Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Japan 1941 - Eri Hotta

Japan 1941 is about Japan's bizarre, backwards shuffle into war with the United States, largely due to a complete failure of backbone among the political leaders. There are certainly factions who want to fight the U.S., but most of the people at the top, from Hirohito, to Prime Minister Konoe, to General (and Prime Minister after Konoe) Hideki Tojo, to Admiral Yamamoto, etc., recognize this is not a war they should really be fighting, but not one of them will fully commit to avoiding it through diplomacy. Nobody wants to be the guy that gets remembered as, "the one who kept Japan out of the war," because they're too afraid that backing down now will condemn Japan to life as a second-rate power.

So there are repeated cabinet meetings or war councils where the head of the Navy will admit the Navy is not really keen on this war, or the Foreign Secretary will press for an answer on how likely a victory is and receive a, "Well, it's not impossible we could win," and yet they keep pressing forward. They keep placing deadlines for their diplomats, while refusing to even entertain certain concessions, because for whatever reason, they don't recognize that showing a willingness to make those concessions is not the same as absolutely having to make those concessions.

To be fair, Japan has some legit grievances about how the U.S., and the West in general have treated them, even since their rise to the tanks of a modern power. Winning certain territories in past struggles, but then being leaned on to relinquish those by the West. And let's face it, the U.S. or Britain complaining about Japan trying to conquer China or to take over Indochina from the French rings a little hollow coming from two countries that had conquered any number of other peoples. Cordell Hull makes a demand that Japan needs to agree to allow for free trade in China, and when Japan replies they'll go along, just as soon as the U.S. helps bring about free trade everywhere else in the world, Hull replies the U.S. can't be trying to held responsible for things like that outside its sovereign jurisdiction, which makes me wonder what kind of jurisdiction the U.S. has in China. Considering FDR supposedly wants to focus on fighting Germany, it's kind of a bullheaded approach to take.

On the other hand, Japan had built up the strength of their military in the minds of their public so far out of proportion to reality that there was a lot of public pressure to not back down, to keep going, because final victory was almost certainly just moment's away in China, and then they could totally fight the U.S., and even the Soviets (assuming the Germans didn't take care of them). None of which is true, but it was the image the government had promoted, and it trapped them. The military couldn't bring itself to stop fighting, because they said it would make all the men lost up to that point a waste (Hotta notes a similar train of thought came into play with the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan). Still, at some point you need someone to step and being willing to be the unpopular guy, to save lives. Hirohito had serious concerns, and kept pressing his military chiefs, and all he needed to do was tell them, "No," and that should have been it. He's the Emperor, his word is sacrosanct. But he's also supposed to be above basic politics (ostensibly to keep him from receiving any backlash for political decisions if they went badly). And he can't bring himself to break with that to stop something he clearly isn't a fan of.

'Tanaka consistently promoted a hard-line stance in China. For him, total victory was the only option, and the willingness Japanese leaders had been showing of late to negotiate with the United States was a disgrace. Refraining from war equated to cowardly surrender and was worse than losing everything after having fought a proper war.'

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