A plea for no excuses

“The army and navy were nominally subordinate to the emperor. But if Hirohito had attempted to defy the hard-liners during the years before and after Pearl Harbor, it is likely that the palace would have been physically attacked, as indeed it was in August 1945. He himself might well have been overthrown. Like most surviving monarchs of his time, Hirohito perceived the preservation of the imperial house as his foremost duty. A belief in the precariousness of his own position, in a society dominated by unyielding samurai, does much to explain his passivity. If this merits some sympathy from posterity, however, it cannot command admiration. While he deeply desired to be a conscientious monarch, Hirohito proved a fatally weak one, who cannot be absolved from the crimes of both commission and omission carried out in his name. He allowed others to wield executive authority in a fashion which wrought untold death and suffering, and he cannot have been unaware of the military’s bloody excesses. Two of his brothers, for instance, attended screenings of an army film depicting Japan’s biological warfare experiments on human subjects at Unit 731 in Manchuria.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

The ghost in the machine

“The leaders of Nazi Germany existed in a gangster ethos. Most of the rulers of Japan, by contrast, were men of high birth, possessed of cultural and educational advantages which made the conduct of their wartime offices seem all the more deplorable, both practically and morally. At the lonely pinnacle stood the emperor, forty-three years old in 1944, denied by his throne the comfort of intimates, and by his choice any personal indulgences. A light sleeper, Hirohito rose at seven each morning in the Imperial Palace, breakfasted off black bread and oatmeal, then worked until a lunch of cooked vegetables and dumpling soup. He neither smoked nor drank. To an extraordinary degree, Hirohito’s role in the origins and course of Japan’s war remains shrouded in dispute, just as his precise powers in Japan’s constitutional system mystified most of his own subjects during his reign.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

The unsentimental education

“Chen Jinyu was a sixteen-year-old peasant girl, planting rice for the Japanese occupiers of Jiamao, her village. One day, she was informed by the Japanese that she was being transferred to a ‘battlefront rear-service group.’ She said: ‘Because I was young, I had no idea what this meant, but I thought any duty must be easier than working in the field.’ A week later, she discovered the nature of her new role when she was gang-raped by Japanese soldiers. She ran away home, but an interpreter arrived to say that her family would suffer grievously if she did not return to her duties. She remained a ‘comfort woman’ for the local Japanese garrison until June 1945 when, weary of beatings, she fled to the mountains and hid there until she heard that the war was over.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

This is for the good of all

“Every imperial project—in fact, virtually every public undertaking of every modern state—is accompanied by declarations of benevolent intention, more or less frequent and elaborate according to the scale of the undertaking and the degree of skepticism anticipated. These declarations have no evidentiary value. They are part of the manufacture of consent in democratic, and even nondemocratic, societies.” – George Scialabba, “The American Way of Strategy”

I shall wear my trousers rolled

“My problem is: I’m a sheep. I’m afraid a lot. Not on the surface; I lead a quiet life and get through most days without any need to be brave. On the very rare occasions when a smidgen of courage is required, I can usually do the right thing – because I’m worried about what others will think if I don’t and they find out, or because otherwise I’ll obsess guiltily. But I fret nonstop. If I don’t call, will X be offended? If I do call, will X be annoyed? Did I take the right tone with that editor? Do I exercise enough? socialize enough? cerebrate enough? agitate enough? Will I someday regret not being more ambitious? Will I have enough to live on when I’m old? Will I burn in hell forever?” – George Scialabba, “Out of the Fold”

Still working on it

“We shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labour, and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life; shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of life and the useful.” – Booker T. Washington, “1895 Atlanta Exposition Address”

How to spend ’em if you got ’em

“This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of wealth: To set an example of modest, unostentatious living, shunning display or extravagance; to provide moderately for the legitimate wants of those dependent upon him; and, after doing so, to consider all surplus revenues which come to him simply as trust funds, which he is called upon to administer, and strictly bound as a matter of duty to administer in the manner which, in his judgment, is best calculated to produce the most beneficial results for the community.” – Andrew Carnegie, “The Gospel of Wealth”

Corrupting miasma

“A world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apartment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by rich men who made their money out of brothels, in which a screen star can be the finger man for a mob, and the nice man down the hall is a boss of the numbers racket; a world where a judge with a cellar full of bootleg liquor can send a man to jail for having a pint in his pocket, where the mayor of your town may have condoned murder as an instrument of money making, where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practising; a world where you may witness a hold-up in broad daylight and see who did it, but you will fade quickly back into the crowd rather than tell anyone, because the hold-up men may have friends with long guns, or the police may not like your testimony, and in any case the shyster for the defence will be allowed to abuse and vilify you in open court, before a jury of selected morons, without any but the most perfunctory interference from a political judge. — It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in.” – Raymond Chandler, “The Simple Art of Murder”

Fair and balanced

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. … Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to those arguments or to bring them into contact with his own mind. He must hear them from persons who actually believe them, who defend them in earnest and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of, else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and resolves that difficulty.” – John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Free loaves at the circus tonight

“The unrestricted movement of capital, the ultima ratio of American foreign and domestic policy, requires weak or corrupt—in any case, acquiescent—governments, since otherwise they might try to improve their bargaining position by combining with other governments and encouraging labor organization. Ineffectual governments and labor unions in turn require a weakening of impulses toward cooperation, solidarity, and citizen initiative. Very helpful toward that end is the redefinition of the good life as a life of continuous and increasing individual consumption—which, since it is a false definition, necessitates unremitting indoctrination by means of advertising. Expanding consumption in turn requires technological innovation, mass production, a population willing to put up with insecure, regimented, and frequently stupefying work (the effects of which are assuaged by entertainments only a little more refined and wholesome than Roman circuses), and the exploitation of resources on a vast scale.” – George Scialabba, “How Bad Is It?”

Proper places all

“The Nazi state’s sacrifice of the economic and intellectual potential of its women citizens came back to haunt the regime, just as the backward attitude of the Third Reich toward scientific research had undesired consequences in a surprisingly short space of time. While the leading Nazis obstructed the work of serious scientists or supported it only half-heartedly, they showed a lot of interest in obscure theories such as the Welteislehre, or the theory of eternal ice, developed by the Austrian engineer Hanns Hoerbiger. Meanwhile, the physicists they had driven out of the country were preparing for nuclear war. In much the same way, the idea of the ‘little woman at home’ also backfired. While the Germans waged a petty war on lipstick and nail polish and prohibited women from smoking in public, the Allied weapons industry primarily employed women.” – Anna Maria Sigmund, Women of the Third Reich (trans. NDE Publishing)

Prussic acid bath

“Bearing the brunt of Russian hatred, East Prussia suffered the most terrible fate of all the occupied areas. The land was left devastated for several years. Houses were wither burned or stripped down to the most basic fittings. Even light bulbs had been taken by peasant soldiers who had no electricity at home. The farms were dead, with all the livestock slaughtered or taken to Russia. Low-lying ground reverted to swamp. But the fate of the civilians who failed to escape was worst of all. Most women and girls were marched off to the Soviet Union for forced labour ‘in forests, peat bogs and canals for fifteen to sixteen hours a day’. A little over half of them died in the following two years. Of the survivors, just under half had been raped. When they were returned to the Soviet occupied zone of Germany in April 1947, most had to be sent immediately to hospitals because they were suffering from tuberculosis and venereal disease.” – Antony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin 1945

Getting on with it

“Women in Berlin just wanted to get life back to some semblance of normality. The most common sight in Berlin became the Trümmerfrauen, the ‘rubble women’, forming human chains with buckets to clear smashed buildings and salvage bricks. Many of the German men left in the city were either in hiding or had collapsed with psychosomatic illnesses as soon as the fighting was over. Like most working parties, the women were paid at first in little more than handfuls of potatoes, yet the Berliner sense of humour did not fail. Every district was renamed. Charlottenburg had become ‘Klamottenberg’, which means ‘heap of rubbish’, Steglitz became ‘steht nichts’—‘nothing is standing’—and Lichterfelde became ‘Trichterfelde’—‘the field of craters’. To a large degree this was an outward courage masking resignation and quiet despair. ‘People were living with their fate,’ remarked one young Berliner.” – Antony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin 1945

A carton for a concubine

“In Berlin, the black-market exchange rate was based on Zigarettenwährung—‘cigarette currency’—so when American soldiers arrived with almost limitless cartons at their disposal, they did not need to rape. The definition of rape had become blurred into sexual coercion. A gun or physical violence became unnecessary when women faced starvation.” – Antony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin 1945

Whatever it takes

“The reactions of German women to the experience of rape varied greatly. For many victims, especially protected young girls who had little idea of what was being done to them, the psychological effects could be devastating. Relationships with men became extremely difficult, often for the rest of their lives. Mothers were in general far more concerned about their children, and this priority made them surmount what they had endured. Other women, both young and adult, simply tried to blank out the experience. ‘I must repress a lot in order, to some extent, to be able to live,’ one woman acknowledged, when refusing to talk about the subject.” – Antony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin 1945

Ploughed and ploughing

“The worst mistake of the German military authorities had been their refusal to destroy alcohol stocks in the path of the Red Army’s advance. The decision was based on the idea that a drunken enemy could not fight. Tragically for the female population however, it was exactly what Red Army soldiers seemed to need to give them the courage to rape . . . . Women soon learned to disappear during the ‘hunting hours’ of the evening. Young daughters were hidden in storage lofts for days on end. . . . Sometimes the greatest danger came from one mother giving away the hiding place of other girls in a desperate bid to save her own daughters. . . . Because all the windows had been blown in, you could hear the screams every night. Estimates from the two main Berlin hospitals ranged from 95,000 to 130,000 rape victims. One doctor deduced that out of approximately 100,000 women raped in Berlin, some 10,000 died as a result, mostly from suicide. The death rate was thought to be much higher among the 1.4 million who had suffered in East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia. Altogether at least 2 million German women are thought to have been raped, and a substantial minority, if not a majority, appear to have suffered multiple rape.” – Antony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin 1945

What we don’t want the girls to know

“Rape has often been defined by writers on the subject as an act of violence which has little to do with sex. But this is a definition from the victim’s perspective. . . . In war, undisciplined soldiers without fear of retribution can rapidly revert to a primitive male sexuality . . . a dark area of male sexuality which can emerge all too easily.” – Antony Beevor, The Fall of Berlin 1945