More on Pearl Harbor

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon May 28 09:09:48 MDT 2001


Hi Everybody. Are you sick of all the ads and hype about Hollywood's latest
historical fantasy, "Pearl Harbor?" If so, then read on. Mickey Z is one of
our most comprehensive political thinkers, and is the author of Saving
Private Power: The Hidden History of "The Good War."

(Oh yeah, you know you can get a free chapter and 25% off this book at
http://www.softskull.com/html/saving.html)

The following essay was written after Mickey went out and saw Pearl Harbor
on its opening day. He was not impressed. He published this piece on ZNet,
the on-line service from that awesome radical Z Magazine, the New England
zine I read a lot during the Gulf War. Good to see they are still around.
http://www.zmag.org


Surprise Party
by Mickey Z.

>Like a zillion other Americans, I went to see
>Pearl Harbor on the first day of its release. As I
>sat there in the jammed bargain matinee, I kept
>assuring myself that as author of a radical
>history of WWII, I was merely doing research. Now,
>I could rant on about the atrocious love story or
>the film's mind-numbing length but this is not a
>movie review. This is more like a desperate
>attempt at context in the face of an onslaught.
>
>Much has been made of the decision to make Pearl
>Harbor "politically correct" by excising any
>negative references to the Japanese. While I can
>appreciate the sentiment, this move does the
>audience a major disservice. In the decades
>leading up to this battle between colonial powers
>in the Pacific, negative references played a
>central role. Ignoring this in the name of Asian
>box office receipts places December 7, 1941 in a
>vacuum. Pearl Harbor provides no context so, I‚d
>like to try.
>
>The build-up to Pearl Harbor began two decades
>prior to the attack when, in 1922, the U.S.,
>Britain, and Japan agreed that the Japanese navy
>would not be allowed more than 60 percent of the
>capital ship tonnage of the other two powers. As
>resentment grew within Japan over this decidedly
>inequitable agreement, that same year, the United
>States Supreme Court declared Japanese immigrants
>ineligible for American citizenship. This decision
>was followed a year later by the Supreme Court
>upholding a California and Washington ruling
>denying Japanese the right to own property. A
>third judicial strike was dealt in 1924 with the
>Exclusion Act which virtually banned all Asian
>immigration. Finally, in 1930, when the London
>Naval Treaty denied Japan naval hegemony in its
>own waters, the groundwork for war (and "surprise
>attacks") had been laid.
>
>Upon realizing that Japan textiles were
>out-producing Lancashire mills, the British Empire
>(including India, Australia, Burma, etc.) raised
>the tariff on Japanese exports by 25 percent.
>Within a few years, the Dutch followed suit in
>Indonesia and the West Indies, with the U.S. (in
>Cuba and the Philippines) not far behind. This led
>to the Japanese claiming (correctly) encirclement
>by the "ABCD" (American, British, Chinese, and
>Dutch) powers. Such moves, combined with Japan‚s
>expanding colonial designs, says Kenneth C. Davis,
>made "a clash between Japan and the United States
>and the other Western nations over control of the
>economy and resources of the Far East and Pacific
>. . . bound to happen."
>
>WWII, in the Pacific theater, was essentially a
>war between colonial powers. It was not the
>Japanese invasion of China, the rape of Nanking,
>or the atrocities in Manchuria that resulted in
>the United States declaring war on the Empire of
>Japan. It was the attack of three of America‚s
>territories—the Philippines, Guam, and Hawaii
>(Pearl Harbor)—that provoked a military response.
>
>On July 21, 1941, Japan signed a preliminary
>agreement with the Nazi-sympathizing Vichy
>government of Marshal Henri Pétain, leading to
>Japanese occupation of airfields and naval bases
>in Indochina. Almost immediately, the U.S.,
>Britain, and the Netherlands instituted a total
>embargo on oil and scrap metal to Japan—tantamount
>to a declaration of war. This was followed soon
>after by the United States and Great Britain
>freezing all Japanese assets in their respective
>countries. Radhabinod Pal, one of the judges in
>the post-war Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, later
>argued that the U.S. had clearly provoked the war
>with Japan, calling the embargoes a "clear and
>potent threat to Japan's very existence."
>
>Which brings me to those negatives references I
>mentioned earlier. Self-censorship in the name of
>profits will mislead movie-goers about the high
>level of anti-Japanese racism cultivated by the
>"greatest generation." The Japanese soldiers (and,
>for that matter, all Japanese) were commonly
>referred to and depicted as subhuman—insects,
>monkeys, apes, rodents, or simply barbarians that
>must be wiped out or exterminated. The American
>Legion Magazine‚s cartoon of monkeys in a zoo who
>had posted a sign reading, "Any similarity between
>us and the Japs is purely coincidental" was
>typical. A U.S. Army poll in 1943 found that
>roughly half of all GIs believed it would be
>necessary to kill every Japanese on earth before
>peace could be achieved. As a December 1945
>Fortune poll revealed, American feelings for the
>Japanese did not soften after the war. Nearly
>twenty-three percent of those questioned wished
>the U.S. could have dropped "many more [atomic
>bombs] before the Japanese had a chance to
>surrender." Eugene B. Sledge, author of With the
>Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa, wrote of his
>comrades "harvesting gold teeth" from the enemy
>dead. In Okinawa, Sledge witnessed "the most
>repulsive thing I ever saw an American do in the
>war‰—when a Marine officer stood over a Japanese
>corpse and urinated into its mouth. Perhaps Edgar
>L. Jones, a former war correspondent in the
>Pacific, put it best when he asked in the February
>1946 Atlantic Monthly,  "What kind of war do
>civilians suppose we fought anyway? We shot
>prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals,
>strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy
>civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed
>the dying into a hole with the dead, and in the
>Pacific boiled flesh off enemy skulls to make
>table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their
>bones into letter openers."
>
>  And then there was the man who‚d eventually give
>the order to drop atomic bombs on Japanese
>civilians: "We have used [the bomb] against those
>who have abandoned all pretense of obeying
>international laws of warfare, "Harry Truman later
>explained, thus justifying his decision to nuke a
>people that he termed "savages, ruthless,
>merciless, and fanatic."

>  Rationality in the Pacific was so rare during WW
>II that, ironically, it required as a mouthpiece
>none other than prominent racist Colonel Charles
>A. Lindbergh, Jr. Repelled by what he saw and
>heard of U.S. treatment of the Japanese in the
>Pacific theater, the aviator spoke out. His
>sentiments are summed up in the following journal
>entry: "It was freely admitted that some of our
>soldiers tortured Jap prisoners and were as cruel
>and barbaric at times as the Japs themselves. Our
>men think nothing of shooting a Japanese prisoner
>or a soldier attempting to surrender. They treat
>the Jap with less respect than they would give to
>an animal, and these acts are condoned by almost
>everyone. We claim to be fighting for
>civilization, but the more I see of this war in
>the Pacific the less right I think we have to
>claim to be civilized." When Lindbergh left the
>Pacific and arrived at customs in Hawaii, he was
>asked if he had any Japanese bones in his baggage.
>It was, by then, a routine question
>
>Like most Hollywood spectacles, Pearl Harbor is
>devoid of context. There‚s only one line alluding
>to U.S. economic and legislative provocation prior
>to December 7, 1941 and no hint at all of the
>internment camps and atomic bombs yet to come.
>After three hours, World War II is still "The Good
>War," America‚s honor remains untarnished, and the
>summer movie season is in full swing.

>  Surprise, surprise.
>


(For a free first chapter from Saving Private Power, and to be able to buy
it for 25% off, check out at http://www.softskull.com/html/saving.html)


>Mickey Z. (Michael Zezima) is the author of Saving
>Private Power: The Hidden History of "The Good
>  War" (Soft Skull Press, 2000), on which this
>article is based. He can reached at
>mzx2 at earthlink.net.

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org/





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