Thursday, May 31, 2018


I've been reading Ian Buruma's Year Zero: A History of 1945. It's quite a good book; Buruma is a terrific writer and a whole lot of crazy stuff happened right after the shooting stopped in World War II. What has impressed me most is a series of vignettes about crazy, lawless places where for months nobody really wielded authority:
Much of China was not just horribly damaged, but also corrupted by foreign occupation, warlord misrule, and many years of purges and counter-purges in a civil conflict that was often as brutal as the war with Japan. Donald Keene, later a noted scholar of Japan, was a young U.S. Navy officer stationed in Tsingtao, a port city on the Yellow Sea know for its Naval base, European architecture, and German-style beer. The Japanese Imperial Navy was still in town when the U.S. Marines arrived, and Keene soon sensed "something fishy in the atmosphere," a stink of skullduggery and corruption; "the charge of collaboration is no less pervasive than the generally suspicious character of the city itself."

Keene found that Tsingtao was still run by Chinese who had been appointed by the Japanese, generally louche characters who had done well out of foreign occupation. He found Japanese naval officers bragging of their wartime exploits, and Chinese being purged for collaboration by other Chinese whose records were just as blemished: they simply wanted to loot the suspects' properties. Tsingtao was a place of seedy carpetbaggers, gangsters, spies with shifting loyalties, and Japanese who still behaved like a master race. . . .
And one more story, about the trial of Japanese general Yamashita Tomoyuki. Yamashita was a Japanese general with plenty of blood on his hands, but after surrendering he was tried for something he had nothing to do with, a terrible rampage by Japanese troops known as the Manila Massacre. Yamashita was hundreds of miles away at the time and there was no evidence that he had condoned, let alone ordered, the slaughter. Still, as the ranking Japanese officer in the Philippines he was convicted and sentenced to death. He proclaimed his innocence but was not visibly upset by the verdict, noting that it would have been hard for him to return to Japan anyway, leaving so many dead men behind. One of his last acts was to compose this poem:
The world I knew is now a shameful place
There will never come a better time
For me to die

1 comment:

Shadow said...

Chapter 2 in Tony Judt's Post War summarizes the horrific aftermath of the war in Europe -- ethnic cleansing, continued killings, settling of scores, the displaced, the lost families, bombed out cities, countries without leaders. Like earthquake rumbling aftershocks, you could argue the war continued on for another 2 1/2 years. The European and U.S.civilian populations' war experiences were so different, that that's when, I think, European and U.S. world views diverged. We haven't seen eye-to-eye on the projection of power since.