Saturday, October 08, 2005

Hard peace and soft peace

I'm in the middle of Tsuyoshi Hasegawa's Racing the Enemy, and I'm reading about a fascinating split within the U.S. government during the last year of World War II.

The Roosevelt administration was demanding that Japan surrender unconditionally. The same demand had been made of Hitler's Germany, as a way to ensure that Nazism would be completely destroyed and, it follows, fully discredited. Everyone wanted to avoid what had happened in the aftermath of the First World War, when Germany surrendered long before being actually defeated on the battlefield, and a lie took hold which said that Germany had surrendered because of a "stab in the back" by traitorous elements on the home front; it was a lie that Hitler used to great effect in his rise to power. Franklin Roosevelt wanted to be sure that if Germany surrendered, the Allies could destroy Nazism without conditions; and that if Hitler chose to fight to the last rather than surrender unconditionally, then his regime would be fully destroyed on the battlefield.

The identical thought process was applied to the war against Japan, even though Imperial Japan was not Nazi Germany. Most members of the Roosevelt administration stood by the call for the unconditional surrender of Japan, and Hasegawa terms these the advocates of "hard peace." They believed that Japan's militarism could only be destroyed for good by eliminating Japan's emperor system, trying Emperor Hirohito as a war criminal, and imposing a democratic, republican system on Japan.

Hasegawa writes that those members of the Roosevelt administration who were most knowledgeable about Japan shared the desire to eradicate Japan's militarism, but rejected the above means.

Inspired by the idealism of the Atlantic Charter, but dismayed by the unconditional surrender demand declared by Roosevelt, the Japan specialists attempted to craft a policy whereby Japan would be able to return to the international community as a peaceful, constructive member after the war.... They insisted that a political system, even democracy, would not be easily grafted onto a country whose political, cultural and religious traditions were so different from those of the United States. Their knowledge of Japanese history taught them that the emperor system had little to do with the resurgence of Japanese militarism and that the symbiotic relationship between the emperor system and militarism as expressed in the kokutai had only a recent pedigree. Emperor worship had profound religious and emotional roots among the Japanese ... Proponents of soft peace argued that America's interest would be best served if Japan were turned into a peaceful, constructive power. To that end, preservation of the monarchy was crucial. This view also gained a spokesman in Joseph Grew, who became a lightning rod for the attack from the New Deal liberals, who assailed him as "an appeaser" and "an apologist of Hirohito" (p. 22).

The first thing that leaps out in this excerpt is the irony of New Deal Democrats as war hawks. Times do change. Hasegawa notes that President Roosevelt himself favored a punitive peace. This does not bode well for anyone who wishes to speculate that Hiroshima would not have occurred if FDR had lived.

But what I wanted to highlight was the attack on the Japanese religion. People who did not know Japan identified its religion as the chief source of violence, and saw fit to destroy it by the same means which were applied to Nazism -- the ideology which did in fact preach power and worship violence.

Hiroshima might well have been avoided had the advocates of soft peace prevailed upon the U.S. administration to demand surrender with only one condition granted: a guarantee for the Emperor's throne. Hasegawa's book does a very good job of describing a similar split in the Japanese government, wherein the civilian leaders hoped that they could achieve an end to the war and still save the Emperor, while the military could not contemplate surrendering without a guarantee that Japan would also disarm itself, suffer no occupation, and try its own war criminals. The Japanese military, like Hitler, spoke of Japan going down in a final battle to utter destruction, and some Japanese officers saw honor in this; but Japan's government was not fully controlled by the military, unlike the situation in Germany. Neither the civilians nor the militarists could overcome one another. And there was one figure at the top, treated like a figurehead, who nonetheless commanded grave respect and potential power -- and this man chose to surrender before the future of his house was irretrievably jeopardized. This house saw no glory in dying suicidally.

All this suggests strongly that the hardliners on both sides of the Pacific War were wrong. The fact that Japan has become a peaceful, constructive nation, many years after a surrender which took place because the Emperor was guaranteed, vindicates the vision of the advocates for soft peace. Japan's religion is much older than its militarism, and it has survived the latter. A war to destroy the former would have been immeasurably longer; after Hiroshima would probably have come the atomic destruction of Kyoto, the city which Secretary of War Henry Stimson removed as the primary target for the atomic bomb because it was a sacred center of Japan's culture and religion.

I might add here that the advocates of soft peace, in light of Iraq, were also right in their warnings about how difficult it would be to impose democracy on a very foreign nation. Unlike in Nazi Germany, there is a vibrant and traditional religion in Iraq. And I'm not sure the United States has recognized or respected its power very well.

Like Japan's emperor system, like its indigenous Buddhism and Shintoism -- and like Christianity -- Islam has fueled or given its blessings to violence. All these have sought glory through warfare. But like all these, Islam is far older, and more subtle, than the violent men within who seek an apocalyptic battle. I'm not sure that the United States can see the distinction clearly enough to do something peaceful about it. It's not that the United States attacks Islam by going after the mosques and the religious leaders or banning them; these have stayed off the target list in the sense that Kyoto did. But Hiroshima was still bombed, and unconditional surrender was not modified until after the Manhattan Project had fulfilled its aim -- until after the destruction was done. None of this can bode well for Iraq.

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