Monday, February 20, 2006

The Axis of Emulation: Bushido, Bush or Die and All That

Well folks, you owe this one to MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and his other guest Claudia Rossett, both dedicated to the principle that if the UN says it's winter, it must be summer. When I was on doing my lion thrown to the Christians act last Thursday, they managed to excoriate the Human Rights Commission for a) not functioning properly, and b) functioning properly over Gitmo. Ironically they correctly condemned the Commission for having human rights violators as members - but did not seem to mind that the US has been practicing "Rendition" to the same torturers. Go Figure.
Ian Williams
Books I am Reading

An imperial power was invading and occupying other countries, and since it was convinced that its troops were invincible, it never bothered with the Geneva Conventions when it took combatants prisoners. It treated them as if it were outside the law.

Welcome to the Bushido Empire of Japan from 1941 to 1945. Welcome to the Bush Empire of America from 2001 to now.
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Ulrich Straus's well-timed book, The Anguish of Surrender, is about Japanese prisoners taken in the Second World War, how their own leaders had indoctrinated them, and how the Allies treated them. It is more than an academic treatise on an obscure nook of the past. Even more than most histories it has lessons for today, not least if read in conjunction with the report of the UN Human Rights Commission experts on Guantanamo Bay last Thursday which concluded that "Terrorism suspects should be detained in accordance with criminal procedure that respects the safeguards enshrined in relevant international law." The experts also demanded the detention facility in Guantanamo should be closed, since it was clear that its sole purpose was evade those safeguards.

A reader of either work can only conclude that there was much less externally applied anguish for a captured would-be kamikaze pilot then than there is now for a suspected Taliban. Needless to say, the Bush or Die night crowd, ignoring the recent revelatory pictures from Abu Ghraib, shamelessly attacked the messenger, used the occasion to attack Kofi Annan and the UN.

Author of Anguish of Surrender, Ulrich Straus is a German born Jewish American retired diplomat who is wryly aware of the absurdities of prejudice in his adopted USA, as well as the rest of world. He had spent seven years in Tokyo with his family before coming to the US as war loomed. As an "enemy alien" he was unable to volunteer for military service where he could use his knowledge of Japan, although, with engagingly xenophobic logic, he was still liable for conscription. Despite the bureaucratic obstacles, he managed to enroll in a Japanese language program designed to provide trained linguists for military intelligence. As he points out, the US did not intern him as a German enemy alien, although it did intern all citizens of Japanese origin en masse. The Nisei were highly unlikely to become commissioned officers. Straus finally qualified.

In contrast, almost the only way out of the internment camps for Japanese Americans was to allow themselves to be conscripted to join the armed forces. And even then, as they fought abroad for the four freedoms, their families remained encaged until the end of the war. Then as now, there was a fear of the other. It was as perilous to your civil liberties to look Japanese then as it was to be visibly Muslim now. As feet of clay for idols like FDR go, this has to be a size fifteen..

However, as Straus points out in his fascinating study, the US was scrupulous in its official attachment to the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war when it captured Japanese. I say official, since his research backs up what I have heard from some veterans of the time, that in the immediate heat of battle GI's were less likely to have international law at the forefront of their thoughts and so prisoners were not exactly guaranteed safe transit to the rear.

Nonetheless, his book indicates that the US treatment of Japanese prisoners once they were officially processed, was immeasurably more moral, civilized, and effective than the Troll-like behavior now condoned and encouraged by the White House. Japanese prisoners were fed, clothed and, if wounded, hospitalized alongside wounded GI's. They were not shackled, hooded, sense-deprived, or locked in open cages, let alone subject to the varying degrees of torture from the admitted at Abu Ghraib to the re-defined in Guantanamo.

Since the expectations of capture fostered by the Imperial Japanese command were pretty dire, prisoners' main worry seems to have been how to look each other in the face with the shame of not fighting to the death. However, it seems that many, impressed by the humane conduct of their captors, ended up cooperating to an amazing degree, even in some cases to the point of helping target artillery against their own fortifications, or providing much sought details on the capabilities of the Japanese Navy's super-dreadnoughts. "The fact that humane treatment came as a total surprise only added to its effectiveness," Straus writes. That it is still a total shock six decades later to the US administration is a testament to how vindictiveness can always induce amnesia about historical lessons.

Straus's conclusions deal with the legacy of the Bushido-era no-surrender policy on present and future Japanese policy. "Sooner or later, the issue of how to treat its own and its enemy's POW's will have to be addressed even in a Pacifist Japan," he concludes, correctly, since some Japanese politicians have as much difficulty about addressing their past as some American politicians have in dealing with their present.

However, with the present degree of militaristic hubris and lawlessness of the Supreme Commander of the US forces, one might also almost recommend Straus's book as the core for a guidebook for GI's taken prisoner in the many future wars the White House seems to envisage, since they may be captured by enemies who think that Washington has effectively abrogated its commitment to the Geneva conventions.

There is in fact a clear precedent: as I reminded readers of the previous incarnation of Deadline Pundit on ( the Allies tried Wermacht General Alfred Jodl at Nuremburg. The charges included shackling captured Canadian commandos and passing on Hitler's orders that commandos, partisans and the like should not be treated as POW's, refusing them the benefit of a tribunal to determine whether they were in fact enemy combatants.

The Nuremberg Court's judgment said, "Jodl testified he was strongly opposed on moral and legal grounds, but could not refuse to pass it (Hitler's Order) on. He insists he tried to mitigate its harshness in practice by not informing Hitler when it was not carried out."

Nonetheless the Allied judges concluded, "Participation in such crimes as these has never been required of any soldier and he cannot now shield himself behind a mythical requirement of soldierly obedience at all costs as his excuse for commission of these crimes." Jodl was hanged in 1946. Bush was re-elected President in 2004.

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