On the road again

“In order to grasp today’s capitalism we need financial analysis, but the phenomenon of financialization sucks oxygen from the atmosphere. It privatizes information that should be public, just as it commercializes everyday life and promotes a pattern of ‘uncreative destruction’ in which enterprises and work teams are continually broken up and re-assembled to take advantage of transient arbitrage gains. In addition to helping financial institutions game their own customers, the techniques of financialization allow big capital—large corporations and wealthy individuals—to escape tax and skim the holdings of small shareholders. Note that most pension funds and charitable endowments, but not US mutual funds, are limited by fiduciary rules from much exposure to hedge funds or exotic derivatives. A further corollary of proliferating financialization is that the regulations governing credit creation were first loosened and then almost entirely ignored. Reckless credit expansion has long been the primrose path to financial crisis and collapse.” – Robin Blackburn, “The Subprime Crisis”

Iceberg fields and shoal waters

“A well-regulated stock exchange is a phenomenal source of information for all market participants. It generates second-by-second data concerning the volume and price of trades, and its settlement system registers the identity of buyers and sellers. The analytic feats of the financial economists were themselves based on such data. Yet the advent of structured finance generated a gigantic volume of direct trades between institutions whose details were only known to the participants. These ‘over-the-counter’ transactions exceeded stock- exchange transactions by the turn of the millennium, and led the exchanges to skimp on procedure in order to remain competitive. Here we have both the cause of the credit crunch and the ultimate irony of the Western crusade to marketize the globe. A great wave of securitization aimed to turn even the most unpromising cash prospect, or intimate personal ambition, into a tradeable. It succeeded in submerging the world’s main capital markets in a deluge of non-performing and unpriced securities. The fog of grey capital descended on the financial districts, shrouding the great banks and clouding the view of investors and regulators alike.” – Robin Blackburn, “The Subprime Crisis”

A point from which to move the world

“Resort to ‘leverage’ in the financialized world supposedly enables individuals and corporations to get rid of ‘unrewarded risk’ and maximize outcomes. While the word ‘debt’ has a negative ring to it, the word ‘leverage’ is positive; indeed it is now often used as a verb, as we leverage our assets in order to reach for the stars. Forgetting that Archimedes’ lever had a purchase point, the financial engineers aspire to move the world without securing the land on which they stand. In their philosophy, all that is fixed melts into air. This gives them some insight into capitalist motion but no sense of its limits. In contemporary capitalist conditions, especially a grey capitalism riddled with defective links between principals and agents, financialization becomes hugely destructive.” – Robin Blackburn, “The Subprime Crisis”

The god we worship

“The subprime debacle and its sequels train a spotlight on financialization. When properly embedded in structures of social control, finance can help to allocate capital, facilitate investment and smooth demand. But if it is unaccountable and unregulated it becomes sovereign in the re-allocation process, and can grab the lion’s share of the gains it makes possible, including anticipated gains before they have been realized. The problem is aggravated as financial intermediaries proliferate and take advantage of asymmetries in access to information and power imbalances. Such distortions multiply as ‘financialization’ takes hold. It is boosted as the logic of finance becomes ubiquitous, feeding on a commodification of every aspect of life and the life-course—student loans, baby bonds, mortgages, home equity release, credit-card debt; health insurance, individualized pension funds. Financialization also encourages corporations to privilege financial functions and to see themselves as chance collections of assets which, as circumstances change, must be continually broken up and reconfigured. While the individual is encouraged to think of him or herself as a two-legged cost and profit centre, the corporation is simply an accidental assemblage to be continually shuffled in response to fleeting market signals.” – Robin Blackburn, “The Subprime Crisis”

What’s in a name

“Place-names which pass into history often identify locations so unrewarding that only war could have rendered them memorable: Dunkirk and Alamein, Corregidor and Imphal, Anzio and Bastogne. Yet even in such company, Iwo Jima was striking in its wretchedness. The tiny island lay 3,000 miles west of Pearl Harbor and less than seven hundred south of Japan. It was five miles long, two and a half wide. Dominated at the southern tip by the extinct volcano of Mount Suribachi, five hundred feet high, in the north it rose to a plateau, thick with jungle growth. Iwo had been claimed by Japan in 1861, and desultorily employed for growing sugarcane. A Japanese garrison officer described it sourly as ‘a waterless island of sulphur springs, where neither swallows nor sparrows flew.’ The perceived importance of this pimple derived, as usual, from airfields.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

‘Tis a fierce affection

“One post-war estimate suggests that for every six Malineros murdered by the Japanese defenders, another four died beneath the gunfire of their American liberators. Some historians would even reverse that ratio. ‘Those who had survived Japanese hate did not survive American love,’ wrote Carmen Guerrero.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

For the suppression of evil

“In considering the later U.S. firebombing of Japan and decision to bomb Hiroshima, it is useful to recall that by the spring of 1945 the American nation knew what the Japanese had done in Manila. The killing of innocents clearly represented not the chance of war, nor unauthorised actions by wanton enemy soldiers, but an ethic of massacre at one with events in Nanjing in 1937, and with similar deeds across Asia. In the face of evidence from so many different times, places, units and circumstances, it becomes impossible for Japan’s leaders credibly to deny systematic inhumanity as gross as that of the Nazis.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Liberation

“A pregnant woman, Carmen Guerrero, walked into the American lines, clutching a child in her arms. She had seen her husband tortured before her eyes, then removed to be shot. She neither eaten nor slept for a week. She wrote later, ‘I had seen the head of an aunt who had taught me to read and write roll under the kitchen stove, the face of a friend who had been crawling next to me on the pavement as we tried to reach shelter under the Ermita Church obliterated by a bullet, a legless cousin dragging himself out of a shallow trench in the churchyard and a young mother carrying a baby plucking at my father’s sleeve—“Doctor, can you help me? I think I’m wounded”—and the shreds of her ribs and her lungs could be seen as she turned around.’ ” – Max Hastings, Retribution

And here is what happened when we threw all that away

“I think that the rhetoric we Westerners use in trying to get everybody to be more like us would be improved if we were more frankly ethnocentric and less professedly universal. It would be better to say, ‘here is what we in the West look like as a result of ceasing to hold slaves, beginning to educate women, separating church and state, and so on. Here is what happened after we began treating certain distinctions between people as arbitrary rather than fraught with moral significance. If you would try treating them that way, you might like the result’. Saying that sort of thing seems preferable to saying, ‘look at how much better we Westerners are at knowing what differences between persons are arbitrary and which not, how much more rational we are’. If we Westerners could get rid of the notion of universal moral obligation created by membership in the species, and substitute the idea of building a community of trust between ourselves and others, we might be in a better position to persuade non-Westerners of the advantages of joining such a community.” – Richard Rorty, “Justice as a Larger Loyalty” (emphasis in original)

Not asking much, guv’nor

“You cannot have an old-timey Gemeinschaft unless everybody pretty well agrees on who counts as a decent human being and who does not. But you can have a civil society of the bourgeois democratic sort. All you need is the ability to control your feelings when people who strike you as irredeemably different show up at City Hall, or the greengrocers, or the bazaar. When this happens, you smile a lot, make the best deals you can, and, after a hard day’s haggling, retreat to your club. There you will be comforted by the companionship of your moral equals.” – Richard Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth (emphasis in original)

And sparks fly

“The difference between genius and fantasy is not the difference between impresses which lock on to something universal, some antecedent reality out there in the world or deep within the self, and those which do not. Rather, it is the difference between idiosyncracies which just happen to catch on with other people—happen because of the contingencies of some historical situation, some particular need which a given community happens to have at a given time. To sum up, poetic, artistic, philosophical, scientific, or political progress results from the accidental coincidence of a private obsession with a public need.” – Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity

We have ways of making you pay

“If the judgment debtor was concealing assets or had assets in the custody of others, the creditor had few remedies. The primary remedy a creditor did have in such a case was imprisonment for debt. Contrary to the misrepresentations fostered by Dickens and others, this was not a mechanism by which the poor were summarily thrown into prison. Rather, this was a mechanism for persuading a debtor who was hiding assets to reveal them. The creditor paid a per diem sum for the incarceration of the debtor, and this amount was deducted from the judgment each day. The premise was that the debtor would reveal the assets and pay the judgment to avoid continued imprisonment. This procedure had mixed effectiveness and was generally an inefficient remedy for creditors.” – Robert G. Markoff and Christopher J. McGeehan, “Enforcement of Judgments”

Looks like we’re finding out

“Let Us take Warning and give it to our Children. Whenever Vanity, and Gaiety, a Love of Pomp and Dress, Furniture, Equipage, Buildings, great Company, expensive Diversions, and elegant Entertainments get the better of the Principles and Judgments of Men or Women there is no knowing where they will stop, nor into what Evils, natural, moral, or political, they lead us.”  – John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, April 14, 1776

Remember the Ladies

“In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation. That your Sex are Naturally Tyrannical is a Truth so thoroughly established as to admit of no dispute, but such of you as wish to be happy willingly give up the harsh title of Master for the more tender and endearing one of Friend. Why then, not put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity with impunity. Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your Sex. Regard us then as Beings placed by providence under your protection and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.” – Abigail Adams, letter to John Adams, March 31, 1776

The things they did

“Some civilians found themselves herded out of their homes by Japanese who asserted that shellfire made them unsafe. They were taken to an assembly area on Plaza Ferguson, where there were soon 2,000 under guard. Young girls were then separated and removed first to the Coffee Pot Café, then to the Bay View Hotel, where brothels were established. The Japanese sought to give their men who were soon to die a final exalting sexual experience. One twenty-four-year-old named Esther Garcia later gave evidence about the experiences of her fifteen- and fourteen-year-old sisters, Priscilla and Evangeline. ‘They grabbed my two sisters. They were in back of me. And we didn’t know what they were going to do. So my two sisters started fighting them, but they couldn’t do anything. So they grabbed my sisters by the arm and took them out of the room. And we waited and waited and waited and finally my younger sister came back and she was crying. And I asked her, “Where is Pris? Where is Pris?” And she said, “Oh! They are doing things to her, Esther!” So everybody in the room knew what was going to happen to us. When Priscilla came back, she said, “Esther, they did something to me. I want to die. I want to die.” ’ ” – Max Hastings, Retribution

This happened

“The most repellant aspect of the Japanese defence of Manila was their systematic slaughter of the city’s civilians. The Japanese justified this policy by asserting that everyone found in the battle area was a guerrilla. Over a hundred men, women and children were herded into Paco Lumber Yard along Moriones and Juan Luna Avenue, where they were bound, bayoneted and shot. Some bodies were burned, others left rotting in the sun. Japanese squads burst into buildings packed with refugees, shooting and stabbing. There were massacres in schools, hospitals and convents.” – Max Hastings, “Retribution”

Not something that has changed much

“At the November 1943 Cairo Conference, President Roosevelt insisted upon anointing China as one of the four great Allied powers, assisted by Stalin’s acquiescence and in the face of Churchill’s contempt. Yet Roosevelt’s crusade to make China a modern power languished in the face of poverty, corruption, cruelty, incompetence, ignorance on a scale beyond even U.S. might and wealth to remedy. It was characteristic of the cultural contempt which China harboured towards other societies that even in the darkest days of the Japanese war, almost all Chinese retained a profound disdain for the Americans and British.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

As per the usual

“After Pearl Harbor, Chiang [Kai-Shek]’s armies began to receive massive American support in kind and in cash, much of which the generalissimo and his supporters pocketed. Since there was no overland link between British-ruled India and Chiang’s territories between 1942 and early 1945, all supplies had to be flown five hundred miles ‘over the Hump’ of 15,000-foot mountains to Kunming, the nearest accessible landing ground in China, at staggering cost in fuel, planes, and American pilots’ lives. In December 1942, the Hump air shuttle shifted a mere thousand tons a month. By July 1944 it was carrying 18,975 tons. This was an extraordinary logistical achievement, but remained a negligible contribution to the Chinese war effort; especially so as most of these supplies were stolen and sold long before they reached Chiang’s soldiers. Much of the matériel which remained was absorbed by the needs of the U.S. air forces in China. It was simply not feasible to airlift arms and ammunition on the scale needed to equip a Chinese army. From beginning to end, Chiang’s formations lacked indispensable heavy weapons to match those of the Japanese. For all the strivings of American generals, diplomats and military advisers, most of the fourteen million men drafted into the Nationalist army between 1937 and 1945 served as hapless victims rather than as effective combatants. Xu Yongqiang, in 1944 an interpreter with the Nationalists, watched new intakes of men herded in from the provinces: ‘Most recruits came simply as prisoners, roped together at bayonet point. They had so little training that it was easy to see why they were no match for the Japanese, who for years had been schooled to kill. It was inhuman! Inhuman! There were no such things as civil rights in China. For eight years, it was the peasants who had to fight the Japanese, both for the Communists and the Kuomintang. The middle class stayed at home and made money. The big families did nothing at all.’ ” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Time of the nadir

“The [Japanese] occupation of Manchuria and eastern China was mercilessly conducted. Unit 731, the biological warfare cell based near Harbin, was its most extreme manifestation. Beyond hundreds of Chinese prisoners subjected to experiments which invariably resulted in their deaths, often by vivisection, the unit sought to spread typhus, anthrax and other plagues indiscriminately among the Chinese population, sometimes by air-dropping of germ cultures. Post-war Japanese claims that reports of atrocities were exaggerated, and that soldiers’ misdeeds were unauthorized, are set at naught by the very existence of Unit 731. Its activities matched the horrors of some Nazi concentration camps. The surgical evisceration of hundreds of living and unanaesthetised Chinese, under the official auspices of the Japanese army, represented the nadir of its wartime conduct.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

A fruitful victim

“Historians of Asia assert that the Second World War properly began in China, rather than Poland. In 1931 Japan almost bloodlessly seized Manchuria—the north-eastern Chinese provinces, an area twice the size of Britain, with a population of thirty-five million people, hitherto ruled by an old warlord in uneasy cohabitation with a Japanese garrison—to secure its coal, raw materials, industries and strategic rail links. The Nationalist government based in Nanjing was too weak to offer resistance. The following year, Tokyo announced Manchuria’s transformation into the puppet state of Manchukuo, nominally ruled by the Manchu emperor Pu Yi, in practice by a Japanese-controlled prime minister, and garrisoned by Japan’s so-called Guandong Army. The Japanese perceived themselves as merely continuing a tradition established over centuries by Western powers in Asia—that of exploiting superior might to extend their home industrial and trading bases.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Uncountable

“China’s wartime sufferings, which remain unknown to most Westerners, were second in scale only to those of the Soviet Union. It is uncertain how many Chinese died in the years of conflict with Japan. Traditionally, a figure of fifteen million has been accepted, one-third of these being soldiers. Modern Chinese historians variously assert twenty-five, even fifty million. Ninety-five million people became homeless refugees. Such estimates are neither provable nor disprovable. Rather than being founded upon convincing statistical analysis, they reflect the intensity of Chinese emotions about what the Japanese did to their country. What is indisputable is that a host of people perished. Survivors suffered horrors almost beyond our imaginings. Massacre, destruction, rape and starvation were the common diet of the Chinese people through each year of Japan’s violent engagement in their country.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

The great endeavor

“The wartime expansion of the U.S. Navy was an extraordinary achievement, which should never be taken for granted. Between 1941 and 1945, its tonnage swelled from three million to almost thirty. Of the service’s total war expenditure of $100 billion, more than a third went to ship construction. . . . Mare Island Navy Yard expanded from 6,000 employees in 1939 to 40,000 in 1944, Boston Yard from 8,700 in June 1940 to 50,000 three years later. . . . By 1944 more than a million workers were building and repairing ships, 55 percent of them on the Atlantic coast, 27 percent on the Pacific, while a further two million served supporting industries. Most were working forty-eight-hour weeks on multiple shifts. . . . Many smaller vessels, submarines and escorts, were built in sections at plants as far inland as Denver, then transported to the coasts for completion. Thousands of landing ships were constructed on the Great Lakes and sailed to the sea.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

No winning for losing

“The British and Japanese fought each other on the Burman front for forty-six months. Burma thus became the longest single campaign of the Second World War. It cost the Japanese only 2,000 lives to seize this British possession in 1942, but a further 104,000 dead to stay there until 1945. The largest country on the South-East Asian mainland, rich in oil, teak and rubber, Burma had been ruled by a British governor, with only token democratic institutions. Its population of eighteen million included a million Indians, who played a prominent part in commerce and administration. A host of Indian fugitives died in ghastly circumstances during the 1942 British retreat. Burmans had always been hostile to colonial rule. Many acquiesced willingly in occupation by fellow Asians, until they discovered that their new masters were far more brutal than their former ones. By 1944, they had learned to hate the Japanese. They craved independence and, ironically, now looked to the British to secure it for them.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Mr. Officer

“Societies run by civilians proved vastly better able to organize themselves to fight the Second World War than those dominated by military men, of which Japan offered the most notable example. It is hard to overstate the extent to which Anglo-American wartime achievements were made possible by the talents of amateurs in uniform, fulfilling almost every responsible function save that of higher military command. Intelligence, for instance, was dominated by academics, many of startling brilliance. [Britain’s] intelligence chief in north-west Europe was an Oxford don masquerading in a brigadier’s uniform. In Japan, by contrast, authority and influence remained almost exclusively in the hands of career officers, who were reluctant to grant scope to outsiders even in such fields as scientific research. The Japanese army and navy never mobilised clever civilians in the fashion of the Western Allies. Intelligence was poor, because the Japanese mind-set militated against energetic inquiry, frank analysis and expression.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Same as it ever is

“Even before Pearl Harbor, Japan was divided by widespread poverty, and by tensions between city and countryside, peasants and landlords, soldiers and civilians. For all the government’s strident nationalist propaganda campaigns, conflict had deepened rather than healed domestic divisions. There was bitterness that the rich and armed forces still ate heartily, while no one else did. The government’s Home Ministry was dismayed by the incidence of what in the West would be called defeatism, ‘statements, letters and wall-writing that are disrespectful, anti-war, anti-military, or in other ways inflammatory.’ There were reports of people making contemptuous references to the emperor as a baka, bakayaro or bocchan, ‘fool,’ ‘stupid fool,’ or ‘spoiled child.’ ” – Max Hastings, Retribution