Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hasegawa Tsuyoshi's storytime

Going through my email just now, I became quite giddy at the announcement of the publication of a new paper by Franziska Seraphim, one of my favorite scholars of Japan and war memory.

Unfortunately, the promise of a good read proved to be an empty one, as Japan Focus has yet to upload the contents of the article.

They will get the job done soon, I hope.

Having been thwarted in my quest, I looked down the list of the other recent papers posted to Japan Focus.

I came upon the following:

The Atomic Bombs and the Soviet Invasion: What Drove Japan's Decision to Surrender

I hesitated before clicking. Hasegawa, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, has written THE BIG BOOK about the Soviet Union's entry into the war against Japan, entitled Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman, and the Surrender of Japan (2005) , published in Japanese by Chuō Kōron as 暗闘―スターリン、トルーマンと日本降伏 (2006).

If you do not mind reading off a screen, the goodly portion of Racing the Enemy is available from Google Books at

Why the hesitation?

First, I have personal reasons why I would not want to antagonize anyone on the faculty of UC Santa Barbara.

Second and more importantly, Racing the Enemy argues that the declaration of war by the Soviet Union on August 9, 1945 had a persuasive power equal to or perhaps even greater than the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, breaking the logjam in Imperial policy circles over acceptance of the Potsdam terms of surrender.

I have a vested interest in propagating the faith that the dropping of the atomic bombs pushed the Imperial government to sue for peace. As a former resident of Hiroshima, I have a visceral reaction against even a hint that all that death and destruction had been for nothing--or worse, that it had been a part of a grand guignol experiment.

I also believe in Occam's Razor. Given the mention in the Showa Emperor's surrender address of the use of nuclear weapons as a decisive reason for ending the war (petty and naive of me, I know) and the documented nuttiness of the Japanese Imperial Army whenever actual shooting started (Iōjima and Okinawa were not the worst. The worst was Tarawa) the atomic bombings were necessary to hasten the end of the war.

For his part, Hasegawa has a vested interest in aggrandizing the effects of the Soviet invasion. He is, after all, an historian of the Soviet Union. Writing about the Soviets pays his bills.

Which would make us just about equal in the bias department.

I had seen far too many citations of Racing the Enemy, however, in poorly thought out condemnations of United States for the use of the nuclear weapons to make me entirely comfortable.

What if the case were strong for the predominance of the Soviet invasion in decisionmaking? What then of my world view, would it evanesce away into the air?

After clicking on the link, and reading bits and pieces here and there, it is clear that Hasegawa's grand thesis is not all it is cracked up to be. He has no definitive evidence proving that the Soviet Union's entry into the war caused anyone to fall to his or her knees and give up. The Soviet declaration of was crucial for some in the very final hours but the way had been primed by the nuclear bombings.

Indeed, to come to Hasegawa's view, one has to believe that individuals torture their own thoughts, that persons do not mean what they say, that silence speaks volumes and that documentary evidence in support of the thesis of the bombings as crucial should be read with a grain of salt while the documents arguing to the contrary are salt-free.

For example, here is a passage he translates from the diary of Deputy Chief of Staff Kawabe Torashiro:

The Soviets have finally risen! [So wa tsuini tachitari!] My judgment has proven wrong. But now that the situation has come to this, we should not consider seeking peace. We had half anticipated this military situation and the military fortune. There is nothing to think about. To save the honor of the Yamato race, there is no other way but to keep fighting. When we decided to begin the war, I always belonged to the soft and prudent faction, but once the situation has come to this, I don't like to think about peace and surrender. Whatever the outcome, we have no choice but to try.

One would think that:

"We should not consider peace"

"There is nothing to think about"

"...once the situation has come to this, I don't like to think about peace and surrender. Whatever the outcome, we have no choice but to try. "

would be pretty tough to turn into an argument that the Soviet invasion shocked the Japanese Empire into surrender.

Here is Hasegawa's exegesis:

Asada is correct in pointing out that despite the news of the Soviet invasion in Manchuria, Kawabe was determined to continue the war. And yet Kawabe's diary also betrays the shock and confusion he felt at the news. Contrary to his "judgment," Kawabe conceded, "the Soviets have risen!" This exclamation mark speaks volumes about Kawabe's shock. In fact, until then all Ketsu Go strategy had been built upon the assumption that the USSR should be kept neutral, and for that reason Kawabe himself had campaigned hard for the Foreign Ministry to secure Soviet neutrality through negotiations. He admitted that his judgment had proved wrong. But this admission was immediately followed by a Monday morning quarterback–like reflection that the eventuality of a Soviet attack had been in the back of his mind. This is not necessarily a contradiction. In fact, Kawabe and the Army General Staff had been bothered by the nagging suspicion that the Soviets might strike at Japan. This suspicion, however, prompted the army to double its efforts to secure Soviet neutrality. Moreover, the army did not anticipate, first, that the attack was to come so soon, at the beginning of August, and second, that the Soviet invasion would take place on such a large scale against the Japanese forces in Manchuria and Korea from all directions.

Kawabe's diary also reveals his confusion. If his judgment proved wrong, logically it should follow that the strategy that he had advocated based on the erroneous assumption should have been reexamined. Instead of adopting this logical deduction, Kawabe "did not feel like peace and surrender in this situation." This was not rational strategic thinking, but a visceral reluctance to accept surrender. The only rationale he could justify for the continuation of war was "the honor of the Yamato race." His insistence on fighting was also a preemptive move, anticipating, quite correctly, that the peace party would launch a coordinated move to end the war. Nevertheless, his argument for the continuation of war indicated the degree of the army's desperation and confusion.

If the Soviet invasion indeed shocked the military, which event, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima or the Soviet attack, provided a bigger shock? In order to answer this question, one must compare the August 9 entry with the August 7 entry in Kawabe's diary. In the entry for August 7, Kawabe wrote: "As soon as I went to the office, having read various reports on the air raid by the new weapon on Hiroshima yesterday morning of the 6th, I was seriously disturbed [shinkokunaru shigeki o uketari, literally, 'received a serious stimulus'] With this development [kakutewa] the military situation has progressed to such a point that it has become more and more difficult. We must be tenacious and fight on." Kawabe admitted that he was disturbed by, or more literally, received "a serious stimulus [shigeki]" from the reports of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Nevertheless, he avoided using the term "shogeki [shock]." Compared with this passage describing the news of the atomic bomb as a matter of fact, the first thing that catches the eye in his entry for August 9 is the first sentence, "So wa tsuini tachitari!" ("The Soviets have finally risen!"). As far as Kawabe was concerned, there is no question but that the news of the Soviet attack gave him a much bigger shock than the news of the atomic bomb. Both diary entries advocated continuing the war. But there was a subtle change. While the effects of the atomic bomb were described as having worsened the military situation, there was no change in the overall assumptions. But Kawabe's insistence on fighting after the Soviet attack is marked by his defensive tone, deriving partly from the anticipated move for peace and partly from the disappearance of the fundamental assumptions on which the continuation of the war had rested. In this respect, too, the shock of the Soviet attack was much greater to the military than the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Where to begin?

1) if Kawabe had been so wrong in his assumptions about the Soviets possibly entering the war, why did he write tsui ni ("in the end","finally")?

2) What is the difference between "we must fight on" (Kawabe's reaction after hearing of the destruction of Hiroshima) and "we must not consider peace"? And how is such a determination to keep fighting rational on August 6 but not rational on August 9--except if you are accepting a priori that the Soviet invasion was more significant?

3) After hearing the first reports of August 6, the Army insisted that the bomb dropped on Hiroshima might possibly not be a nuclear weapon. Could not Kawabe's thought of August 6 "we must fight on" be meant to be have been understood as "we must fight on until at least the confirmation of the research team proves our situation is militarily hopeless"?

4) Since when does is there a "being distraught doesn't count unless one calls it shogeki" rule? Does Kawabe use shogeki on August 9 (to the Archives, soldier, to the Archives!) ? Is there even a smidgeon of a point in making the distinction between shigeki and shogeki except that in romaji, they are one letter different?

And it goes on and on and on. Hasegawa's thesis seems at times banal (the Soviet invasion of Manchuria was significant--right, got it) at times silly. That Hasegawa is being cited as a magisterial source seems an indication of a continuing dearth of good work in English on the history and politics of East Asia--either or that his book cleaves to the prejudices of the kinds of folks who have an ax to grind.

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