The Rising Sun

[Chapter IV of The Unauthorized World Situation Report, 2005]


They [The Japanese] are idolaters, and are dependent

on nobody. And I can tell you that the quantity

of gold they have is endless.

--Marco Polo, 1298

Christopher Columbus carried a map during his first voyage to the New World in 1492. It had been prepared by a Florentine astronomer, Paul Toscanelli. That map was based upon the travel writings of the Venetian, Marco Polo, in South Asia and in the Far East. Columbus died in the certain belief that his explorations on behalf of Spain had taken place not in a new world unknown to Europe but among the Indies, that is, among small islands off the coast of Zipangu. This was the magic island, as described by Marco Polo in his memoirs. The Italian Admiral had been trying to reach Zipangu, which we now know as Japan, to acquire gold for Spain.

Columbus found no gold in the Caribbean. But shortly thereafter, in 1519, Hernán Cortés with several hundred Conquistadors sailed from Cuba further westward. They reached the coast at what is now Vera Cruz, marched overland and arrived at the magnificent, hyper-exotic island-city of Mexico, set in the middle of a lake. There they were welcomed by its king, Montezuma, who offered them vast quantities of gold. Cortés  like Columbus, had no precise idea where he was, but he assumed it had to be somewhere in the Far East, as described by Marco Polo two centuries before.

I am wondering, therefore, if we should not thank Japan for helping to promote the discovery of America. It was not until much later, in 1853, that the West, in the person of Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy, completed the first mission, as it were, and arrived where Columbus and Cortés had been heading. Japan then entered onto the world’s stage, where it has remained ever since.

Taking up the thread of events in the summer of 1940 and ending at some point in the recent past, the chronology of conflict and intrigue with respect to Japan evolves  circuitously as follows:

(1) Unprepared in tactics and low in morale, the French army of the Third Republic, the largest standing army in Europe, aside from the Red Army, is falling apart in the summer of 1940 as German armored divisions of the Third Reich close in upon Paris.

(2) While the English expeditionary forces head for the Atlantic coast and the safety of England, the newly appointed Prime Minister, Winston Churchill,  realizing that Paris must surrender and make peace with Berlin, suggests the instant formation of a Franco-British Commonwealth as a stratagem to occupy French colonies in Africa and in the Far East and to acquire the French Fleet, lock, stock and barrel. The  idea is rejected out of hand by Third Republic officials.

(3) Concurrent with the signing of the Franco-German armistice agreement, Marshal Pétain, the hero of Verdun in the Great War, now called out of retirement to replace the Third Republic and to deal with the crisis, reassures the new English Prime Minister that the French Fleet, having gone undefeated in battle, would not under any circumstances be incorporated into the German Navy. Such were the rules of war. 

Churchill nevertheless demands that the entire French Fleet be handed over to England forthwith. When the strange ultimatum is ignored, the madcap Mr. Churchill takes it upon himself to order the  seizure of all French vessels in English controlled ports and the destruction (July 3rd, 4th and 5th, 1940) of the bulk of the French Fleet, which is docked and undergoing demobilization at the French  naval base of Mers-el-Kébir, on the Mediterranean coast of Africa. Twelve hundred French sailors are slaughtered in the harbor at Mers-el-Kébir.

(4) Under a peace settlement with Germany, the French Empire remains intact and unoccupied by Germany. As a practical matter, however, the French colony of Indochina is cut off from France due to the lack of a Navy to reach it, thanks to the British attack in North Africa and the seizure of French ships in British controlled ports.

(5) British destroyers attack Dakar (September 23, 1940) in French Senegal, but fail to take over the colony. Marshall Pétain retaliates for the attack upon Dakar and for the destruction of the French Fleet at Mers-el-Kébir earlier in the summer. He orders an air strike (September 24th) upon Gibraltar, the English military outpost at the tip of Spain. The bombing raids last four hours. It will be the heaviest bombardment Gibraltar has ever sustained, before or since.

(6) Under pressure from Japan, which has been bogged down in a land war in China for over a decade, France negotiates a joint-defense agreement with Japan, whereby the Japanese set up military bases in Indochina. It is Pétain's hope that one benefit of the agreement will be to forestall a future British attack upon that colony.

(7) President Franklin Roosevelt freezes all Japanese assets in the United States (July 25, 1941) and severs all economic relations with Japan, citing the Japanese move into Indochina, a French colony, as the reason. In effect, this unilateral Presidential initiative amounted to a de facto U.S. declaration of war upon Japan, bypassing the U.S. Congress.

(8) In response to economic embargoes, the seizure of Japanese assets, and repeated diplomatic provocations, Tokyo reluctantly concludes that it has no choice but to go to war with the very country which opened it up to the outside world. Accordingly, Japan initiates open hostilities by bombing Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) in an attempt to neutralize the American Pacific Fleet, headquartered in Hawaii. Japan then invades the other American colony in the Pacific, the Philippines.

(9) As  leader of a far-flung, grand alliance with the British Empire and with the Soviet Union, the United States of America defeats the Empire of the Rising Sun and its allies in Europe--Germany and Italy--thereby becoming a global Superpower in the aftermath.

(10) In its capacity as a Superpower and leader of the free world in the aftermath of World War II, America moves into Indochina in the mid-1950’s to take up more or less where France and Japan had left off. Indochina was no longer part of the French Empire and Japan no longer had a military presence there. Both France and Japan had been imperial powers prior to 1939, but now they are sidelined, as America moves in to take their place.

(11) In the 1960’s Washington gets involved in a land war in South East Asia, resulting in a decade of vicious combat in the jungles of Indochina against a 3rd rate sub-power. America, the so-called arsenal of democracy, which had spearheaded the simultaneous obliteration of the Japanese Empire and the Third Reich, is left a nervous wreck, and loses the war in Vietnam.

From the above abbreviated outline, may I suggest that America’s war in Vietnam began on the western front in Europe in the summer of 1940--and not with the commitment of advisors to South Vietnam by President Kennedy in the early 1960’s. Think about it. Without FDR’s scheming in the affairs of Europe back then, in the late 1930’s, no subsequent American military intervention would have been conceivable on the Asian mainland in the 1960’s. Why? Because there would have been no attack at Pearl Harbor, leading to the American conquest of Japan.

Thanks to the collapse of France, Europe and Japan, caused by World War II, Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-tung became something more than footnotes in scholarly journals. Without the destruction of imperial Japan, Red China would not have come into being, and neither would a Communist dictatorship exist today in Vietnam or North Korea.

It is beyond the scope of this unauthorized report, and certainly beyond my limited capacity, to deliver an account of the extraordinary meddling, starting in the 1950’s, by misguided Americans, and “liberal”establishment think-tanks, and the  CIA in the affairs of South Vietnam. These machinations laid the groundwork for the Vietnam quagmire.

Suffice it to say that the war in Vietnam remains--with the possible exception of Iraq--the preeminent example of Washington injecting itself into an area of the world about which it knew next to nothing and which, in the final analysis, was none of its business, and doing it under such adverse conditions and in such an incoherent manner, that a bloody mess for all concerned was thereby assured.

All that remains to be done now in the Far East and in the Pacific--post Vietnam, post Mao Tse-tung, and post Cold War--is to bring about an amicable dissolution of the U.S.-Japanese defense treaty, which, as a fig leaf for the American sphere of influence in Asia, corresponds to NATO in Europe.

The policy of treating Japan like a client-state is inappropriate, counter-productive, obtuse, and by now certainly superannuated. Moreover, it is not in America’s or Japan’s best interest--anymore than President Roosevelt’s policy of forcing Japan to go to war against the United States was a good idea for the Far East or the world. At present [2005] Japan is the second largest economy in the world.

The war in the Pacific against Japan, engineered by FDR and his associates, was unnecessary and gratuitous. Japan always wanted to be a friend of its mentor, the United States. Upon regaining the status of a self-confident, reliable ally--as opposed to a pawn or stooge--Japan should become a greater asset not just for the United States but, more importantly, for all mankind.

Update: November, 2008. Tamogami Toshio, “Was Japan an Aggressor Nation?”