propaganda used by both sides.  In particular he expalins how the “Know Your Enemy: Japan” movies commissioned by the War Department and directed by Frank Capra, and the Japanese works “Read this and the War is Won” and “The Way of the Subject” helped shape the view of each side. Propaganda developed the idea of the war in terms of good versus evil and the mortal threat posed to their respective cultures by the enemy.

From this he looks at the visceral emotions that the war engendered and how those emotions spilled over into the conduct of the war especially in regard to its ferocity and the war crimes that were spawned by the unbridled hatred of both sides.  He notes the targeted terror bombings of civilians by both sides and how those actions were portrayed as “barbaric” by the other side when they were the victim.[x] He notes the viciousness of the war and how for the Americans the war brought forth “emotions forgotten since our most savage Indian wars.”[xi] He contrasts this with European war in particular how the Japanese and their actions were portrayed in Western media, and how similar actions by the Germans, such as the Holocaust, were ignored by Western media until the war was over.[xii] He traces some of this to the understanding of the psychological effects of the defeats and humiliations of the Allies at the hands of the Japanese, and the corresponding brutality toward Allied prisoners by the Japanese as compared to that of the Germans.[xiii] He uses this section to also examine the prevailing attitudes of the Japanese toward the Allies as being weak and “psychologically incapable of recovery” from blows such as the Pearl Harbor attack, and the Allied view of the Japanese as “treacherous.”[xiv]

Dower’s second major section describes the attitudes and actions of the Americans and British toward their Japanese enemy.  He looks at the view that the Japanese were less than human and often portrayed as apes or other primates such as monkeys.  To do this he examines cartoons and illustrations in popular magazines and military publications, and includes those cartoons in the book.   The sheer vulgarity of these cartoons is easily contrasted with those promoted and published by Nazis such as Julius Streicher in Der Stürmer, something often overlooked or ignored in other histories.[xv] The early Western views of Japan as sub-human continued throughout the war, while at the same time, especially after the rapid series of Allied defeats and Japanese victories they were viewed as almost “super-human.”  Paradoxically some allied leaders turned the Japanese from “the one time “little man” into a Goliath.”[xvi] They were now “tough, disciplined and well equipped.”[xvii] Ambassador Joseph Grew, reported on his return from Japan, that the Japanese were; “”sturdy,” “Spartan,” “clever and dangerous,” and that “his will to conquer was “utterly ruthless, utterly cruel and utterly blind to the values that make up our civilization….””[xviii] The juxtaposition of such conflicting attitudes is curious, although understandable, especially in light of other Western wars against Asians or Arabs.[xix]

Dower then examines how some Americans and British explained the Japanese “National Character,” their approach to war, and actions during the war from Freudian psychiatry as well as Anthropology and other social and behavioral sciences.   Beginning with the widespread Allied understanding that the Japanese were “dressed-up primitives-or “savages” in modern garb…”[xx] he notes that these interpretations of the Japanese national character stemmed from “child-rearing practices and early childhood experiences,”[xxi] including toilet training and Freudian interpretations that saw an arrested psychic development at the “infantile (anal or genital) stage of development.”[xxii] Dower deduces that it was not hard to see how “Japanese overseas aggression became explicable in terms of penis envy or a castration complex….”[xxiii] The views were widespread and emphasized  that the “Japanese were collectively unstable.”[xxiv] Dower notes that the “very notion of “national character”-was the application to whole nations and cultures of an analytical language that had been developed through personal case studies…”[xxv] which he is rightly critical in suggesting that this premise “was itself questionable.”[xxvi] In addition to this was the understanding of Margaret Mead and others of the Japanese as “adolescents” and “bullies,”[xxvii] and notes that from “the diagnosis of the Japanese as problem children and juvenile delinquents, it was but a small step to see them as emotionally maladjusted adolescents and, finally as a deranged race in general.”[xxviii] Dower cites numerous other “experts” of the time and their interpretations of the Japanese national character, but the overwhelming message is that the application of these theories, regardless of their validity had a major impact on the Allied war against Japan.

He follows this chapter with one with much importance in explaining the similarities in how Americans and Westerners in general viewed the Japanese in relationship to other races that they had dealt with including Blacks, Chinese, Filipinos, and American Indians.  Common themes include the views of each as primitives, children and madmen and the view of the Japanese as part of the “Yellow Peril.”  Of particular note is his analysis of the work of Homer Lea’s 1909 book The Valor of Ignorance and the vision of Japanese supermen which enjoyed a revival after Pearl Harbor.[xxix] Dower examines depictions of Asians in general in the Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan series of films and other racial aspects hearkening back to the “specter of Genghis Khan and the prospect that the white races “may be liquidated.”[xxx] He notes how Japanese propagandists attempted to use Allied prejudice to influence the Chinese and other Asians against the Allies[xxxi] and American blacks against whites,[xxxii] while attempting to maintain their own racial superiority which is the subject of the next section.

The chapters dealing with the Japanese view of themselves and their opponents tie together neatly.  These deal with the Japanese view of themselves as the leading race in Asia and the world.  Dower talks about symbols and the understanding of racial purity that motivated the Japanese from the 1800s to the rejection of Japan’s request for a declaration of “racial equity” at the League of Nations.[xxxiii] He notes the “propagation of an elaborate mythohistory in Japan and the time spent “wrestling with the question of what it really meant to be “Japanese” and how the “Yamato race” was unique among races….”[xxxiv] He notes the relationship of Shinto with whiteness and purity and connotations of how the Japanese indulged in “Caucasianization” of themselves vis-à-vis other Asians during World War Two,”[xxxv] and their emphasis on a Japanese racial worldview.[xxxvi] He also tackles the way in which the Japanese wrestled with evolution and its relationship to other racial theories contrasting books such as A History of Changing Theories about the Japanese Race and Evolution of Life with Cardinal Principles of the National Polity published by the Thought Bureau of the Ministry of Education in1937.  These declared that the Japanese were “intrinsically different from the so-called citizens of Occidental countries.”[xxxvii] He also deals with the Kyoto school and the Taiwa concept.[xxxviii] In Chapter Nine Dower looks at how the Japanese viewed themselves and outsiders, in particular the characterization of Westerners as nanbanjin or  barbarians and how this eventually train of thought carried through the war led to the “Anglo-American foe emerged full blown as the demonic other.”[xxxix] Dowers final chapter deals with how quickly the race hatred dissipated and genuine goodwill that developed between the Japanese and Americans after the war.[xl]

This book holds a unique place in the literature of the Pacific war.  It is not a comfortable book, it is challenging. No other deals with these matters in any systemic way.  If there is a weakness in Dower is that he does not, like Lepore in “In the Name of War” deal with the attitudes of soldiers and those who actually fought the war.  His examples are good and go a long way in explaining the savagery with which the war was conducted, but could have been enhanced with reflections and accounts of those who fought the war and survived as well as the writings of those who did not, and the way those attitudes were reflected in different services, times and theaters during the war, including adjustments that commanders made during the war.[xli] His description of how Japanese “reluctance to surrender had meshed horrifically with Allied disinterest …in contemplating anything short of Japan’s “thoroughgoing defeat.”[xlii]

The lessons of the book are also contemporary in light of the cultural and religious differences between the West and its Moslem opponents in the current war. Possibly even more so than the war between the United States and Japan which was fought by nation states that still were signatories to international conventions, not nation states against terrorists unbound by any Western code or law or indigenous forces engaged in revolutionary war against the west such as the Taliban.[xliii] The temptation is for both sides to demonize one’s opponent while exalting one’s own way of life through official propaganda and popular media, with a result of increased viciousness and inhumanity in pursuit of ultimate victory.   In today’s world with the exponential rise in the radicalization of whole people groups and the availability of weapons of mass destruction, it is possibility that the war could develop into one that is a racial as well as religious and ideological war that would make the War in the Pacific look like a schoolyard brawl.

Bibliography

Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995

Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, A Division  of Random House, New York, NY 1986.

Leckie, Robert. Okinawa. Penguin Books USA, New York NY, 1996

Lepore, Jill  The Name of War Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1998

Tregaskis, Richard Guadalcanal Diary Random House, New York NY 1943, Modern Library Edition, 2000.


[i] Dower, John W. War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.” Pantheon Books, A Division  of Random House, New York, NY 1986. p.4

[ii] Lepore, Jill  The Name of War Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York, NY 1998.  Lepore’s book deals with King Phillip’s War and how that war shaped the future of American war and how it shaped the views of Indians and the English Colonists and their later American descendants both in the language used to describe it, the histories written of it and the viciousness of the war.

[iii] Ibid. p.x

[iv] Ibid. p.ix

[v] Ibid. p.x

[vi] Ibid. p.11

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.   Also see Alexander, Joseph H. Utmost Savagery: The Three Days of Tarawa. Ivy Books, Published by Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1995 Alexander notes an incident that shows a practical application of the Japanese views and the ruthlessness inflicted on their enemies, in this case prisoners in response to an American bombing raid. In 1942 the commander of the Japanese Garrison of Makin Island ordered 22 prisoners beheaded after one cheered following a bombing raid. (p.32)

[ix] An interesting point which Dower does not mention but is interesting for this study is how the Germans referred to the British and Americans as “Die gegener” (opponents) and the Soviets as “Die Feinde” (the enemy), the implication being that one die gegener was a common foe, much like an opposing team in a sport, and the other a mortal enemy, the implication of Feinde being evil, or demonic.

[x] In particular he makes note of the Japanese actions during the “Rape of Nanking,” and the 1945 sack of Manila, as well as the fire bombing of Japanese cities by the US Army Air Corps in 1945.

[xi] Ibid. Dower. p.33

[xii] Ibid. p.35

[xiii] Ibid.  This is important in the fact that the Allies tended not to make much of German brutality to the Jews, Russians and other Eastern Europeans.

[xiv] Ibid. p.36.

[xv] Dower does not make this implicit comparison, but having seen both and studied the Nazi propaganda directed toward the Jews, Russians and other Slavic peoples considered to be Untermenschen (sub-humans) by the Nazis the similarities are striking.

[xvi] Ibid. pp.112-113.

[xvii] Ibid. p.113

[xviii] Ibid.

[xix] In the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Israeli soldiers who previously showed no respect to any Arab fighter described their Hezbollah opponents as “soldiers and warriors.”  Similar attitudes were voiced by American soldiers in Vietnam when they fought NVA regulars.

[xx] Ibid. p.123

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid. p.124

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid. p.129

[xxviii] Ibid. p.143

[xxix] Ibid. P.157.  Lea is interesting because he predicts a decline in the stature of the British Empire and softness of both the Americans and British as peoples.  Also see John Costello in The Pacific War 1941-1945 Quill Books, New York, NY 1982 pp.31-32 notes Lea’s concerns and how they drove the American Pacific strategy until the outbreak of World War Two.

[xxx] Ibid. p.161

[xxxi] Ibid. p.169

[xxxii] Ibid. pp.174-180.  This is an interesting section.  One of the most interesting topics being the reaction of the NAACP’s Walter White’s book A Rising Wind published which “suggested a sense of kinship with other colored-and also oppressed-peoples of the world….he senses that the struggle of the Negro in the United States is part and parcel of the struggle against imperialism and exploitation in India, China, Burma….” (p.177-178)

[xxxiii] Ibid. p.204

[xxxiv] Ibid. p.205

[xxxv] Ibid. p.209  This is interesting when one compares the Japanese emphasis on “Pan-Asianism” and the inherent contradiction between the two.

[xxxvi] Ibid. p.211  Dower notes that the article Establishing a Japanese Racial Worldview in the monthly Bungei Shunju “clarified the Japanese character, whose basic traits were brightness, strength and uprightness.  These qualities made the Japanese “the most superior race in the world.”

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.221

[xxxviii] Ibid. p.227 This was the theory of Zen Buddhism’s Suzuki Daisetsu (D.T. Suzuki) in his teaching of the struggle for the Great Harmony “Taiwa” which attempted to identify “an intuitive sense of harmony and oneness that he declared to be characteristic of Oriental thought.”

[xxxix] Ibid. p.247.  Descriptions of the Allies as Barbarians, Gangsters and Demons permeated Japanese propaganda.

[xl] Ibid. Dower makes a number of observations relating to how the Japanese were able to use their own self concept to adapt to their defeat.  He also notes that the Japanese were able to transfer their self concept to a peaceful orientation.

[xli] See Leckie, Robert. Okinawa. Penguin Books USA, New York NY, 1996 p.35.  Leckie quotes General Ushijima “You cannot regard the enemy as on par with you,” he told his men. “You must realize that material power usually overcomes spiritual power in the present war. The enemy is clearly our superior in machines. Do not depend on your spirits overcoming this enemy. Devise combat method [sic] based on mathematical precision-then think about displaying your spiritual power.”  Leckie comments: “Ushijima’s order was perhaps the most honest issued by a Japanese commander during the war. It was Bushido revised, turned upside down and inside out-but the revision had been made too late.”

[xlii] Ibid. Dower. p.37

[xliii] See Tregaskis, Richard Guadalcanal Diary Random House, New York NY 1943, Modern Library Edition, 2000. p.95.  Tregaskis notes when commenting on Japanese POWs on Guadalcanal “We stared at them and they stared back at us. There was no doubt what we or they would have liked to do at that moment-if we had not remembered our code of civilization or if they had not been unarmed.”

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Can Anybody Spare a DIME: A Short Primer on Early Axis Success and How the Allies Won the Second World War

Hitler and Mussolini, the Axis Leaders Never Developed a Grand Strategy

All modern war is predicated on the full potential of a nation or alliance to fight a war.  This includes what is known in today’s parlance the DIME, or the Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military and Economic factors of national power. During the war the Axis powers almost exclusively fixated on the military dimension, especially at the operational and tactical level never coordinating a national or alliance grand strategy.  On the other hand the Allies were successful in doing so despite competing national interests of the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the United States.

Early German Success in France Changed the Face of Warfare

The Germans and Japanese were victorious in the early years of the World War Two due to their application of the most modern forms of warfare and ability to exploit weaknesses in their opponents.  For the Germans this entailed the use of the “Blitzkrieg” or lightening war which used the combined arms team of tanks, artillery, and mechanized infantry with close air support coordinated by commanders in mobile command posts who were able to adapt to tactical considerations on the ground and exploit enemy’s weaknesses.  This involved the classic forms of applied mass, speed and firepower to overwhelm enemy defenses at critical points and the encouragement of initiative by commanders, the Auftragstaktik. Led by men such as Heinz Guderian, Erich Von Manstein and Erwin Rommel to name but a few, the German commanders overcame allied opposition as well as the occasional hesitancy of their own senior leaders to defeat Allied forces throughout Europe.  The blitzkrieg involved risk, but the Germans for the most part, with key exceptions such as at Dunkirk during the French campaign took risks and exploited weaknesses in Allied political goals, military coordination and operational art. The Allies were hampered by weak political leadership, an aversion to risk, an outmoded strategy and poor coordination of a force which outnumbered the Germans and included more tanks than the Germans could field.  The German armaments were not necessarily superior to the Allies, but were better used for the most part.

German skill at the operational level was exemplified in Poland, France and the Low Countries, a daring Norwegian operation, which could be described as one of the first joint operations in military history, the Balkans and North Africa as well as the initial phases of Operation Barbarossa.  Each of these operations had flaws, the most glaring being at the strategic level and lack of a Grand Strategy.  The operations also exposed weaknesses in logistics and limits to what the mechanized and tactical air forces could do when stretched too far, North Africa and Russia as cases in point.  The Germans would always be outnumbered and fighting a multi-front war because of their limited naval capability, both in surface units and U-Boats, as well as the lack of a strategic air capability which kept them from eliminating Britain from the war.  Hitler’s desire for German domination in Europe excluded a true coalition effort to make allies with powers in Europe such as Vichy France which shared an aversion to the British especially after the attack of the British Navy on the French fleet in North Africa.  Likewise Germany’s alliance with Mussolini’s Italy was more of a strategic liability than a true partner. Hitler’s aversion to the Soviet State prevented any more than a brief cooperation with the USSR which was ended by the German invasion of the USSR. The Germans also failed in their war strategy by not going to a total war effort until 1943 after the ascension of Albert Speer as the Armaments Minister.  Thus German forces had to fight war “on the cheap” so to speak for the first part of the war, especially in North Africa and in Russia. In Russia the vast expanse of the front forced the Germans to thin out their forces to dangerous levels and whose pathetic road and rail network limited the already limited ability of the Wehrmacht to supply its forces as they advanced deep into Russia.

Admiral Yamamoto One of the Few Japanese Leaders to Understand what the Japanese Faced in Going to War with the United States

In the Pacific the Japanese used fast carrier task forces and naval air power coupled with superior surface warfare groups of fast battleships, cruisers and destroyers operating in conjunction with land based Army and Naval air units to isolate and destroy allied naval forces and outposts throughout the Pacific.   The Japanese exploited their superiority to conduct their own form of blitzkrieg.

Despite Inflicting Crushing Defeats on the Allies in late 1941 and early 1942 the Japanese period of Conquest would be Short Lived

At the same time the Japanese, even more so than the Germans lacked the ability to fight a long war; something that the best and most realistic of the Japanese strategists, Admiral Yamamoto understood and warned his government about before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Likewise they like the Germans failed to develop a cohesive Grand Strategy in their war effort.  Competing priorities and inter-service rivalries between the Army and the Navy over resources, manufacturing priorities and war aims crippled Japanese efforts.  Despite this the Japanese used superior tactical application of forces, exploited Allied command and control weaknesses, numerical and qualitative superiority over dispersed and often obsolete Allied forces. The Allies in the opening phase of the war were often led by officers who had little respect for the Japanese and underestimated the Japanese skill at the tactical and operational level of warfare as well as the individual Japanese soldier and sailor, with tragic results.

USS Pope Being Blown out of the Water at the Battle of the Java Sea

The Japanese were constrained by limited resources and intense competition between the Army and Navy for those resources as well as a long term war in China which drew off the larger part of the Japanese Army and Army Air Forces.  The Japanese effort stalled after they lost much of their carrier fleet and experienced naval aviators at Coral Sea, Midway and the Guadalcanal Campaign.  The Americans, who assumed the mantle of the Pacific Theater after the initial Japanese success and weakness of British and Dutch forces in the Pacific and demands of the war in Europe began an aggressive defense and opened an offensive against the Japanese long before the Japanese believed that they would at Guadalcanal.

At the heart of the early German and Japanese success lay their superior application of the techniques and weapons of modern warfare on the land, sea and air against opponents who were initially ill-prepared to meet their onslaught.  They both had glaring weaknesses but their weaknesses in the early years of the war were masked by Allied ineptitude at all levels, tactical, operational and strategic.   Thus they were successful and at times wildly so, but in their success lay the seeds of their defeat.

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill overcame Significant Conflicts of Interest to Build a Grand Strategy

The defeat of the Axis powers was in large part a combination of superior Allied strategy at the “grand strategy” level and lack of a corresponding Axis Grand Strategy; as well as the Axis powers inherent weaknesses in natural resources, manpower and industrial capabilities to fight multi-front wars, coupled with poor transportation and logistics capabilities for distant operations.

The US Navy Breaking of the Japanese Naval and Diplomatic Codes as well as the Cracking of the German Ultra Code and Capture of the Enigma Machine Greatly Enhanced Allied Intelligence

The cracking of Japanese Naval and diplomatic codes and the capture of the German Enigma code machine and code books aided Allied strategic planning, none or the Axis intelligence services rose to the challenges of the war. The Allied victory and Axis defeat was in fact a combination of what is called the DIME, the Diplomatic Intelligence Military and Economic factors which caused the Axis defeat.  While it is in part due to Allied strategy, Axis deficiencies in each of these areas played a part in their ultimate defeat.

Massive US Industrial Capacity Drove the Allied War Effort

On the Grand Strategic level there was no comparison. The Allies, even factoring in often conflicting national goals were able to coordinate a strategy to first defeat Germany and then Japan.  The Americans, British and Russians began such cooperation even prior to the American entry into the war through the Lend Lease, followed by the British and American Combined Chiefs of Staff, which helped coordinate often disparate British and American strategies in Europe and Asia. Murray and Millett assert and I agree with the thesis that the British and Americans “came closest to designing a global strategy that accommodated their war aims.” (War to Be Won p.584) While close coordination with the Russians was illusory at best, the Western Allies were able to help keep the Russians in war the by helping to supply them (War to Be Won p.388), and on occasion launching operations which assisted the Russians, such as the invasion of Italy. The Italian invasion, though the pipe dream of Churchill to crack the “soft underbelly” of Europe was a key factor in the German decision to quit the Kursk offensive and redeploy Panzer Divisions, including SS formations to Italy and the West. This weakened the Germans in the face of the Russian counter offensive following Kursk which aided Russian success. The Axis powers knew no such coordinated strategic thinking.

Poor Italian Technology, Training and Organization Made them More of  a Burden to Germany than a Help

The Japanese, Germans and Italians ran separate wars based on their perceived national considerations at times which often ran contrary to the common needs of their coalition.  Italian actions in the Mediterranean caused a diversion in German efforts at key times, such as in Greece where the Germans had to save the Italians and delay the opening of Operation Barbarossa.  Italian incompetence forced the Germans to commit forces to North Africa, Greece, the Balkans and Italy upon its collapse which could have been used to great effect in Europe or Russia. The Japanese and Germans never coordinated their efforts to defeat either the western Allies or the Soviets.  The lack of a coherent Grand Strategy on the part of the Axis powers, especially in the early part of the war when Allied fortunes were at lowest ebb, was every bit as much a part of their ultimate defeat as was a coordinated or “superior” Allied strategy.

The lack of a coordinated Axis Grand Strategy was reflected in the way each fought its war, the Japanese were hindered by lack of natural resources, especially those most important in maintaining a war economy, fuels, metals, rubber and even foodstuffs for which they were dependant on foreign suppliers such as the United States.  They were also hindered by a war in China which consumed troops and supplies without a corresponding benefit.  (See Barnhart’s “Japan Prepares for Total War and Toland’s “Rising Sun.) Their inability to produce the machines of war in sufficient numbers to replace losses due to combat operations and their failure to keep up with advances in technology negated their initial success and superiority at sea and in the air.

US Naval Forces Would Dominate the Pacific

The Germans failed to mobilize their economy to a total war footing until after Stalingrad and the accession of Albert Speer to head Reich war production.   They also attempted to fight a multi-front war and were dependant on weak and unenthusiastic satellite states such as Romania and Hungary to hold what they deemed to be less important areas in order free up German units.  Likewise the Germans had not adequately prepared for the war at sea with sufficient surface, naval air or U-boat strength to win the battle of the Atlantic, nor had the Luftwaffe developed a strategic bombing capability with long range fighter escorts to win the Battle of Britain. German industrial efforts, even the great strides made after Speer took over war production were unable to keep pace with the massive production of the Americans and the Soviet Union.  The Red Army ground the Wehrmacht to dust on the Steppes of Russia, a key factor in that helped the American and British successfully invade Western Europe.

B-17s Over Europe

The preponderance of western Air, Naval, war production and natural resources enabled them to field Fleets, Armies and Air Forces which were unmatched in size or technical sophistication for their time in history.  The Japanese and the Germans had no way to win by 1944, short of developing and deploying Atomic weapons and delivery systems before the Americans and British did could defeat.  Murray and Millett note this in regard to Germany which had the Wehrmacht held out longer would have been the first target of the Atomic bombs. (War to Be Won p.483)

Atomic Bomb at Hiroshima, It could Have Been Berlin Instead

In summary the Axis powers were defeated by their own weaknesses in the diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic arenas as much as they were by superior Allied strategy.  This in no way negates the superior way in which the Allies marshaled their resources and coordinated a coherent Grand Strategy.  But even so the Allies by were running out of troops by the end of the European war.  Russian formations while still formidable were operating at greatly diminished strength by the end of the war and their losses “carried political and social consequences that were to burden the Soviet Union to its demise.” (War to Be Won p.483)  The British were bled dry and unable to keep up with losses suffered after Normandy. The Americans too suffered from a shortage of manpower, particularly in Army infantry forces, and had limited their Army to a mere 90 divisions of all types to fight a world war. They had diverted manpower to the Army Air Corps, Naval and Marine Corps leaving the Army chronically short infantry. The Americans were forced into emergency drafts of troops from the Air Corps and other ancillary formations and support units to fill out infantry formations during the winter of 1944-45.  (See Russell Weigley’s book Eisenhower’s Lieutenants.” and Max Hasting’s “Armageddon” for a good treatment of the manpower situation in 1944-45) This is one point were the Americans took a risk that almost backfired on them and could have cost them victory.

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