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March 30, 2008



"...nor on the Westerners who would like nothing better than to believe that Imperial Japan was an Asian Third Reich, when it was no worse - and in quite a few respects much better - than all of the other Western empires of the period."

That would depend a bit heavily on the period of Imperial Japan under discussion, I would think. I have no doubt for most of it's history that Korea under Japanese control was nowhere near the unending series of horrors your typical Korean nationalist might present it as, but to suggest that the Imperial Japan of the midst of Nanking, Manila, Singapore, Unit 731, the food-hording induced famines in Vietnam and Indonesia, the Burma-Siam railway, 燼滅作戦, rampant prisoner starvation and abuse, and so on and so 'no worse - and in quite a few respects much better' than other Empires of the period....


But let's not forget some of the outrages perpetrated by Western empires of the period... the suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya; Leopold's Congo; etc etc. Though I still think it's basically pointless to engage in these "who's the worst empire" comparisons as if another's guilt were to somehow lessen one's own guilt.


Andrew, I agree, and my point isn't to lessen the severity of the Imperial Japanese Army's brutality in China, but to put it in context when it comes to thinking about Western efforts to paint Imperial Japan as somehow uniquely evil.

What particularly irritates me is the insistence on pretending that opposition to Japan's imperial expansion in Europe and America stemmed from other than the motives of protecting their own conquests, leaving room to make even more conquests down the road (hence America's "open door" policy in China), and preserving the seeming worldwide inviolability of white rule. There was nothing the least noble about any of it, nor were Asia's resident European overlords any less brutal than the IJA when they were first embarked on conquering their Asian fiefdoms. What is more humane about machine-gunning Zulus in Southern Africa, packing Kikuyus into disease-ridden concentration camps, or instituting mercantilist administrative policies which led to tens of million Indians starving to death?

Imperialism is an abominable evil, yes, but no one has been more guilty of it in the last 500 years than Europeans, and yet they love to sanctimoniously sermonize to the Japanese about their late entry into the "great game" which was anything but a "game" for the hundreds of millions who came to living under European domination. What gets to me is that I can follow the Japanese media, and from everything I see there is far more genuine remorse and reflection about colonialism on the Japanese side than there is in Britain, France or even the USA: just look at the bewilderment and hostility towards Jeremiah Wright's statements to see an example of the self-delusion I'm talking about.


Those links are very interesting, if true; I wasn't aware of just how devastating the British Empire's influence could be in the 19th century.

I stand by the statement in regards to the period 1937-1945, however. Without hesitation, I would take living in British Hong Kong, British Singapore, American Manila...even Dutch Jakarta over the Japanese ruled versions of any of the above any day of the week, even removing the privations which resulted when Japan started losing the war badly. An average Chinese 'subject' in Hong Kong under British rule faced inequality, a complete lack of democracy, poverty, and racism; that same Chinese under Japanese ruled faced all of the above alongside random rapes, beatings, looting, killing, forced labor, forced acculturation, etc.

There's a reason why so many people across Asia during that period went so quickly from enthusiasm at the possibility the Japanese genuinely were liberating them from colonial rule to active and violent opposition to the Japanese occupation. And there's a reason why even many countries and cities which experienced long periods of European colonial rule still remember the Japanese occupation as a particularly ugly period in their history.

Does that make Japan 'uniquely evil'? Probably not. As of the end of it's history, though, I would say without question that the Japanese Empire was the worst of a bad lot.


Is it really a mystery why all the colonies you mention were so much easier to live in just prior to Japanese rule? The answer is obvious: by then most of the worst brutalities of the previous conquerors were in the past, with the stubbornest natives opposed to white rule already killed.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the same process would have eventually occurred under Japanese rule - just compare Japan's "pacification" of Taiwan with America's conquest of the Phillipines, or Britain's handling of the 19th century Sepoy Mutiny and (as late as the 1950s) the Malaysian "Emergency": even better, look at the French in Vietnam and tell me that was any better than what the Japanese did elsewhere in South-East Asia.

In short, I don't buy your thesis about Japanese rule being "worst of a bad lot", as it is a very selective reading of history, as meaningful as suggesting American slavery and the mass murder of the Native Americans couldn't be that bad given how relatively good the descendants of the survivors of both horrors have it today.


"Is it really a mystery why all the colonies you mention were so much easier to live in just prior to Japanese rule? The answer is obvious: by then most of the worst brutalities of the previous conquerors were in the past, with the stubbornest natives opposed to white rule already killed."

I hesitate to agree with that. It almost sounds like 'mass murder as colonial growing pains', something which invariably happens during the opening stages of colonial takeover and which makes atrocities...if not really least a bit more understandable. That would suggest, however, that all colonial acquisitions were almost invariably followed by massacre, rape, live dissection of prisoners of war, use of locals and POWs as expendable slave labor, etc., which is not true. From what I know of the British takeover of Malaya, for example, there was no equivalent to 華僑粛清, nor do residents of Singapore think of ANY period of the British colonial rule in the same dark way they think of the little over three years of Japanese occupation.

As for the British and the Sepoys or the American 'pacification' of the Phillipines or the French in Vietnam, for all the horror of those, if you add the casualties of all of them combined you still fail to reach the number killed in China alone from 1937 on. If we accept R.J. Rummel's statistics, the total reaches nearly 6 million dead across Asia.

The methods were similiar, but the scale was not the same.

To be fair, however, I would agree that this has NOTHING to do with how uniquely 'cruel' Japan is. You need only look to the Boxer Rebellion and the comparative behavior of Western soldiers a few decades prior to see that there was nothing pre-determined about the widespread atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese during the Pacific War. Nevertheless, that Japan DID behave in extremely...and unusually.... ruthless behavior during World War II is not something which can be fairly dismissed as simply a figment of battered Korean pride.

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