IJA

Everyone has heard of famous last stands, such as Thermopylae, the Alamo,  or the French Foreign Legion at Camerone.   They are memorable partly because they are rare – generally, soldiers surrender when all is lost, assuming that their enemies give them a chance to do so.    Even Spartans, products of a lifetime of military training,  could surrender, as shown at Sphacteria in the Peloponnesian War.

So an army that routinely executed last stands – one that always refused to surrender, that kept fighting until eliminated by firepower or starvation – would  be anomalous.  It’s hard to imagine, but it’s easy to remember: that’s what the Imperial Japanese Army was like in World War Two.

In a typical battle, less than 2% of Japanese forces were taken prisoner. Of those that were, many had been knocked unconscious. Wounded Japanese soldiers would try to kill Allied medics: Japanese sailors would attack Americans trying to fish them out of the water.  As a young American infantry officer who faced them in Guadalcanal and Burma said, “for sheer, bloody, hardened steel guts, the stocky and hard-muscled little Jap doughboy has it all over any of us.”  George MacDonald Fraser told of a Japanese soldier he encountered in August of 1945, when they had utterly lost the war: ” the little bastard came howling out of a thicket near the Sittang, full of spite and fury..  He was half-starved  and near naked, and his only weapon was a bamboo stave, but he was in no mood to surrender.”

The Japanese usually lost those battles (after their attacks in the beginning of the war) ,  losing something like ten times as many killed as their Western opponents, a ratio normally seen only in colonial wars.  The Japanese relied on ‘courage and cold steel’, which simply wasn’t very effective. They simply did not grasp the dominance of artillery and automatic weapons in modern war – partly because they hadn’t fought in WWI (except for a small naval role), but, more importantly, because they didn’t want to understand.  They’d had  a chance to learn in the border conflicts with the Soviet Union in the late 30’s (Khalkin-Gol), but refused to do so.

In addition, Japanese heroism is seldom fully appreciated because they were such utter assholes, in their treatment of prisoners and of conquered nations – cannibalism, vivisection, the Rape of Nanking and the destruction of Manila, germ warfare experiments on prisoners…   even the water cure, although now we’re in favor of that. Under the Japanese,  Asia was a charnel house.  Regardless, their courage was most unusual.

Compared to the last stands of the Japanese in the Pacific War, Thermopylae is nothing special.   It is hardly even noticeable.   The Imperial Army and Navy put 35,000 men on Guadalcanal – about 25,000 of those died, some in combat, but most by starvation. Obedient to orders, they died before surrendering.  There were many such battles:  whole Japanese divisions starved  to death in New Guinea and Burma.  There were no mutinies, unlike the French or Russians or Italians in WWI.  When the Germany Navy was ordered out to a suicidal battle in 1918, the sailors rebelled and the government fell  – but then, they weren’t Japanese.

Many other nations and empires have tried to inculcate this kind of ultimate obedience, some going to great lengths – but Imperial Japan is the only one that achieved it, as far as I can tell.  There’s isn’t even any reason to think they they tried particularly hard to do so – certainly they’d didn’t go anywhere near as far as the Spartans.

If cultural anthropologists had any curiosity – which of course they don’t – they ought to find this story fascinating.  How was it even possible?

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140 Responses to IJA

  1. spandrell says:

    They didn’t even have a charismatic leader/dictator that infused the masses with religious fervor. The Emperor wasn’t in charge nor was Tojo. They very horizontally bullied each other into fighting for death.

    I’ve talked with old surviving soldiers (stranded in China mostly), and I got the impression that they just couldn’t fathom going back home after disobeying. The penalty for disloyalty was suicide and family ostracism. I’d rather die fighting too.

    To these day the epitome of evil in Japan is taught as being “those commanders who lead their soldiers to death while they personally escaped and died of old age in the mainland”. Corollary being that leading your soldiers to death is fine as long as you die with them.

  2. georgesdelatour says:

    Maybe al-Qaeda?

    When 9/11 happened, I hated it when commentators said the attackers were cowardly. They were brave in the service of a stupid and vile cause.

    I once met a man who’d been a medical officer on the Western Front after D-day. He said there were captured SS officers he could have saved, if only they’d been willing to accept blood transfusions from non-Aryan Germans. But they weren’t. So they died, for their sincerely held stupid Nazi beliefs.

    I’ve never heard any such stories confirmed by anyone else; and the man who told it to me has now died.

    Do you think it’s true?

    • Pincher Martin says:

      “Maybe al-Qaeda?”

      “When 9/11 happened, I hated it when commentators said the attackers were cowardly. They were brave in the service of a stupid and vile cause.”

      Many of the attackers that day — perhaps a majority who took part — didn’t know they were participating in a suicide attack. And that’s in a rather small group of less than two dozen men.

      That seems fundamentally different from what Greg is talking about with the Imperial Japanese Army in WW2, where literally tens of thousands of soldiers and extremely high percentages of large combat units, were willing to suffer extended periods of deprivation and certain death rather than surrender.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Sure. That sort of thing is known to have happened, particularly with Waffen SS soldiers. In Beevor’s history of D-Day and the subsequent Normandy campaign, he mentions a boy of about sixteen in the Hitler Jugend division who tore off the bandage of a serious wound, shouting that he only wanted to die for the Fuhrer. Another young SS jerk refused to accept ‘English’ blood, pulled out the IV, and died.

      But such people are rare in non-Japanese armies.

    • AG says:

      al-Qaeda is about personal bravery and aggression. Such perosnal aggression will never work well in organized army.

      Japanese is about absolute obedience to the commanders or lords, not out of personal aggression. Obedient soldiers are most displined and will obey orders at all cost. If commanders said surrender not allowed, they will not.

      Aggressive people, worse their army since no body likes to obey. In europe, the same rule applies.

    • sr says:

      Consider that Al Qaeda has only been able to produce a handful of people who have engaged in suicide attacks out of probably hundreds of millions of sympathizers. No, they are not comparable to the Japanese. We’d have a real problem if they were.

      • j says:

        Contrary to accepted wisdom, religious fanatism rarely leads to suicidal aggression.Not even 72 virigins in paradise tempt Muslim would-be “martyrs”. Most Palestinian terrorist sent to explode in Israel gave up themselves in the nearest Tzahal post. The others were retarded adolescents. The Japanese were (and are) godless and dont believe in any other world, yet they were ready to die for fear of shame.

      • TomM says:

        Shinto and Buddhism do have conceptions of the afterlife.

      • TomM says:

        The Japanese aren’t godless. They have many of them. Also heroic, legendary individuals can become enshrined after death and apotheosized for their deeds in life.

      • melykin says:

        They thought their emperor was a god. My mother lived in Vancouver, BC, before the war and she remembers the Japanese emperor visiting Vancouver. There were some Japanese living in Vancouver at that time (a small number) and she remembers seeing them lying flat down on the ground when the emperor went past. They wouldn’t look at his face because they thought he was a god. No wonder they sent them to internment camps after Japan joined the war.

      • melykin says:

        From Wikipedia:
        “The role of the emperor as head of the Shinto religion was exploited during the war, creating an Imperial cult that led to kamikaze bombers and other fanaticism. This in turn led to the requirement in the Potsdam Declaration for the elimination “for all time [of] the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest”. Following Japan’s surrender, the Allies issued the Shinto Directive separating church and state within Japan, leading to the Humanity Declaration of the incumbent Emperor. Subsequently a new constitution was drafted to define the role of the emperor and the government.”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_of_Japan#World_War_II

        The “Humanity Declaration”
        “Humanity Declaration (人間宣言 Ningen-sengen?) is an imperial rescript issued by the Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) as part of a New Year’s statement on January 1, 1946 at the request of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers. In the rescript, which follows the Five Charter Oath of 1868, the Emperor denied the concept of his being a living god, which would eventually lead to the promulgation of the new Constitution, under which the Emperor is “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people.”[1]”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanity_Declaration

      • melykin says:

        I can’t find any record of Hirohito visiting Vancouver before the war, however his younger brother Prince Chichibu was in Vancouver in 1937, and it likely this that my mother remembered. She was born in Vancouver in 1927, so she would have been old enough to remember the event if her parents took her to see him pass by. She distinctly remembered seeing Japanese people bowing down on the ground, and she must have been told that it was because they thought he was a god–it was a memory that stayed with her over the years. She has passed on now so I can’t ask her about it.

        http://www.vancouversun.com/life/This+history+March+1937/6384271/story.html

        As an aside, be sure to record on audio or video or write down memories of your elderly relatives because otherwise, after they are gone, you will have to rely on your own memory of what they said. These direct memories are a precious source of history that has not been whitewashed to make them politically correct. For example it would be very embarrassing for Japanese alive today to have it known that their parents or grandparents thought the emperor was a living god, so it has been shoved down the memory hole.

        The Allies must have thought the belief that the Emperor was a god was very significant to the Japanese psyche, since they made Hirohito sign a declaration saying he was not divine. But he apparently continued to believe he was divine, though he would allow that the entire race was not divine:

        “Hirohito was persistent in the idea that the emperor of Japan should be considered a descendant of the gods. In December 1945 he told his vice-grand chamberlain Michio Kinoshita: “It is permissible to say that the idea that the Japanese are descendants of the gods is a false conception; but it is absolutely impermissible to call chimerical the idea that the emperor is a descendant of the gods.”

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanity_Declaration#Interpretation

  3. ironrailsironweights says:

    It could be that any Japanese soldiers who even talked about surrendering were shot by their officers. That would be an effective way of discouraging surrender. I’m reminded of the fact that kamikaze airplanes were rigged so that they would explode if the pilots (who had no parachutes) changed their minds and tried to land at airports. That would be unnecessary if the concept of surrender was unthinkable.

  4. Macaulay’s explanation, written a hundred years before WW2, was that when people regard their opponents as subhuman, they’re not at all tempted to surrender to them:

    http://yarchive.net/macaulay/history/chapter_XII.html#Their_Character

    Another part of the syndrome is that since they regard them as subhuman, they also mistreat them brutally — which again fits the IJA pattern.

    By the way, the self-destructive banzai charges with sword and bayonet that were seen on Guadalcanal were actually something that the IJA learned not to do, in time. Banzai charges had worked in China against poorly-armed troops who were short on ammunition, but against Americans with machine guns, Garands, and plenty of ammo they were near-suicidal. And the Japanese, though slow to learn, weren’t such complete fools as to ignore that forever. Accounts I’ve read from infantrymen say that after a point, they didn’t encounter any more banzai charges, and so killing Japanese became much harder. Sledge, for instance, says that on Peleliu, the old hands were predicting that they’d receive a banzai charge, but that “Rather than a banzai, the Japanese counterthrust turned out to be a well-coordinated tank-infantry attack.” (E. B. Sledge, With The Old Breed, p. 70) The numbers reflect it: total casualties on that island were roughly the same on each side, albeit with the major difference that almost all the Japanese casualties were deaths, whereas most of the American casualties were merely wounded. But that’s a matter of the Japanese wounded choosing to die rather than surrender, rather than a matter of tactical incompetence.

    • gcochran9 says:

      If you matched two armies of similar competence and number, one in a maze of tunnels on a coral island and the other attacking that position, the attacker might well lose five times as many as the defender. That’s not what happened at Peleliu.

      • Not all the island was given the “maze of tunnels” treatment; and there was a reason that the part that did get that treatment acquired the name “Bloody Nose Ridge”. Casualties assaulting those positions were much higher than elsewhere on the island, and the assaults were commonly thrown back without achieving anything.

        For that matter, for the Japanese to construct such defenses was in itself a manifestation of good military skill, and for us to assault them (when the whole island could instead have been bypassed and left to starve) was in itself a manifestation of poor military skill.

  5. AG says:

    Domestication=Civilization. Domesticated animals are more loyal to their master. Domesticated humans are loyal and obedient to their lords. They would rather die for their lords than their own family. Such behavior can only achieved through thousands years of selection by the lords. More or less similar to the domestication of wild animals. Rule following, law abiding, obedience, displines, hardworking, ect are the same result of such selection.

    The same obedience works for successful corporations.

    • AG says:

      In animal study, taming produces puppy like character. In human domestication, adult produces child like obedience.

      If adults are not very obedient, child soldiers become the best alternative.

    • sr says:

      How is that different for the Japanese than for anybody else? The Japanese are not obviously more domesticated than many other cultures which have been civilized for as long, or for thousands of years longer, than they have.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “The Japanese are not obviously more domesticated than many other cultures”

        Violent crime rate?

    • JI says:

      I’ve heard (or read) somewhere that, during much of Japanese history, it was the duty of the samurai to execute any peasants who didn’t appear, or act, quite right, including those who were not properly obedient. Not sure if this is true but it would help explain some of this.

  6. Hugh says:

    Military historians pay more attention because the IJA of WW2 is very strange even by Japanese standards. Ronald Spector’s “Eagle Against the Sun” is one IIRC.
    European observers of the 16thC Japanese civil war(s) saw tactical and strategic retreats, and even factions of a losing army changing sides. Those were serious and bloody affairs with high stakes. In the late 19th century the newly modernized Japanese army helped put down the Boxer rebellion in China, and European observers were generally impressed by their behaviour. In the 1904-05 war against the Russians the Japanese didn’t massacre or mistreat prisoners either.
    One generation later and you’ve got the Rape of Nanking.

    • AG says:

      When the Japanese lord told their soldiers to switch side, they would follow without objection. When emperor told soldiers to surrender to ally, they (most) obeyed. Only in Iraq and Afghanistans (any middle eastern countries), you will have chaos followed since no body really obeyed any thing.

    • gcochran says:

      Extreme bravery is unusual, but extreme nastiness is not, and people can switch to it rather easily.

  7. random mutation says:

    So, is it that the Japanese are simply (genetically) more conformist and are inclined to strongly to conform to the current social meme? Do they prefer there to be only one meme and thus discard all the rest.

    To what extent is this shared by other East Asian groups?

    • AG says:

      Traveling in Europe, I noticed that Northern Europeans, espacially English or Finnish, are more shy, conforming than southern europeans. I have no research to back up my observation. Aggressive middle easterners are pretty bad to conform or obey.

      In east asia, Japanese are more obedient > Chinese > Korean. But northern Chinese are quite loyal to the lords or nation than South. I would say northern han loyalty similar to that of Japanese.

  8. Steve Sailer says:

    At Iwo Jima in 1945, they actually killed more Americans (including my mother’s first husband), than they lost in making a suicidal stand.

    I’m glad we got the atomic bomb.

    • gcochran9 says:

      No, the Japanese lost 3 times as many KIA as we did at Iwo Jima. Almost all of their 22,000 soldiers there were killed (99%). We took more total casualties – about 26000, with 6800 KIA.

      • Tschafer says:

        Of course, one reason for the casualty differential is that the Americans had, in general, much better weaponry and understood combined arms operations much betterthan their Japanese counterparts, their commanders tried to minimize casualties, and the Americans got very good at amphibious operations very quickly. Also, as GC noted, the Japanese had not faced any modern Western armies except at Khaklin-Gol, where they lost, and they refused to learn any lessons, until very late in the war. A strange people, the Japanese…

      • teageegeepea says:

        My vague recollection from reading “Pacific War 1941-1945″ as a kid was of the ratio being 1.8, which just goes to show that vague recollections are not to be relied upon.

      • MikeP says:

        In response to Tschafer below, the Japanese did learn one thing from Khalkhin Gol: do not declare war on the Soviet Union.

  9. dave chamberlin says:

    They have lost all taste for war now, so have the Germans. People can argue as to why but in my own opinion when you fire bomb a countries metropolitan areas like we did to Japan and Germany in World War Two it leaves a lasting impression. The Japanese wept openly in the theatres when they watched those rediculous Godzilla movies, they were reliving the shit we put them through in World War Two. I don’t mean to pass some goofy judgement that we shouldn’t have, just that nothing makes a country more dedicated to pacifism then reducing their country to ruble. It probably wouldn’t work in Afghanistan though, they have always lived in ruble and no amount of punishment will teach them to stop being tough mean bastards.

    • random mutation says:

      It seems to me that once the generation that went through the experience died, and maybe the subsequent one, the experience is no longer directly relevant and is only mythic … so I find your explanation unconvincing.

      Also, how is that experience different from the devastation of an earthquake or other natural disaster? Do they too make those who experience them into pacifists?

    • JI says:

      Ha! No shit about Afghanistan. Good point.

    • I tend to agree, and have long believed that such mass trauma does indeed lead to an intergenerational period of strong pacifism, although not all the time. Many of the current hot spots in the world today suffered relatively minimal population destruction and devastation a half century ago. Yes there are exceptions, and by no means is this a hard and fast rule but a casual glance at a map tends to bear this out.

  10. Greying Wanderer says:

    “If cultural anthropologists had any curiosity – which of course they don’t – they ought to find this story fascinating.”

    Definitely.

    “for sheer, bloody, hardened steel guts”

    It reminds me of their Olympic Rugby team some years back, half the size of the other teams but no surrender. I must admit i do admire that.

    • That Guy says:

      Have you seen the footage – lots on YouTube – of Jonah Lomu almost single-handedly torching the Japanese Rugby players – now that’s funny stuff!

  11. Greying Wanderer says:

    “They very horizontally bullied each other into fighting for death”

    Hmm, interesting. Shame is used a lot in a military context i.e. an officer or nco exposes themselves to fire to shame their men into following them, “leading from the front” etc – actually any dangerous situation “chicken” etc.

    However if a shame cuture was more like a horizontally-acting lattice than a vertically-acting pyramid perhaps it becomes infinitely stronger? That doesn’t explain why they’d have such a lattice though. Maybe the war happened just as they were going through some kind of transition?

  12. dearieme says:

    “And the Japanese, though slow to learn, …”: is there any other context where that is true? It’s not common experience.

    • It wasn’t learning in general that they had a difficulty with. It was learning from us. Their racial pride got in the way.

      • gcochran9 says:

        I guess that’s why they didn’t use airplanes.

      • Okay, yes, I needed to be more specific: what they were slow to learn from us was tactics. Technology they had no problem borrowing, or at least not much of one. Well, no ideological problem; they had plenty of technical problems, not being able to match our industrial base. (And not having anyone of R. V. Jones’s caliber to figure out what we were doing with radar.) But when it came to tactics, they had a racist / nationalist / Bushido mindset which looked down on foreigners. They did eventually learn not to do banzai charges, but it took an awfully long time.

        They hadn’t always had that mindset — far from it. Max Hoffman, in his memoirs of WW1, recounts his experience as a military attaché on the Japanese side in the Russo-Japanese war. At the time, the Japanese service regulations (prescribing training and tactics) were simply a translation of the German ones. And when he asked what updates they would make as the result of wartime experience, the response was that they would wait to see what updates the Germans made as a result of the reports sent back by German officers posted to the war (such as himself), and then translate the new manual into Japanese. And it wasn’t just German military methods that they were importing; in general they were soaking up Western ideas and methods like a sponge. But then somewhere around the time of WW1 this changed.

        Bushido, by the way, in the sense people refer to it today, is an invention of the Japanese government of the late 1800s / early 1900s. That is, during that time they invented the idea that bushido had been an old tradition, when really it wasn’t. By the time of WW2, most Japanese had grown from infancy to full maturity believing in the lie, so their wartime conduct was in accordance with it. And because it became generally believed in Japan, it is generally believed by Westerners too. (Historically there had been some things like bushido, and the name was not new, but there had been nothing nearly so severe and so widely believed-in as was pretended.)

  13. Halvorson says:

    It’s misleading to judge Japanese fighting effectiveness by their total casualty ratios relative to the Americans. It would be more accurate to calculate the casualty ratio at the moment the battle was clearly lost for the defenders and at which point a sane army would have surrendered. This is for the same reason that looking just at blows landed might not give you an accurate impression of a boxing match: the two fighters may have been perfectly balanced for 14 rounds until one gained a slight advantage and began to pound the other mercilessly. After the enemy’s front is broken and they are forced to fight on in small, uncoordinated groups their combat effectiveness is going to plummet and that’s when they’ll sustain the majority of their total casualties.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “to judge Japanese fighting effectiveness”
      I don’t think we’re judging fighting effectiveness here – starving to death before surrendering isn’t particularly effective. It’s about an extremely unusual behaviour.

      • Tschafer says:

        Certainly, no one who fought against the Japanese ever doubted that they were formidable opponents. Some of my father’s friends who served in the Pacific (he served in Europe) were certainly impressed by the quality of the individual Japanese soldier. But due to the emphasis on moral force and individual soldierly qualities, at the expense of combined arms doctrine, logistics, and weapons development, the IJA was less than the sum of its parts. Japanese troops fighting under a more reasonable military doctrine would have been much more successful than they actually were. These criticisms do not apply to the IJN, of course. They had their own problems, but they were different than those of the Army.

  14. I suspect you need to look at the structure of the the military dictatorship society as well as the troop training received.

    There was a strong and effective informant network backed up by secret police and violence right down to local neighborhood level pre-war. The Japanese are not ‘naturally obedient’ (I find their society more anarchic than Britain for example) and it could be argued that this system was put in place to restrict their individuality and lack of reverence to authority. It worked.

    I understand the troop training was brutal too – and I suspect that the recruits were far less sophisticated than – for example – Americans GIs. Country Japan at that time was isolated.

    Allied with this violent repression and brutal repression was the offer of the state/emperor and the army as the ‘safe’ family, the caring… well, somewhat. So you have a great psychological model to capture the dedication and beliefs of a food proportion of the soldiers.

    Sub-humanising the opposition of course, but works better with such a nasty repressive regime that has such control both internally and over external information.

    Possibly a very good model to create mentally disturbed individuals, if not batshit crazy (and the latter can come with warfare).

    • Tschafer says:

      I talked to a surviving American POW who was in a Japanese prison camp, and he said that the IJA soldiers were almost as cruel to their own civilians as they were to the American POWs. He described Japanese soldiers savagely clubbing a crowd of Japanese civilians with rifle butts when they were being transferred to another camp. They were also pretty cruel to each other, too, at least by that stage in the war (1945). The IJA was a very odd institution indeed.

      • Yes, I quite believe the survivor you spoke to, and he must have had a horrific time himself. Whether it was late-war insanity or more I have no idea – but the idea of a ‘the Japanese’ as one homogenous whole was never true. Civilians were peasants – or very close to such – with minimal rights and the lowest of the low. The American occupation forced through land reform and land distribution and became heroes to Japanese farmers.

        Society was also brutalised before the war too with the informant and secret police network.

        Every ‘cho’ or smaller area still had its ‘community association’ with ‘moral’ authority until recently – probably still does. It all still sounds very homogenous and ‘ant-like’ until you actually see the reality – the total inefficiency of the authorities and the sheer delight Japanese individuals take in cheating and mocking the same authorities… which they can now.

  15. botsefaleh says:

    I’ve also always wondered about the mystery Prof. Cochran alludes to. I’ve never found terribly convincing any theories which ascribe the abnormally self-sacrificial behaviour of the soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army to their socialisation, acculturation, inculcation, or training, let alone some simple reward-and-punishment schemes. The fact of the matter is, the behaviour of the IJA seems like an extreme version of many Japanese cultural traits, past and present. To-the-death-type of loyalty was the very basis of the samurai code of bushido in the Shogunal era ; and even in the post-war period, Japanese salarymen would sacrifice all but their lives for the sake of their abstract family, the corporation. Let’s face it, the Japanese are almost a caricature of the reciprocal altruist. Amongst the world’s major national cultures, they are closer than any other to having an ant-like social cohesion. Certainly, extended kinship relationships are less important in Japan in structuring society than in any other Asian country. Family life in Japan, as in the West, is nuclear, revolving around parents & children, and members of the extended family are not particularly close (certainly not as close you would find in the Middle East or South Asia or even Latin America). You don’t have major Japanese corporations run by a multitude of half-siblings, cousins, and half-cousins. Rather, the preference and the norm is, for unrelated people cooperating with a high degree of harmony to run very large and complex organizations. In other words, Japan is a “high trust” society (to use Fukuyama’s concept). But Japan’s lack of “amoral familism” (to use Edward Banfield’s phrase) translates into a “social familism” or perhaps “societal familism” to a much greater degree than in the West. The erosion of amoral familism in the West led to individualism and nationalism. In Japan, it led much more to nationalism. Whether the unit of loyalty was the feudal daimyo, or the Imperial Family, or the Mitsubishi Corporation, the outlines of the group cohesion are very similar. The preceding is also why I feel a Communist Japan would have fared much better than most other sovietized societies. Most of us agree that actually-existed communism sucked. But you can’t deny East Germany did better than, say, Bulgaria (and Cuba better than, say, Angola). So my guess would be that Japan, because of its high level of social cooperativeness and cohesion, would have done better under communism than any other country. Still would have sucked, but less so than most.

    But why such ant-like sociality ? I don’t know. Traditional peasant village life in Japan seemed no different, at first glance, from the pattern in other Asian countries (a social order based on a group of related families). I can’t begin to speculate why the Japanese have always exhibited so much non-kin sociality. It must be related to their insular isolation somehow.

    • billswift says:

      I wonder if it might have something to do with how recently and how quickly they moved out of their feudal period. I can’t remember any other society that moved more or less directly from feudalism to modernism, much less one that did it in less than a century.

      • ‘….ant-like sociality…
        Rather, the preference and the norm is, for unrelated people cooperating with a high degree of harmony to run very large and complex organizations.
        …Japanese salarymen would sacrifice all but their lives for the sake of their abstract family, the corporation. ‘

        I’m sorry, but this is just not true, to put it very politely. It sounds like the worst kind of vapid generalizations by European or American academics who not only do not speak Japanese but also have never lived, laughed and worked within non-academic Japanese society.

        I live in rural UK now, after a long time in rural and urban Japan and the degree of social conformity (or ant like sociality?) I experience here is far far stronger than anything I experienced in Japan.

        And of course Japanese organisations claim that their their workers are happy, harmonious, dedicated and willing to sacrifice – what organisation claims different?

        Pre-war Japan was a brutal and efficient military dictatorship made even more effective by the insularity of Japan, and a lot of that still carried over post-war – the American did not clean out the rats nest with the same efficiency as Germany was de-Nazified (to the extent that it was).

        I would venture that’s the major factor in the IJA’s crimes. Obviously nuanced, but you just don’t see that behaviour in Japan in other times to that extent. It was some kind of genetic or ‘cultural’ thing, then you’d expect to see that behaviour with some degree of consistency from Japanese society through history – and you can not.

    • TomM says:

      It isn’t really true that extended families matter less or that there’s less nepotism and corruption and greater trust in Japan relative to other East Asian societies. In many respects they’re more operative in Japan. Cousin marriage has always been more prevalent in Japan than Korea, for example.

      This assumption is largely based on Japan’s wealth rather than a close investigation of Japan. Because it’s wealthy, it’s assumed that it’s “high trust” and less nepotistic and more about nuclear families since most wealthy countries are NW Euro societies that are that way.

      • botsefaleh says:

        No one said there is less corruption in Japan than elsewhere. What I said was that economic transactions, including corrupt ones, are less based on extended kinship in Japan than in other Asian countries. What is the rate of consanguineous marriages in Japan amongst young couples today ? It must be vanishingly small. In the early 1980s the rate was like 4%. Now if your argument is that the arrow of causality is opposite to what I said (wealth loosens extended family bonds, rather than nuclear-family-based cultures are more likely to become wealthy), that’s a plausible argument.

      • TomM says:

        Saying that “Japan is a “high trust” society” and that Japan lacks “amoral familism” is another way of saying that it’s less corrupt.

        I don’t know where you get the idea that extended kinship is less relevant in Japan for economic transactions relative to other Asian countries.

        Familial nepotism is quite common in Japan:

        http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20031025b4.html

        http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20040319b3.html

  16. Sid says:

    There was little incentive for Japanese soldiers to surrender to Americans. One reason why we took so few prisoners was that American soldiers weren’t afraid to execute them after they were captured. The Americans were furious at the Japanese over Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March, and thus believed that the Japanese didn’t deserve as a scrap of mercy.

    To surrender did not mean to cheat death, so why not go out swinging?

    (http://www.une.edu.au/business-school//working-papers/economics/1999-2007/econ-2007-1.pdf)

    • gcochran says:

      Your thesis is nonsense. By the way, Niall Ferguson’s hypothesis is also nonsense, and the critical paper you cite is nonsense as well. All the game theory in the world can’t substitute for knowing what the fuck you’re talking about.

      • Sid says:

        You’ve given me precious little to argue against. What shall I say? My thesis is not nonsense? If the Japanese believed that surrender meant death, then there was less incentive to give up. If I’m wrong, demonstrate as much.

      • Sid, you might find instructive the book by Sledge that I referenced earlier in the thread. He and his comrades indeed weren’t much inclined to accept surrender from Japanese, but that was because the Japanese had a history of pretending to surrender and then treacherously murdering the person who came to accept the surrender — for instance crying for medical help and then knifing the medic. Not that surrender was often oftered — it never was to Sledge, if I recall correctly — but it meant that if a Jap was lying wounded they’d put a bullet into him to finish him, and if they thought he was dead they’d put another bullet in to make sure. This wasn’t because of orders from above or official propaganda; it was just a matter of Marines sharing their experiences via word of mouth and being practical about staying alive.

      • Sid says:

        I’m not here to take a hatchet job to the Marines. I think they acted bravely and honorably in a hellish situation, and you won’t hear any moralistic outcries against the atomic bombings from me. But the fact is, that some of them killed surrendering Japanese soldiers, whether the surrender was feigned or not, was an incentive to not surrender, and the mutilations of the war dead were exploited by Japanese propaganda to paint American soldiers as bloodthirsty barbarians.

    • random mutation says:

      Those who had already been captured seemed to also have been infected with the same disease.

      I have been to the cemetery. It is real.

      • Tschafer says:

        Certainly those who had already been captured knew that they would not be killed, so that couldn’t have been a factor at Cowra. I have no doubt that fear of execution or torture was a factor among some Japanese troops, but there’s a much simpler explanation – the Japanese Field Service Regulations explicitly forbade surrender, alone among all of the combatants. Once again, Japan was unique. The question is, why?

      • Sid says:

        “…the Japanese Field Service Regulations explicitly forbade surrender, alone among all of the combatants. Once again, Japan was unique. The question is, why?”

        I don’t know when Japanese taboos against surrender began to emerge, but certainly by WWII, the Japanese regarded soldiers who surrendered as disgusting, pathetic specimens of humanity. Since they were regarded as such, it was psychologically a lot easier for the captors to cruelly imprison and torture the wretches. This, in turn, added another disincentive to surrender: if you do give up, don’t expect any mercy. Be a man, and fight to the death, because you shouldn’t expect any clemency from your captors.

        Not only was surrender seen as vile and dishonorable, but also a stupid move, since instead of dying in the ecstasy of battle, you would die slowly in prison.

        Here’s where we need perspective: the Japanese weren’t unique in WWII in their unwillingness to surrender. They may have surrendered less often than soldiers in other armies, but that’s more of a matter of degree, rather than in kind. After Operation Barbarossa, 3.5 million Soviet POWs died in Nazi prison camps. As Timothy Snyder points out in “Bloodlands,” Hitler wanted his soldiers to never give ground, much less surrender (which ultimately was what led to the Germans’ undoing at Stalingrad), so he mandated that the Soviet POWs be given no quarter*. When armies treat their prisoners humanely, it’s largely so that they can expect decent treatment should they be captured by the opposing forces. Hitler inverted the logic. If his armies starved millions of Soviet POWs to death, what mercy could they expect in surrender?

        His logic prevailed: out of 90,000 or so soldiers in the Sixth Army that were captured at Stalingrad, some 6,000 returned home from the gulags. Not surprisingly, there was little incentive for either Axis or Soviet soldiers to surrender on the Eastern Front**, and so they fought much, much more fiercely than the Axis and Allied forces did in North Africa and Western Europe.

        The Japanese, viewing POWs contemptuously, treated them mercilessly. Unsurprisingly, they expected the same thing to be done to them if they surrendered. Americans may not have treated the Japanese too shabbily once they were in prison, but the Americans had few qualms about shooting Japanese soldiers who surrendered, mutilating their bodies and taking trophies from their corpses. Furthermore, the Japanese Unit 731 treated their prisoners as human guinea pigs. I’m not suggesting that Unit 731 was widely known among Japanese grunts, but a country which would treat prisoners so maliciously likely had a culture which hinted that horrible, horrible things awaited the captured.

        Why did the Japanese surrender even less than the Germans and Russians on the Eastern Front? If their taboo against surrender goes back farther than WWII, then their cultural framework was even stronger than the one Hitler and Stalin were able to impose on their soldiers. Hell, much of the Japanese high command couldn’t even contemplate surrender, since they had so thoroughly internalized the notion that war is a life-or-death struggle. They were even willing to proclaim that there should be “100 Million Deaths with Honor.”

        tl;dr? The Japanese were cruel to their POWs, and thus didn’t expect quarter from their captors, which was a strong disincentive to surrender, and made surrender be seen not only as dishonorable, but also stupid.

        * The Nazis also wanted food prices to stay low in Germany, so the Wehrmacht was expected to procure much of its food from the Slavs. The Hunger Plan also was carried out so as to exterminate some 30 million Slavs in the region, leaving the land ripe for Teutonic colonialization.

        ** Stalin was also culpable, with his Order Nos. 270 and 227. Quoth Stalin, “There are no Soviet prisoners of war, only traitors.”

        • gcochran9 says:

          “the Japanese weren’t unique in WWII in their unwillingness to surrender.”

          Sure they were. You are wrong. Plenty of Germans surrendered on the Eastern Front, once the Soviets started winning. Millions. And millions of Soviets surrendered earlier, when the Germans were on the march – even though the Soviets forbade surrender. The odd thing about the Japanese is not so much that their government forbade surrender, but that the prohibition of surrender was obeyed. The US used to have a code of how you were supposed to act as a prisoner, but hardly anyone followed it, at least not when taken prisoner by people who paid little attention to the Geneva conventions, like North Korea.

      • Sid says:

        “Plenty of Germans surrendered on the Eastern Front, once the Soviets started winning. Millions. And millions of Soviets surrendered earlier, when the Germans were on the march – even though the Soviets forbade surrender.”

        Right, which is why I said the difference was in degree, and that while the Germans did surrender on the Eastern Front, that they so far, far less readily than they did on the Western Front. You can tell me that the Third Reich’s best soldiers were fighting the Soviets, and that the ranks of “German” soldiers were merely Poles whom Himmler deemed to be long-lost Ostrogoths. That’s true, but the harsh Soviet detainment camps can’t be excluded as a factor.

        Tons of Russians surrendered. They starved and froze to death in Nazi camps. That proved to be a strong incentive for Soviet troops to charge suicidally into the Nazi grinder, because surrender or retreat meant either being starved to death by the SS or shot by the NKVD.

        Thus, the threat of being tortured or killed as a prisoner doesn’t explain everything there is to this phenomenon. I’m no reductionist; clearly Japan had a culture which looked down on surrender, so much so that the loonies running the Japanese government were able to propose “100 Million Deaths With Honor” without a mass revolt occurring. But that doesn’t mean that being mistreated as a prisoner didn’t also act as a disincentive, or that the aforementioned threat didn’t shape that cultural belief over time.

  17. TomM says:

    Perhaps it has to due with “unnatural” environments.

    “Unnatural” environments would give rise to biological selection for morality imprinting since it is only through total acceptance and observance of tribal rules, adapted for the unique environment, that survival in such “unnatural” environments would be possible.

    Immorality could threaten the fragile adaptations of the entire tribe. Instinct, taking too long to evolve, may have been supplanted by a meta-instinct which allowed one’s behavior to be imprinted by the tribe’s moral rules for survival.

    Once imprinted, these tribal morals would be observed with total fidelity — even to the very point of death.

  18. botsefaleh says:

    Douglas Young, you’re reacting to the word “ant-like” as pejorative, and as purely denoting conformity. But I meant it in a neutral way, to express both positive and negative aspects of socially cohesive behavior. It’s a stereotype, but it’s a stereotype with a solid basis in reality. Japanese society is more harmonious, cooperative and conformist, in both positive and negative ways, than Western societies.

    You see it in things like the complete lack of looting and the spontaneous but orderly emergence of mutual assistance at times of natural disasters. You also see it in parents’ strong emphasis on not inconveniencing strangers in their children’s upbringing (“hito ni meiwaku shite wa ikemasen!”) — an emphasis much more pronounced than in the West. Of course there are the elaborate forms of politeness in language. There’s also public safety — Japan is unusually safe. And there are the intricate gifting & “counter-gifting” arrangements that govern all kinds of social interactions ranging from births to funerals. ( For example, when someone in your family dies, relatives or friends or associates of the widow or windower send some money, and the recipient is expected to “return” a portion of the gift in kind. Receive ¥100,000, and you might shell out ¥10,000 for a beautifully wrapped and packaged box of gourmet yokan (bean paste cakes).

    By itself none of these things means much. But taken as a whole they suggest, there is an unusual emphasis in Japanese society for group-friendly behaviors.

    “And of course Japanese organisations claim that their their workers are happy, harmonious, dedicated and willing to sacrifice – what organisation claims different?”

    I did not say anything about what organisations claim. I was talking about what workers actually do. Japanese workers are (or have been) more loyal to their corporate family than Western ones : the rate of employment turnover (people switching jobs) in Japan has always been quite low compared with other advanced industrial economies.

    It is true that since the 1990s the corporate social contract in Japan has eroded because economic reality forced companies to lay off workers. But that doesn’t change the 40 year record of that culture in the post-war period.

    “I would venture that’s the major factor in the IJA’s crimes. Obviously nuanced, but you just don’t see that behaviour in Japan in other times to that extent. It was some kind of genetic or ‘cultural’ thing, then you’d expect to see that behaviour with some degree of consistency from Japanese society through history – and you can not.”

    You cannot see the obvious because your eyes are blocked by the scale and brutality of the IJA’s crimes. But it seems the most self-evident thing in the world that the degree of self-sacrificial behaviour of IJA soldiers is amply precedented in the bushido ethic. Even if the feudal practice over eight centuries departed frequently from that ideal, it is nonetheless hardly surprising that a culture which prized loyalty-unto-death in its warrior class for almost a millennium would then later produce…soldiers willing to fight to the death for their country even when all hope was lost.

    “I’m sorry, but this is just not true, to put it very politely. It sounds like the worst kind of vapid generalizations by European or American academics who not only do not speak Japanese”

    Sorry to say, but these days academics are far more likely to disbelieve in things like “national character” and cultural generalisations — let alone “natural”, genetic differences between peoples. In other words, your argument of ascribing all behavioural differences simply to institutional, economic and political arrangements (which magically come out of nowhere) is mainstream-academic par excellence.

    • Well yes, excuse me – but when a group of people is compared to an insect, there is not a lot of room for interpretation. Insects aren’t normally used as positive role models in English Language culture y’see – and I can’t really imagine Japanese, Americans or anybody else really getting enthused about being compared with ants, cockroaches, spiders or any other insect (butterflies maybe, but that would be on the weird side of strange). Now eagles or lions I could understand as non-pejorative, but ‘ants’…?

      ‘harmonious, cooperative and conformist’ – well I’ve heard that often, and it doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, there are various social rules and obligations as in any country, but the complexity of gift giving rituals in Japan is perfectly comparable to the social rules of other countries. As an example, the dinner party ritual in the UK – very complicated concerning not only guests but what and how to serve, and reciprocation.

      And the low crime rate is a bit of myth – it’s very easy to have a low crime rate when you don’t classify or pursue as crimes acts that would be criminal in other jurisdictions. Child sex abuse within families comes to mind. Then there’s the Yakuza and the lives that it destroys and ruins, and that in many respects is corruptly tolerated. ‘Harmonious, cooperative’ are not the words that spring to mind – ‘corrupt’ does as well ‘preying on the weak’ ‘exploitation’ and just plain old crimes that are brushed under the tatami.

      ‘the rate of employment turnover (people switching jobs) in Japan has always been quite low compared with other advanced industrial economies.’ – yes, fair enough – but like all data it is meaningless without any indication of correlation or causation. You present it as evidence of employee loyalty without any proof of causation at all.

      I’m suggesting that cherry picking data to prove the uniqueness of Japanese society is just not worthwhile. Having learnt first hand the incredible frustration and limitation that a good proportion of workers in these kind of companies felt when the system was stronger than it is now, I’m very questioning to the idea that this system sprung from ‘loyalty’ or ‘harmony’.

      ‘it is nonetheless hardly surprising that a culture which prized loyalty-unto-death in its warrior class for almost a millennium would then later produce…soldiers willing to fight to the death for their country even when all hope was lost.’

      Fine, but whatever form bushido took, and even it was a coherent philosophy (which is a big if) it was confined to the samurai class and it did not support human vivisection and other ghastly obscenities. But the IJA troops was not drawn from the samurai class. That’s a major drawback I’d say to the idea that it was a specific cultural/genetic thing – most of the IJA would not have been from that part of society that shared in whatever kind of bushido existed anyway.

      As an aside, if you remember the scene in The Seven Samurai where the villagers claim to be out of supplies and one of the samurai feels sorry for them, another one takes him aside and explains that villagers lie – they always have their hidden stocks. Sure enough he forces them to reveal the stocks. Kurosawa was deep country, and knew his society. The samurai had to coped with by the rest of society. Their values were not shared.

      I’d say look at the times when troops have acted in similar ways (for at least some of the actions) in other parts of the world and look for similarities in various areas of behaviours. That seems like occam’s razor to me, with some possible valid correlative/causative findings.

      • Tschafer says:

        Mr. Young,
        Well, you’ve lived there and I haven’t, so I’m sure than you know more about Japan than I do, but I do have to say that the Japanese experience in WWII does seem exceptional. I mean, the Nazi and Stalinist states had even tighter organization and policing than did Imperial Japan, yet they produced nothing like the Kamikaze, or “Banzi” charges. There weren’t old Nazi SS troops hiding out in the Black Forest in 1974. Surely the Kempi Tai weren’t THAT good. I agree with GC, the IJA atrocities are not really that remarkable when looked at over the course of human history, but the willingness to fight to the death is unusual, and I think that it requires more of an explanation than the efficiency of the dictatorship and effective social control mechanisms. Reading the recollections of Japanese soldiers who did surrender, one finds them agonizing about dishonor, shame, and the meaning of what it means to be Japanese, not over factors such as Kempi Tai reprisals or execution by American or Australian troops. There seemed to be an internal control over their behavior that was not present in the soldiers of other countries, at least not to the same degree. The question is, where did that come from? Why did Japan develop the institutions that inculcated this attitude to this degree? Certainly lots of other rulers did their best to inculcate this attitude into their people, but none that I am aware of were as successful as the ruling class of Japan. Perhaps you could shed some light on this question, having had intimate contact with the Japanese people, while of course keeping in mind that modern Japanese are very different from their grandparents.

        • Hello Tschafer

          Yes, it does seem unique, I agree – but I’m not convinced that it can not be broken down into ‘non-unique’ behaviours – though I could be wrong.

          ‘The internal control’ – don’t we see the same behaviour in cults? Which is maybe pertinent as the cult of the Emperor and Japan seems to have been created very deliberately from around the late 1800’s – though it might have been later. And it really was a new cult – the divinity of the emperor and the divine nature of the Japanese was a new teaching.

          They took over Shinto, made into state religion and very much used it as a tool of indoctrination. Shrines were ‘cleansed’ – a lot used to be combined Buddhist and Shinto, there was not a great distinction between temple and shrine then, but the authorities kicked out the Buddhists.

          And of course all these beliefs were indoctrinated into kids early. I think by the war came there was already the best part of a generation indoctrinated. This might be an interesting area to look.

          The other thing is, as you say, there have been lots of other dictators trying similar stuff. Japan’s uniqueness is in it’s insularity – geographically and linguistically. It was very easy to isolate Japanese people, which I’d suggest might be major difference from other similar systems.

          Thing is that this behaviour was not traditional Japanese – somewhere I have a lovely passage written in the late 1800’s where the Japanese authorities are at their wit’s end. There’s a foreign dignitary about to visit Tokyo and they are desperately trying to teach the ‘crowd’ to be fully clothed in the streets, to ban mixed sex bathhouses and try to get the population to behave with decorum. These were not the kind of recruits that the IJA really wished for.

          ‘The question is, where did that come from? Why did Japan develop the institutions that inculcated this attitude to this degree? ‘ – You are a better man than I if you give any kind of definitive answer to that… but I’d suggest that these techniques/approaches are pretty well-known. To a certain extent the Japanese saw these in Western institutions and they copied – which might have well been a source of the state belief system/religion that was created.

          I wouldn’t deny any ‘cultural’ influence, but I would question any proposition that made these cultural traits unique to Japan. But a lot of the posters on this discussion have good points – especially making the enemy sub-human.

          I reckon Goebels would have recognized what the Japanese were doing and might have influenced it… Germans though did not see the Americans or Brits as subhumans. I wonder if they fought to the death more commonly against the ‘Eastern Hordes’?

          Another factor that might have soem influence is that population/group management was very important in Japanese politics in it’s history. It’s a difficult, if not impossible, country to control militarily. Far too mountainous, with it being very easy for local daimyo to rebel, politic and break away. So a combination of military shock troops (Samurai) with social manipulation might well have been a part of the powerholders knowledge base honed over the whole Tokugawa shogunate – very speculatively.

          Of course it’s never nice when you have the psychopaths in charge.

      • botsefaleh says:

        Yes, there are various social rules and obligations as in any country, but the complexity of gift giving rituals in Japan is perfectly comparable to the social rules of other countries. As an example, the dinner party ritual in the UK – very complicated concerning not only guests but what and how to serve, and reciprocation.

        You are comparing a custom observed universally throughout society with one that’s essentially upper-middle-class and up.

        All the same, as I said earlier, it is not isolated instances of group-emphatic behaviour such as gift-giving, but the multitude of them taken as a whole, which show Japan to be unusually prone to social cohesion.

        And the low crime rate is a bit of myth…

        I did not refer to crime in the widest possible sense. I said Japan is unusually safe, and I think the national statistics are trustworthy on this point. Perhaps you believe there are millions of unreported violent crime in Japan. Maybe Japan’s ageing crisis is a result of unreported killings of millions of young people.

        ‘the rate of employment turnover (people switching jobs) in Japan has always been quite low compared with other advanced industrial economies.’ – yes, fair enough – but like all data it is meaningless without any indication of correlation or causation. You present it as evidence of employee loyalty without any proof of causation at all.

        It’s not definitive evidence, but it’s more evidence for my proposition, than your Olympian denial is evidence against it.

        And there’s more evidence. Japanese work longer hours than workers in other countries with comparable levels of outper per man-hour

        I’m suggesting that cherry picking data to prove the uniqueness of Japanese society is just not worthwhile.

        I don’t know why people always complain about cherry-picked data, when cherry-picked impressions, anecdotes and experiences are far more problematic.

        But the IJA troops was not drawn from the samurai class. That’s a major drawback I’d say to the idea that it was a specific cultural/genetic thing – most of the IJA would not have been from that part of society that shared in whatever kind of bushido existed anyway…

        That’s sort of like saying the idea of chivalry originated in the mediaeval feudal nobility so commoners could not have been imbued with a similar ideal hundreds of years later. It’s also a bit like saying the concept of chivalry is unrelated to the Western culture of the relationship between the sexes because the concept originated amongst nobility and the lower orders did not have the same attitude to gender relations.

        I’d say look at the times when troops have acted in similar ways (for at least some of the actions) in other parts of the world and look for similarities in various areas of behaviours. That seems like occam’s razor to me, with some possible valid correlative/causative findings.

        But where are the comparable examples of suicidally loyal behaviour on such a scale ?

        • ‘You are comparing a custom observed universally throughout society with one that’s essentially upper-middle-class and up.’

          Possibly, but in my experience the gift giving ritual was not universally observed. Some people thought it ridiculous and did not do it, and others just did not observe it. Another example might be marriage customs – which I thought everybody partook of until I discovered there were many couples that just did not follow the whole rigmarole. Of course those who did not partake of customs would not show up on the radar most of time.

          So I don’t think these customs are as universal as they are made out to be, only from my experience. They might have been in the recentish past, but further back (70 years or so) there were many disparate customs throughout Japan owing to strong regional differences and much stronger class distinctions… and that’s where you’ve probably put your finger on a major reason for any confluence of behaviors which can give a surface impression of eternal conformity – it’s a class thing. Commingling and de-stratification of some of the classes happened very much post-war for some very clear economical, social and political reasons, and were not due to any special Japanese uniqueness.

          And yea, Japan is unusually safe… as long as you are a child not being sexually abused or being harassed and threatened by yakuza because a member of your extended family forged your name on a document and the police are there protecting the yakuza…. and as for any legal recourse in taking civil action to right a wrong – very very difficult. Again, I do think it’s far more nuanced than what you are presenting, and that the definition of violent crime is more wide ranging than on-street statistics.

          ‘It’s not definitive evidence, but it’s more evidence for my proposition, than your Olympian denial is evidence against it.’

          My point was that it is not evidence at all, and until you show any causation it remains not evidence. I gave an anecdote concerning the perceptions of some Japanese individuals that directly contradicted your claims. Those anecdotes are some kind of evidence, though only anecdotal.

          I can think of of other possible and reasonable interpretations of the the data you presented – yours might be right but it needs some kind of evidence to support it.

          ‘That’s sort of like saying the idea of chivalry originated in the mediaeval feudal nobility so commoners could not have been imbued with a similar ideal hundreds of years later. It’s also a bit like saying the concept of chivalry is unrelated to the Western culture of the relationship between the sexes because the concept originated amongst nobility and the lower orders did not have the same attitude to gender relations.’

          I don’t really understand your point here??? I’m certainly not aware of any large groups of ‘commoners’ imbued with the ideals of chivalry (which it’s very debatable if really existed as a single unifying concept anyway) hundreds of years later… if you’d like to be a bit more specific then maybe you have a point, I don’t know.

          More usefully, I don’t know of any information source that claims that whatever passed for bushido permeated Japanese society – amongst the farmers and merchants and all. Maybe you do?

          ‘But where are the comparable examples of suicidally loyal behaviour on such a scale ? ‘

          Yes, that’s a valid question, I agree. And I think if you look at the behavior as occurring in battles or by groups of desperate civilians then there are similar occurrences – some well attested some not. Maybe Masada from ancient history? How about the siege of Leningrad, when any reasonable army would have surrendered long before? Various others too. What I am suggesting is that the various factors that caused these people to behave to behave in such a way were replicated in Japan on a larger scale. Indoctrination in a state cult, control over information sources due to linguistic and geographical isolation, savage training to unsophisticated recruits, pervasive propaganda, demonisation of the enemy….

          Importantly, part of the propaganda was the actual ‘creation’ of Japan – this vision of a nation all pulling together. It never existed beforehand – it was far too mountainous. People just owed their allegiance to local daimyo and really thought about little else. Regional customs, music, dialects… I really think you need evidence going back some time to back up your claims.

  19. botsefaleh says:

    TomM : I said the Japanese social structure is not organized around extended family networks, as in so much of the rest of Asia, and you come up with some garden-variety examples of nepotism based on nuclear relationships (father/son, man/wife). I said lack of amoral familism does not imply lack of corruption, and you said it does. And I say, in Japan you have plenty of corruption based on crony capitalism, cozy relationships between bureaucrats and corporations, cozy relationships between group banks and group companies, between politicians and corporations, between elite universities and bureaucracies, between elite universities and top-name corporations — NONE OF WHICH is generally based on familial ties. In Japan nepotistic practices do not extend to surrounding a high-ranking bureaucrat with his cousins, nephews and second-cousins, or doling out the best university spots to members of clans or tribes. Big corporations tightly controlled by extended families, as you have in Italy, are few and far between in Japan. And the existence and proliferation of large, non-family-controlled multinational corporations is prima facie evidence of a high-trust society — even if they are corrupted or crooked in other ways.

    • TomM says:

      And I say, in Japan you have plenty of corruption based on crony capitalism, cozy relationships between bureaucrats and corporations, cozy relationships between group banks and group companies, between politicians and corporations, between elite universities and bureaucracies, between elite universities and top-name corporations — NONE OF WHICH is generally based on familial ties.

      This is also the case in China, Korea, and other parts of Asia. It’s quite prevalent in China, where they call it “guanxi”. This isn’t unique to Japan, so it doesn’t really help your argument.

      • botsefaleh says:

        you are totally confused. you argued pointlessly japan had corruption. I never ever said corruption was absent in Japan. only that corruption in Japan does not take the form of rent-seeking and spoils accumulation by extended family based networks. so the fact that everyone in the world also has crony capitalism as you just pointed out is irrelevant

      • TomM says:

        You’re trying to suggest that the fact that various “cozy relationships” throughout Japanese society that aren’t family based is indicative of “high trust” and distinguishes Japan from other societies. It doesn’t distinguish Japan from other societies, and if you’re going to claim that it’s indicative of “high trust” in Japan, you’d have to also say that the very same non family based “cozy relationships” rife in other societies are also indicative of “high trust”.

    • TomM says:

      Big corporations tightly controlled by extended families, as you have in Italy, are few and far between in Japan. And the existence and proliferation of large, non-family-controlled multinational corporations is prima facie evidence of a high-trust society

      That isn’t really evidence of “high trust” since big family-controlled corporations called “zaibatsu” dominated the Japanese economy until WW2 and were dissolved by force after the war by the US.

      • botsefaleh says:

        only some zaibatsu were family controlled before 1945, amongst the big four Mitsubishi and Yasuda were but Sumitomo and Mitsui were not. and there’s a whole bunch of second and third rank zaibatsu (many now famous namesi) which were not family dominated. besides, the strong evidence of high trust society exists in the fact that even the family-based ones flourished after they were broken up and divorced from their families — Mitsubishi companies are no more tied to the original family than JP Morgan or Exxon and are no less stock holding associations of genetically unrelated persons.

      • botsefaleh says:

        some of the biggest zaibatsu, and all of the big 4, existed as commercial enterprises before the Meiji restoration. of course they grew under nurture by the Meiji government but unlike Korean chaebol the zaibatsu had lives prior to government patronage.

      • TomM says:

        I don’t see why that would be evidence of “high trust” anymore than China’s economic success over the past few decades would be.

        They were basically forced into existence by outside interference. If that is evidence of high trust, then the fact that family based companies were more prevalent and dominant before this outside interference would be even stronger evidence against high trust.

        The fact that the US military has occupied Japan since WW2 and that Japanese society in general has flourished without disruptive riots against the occupation is not evidence that the Japanese like foreigners on their soil.

      • TomM says:

        Before the Meiji restoration, they weren’t “zaibatsu” i.e. multinational conglomerates.

        The Korean chaebol had lives prior to gov’t patronage as commercial enterprises as well.

      • botsefaleh says:

        TomM,

        “They were basically forced into existence by outside interference. If that is evidence of high trust, then the fact that family based companies were more prevalent and dominant before this outside interference would be even stronger evidence against high trust ”

        First, they were not “forced into existence by outside interference”. You must know that MacArthur was only partly successful in dispatching the zaibatsu. Most were were broken up as vertically integrated conglomerates, and those with strong family-based identities were stripped of that connexion. But many of the zaibatsu practises were preserved or restored under the horizontally integrated keiretsu, and that was because the Cold War intervened and the USA let things slide. So you not only exaggerate the extent to which the zaibatsu were familial enterprises in the first place, but you exaggerate the extent to which their successors owe their existence to outside intervention.

        In 1945-50, umbrella groups of large, centrally controlled companies (zaibatsu) were torn asunder and converted into a group of interlocking, mutually-owned companies without a controlling core (keiretsu). That dozens of such groups were able to function very well as units is even STRONGER evidence of a high-trust society.

        ( For different reasons, something similar happened to Hyundai and Daewoo after 1997-8. )

        Second. The existence of large, but non-familial, commercial enterprises is prime facie evidence of a high-trust society. You keep trying to refute this point by referring to the historical origins of Japan’s multinationals, but origins do not help your argument. Most commercial enterprises everywhere began as concerns owned and controlled by families. When European governments wanted to encourage larger pools of anonymous capital to take on bigger risks, they had to grant royal licenses of monpoly to the the joint-stock companies. So the question is not how such businesses began — most human societies were at some point structured around the extended kinship model — but what they evolve into. Japanese corporate structure succeeded admirably without the familial glue.

        ” I don’t see why that would be evidence of “high trust” anymore than China’s economic success over the past few decades would be. ”

        Because China’s economic miracle since the late 1980s has been driven by a combination of small-scale enterprises, large state-owned enterprises, and TVEs (township- and village-owned enterprises) of many different scales — many of whom operate joint ventures with western companies. China still doesn’t have many big, anonymous, multinational and bureacratic conglomerates like Japan has. Taiwan’s and Hong Kong’s rapid development was also characterised by small- to medium-sized exporters, much much more so than in Japan or South Korea.

        “Before the Meiji restoration, they weren’t “zaibatsu” i.e. multinational conglomerates.”
        The Zaibatsu themselves were barely multinationals. But even before the Meiji restoration, Mitsui and Sumitomo were national trading houses. Most zaibatsu were founded after the Meiji restoration, but many had origins in the last two centuries of the Tokugawa. I’m not sure you can say that about the chaebol — their origins go back to the mid-Japanese occupation or to the Syngman Rhee period, not to the imperial period.

      • botsefaleh says:

        Low-trust society = people are suspicious of genetically unrelated persons, and have trouble engaging in transactional or fiduciary relationships with them.

        High-trust society = people are generally able to trust genetically unrelated persons, and frequently engage in transactional or fiduciary relationshpis with them.

        Corruption is a transactional relationship, so you can divide corruption into the “low-trust” and the “high-trust” kind. When you’ve got government bureaucrats and corporate executives reserving the best spots in their departments for alumni of their own universities, that’s corruption of a “high-trust” kind, because it’s not based on genetic relatedness. When you’ve got “reservations” distributed according to extended family, clan or tribe, that’s “low-trust” corruption”.

        ” You’re trying to suggest that the fact that various “cozy relationships” throughout Japanese society that aren’t family based is indicative of “high trust” and distinguishes Japan from other societies. It doesn’t distinguish Japan from other societies, ”

        It distinguishes Japan from most non-western societies and from some, few European ones.

        “…and if you’re going to claim that it’s indicative of “high trust” in Japan, you’d have to also say that the very same non family based “cozy relationships” rife in other societies are also indicative of “high trust”.”

        Crony capitalism and political machines are ubiquitous, but in low-trust societies, they have a strong familial or tribal element to them.

      • TomM says:

        You deliberately de-emphasize the extent to which they were familial enterprises.

        I don’t exaggerate this at all. It’s simply a fact. They owe their existence to outside intervention because that’s how it happened.

        I’m not simply referring to historical origins. I’m looking at its history to get a larger data set rather than just looking at the past few decades, which are quite anomalous circumstances for Japan.

        Re China, China is rife with big, anonymous, bureaucracy. Its large state-owned enterprises are run by big, anonymous bureaucracy. Even at local and regional levels, it is run by big, anonymous, bureaucracy which is heavily involved in its businesses.

        Most zaibatsu didn’t have origins before the Meiji. It is very analogous to the chaebol. The equivalent of a guy running a noodle shop is irrelevant.

      • botsefaleh says:

        ” You deliberately de-emphasize the extent to which [zaibatsu] were familial enterprises. ”
        I acknowledge most were. But most of the robber baron firms in the US also began as familial enterprises. But you don’t acknowledge that some pretty major zaibatsu were never familial enterprises, and also the fact that even familial zaibatsu quickly acquired non-family professional managers.
        ” Re China, China is rife with big, anonymous, bureaucracy. Its large state-owned enterprises are run by big, anonymous bureaucracy. Even at local and regional levels, it is run by big, anonymous, bureaucracy which is heavily involved in its businesses. ”
        But state organizations are not the same thing as private organisations. That’s the whole point : low-trust societies must rely on compulsion and diktats by the state to organise complex, large-scale commercial projects.
        ” Most zaibatsu didn’t have origins before the Meiji. It is very analogous to the chaebol. The equivalent of a guy running a noodle shop is irrelevant. ”
        Yes, most zaibatsu did not have origins before the Meiji. But some major ones did. The late Tokugawa period was an economically active one with national business concerns emerging.
        ” I’m not simply referring to historical origins. I’m looking at its history to get a larger data set rather than just looking at the past few decades, which are quite anomalous circumstances for Japan. ”
        That does not even make sense. It
        Suppose someone said, “English is not a strongly inflected language.” Then someone named Tom responded by saying “but you have to expand the data set to look at Old English, which was strongly inflected language”.
        If Japan was a low-trust society 100-150 years ago, that doesn’t rule out that it is a high-trust society now.

      • TomM says:

        The postwar Japanese economy was run by MITI, a state organization that issued directives.

      • botsefaleh says:

        MITI did not operate by diktats or compulsion. Maybe in the 1950s, before foreign exchange and trade had not yet been liberalized, but not thereafter. MITI means of coordinating industry were mundane things like subsidies, tariff rates, import licenses and industry consultation committees. There are so many examples of industry rebelling against MITI , such as the steel industry in the 1960s, I can’t believe you think MITI just ordered and industry followed. ( Not even the Nazis controlled business by diktats, at least during peace time. )

      • TomM says:

        The MITI was extremely powerful by any reasonable standard. It did do things like pick winners. The MOF has also been extremely powerful with great influence over capital.

      • botsefaleh says:

        It would not be a “reasonable standard” to compare the power of MITI with the power of the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China. Here is a good (and famous) example : In 1965, when Japan’s steel producers faced lower demand, they collaborated on a plan to jointly cut production. Sumitomo Metals wanted to exclude exports from the production limit because it had made substantial investments in export capacity unlike the others. The other steel producers refused to budge and appealed to MITI. MITI “ordered” Sumitomo to comply, and Sumitomo simply refused. The issue became public, there was even talk of litigation, and in the end MITI simply acquiesced to what Sumitomo wanted.

      • TomM says:

        I didn’t say that the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China was a reasonable standard or the norm.

        The MITI and MOF were/are extremely powerful by any reasonable standard.

      • botsefaleh says:

        TomM,

        You need a tighter rein on your arguments. Let’s review why you brought up MITI in the first place.

        I argued that the existence, proliferation and success of complex, anonymous, private, multinational but nonfamilial corporations was a prima facie evidence of a high-trust society in Japan.

        You countered, ” I don’t see why that would be evidence of “high trust” anymore than China’s economic success over the past few decades would be. “

        Then I replied, China’s recent economic success has been driven by a combination of small-to-medium private enterprises (much like in other societies with Chinese populations) and large state-run enterprises. China, as well as the other, more developed Chinese societies, still lack Japanese-style multinationals. This is prima facie evidence of a low(er)-trust society.

        Then you replied, irrelevantly, that China is rife with “big, anonymous, bureaucracy” and state-owned enterprises, completely missing the point that “low-trust societies rely on compulsion and diktats by the state to organise complex, large-scale commercial projects”.

        Your final retort was that Japan’s postwar economy was run by MITI.

        So your point was not to argue generically that MITI and MOF “were/are extremely powerful by any reasonable standard”, but to argue that somehow their roles made Japan’s economic development rather similar to China’s economic development.

        And I’m telling you, MITI is not analogous with China’s state-owned enterprises or China’s industrial bureaucracies, precisely because the former lacks the powers of the latter. Neither MITI nor MOF ever had powers particularly unusual for a developed country. The height of MITI’s power was in the 1950s, when it controlled foreign exchange rations and industrial subsidies with which to manipulate private firms.

        Anyway, the argument about corporate structure and the level of trust would be falsified — if China eventually develops a corporate structure much like Japan’s.

  20. botsefaleh says:

    ” High trust society ” means people can enter into transactional relationships with people to whom they are not related. Clearly, unlike so much of Asia and really the rest of the non-Western world, the Japanese are able to create large-scale associations of unrelated individuals which function efficiently and productively. (The Koreans also seem capable.)

    • Pincher Martin says:

      “(The Koreans also seem capable.)”

      As Francis Fukuyama points out in his book Trust, the Koreans are more like the Chinese and Italians (and less like the Japanese and Germans) in their low levels of social capital. Fukuyama argues that the Koreans overcame this weakness when developing large firms that could compete in the global marketplace by having government essentially force some of the Korean family-controlled business conglomerates (chaebol) into existence in a manner that was not necessary in Japan.

      • TomM says:

        “Chaebol” is the Korean pronunciation of “zaibatsu”. They mean the same thing and are based on the same Chinese character compound. The zaibatsu dominated Japan’s economy until WW2 and their rise involved close relationships with government, so I don’t see why Fukuyama thinks the Korean experience was markedly different.

      • TomM says:

        “Chaebol” is the Korean pronunciation of “zaibatsu”. They mean the same thing and are based on the same Chinese character compound. The zaibatsu dominated Japan’s economy until WW2 and their rise involved close relationships with government, so I don’t see why Fukuyama thinks the Korean experience was markedly different

      • TomM says:

        Fukuyama’s claim is really stupid when you consider that industrialization in Japan was also essentially forced into existence by the central government i.e. the Meiji Restoration.

      • botsefaleh says:

        Korea seems a much more disputatious and fractious society than Japan but I’ve no doubt if someone did a MacArthur on the chaebol their successors would not flinch and would do just fine. it’s too bad we can’t turn the clock back to see if Korean corporate structure under a freer industrial regime might have looked more like Taiwan and Hong Kong.

      • Pincher Martin says:

        Tom,

        That “chaebol” and “zaibatsu” mean roughly the same thing does not mean they are the same thing. The Koreans consciously copied the Japanese model, so one would expect a significant number of similarities between the two. I have no idea why you think it’s worth noting that they use the same Chinese characters.

        Here is Fukuyama’s chapter on the Korean conglomerates from his book Trust. It explains both the many similarities and differences they have with the large Japanese business groups, and why those differences reflect differing levels of trust in the two societies.

        *****

        In another post you write, “I don’t see why [Japanese conglomerates which are less family-oriented than “chaebol”] would be evidence of “high trust” [in Japan] anymore than China’s economic success over the past few decades would be [considered evidence of high trust in China].”

        It has little to do with economic success. It has to do with the nature of business organization. (Outside of economics, it can manifest itself in different ways. But Fukuyama’s concern in his book was business success.)

        A nation built on small family firms can have a highly successful national economy. Italy and France are both wealthy countries with many small family firms. So are Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

        What Fukuyama argues is that some types of businesses require a large scale corporation. You can’t make large passenger jets, for example, in a small family firm. High trust societies are better at forming these kinds of large scale businesses, while low trust societies (France, Korea, etc.) need the constant supervision and intervention of the state to make their big businesses succeed.

      • TomM says:

        What I meant is that they mean the same exact thing. They’re 2 pronunciations of the same Chinese word.

        Fukuyama is unreliable. He’s a polemicist.

  21. botsefaleh says:

    simple corruption just isn’t a counter to anything I’ve argued. everyone knows a single political party has held power in Japan for most of its postwar history — through a complex political machine organization which puts Daley’s Chicago to shame. Yet this machine is not built upon some family or clan. It is a truly national machine based on collusion of disparate parts of Japanese society

  22. Greying Wanderer says:

    Random speculation…did rice-farming as a form of food-getting support a significantly higher population density earlier (or much earlier) than other forms as a i think high population density would select against certain traits, particularly violence, and select for various other “getting along” traits.

    Like – and i expect this is a silly question but it’s an example – did Chinese used to have hair on their chest?

  23. Erick says:

    There were Japanese soldiers who never surrendered and hid in the mountains and jungles of Pacific islands after the war.

    One of them named Hiroo Onoda hid in the jungles of the Philippines for 30 years after the war. He believed WWII was still going on and thought he was defending Japan by surviving in the jungle, engaging in guerrilla warfare, and making the island a stronghold. He evaded many Japanese search parties and the local Philippine police because he thought they were enemy spies. He only surrendered in 1974 after his former commanding officer was brought to the island and ordered him to surrender.

    In this interview, Onoda says that he believes Japan was forced into WWII and that the choice was between dying or being invaded and enslaved:

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20070116jk.html

    There are still reports of Japanese holdouts in the jungles:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4585287.stm

  24. random mutation says:

    Trust, but verify (and enforce). As the level of trust increases, so too does the incentive of a few to exploit that trust. Sometimes we call them sociopaths, sometimes we call them politicians.

    It is intriguing, at least to me, that with a population who look strongly similar (at least on characteristics Caucasians use for distinguishin people) there might be more cuckoldry, because it is harder for a father to tell, it seems to me, than among Caucasians, where there is different hair color, and eye color. Certainly among the Chinese I know cuckoldry is commonly discussed and attributed to this guy or that guy …

    Perhaps, by the same token because appearance does not alert you to the need for heightened concern for the trustwortyness of others, perhaps extremes of behavior are needed.

    And in any event, how does the behavior of those Japanese soldiers differ from modern-day Whites who believe some powerfully crazy shit that is likely to get them killed (ie, that all racial groups are equally tame and violence prone)?

  25. whatever says:

    Spiteful behavior increases as the degree of relatedness among populations in contact decreases. The lesser degree of relatedness (reduced by thousands of years island isolation in the case of Japan) , the higher degree of hostilities between the parties.

    “..even spiteful behavior, harming oneself in order to harm another more, is a theoretical possibility. The mean relatedness to the entire species population other than self is –1/(N-1) where N is the population. If by inbreeding or otherwise a colony has grouped n identical genotypes together, then relateness to the average outsider is –1/(N-n). *Thus with only a few large long-isolated groups spite is more possible*.”
    Hamilton, W.D. (1975), Innate social aptitudes of man.
    “…non-reciprocation finds itself in the category of maladaptive spite – *harming the self to harm others more*. …to put the matter another way, reciprocal altruism can never be suicidal, whereas suicidal nepotistic altruism can and has.”
    Hamilton, W.D. (1975), Innate social aptitudes of man.

  26. whatever says:

    There are nuances of spiteful behavior among the fighting parties in WWII, depending on their degree of relatedness. Both Russians and Germans engaged in atrocities towards each other, as the casualties were 20 million from Russian side and perhaps 5-8 million from German side. This is a total of 28 millions of lives that were given away as a result of self-sacrificial daring; while most of these deaths were not suicidal, the fights between the warring parties actually were. When Russian forces entered Germany, they showed high degree of spitefulness towards Germans and the events that followed their entrance in Germany were not so different from the Rape of Nanking; but when they entered one of the German allies, Bulgaria, to whom Russians were culturally, linguistically and religiously related, there were no hostilities and Bulgarians, while active German allies, were spared the atrocities.
    At least in part this differential behavior could be explained in terms of the association between spiteful behavior, self-sacrificial behavior and the degree of relatedness between fighting parties, which is what Hamilton once suggested.
    The fights on the Western front were somehow different; In Dunkirk the Germans simply let the British troops go – an unthinkable event in the situation on East or on the Pacific front; overall, the spiteful behavior was less typical on the western front, where the parties were culturally, historically and linguistically related, than on the eastern front and the pacific.
    While total loses of the Germans on the western front were about 50 000, on the eastern front they had been losing 50 000 soldiers monthly for 4 years; that is, the degree of hostilities between the parties were very different; Not too surprisingly while the German casualties were only 50 000 , the German POW on the western front were close to 6 million people; while both eastern and western front were equally important to Germany, the Germans were a lot more willing to sacrifice themselves on the Eastern front than on Western.
    However, none of the European parties had the historical condition of isolation and, hence, relative inbreeding, of the Japanese population.
    While the US were less spiteful towards their enemies than IJA were , accidentally or not, the US did not drop nuclear bombs on the Germans, to whom they had a certain degree of historical and cultural relatedness. I’m not sure if the degree of relatedness played any role in their decision to nuke the civil Japanese population and not to nuke the civil German population; however, as a matter-of- fact they ended up nuking the population to whom they were less related. Was it another example of WWII spiteful behavior? Likely.

    • gcochran9 says:

      ” At least in part this differential behavior could be explained”

      No it can’t.

    • random mutation says:


      While the US were less spiteful towards their enemies than IJA were , accidentally or not, the US did not drop nuclear bombs on the Germans, to whom they had a certain degree of historical and cultural relatedness.

      Were the nuclear weapons ready before the war was over in Europe?

      Also, are you unaware of the fire bombing of German cities? And the fire bombing of Japanese cities?

      • gcochran9 says:

        The Bomb wasn’t ready in time for Germany. if it had been, we would have dropped it on Berlin, assuming that there was enough of Berlin left to make a decent target.

      • whatever says:

        gcochran9 :
        ” At least in part this differential behavior could be explained….”
        “No it can’t.”
        dearieme :
        “I don’t think race solidarity came into it”

        Sure, now explain this:
        Russian POWs held by Germans, percentage of deaths: 57.5%
        British POWs held by Germans, percentage of deaths : 3.5%
        There must have been a drastic difference in the way Russian POWs were treated by Germans and the way US and British POWs were. As a result of this differential treatment, 57 % of Russian POWs died, compared to only 3.5 % of the British POWs (and less than 1% of the US POWs). Data from Ferguson, Niall (2004), “Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat”
        There was a differential treatment – whatever’s the reason. Can’t argue with numbers.
        More of the same:
        German POWs held by Americans – died 0.15%
        German POWs held by British – died 0.03%
        US and British POWs held by Japan: the death rate was 27.1%; compare 27.1.% to 3.5% which died in German camps.
        Japanese POWs held by the US and British allies – data is hard to find and harder to elaborate, since most of the deaths were suicidal – however, the death rate of Japanese POWs was probably about 10-11% – few times higher than the rate of German POWs, held in US and British camps.

        random mutation :

        “Were the nuclear weapons ready before the war was over in Europe?
        Also, are you unaware of the firebombing of German cities? And the firebombing of Japanese cities?”

        – the view that the US were not going to use nuclear weapons against their German enemies belongs to the US historiography and was first expressed by two US historians, John Dower, War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York, 1986); and Ronald Takaki, Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (Boston, 1995). Though, I’m not sure how credible their view is.
        As for the firebombing , actually, the US officially denied use of firebombing on German cities and held to the claim of “precision bombing” of military targets for much of the war on the Western front, and “dismissed claims they were firebombing German cities” – see Richard G Davis, American Bombardment Policy against Germany.
        I have never head of the US denying to have firebombed or nuked Japan.

  27. Dan Kurt says:

    re: Iwo Jima battle

    For those interested circa the 50th anniversary of the battle the magazine Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute published an article on the battle. I read the article at the time as I was a subscriber over decades. As I no longer have a copy I can’t direct one to the exact issue. As I remember it, the issue was from Feb. or March 1995.

    In the article the author mentioned that the Japanese Military asked the Germans to help them design a plan to fortify Iwo Jima. The German General Staff came up with a plan that was partly deployed. Among aspects of the plan was an underground “race track” like tunnel system that accessed most of the island. The whole oval was never finished but even its partial completion allowed troops to move around underground, popping up to attack mainly at night and then withdrawing to fight again, many times behind Marine lines.

    Dan Kurt

  28. Robert King says:

    This level of fanaticism extended to the children as well. I have taught people who, as children, were instructed by the teachers in a drill that would have involved them running up to arrving US servicemen and detonating explosive belts. My father, who was part of the relief forces, confirms hearing stories about this at the time. Fortunately it never occured–the resources to create such explosives were not there at the end–although women and children were issued with bits of sharpened bamboo. There is also an unusual–although not unique–tradition of female warriors onna-bugeisha, in Japan. There are a range of weapons (e.g. Naginta) desgined specifically for women to defend homesteads against raiders.

  29. dearieme says:

    As far as anyone can tell, the British got away from Dunkirk because the Germans thought they could bomb them into surrender there and were keen to overhaul their tanks then turn south against France. They hadn’t realised that the British could pull off an evacuation. I don’t think race solidarity came into it. Everything looks different if you don’t have hindsight.

  30. Deckin says:

    A few years back I heard a talk given by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday regarding the myths behind Mao’s Long March. In it, they claimed as evidence that there never were the many battles against the IJA that Mao claimed the paucity of Japanese prisoners of war. Surely if there were these many battles we’d have seen more IJA prisoners, they argued. A few members of the audience tried to point out to them that surrender wasn’t something the Japanese did but they were undeterred. The Cultural Anthropologists have lots of company. Of course that doesn’t mean the Long March wasn’t largely mythical.

    • Tschafer says:

      I suppose it depends on exactly how few they had. Yes, the Japanese were not keen on surrender, but the Americans actually took over 50,000 prisoners over the course of the war, and The Soviet Army took even more in Manchuria. Surely, the ChiComs would have had some had they been involved in serious fighting. Besides, was fighting the Japanese a big part of Long March Mythology? Perhaps so, but I always heard about battles against Kuomintang and warlord troops.

      • Deckin says:

        Tschafer: You’re right in intimating that the Long March and the fight against the IJA were separate things. I was using “Long March” in an extremely loose sense to describe the CCP’s assent from the late 20s to their ultimate victory.

  31. Wes says:

    Well isn’t part of the answer that genes probably played a role? The Japanese appear to have been extremely ethnocentric in the sense of being willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their group and exhibiting extreme hostility toward any group they were fighting. When I say ‘extreme’, I mean more than other populations exhibit.

    It also appears to have been a part of their identity in a unique way: “I am Japanese and Japanese do not surrender. Ever.” Surely, this has some genetic basis, in addition to culture. Something in Japan’s history must have selected for this type of behavior.

    I wonder if the Japanese and German populations of today might be more docile, because we killed such huge numbers of their die-hard warriors?

  32. dearieme says:

    “Sure, now explain this:
    Russian POWs held by Germans, percentage of deaths: 57.5%
    British POWs held by Germans, percentage of deaths : 3.5%”

    What in God’s name has that to do with Dunkirk? You must know that the Germans had been indoctrinated to despise the Slavs and planned to treat them like, say, the Red Indians.

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      “the Germans had been indoctrinated to despise the Slavs”
      but not the British hence the possible connection.

      (I’m not saying there is a connection just that the lack of indoctrination supports the other guy’s argument.)

      • Tschafer says:

        Yes, the Slavs were “untermenschen”, while Hitler and a lot of the top Nazis had a lot of respect for the Brits and Americans. Hitler would have liked to have had the British as allies, and while he dismissed the Americans as “Judaized Mongrels” once the war had started, he loved American Westerns, both books and movies. It stands to reason that the Slav prisoners would be subjected to a semi-eliminationist policy, while the Brits and Yanks were not. The feelings were mutual, in some ways. My Dad despised Nazism, but he had a lot of respect for the ordinary German troops who were his adversaries. His friends who fought against the Japanese respected the IJA’s fighting ability, but they also hated their guts. By the way, they most certainly did not regard the Japanese as “sub-human”, just a bunch of bastards.

  33. Rex May says:

    I’m too ignorant to have anything to contribute, but the post and the discussion are fascinating. I’ve discussed it and linked to it here:

    http://ex-army.blogspot.com/2012/06/is-japan-unique.html

  34. syon says:

    Whatever:”- the view that the US were not going to use nuclear weapons against their German enemies belongs to the US historiography and was first expressed by two US historians, John Dower, War without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War (New York, 1986); and Ronald Takaki, Hiroshima: Why America Dropped the Atomic Bomb (Boston, 1995). Though, I’m not sure how credible their view is.”

    Their views on this point are not credible.The atomic bomb was built with the Germans in mind;had the bomb been ready in the Summer of ’44 instead of the Summer of ’45, it would have been used against the Germans.

    Whatever:”I have never head of the US denying to have firebombed or nuked Japan.”

    As the USA rather publicly “nuked” Japan, i’m not sure how someone would have gone about denying it, making that point rather meaningless.

    Syon

    • Tschafer says:

      Yes, from what I know about the Manhattan Project, the atom bomb was pretty much developed with Germany in mind, Japan was pretty much an afterthought. Of course, there was also a “deterrent” aspect to our development of the bomb, as the U.S. knew that both Germany and Japan had atomic projects, and we really had no idea how far along they were (this is still somewhat controversial, by the way). As regards Dower and Takaki, I personally would regard their interpretation as being based on the 1990’s tendency to see “racism” everywhere. Yes, the U.S. used precision bombing against Germany, but also started out using it against Japan; LeMay only switched to area attacks when precision attacks proved to be ineffective, and this decision was certainly not uncontroversial. Meanwhile, back in Europe, the British had used area bombing against the Germans from the get-go, and tried to convince the U.S. to do the same. Was this evidence of “Racism” on the part of the Brits? And as for Japanese racism, this certainly existed, but they also treated fellow Asians such as the Chinese and Koreans and Philippinos far worse than they treated Americans and Australians. Sure, race was a factor in the politics of the 1940’s, but I find that people today are much more obsessed by race than were people seventy years ago, and Dower and Takaki are a good illustration of that. Seeing the past through PC goggles always distorts history.

      • Tschafer says:

        “People today are much more obsessed by race than were people seventy years ago”
        Obviously, I’m excluding the Race-obsessed Nazis and their acolytes from this…

      • botsefaleh says:

        ” Was this evidence of “Racism” on the part of the Brits? And as for Japanese racism, this certainly existed, but they also treated fellow Asians such as the Chinese and Koreans and Philippinos far worse than they treated Americans and Australians. “

        You assume that the Japanese considered other Asians to be of the same race as they. But how ever they categorized themselves, Japanese had some measure of respect for the West, whereas they held total contempt for most of the rest of Asia.

  35. Wonks Anonymous says:

    It is claimed in “People Who Eat Darkness” that the Japanese police are really inept and rely heavily on confessions (though they are given a wide berth in obtaining them). If a criminal refuses to confess, they are at a loss. Their low crime rate is attributed simply to the Japanese being more law-abiding.

  36. Robert King says:

    There was certainly an american habit of collecting trophies from the Japanese dead. Evidence is that this was quite routine–e.g. a present for sweethearts back home, e.g.,

    http://tinyurl.com/6puqkro

    Something that I have not heard of the Americans doing to other foes–although there were certainly parallels with lynchings and scalpings (both pretty racially-motivated) here.
    It was not something that the Brits routinely did–my (British) father who served on a US ship did not indulge in this–at least he has never confessed as such. There was a British offier–Major Tom Harrison– who was an Anthropologist–who encoured head-taking of Japanese by his Dayak allies but I think he was regarded as eccentric–even by anthropology standards.
    My guess is that trophies of this sort say something about respect (or lack of) for the dead–more akin to hunting prey than killing foes perhaps? Not sure, I have spent some time in the company of the descendant of one of the last head-hunters–Monosopiad. His collection of 39 skulls were certainly a symbol of his personal superiority, but not sure if he much concept of race.

    • syon says:

      Via Wikipedia, Australian and British “souvenir” taking:
      “Australian soldiers also mutilated Japanese bodies at times, most commonly by taking gold teeth from corpses.[22] This was officially discouraged by the Australian Army.[22] Johnson states that “one could argue that greed rather than hatred was the motive” for this behavior but “utter contempt for the enemy was also present”.[22] Australians are also known to have taken gold teeth also from German corpses, “but the practice was obviously more common in the South-West Pacific”.[22] “The vast majority of Australians clearly found such behaviour abhorrent, but” some of the soldiers who engaged in it were not ‘hard cases’.[22] According to Johnston Australian soldiers’ “unusually murderous behavior” towards their Japanese opponents (such as killing prisoners) was caused by racism, a lack of understanding of Japanese military culture and, most significantly, a desire to take revenge against the murder and mutilation of Australian prisoners and native New Guineans during the Battle of Milne Bay and subsequent battles.[23]
      From the Burma Campaign there are recorded instances of British troops removing gold teeth and displaying Japanese skulls as trophies.[24]”

      Syon

      • Tschafer says:

        I think that it’s safe to say that everyone who fought against the Japanese – Americans, Australians, British, Chinese, and otherwise,hated them in a way they hated no one else, and did things with regard to them (trophies, etc) that they did against no one else. This requires an explanation, and not one as simplistic as that which comes under the heading of “racism”. One must once again come back to the…. odd behavior of the IJA in World War II – which is where we started. Back to the drawing board…

    • Melykin says:

      The Dayaks despised the Japanese because they were so cruel and ruthless. They were happy to help the Allies.

  37. Richard Jones says:

    In his book “The Cleanest Race” B.R. Myers traces the origins of the current North Korean ideology of a uniquely pure Korean race back to Japanese imperialism. I bet North Koreans would act like the Japanese did in WWII and never surrender to “Yankee bastards”.

    • Tschafer says:

      This is purely anecdotal, but guys who I talked to who served in Korea in 1950 – 53 bear out your contention. They all said that Chinese troops were much more likely to surrender when the situation seemed hopeless than were DPRK troops. There were also instances of South Korean troops launching suicide attacks on North Korean tanks in the early portions of the war. Most Americans who served in Korea seemed to think that the Koreans, both DPRK and ROC, were pretty damned tough, in my experience. I have no idea if this is rooted in Japanese Imperialism or not, but yeah, the Koreans of 1950-53 were brave, even if not rising to Japanese levels of self-sacrifice.

  38. AJ says:

    Greg, while I agree with your crux of your thesis, I’ve found what appears to be an interesting counterexample to your contention: http://surviving-history.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/lone-wolf-us-marine-who-captured-1000.html

  39. typal says:

    Secrets of War doc says US intelligence faked and sent out ‘Japanese’ opinion that under some circumstances surrender was honorable, and that there were some surrenders of groups of Japanese as a result.

  40. ohwilleke says:

    “Japanese heroism is seldom fully appreciated because they were such utter assholes, in their treatment of prisoners and of conquered nations”

    I think you answer a lot of your own question in that sentence. People expect to be treated as they would treat themselves. If you expect gruesome torture as a POW, the incentive to fight to the death is greatly increased.

  41. Hermenauta says:

    “If cultural anthropologists had any curiosity – which of course they don’t – they ought to find this story fascinating.”

    If optical physicists turned evolutionary biologists had any curiosity _ which of course they don´t _ they ought to know that there is a book called “The Chrysantemum and the Sword”, by an american anthropologist called Ruth Benecdict, From Wikipedia:

    “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture is an influential 1946 study of Japan by American anthropologist Ruth Benedict. It was written at the invitation of the U.S. Office of War Information, in order to understand and predict the behavior of the Japanese in World War II by reference to a series of contradictions in traditional culture. The book was influential in shaping American ideas about Japanese culture during the occupation of Japan, and popularized the distinction between guilt cultures and shame cultures.”

    I think that to this day this book is a good introduction to learn about Japan in II WW and most commenters here, and the post author, would profit of reading it.

    You´re welcome.

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