Category Archives: Japan

Achieving Parity via Hybridity

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. 194ff:

Japan’s late nineteenth-century developments are perfect examples of what scholars have termed the use of similitude and selective appropriation to create a hybrid system in order to achieve parity. Hawai‘i-based Swiss scholar Niklaus Schweizer describes parity as “an effort to be taken seriously by the Western powers, to be accepted as an equal and to be accorded the civilities and privileges established by international law,” adding that “the preferred option in Polynesia was to achieve at least a degree of parity with the West” (2005, 177), a statement that is true not only for Polynesia. In the nineteenth century, transforming one’s political institutions to some degree to achieve such diplomatic parity was a goal most emerging non-Western nation-states shared. One of the ways to do so was the use of what historian Jeremy Prestholdt calls the strategy of similitude—a transformation of certain forms of behavior, cultural protocols, and aesthetic standards—to make them similar to those of the West. Prestholdt defines similitude as “a conscious self-presentation in interpersonal and political relationships that stresses likeliness” (2007, 120). Superficially akin to assimilation under colonial coercion, similitude is voluntarily done by a society outside colonial control yet confronted with Western imperial hegemony. Mentioning the international relations of nineteenth-century Hawai‘i, Siam, and Madagascar as further examples, Prestholdt describes similitude “as a mode of self-representation [that] links symbols and claims to sameness in order to leverage relationships with the more powerful” (120). Rarely, however, would a country push similitude to the point of sameness with the West, but rather appropriate Western elements selectively, resulting not in cultural assimilation but rather in cultural and political hybridity, preserving aspects of traditional governance and culture while also embracing modern technology and the Western model of the nation-state as well as Western cultural protocols. In the case of Hawai‘i, geographer Kamanamaikalani Beamer uses the concept of hybridity, based on an earlier conceptualization by Homi Bhabha (1994, 159–160), “to illustrate the ways in which Hawaiian rulers used traditional structures and systems of knowledge in an attempt to construct a modern nation-state” because “they were modifying existing structures and negotiating European legal forms which created something new, neither completely Anglo American nor traditionally Hawaiian, but a combination of both” (Beamer 2008, 30, 177).

In many cases, such strategies clearly paid off. As a result of their selective use of similitude to hybridize their societies and political systems, which resulted in the achievement of at least a degree of recognition by the Western powers, Japan, Thailand, Iran, Turkey, and Ethiopia never became colonies, an enormous source of pride for their inhabitants to this day.

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Reconciling Split Universities, 1946

From Last Boat Out of Shanghai, by Helen Zia (Ballantine, 2019), Kindle pp. 170-173:

At war’s end, two parallel Jiao Tong universities emerged: the returned students from the makeshift Jiao Da in Free China and Ho’s campus in Shanghai.

Over the weeks and months after the surrender, the split grew wider on every campus. Instead of having a joyful reunion, the students who had lived under enemy occupation were now stung by accusations. Ho and the other “fake” students were being called out as puppets and collaborators. Some accusers were embittered returnees seeking targets to blame for their years of misery, while others saw an opportunity to get revenge or to climb over the disgraced.

Ho’s discomfort turned to alarm and dismay as his own academic record was challenged. Living under the Japanese occupation hadn’t been easy. His family, too, had suffered the privations of war. Now, after all his hard work and his family’s sacrifice, everything he had accomplished was diminished, and his loyalty to China was in question. To make matters worse, the students who stayed in Shanghai were academically much stronger than the students from the interior, who had lacked essential tools for a solid education—and it showed.

In 1946, the returned Nationalist authorities imposed a “reconversion” training program on the teachers and students who had remained in Shanghai. They declared that “fake students” like Ho were “corrupted,” just like the collaborators and traitors. They even called Ho and his cohorts “puppet students” who lacked the political understanding of the “real” Jiao Da students. The new Ministry of Education questioned the validity of the academic records of graduates from colleges and middle schools in occupied Shanghai. It created a special program in Nationalist ideology, requiring all such students to take the course. Students and graduates who failed the exam would be considered corrupted, their reputations tarnished and their diplomas and academic credits rendered worthless. Teachers were also to be tested for their loyalty to and knowledge of Nationalist principles.

Ho was horrified—and indignant. Why should he be stigmatized solely because his family hadn’t joined the difficult exodus to the interior? He had been only thirteen in 1937. Neither his elderly grandmother nor his sick brother could have endured the journey. Everyone had personal reasons for the choices they had to make during the long war. How could all of the thousands of students in Shanghai during the eight years of enemy occupation be corrupt puppets? With such accusations of ideological inferiority, Ho worried that his dream was slipping away, falling like a stone into the filthy Huangpu River.

Just as Ho was beginning to lose hope, he saw that some of his fellow students were fighting against the gross unfairness. Campus activists stood on the steps of buildings, arguing that they should not be treated as though they had supported the Japanese enemy. Ho stopped to listen. They hadn’t joined the Wang Jingwei puppets in Nanjing or aided Pan Da’s puppet police at 76, the students asserted. Didn’t the accusers know that many students and teachers in Shanghai had been arrested and executed for their anti-Japanese resistance? Or that students across Shanghai had refused to study the Japanese language?

The protests against the Nationalist sanctions spread like wildfire. Shanghai’s workers, too, called for relief from the years of hardship and repression. The students and workers combined forces in massive citywide demonstrations that seemed to explode with greater ferocity each day as the postwar unrest spread.

Ho found himself pulled into the groundswell. He agreed with the protest organizers. After all, they had been children during the war. It was unfair and outrageous to condemn them as traitors and ruin their lives. It made sense to Ho that he should stand up for his own future and not depend on others to do that for him. When students in his dormitory asked if he would support them, Ho surprised himself by joining the protests in spite of rumors that some of the students were secret Communists. Ho didn’t care. He had to show everyone that he was a student, not a traitor.

A massive mobilization called on all students to gather at the Shanghai North railway station, the major rail terminus in the former International Settlement. Ho fell in step with throngs of Jiao Tong schoolmates as they marched the five-mile distance. He, too, shouted, “Fair treatment for all students and teachers!” and “Punish the real traitors, not the ordinary people!” Along the way, the ranks swelled with men and women from other campuses: Shanghai University, Tongji, St. John’s, Fudan, Aurora, and the many other schools that were an important part of Shanghai’s intellectual life.

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Fates of Foreigners in Shanghai, 1942

From Last Boat Out of Shanghai, by Helen Zia (Ballantine, 2019), Kindle pp. 129-132:

Once Britain and the United States declared war against Japan, life for Shanghailanders—the foreigners—swiftly changed. Immediately after December 8, 1941, all Allied nationals aged fourteen and above had to report to the Hamilton House near the Bund to register with Japanese gendarmes and receive ID numbers, as well as the red armbands they would have to wear at all times when in public.

Worse yet, Japan froze all bank accounts belonging to its enemy nationals. They were allowed to withdraw only two thousand yuan each month—a paltry amount for foreigners accustomed to pampered Shanghai lifestyles, effectively reducing them to the same income level as their Chinese servants. Each day, the Japanese military issued new edicts that further restricted where foreign Allied nationals could go, what they were allowed to do, how they conducted their lives.

Faced with bitter austerity, the Allied nationals were in a bind. Many expatriates worked for American telephone, gas, and electric utilities or the British waterworks, police, port, and customs. Now these entities were controlled by Japan, aiding its war effort. If Allied Shanghailanders quit their enemy-supervised jobs, they’d be stuck in China, destitute. Plenty of British bobbies, former coworkers of Pan Da, stayed on as members of the Shanghai Municipal Police—enforcing the will of Japan to crush all resistance. When their fellow Americans and Britons back home learned of their work for the enemy, they angrily denounced them, accusing them of collaboration, even treason….

At the start of the war in Europe in 1939, after Germany’s invasion of Czechoslovakia and Poland, Denmark had been a neutral country. As a Dane in Shanghai, Kristian Jarldane had expected his Danish passport to shield his family from trouble. Before Pearl Harbor, his household in the French Concession had carried on as if things were normal, in spite of the war outside their home. Bing and Ma watched baby Ole while Elder Sister socialized. Kristian still had his engineering job with the Shanghai Water Conservancy, which paid him in foreign currency—better than gold in the inflationary wartime economy. He joined other Shanghailanders in maintaining the three-hour lunchtime “tiffins,” as well as afternoon high tea. Kristian would return to the apartment promptly at four o’clock for some strong English tea and thick slabs of dark bread from his favorite Russian-Jewish boulangerie, to be served with eel, fish, or some other meat fried in pork fat and onions.

But the expanding world war began to disrupt everything. The first shock hit Elder Sister and her husband on April 9, 1940, when Germany invaded Denmark. The Copenhagen government immediately surrendered to the Third Reich, becoming part of the Axis with Germany, Japan, and Italy. The couple wondered if that would be a plus in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. As a Dane, Kristian wasn’t required to wear an armband, nor was he subject to the mortifying financial restrictions confronting other Shanghailanders. He had plenty of company, for the nationals of other Axis-occupied countries were also exempt, as were the stateless White Russians, Ashkenazi Jews, and Indian Sikhs. But then, one week after all Allied nationals had to register, Kristian received orders from the Danish consular staff. He was required to provide them with the names and contact information of all Danish members of his household. Everyone in occupied Shanghai was to be accounted for….

In early 1943, the Japanese issued the order that Shanghailanders had dreaded: All citizens of Allied countries were to be imprisoned. Kristian and Elder Sister watched helplessly as friends and neighbors were loaded onto trucks and shipped to one of the eight crowded and squalid internment camps on the outskirts of the city. Most of them were British and American men, women, and children. Some were forced to walk for miles and carry their own baggage, like coolies. Because the prominent Sassoons, Hardoons, and Kadoories—wealthy Baghdadi Jewish families who had lived in Shanghai for many years—were British citizens, they, too, were subject to internment. About seventy-six hundred Americans, British, Dutch, and other civilians were imprisoned between January and July 1943 to “prevent fifth-column activities and guarantee stabilized livelihood for the enemy nationals,” according to the pro-Japan Shanghai Times. Ironically, this same rationale was being used by the U.S. government to incarcerate 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent in 1942—and duly noted by Japanese propagandists to label critics as hypocrites.

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Inside the Bubble, Shanghai, 1939

From Last Boat Out of Shanghai, by Helen Zia (Ballantine, 2019), Kindle pp. 81-82:

Blinded by their own good fortune and privilege, the children of Shanghai’s elite didn’t notice when their own neighbors couldn’t afford to buy food. Essentials such as rice, cooking oil, medicines, and fuel became scarce at any price. The Japanese military that surrounded Shanghai controlled the flow of goods, seizing whatever it wanted for its war effort or for its comfort. Scarcity drove prices into a dizzying inflationary spiral as hoarders and speculators gorged themselves on the desperation of others—those who couldn’t afford to pay black market prices starved. Without kerosene or coal, the poorest had frozen in the two harsh winters that had come and gone since the start of the war. Bodies of the poor and homeless lay as rotting detritus on the streets and alleys of Shanghai until corpse-removal trucks eventually took them away.

Benny didn’t have to think about the present when his future seemed predetermined and rosy, war or no war. Since he had passed the difficult entrance exam for admission to St. John’s Junior Middle School, his path all the way to its eponymous university was automatic as long as he continued to pass his courses. His parents had no worries for their son when everyone knew that doors opened for St. John’s graduates. They stood out in every crowd, speaking fluent English and carrying themselves as though they were proper English gentlemen and ladies. At both St. John’s and its sister institution, St. Mary’s Hall, classes were taught in English. Thanks to his alumni parents, Benny could already speak English well and would fit right in. So many of China’s most powerful political, business, and intellectual leaders had studied at its schools: T. V. Soong, former finance minister and governor of the Central Bank of China; Wellington Koo, representative to the League of Nations and ambassador to France; Lin Yutang, influential writer and philosopher; and a long list of others. The well-connected were well served. That was the Chinese way.

With his pedigree and school ties, Benny was set. Still, the boy harbored a secret wish for himself. He wanted to chart his own course, the way his father must have when he left accounting to join the police ranks. Benny hoped to pursue medicine when he reached college, for St. John’s had a medical school that was affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania in America.

But there were plenty of pitfalls in the sin city for boys like him. Shanghai was notorious for its spoiled firstborn sons who had nothing better to do than become playboys, squandering their families’ wealth on opium, women, and gambling, bringing shame to their families. Benny’s mother and her friends gossiped about the latest scandals about young men from reputable families during their all-night mah-jongg games. “Pay attention in school, and stay away from those bad boys,” she’d admonish her son afterward.

“Yes, Mother,” he’d reply obediently. Benny had already resolved to stay away from opium. He’d known what the narcotic had done to his grandfather.

Benny could easily have pursued a life of pleasure, as other Shanghai scions did. His family appeared to have unlimited resources. His father was thriving in spite of the war. Or as others might say, because of it.

Just as Benny didn’t see the beggars all around him, he had never thought about the ample food and luxurious goods that his police inspector father managed to bring home at a time when rice riots were breaking out in the city. Benny didn’t wonder how his mother could continue her shopping habits that allowed her to dress in the latest foreign fashions, adorned with ever-fancier jewelry. It was unthinkable for proper Chinese children to question their parents. Even when Benny noticed that some of his father’s associates looked rather tough and unsavory, like the kind of men that his mother warned him to avoid when he rode his bicycle, he would have never thought to ask about them. They were just people that a police inspector needed to know, like the assortment of British, Americans, Russians, Japanese, and other foreigners with whom his father dealt.

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Why Japanese Migrated to New Guinea

From Nanshin: Japanese settlers in Papua and New Guinea, 1890–1949, by Hiromitsu Iwamoto (Journal of Pacific History, 1999), pp. 57-58:

Migration in this period reflected Japanese social history. Migrants kept on coming from the rural southwest where underdevelopment continued as industrialisation was entrenched in urban centres. Rural depression intensified, particularly after the Russo-Japanese War, when industrialisation gained momentum with the rapid growth of export-oriented industries such as silk and cotton. The major impact on rural areas was the loss of self-sufficiency as agricultural production was integrated into the development of export commodities. As a result, rural-urban inequality increased, accelerating the tempo of the emigration of the rural people to urban centres and overseas. The statistics verify this. In only 10 years from 1904 to 1914, the number of overseas emigrants increased nearly threefold-from 138,591 in 1904 to 358,711 in 1914. The same tendency was seen in migration to Papua and New Guinea. The number increased from a mere two in 1906 to 109 in 1914, and most came from Kyūshū; 33 from Kumamoto, 28 from Nagasaki, and eight from Saga.

Most migrants were dekasegi-sha (literally ‘people leaving to earn money’) on three-year contracts, the same type of people seen in urban factories. The largest occupational group was artisans: 41 shipwrights, 18 carpenters and 13 sawyers. Many of them were from Goryō and Oniike villages in Amakusa. These villages were famous for boatbuilding from the Edo era, but in about 1907 many shipwrights lost their jobs due to the recession in the shipping industry. Eleven fishermen were another significant group. They came from fishing villages such as Isahaya-chō (Kita-takaki-gun, Nagasaki prefecture) and Jōgashima (Misaki-chō, Miura-gun, Kanagawa prefecture). Fishing villages in this period were also suffering a decline in jobs due to the development of a modern capital-intensive fishery and the resulting decline of small fishermen. Unemployment thus constituted a ‘push’ factor for emigration. It is highly probable that, like the migration to Thursday Island, the high wages in New Guinea became a major ‘pull’ factor.

Moreover the German administration’s different treatment of the Japanese relative to other Asians possibly became a ‘pull’ factor. The granting of European status delighted the Japanese who had been rejected in Australia because they were Asians. The migrants probably felt that the Germans recognised their national identity as subjects of an emerging empire which, they may have thought, was distinctive from other Asian countries. Although in reality the migrants were the victims of empire-building which increased the poverty of rural Japan, the improvement of their status from poor rustics to ‘Europeans’ satisfied their pride. Of course, such pride was merely an illusion which would vanish as soon as they returned to their impoverished villages, but it was a sweet illusion that attracted the migrants to the land of ‘dojin’ [“natives”].

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Japanese Status in German New Guinea

From Nanshin: Japanese settlers in Papua and New Guinea, 1890–1949, by Hiromitsu Iwamoto (Journal of Pacific History, 1999), pp. 47-49:

The main characteristics of German attitudes towards Japanese were leniency regarding legal status and caution in granting land grants. The Germans granted the Japanese European status around 1905. Until then they had no legal status. Granting European status was not confined to the Germans, as the Dutch granted the same status in the East Indies in 1899. Threlfall argues that Komine‘s usefulness to the administration as well as the effect of the emergence of Japan in international politics after its victory in the Russo-Japanese War facilitated the granting of European status.

Indeed the administration recognised Komine’s usefulness when Albert Hahl, the Vice-Governor and Governor from 1896 to 1914, met him. According to Hahl’s diary, in 1902 Komine reached Herbertshöhe from Torres Strait; around this time Hahl had been facing a serious shortage of government vessels to perform administrative tasks. The appearance of Komine solved this problem:

A chance incident helped to solve my dilemma. One fine morning there was a small schooner flying the Japanese flag to be seen riding at anchor in the Herbertshöhe Harbour. The skipper, Isokide [sic] Komine, told me that his water and provisions had run out on his voyage from Torres Strait, where he had been engaged in pearl-fishing. He had no money to purchase supplies and asked me to employ him. I inspected his little ship, found it suitable for my purpose, and chartered the vessel.

Hahl used Komine’s schooner for later trips around the Bismarck Archipelago.

However, Komine gave a different account of the encounter. His story appears in his petition for financial assistance to the Consul-General in Sydney in 1916. According to Komine, he reached Rabaul in October 1901 and accidentally met Governor Hahl who had been under siege by ‘little barbarians’:

Nearly at the end of my exploration I anchored at Rabaul in October 1901. At that time the place was German territory and the natives were strongly resisting German rule. The punitive expeditions were suffering failures. When I arrived there, Govern Hahl and his staff had narrowly escaped the tight siege of the little barbarians and they were holding this small place. Their vessels, which were their only resort, were wrecked on the reef. They tried all measures unsuccessfully and were just waiting to be slaughtered. However, when they found my accidental arrival, they were overjoyed as if my arrival was God’s will and begged me for the charter of my ship. My righteous heart was heating up, seeing their hopeless situation, and I willingly agreed to their request. At the same time I joined their punitive forces. Sharing uncountable hardships with them and applying various tactics all successfully, we finally conquered and pacified the little barbarians.

Apparently Komine dramatised the encounter to his advantage. German records indicate no such incident either at Herbertoshöhe or at Rabaul. Nonetheless Komine’s description verifies two facts: the administration was suffering from a lack of seaworthy vessels; and he accompanied Hahl on his trips to other places. There were mutual benefits: Hahl needed a vessel and Komine needed provisions for his voyage. This circumstance contributed to the development of the two men’s relationship and later led to the emergence of the Japanese community in German New Guinea.

The men’s characters may also have contributed to some extent. Komine’s determined and adventurous nature which had been demonstrated on his arrival may have appealed to Hahl who was, Sack argues, ‘by no means free of the racial prejudices of his time, but … liked people, even if they were black or brown or yellow’. Similarly, Firth claims that Hahl ‘had broader and more humane objectives, though still primarily economic ones … unlike many German governors in Africa’.

The European status given to the Japanese, however, shows German subtlety Hahl pursued strict policies to maintain a racial hierarchy with whites always at the top. He never allowed his personal friendship to undermine this hierarchy. When court cases involving Japanese arose, they were not heard in the European courts but in a separate court constituted only for the Japanese. Similarly, the Germans were cautious about giving commercial advantage. The administration did not grant the right to purchase freehold to the Japanese. Indeed, the administration introduced a discriminatory law to restrict non-indigenous coloured people acquiring land: ‘land could not be purchased from the government by natives or by persons who had not equal rights with Europeans; and land could neither be bought nor leased by persons unable to read and write a European language’. In addition, the Germans limited the land rights of the Japanese, and of the Chinese, to leases only for a term not exceeding 30 years.

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Early Japanese Interest in South Seas

From Nanshin: Japanese settlers in Papua and New Guinea, 1890–1949, by Hiromitsu Iwamoto (Journal of Pacific History, 1999), pp. 15-16:

Until the late 19th century the Japanese government had no policies for the South Seas. The government was preoccupied with domestic affairs, while Germany, the United States, Australia, France, Spain, Netherlands, and Britain were involved in the acquisition and exchange of tropical islands. The Japanese government’s primary concern was to centralise governance in order to build a strong empire which could not be colonised. External affairs were secondary concerns in which the government was mainly preoccupied with the removal of unequal treaties imposed by Western nations and the promotion of national prestige. Although Japan’s expansionism was shown in the 1870s in Saigō Takamori‘s claim to invade Korea, Ōkubo Toshimichi‘s decision to send a military expedition to Taiwan and the government’s declaration that the Ryūkyū Islands and Sakhalin were parts of Japan, the expansion was limited to the adjacent region. The government’s involvement in South Seas affairs was marginal and largely confined to matters of national prestige and the rights of citizens abroad.

Japan’s first involvement in the South Seas was an embarrassing episode involving emigrants to Guam. In 1868 about 40 Japanese emigrated as contract labourers to work on a plantation where a Spanish employer treated them harshly. The Japanese were treated no differently from locals and the employer did not pay their promised wages in full. Their complaint to a Spanish administrator was ignored. In 1871, after some had died due to harsh work conditions, three managed to return to Japan to report their plight. The government was astonished and the matter was discussed, but it is unknown whether it took any action to save these migrants or protested to the Spanish administration. In 1868, 153 contract labourers in Hawaii suffered a similar fate. These incidents embarrassed the Japanese government which was acutely sensitive about its national dignity but probably the government, which was just managing to survive by pacifying rebels, chose not to protest in order to avoid conflicts that it could not handle confidently. The government could only ban emigration by enforcing tight regulations to avoid further national disgrace.

However, the issue of sovereignty over the Ogasawara (also known as Bonin) Islands provided an opportunity to stimulate Japanese interest in the South Seas. Although the Tokugawa government hardly resisted when Commodore Perry demanded the opening of Japan and proclaimed US possession of the Ogasawara Islands in 1853, some vocal Meiji officials in 1875 ’emphasised the urgency of return of the islands that could connect Japanese interests to the South Seas’. The report of the Foreign Ministry to the Prime Minister explained that ‘the islands were a strategic point in the Pacific sea route, which was extremely important in Japan’s advancement in the South Sea’. Then negotiations began and the US compromised. The issue signalled the beginning of the government’s awareness of its interests in the South Seas. It was also significant in that the government promoted national dignity by recovering territory.

As the incidents in Guam and Hawaii showed, the government was aware of its weak internal position and tried not to provoke other Western nations in the South Seas until the 1880s.

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Early Japanese Settlers in PNG

From Nanshin: Japanese settlers in Papua and New Guinea, 1890–1949, by Hiromitsu Iwamoto (Journal of Pacific History, 1999), p. 10:

A MASSIVE EXODUS OF PEOPLE WAS A WORLD-WIDE phenomenon during the 19th century. About 50 million Europeans emigrated to the Americas and 47 million Chinese and Indians emigrated to the Asia-Pacific. However, the scale of Japanese emigration was small. Rough estimates of Japanese emigration before the Pacific War are at least 1.6 million: from 1868 to 1941, 776,304 Japanese emigrated to areas other than Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan, and from 1936 to 1940 about 820,000 people emigrated to Manchuria. Comparable figures were 23.1 million from Britain, 4.3 million from France, seven million from Holland, 33.9 million from Germany and 22 million from Italy between 1851 and 1950. The number of Japanese emigrants to Papua and New Guinea was tiny: it was never above 200.

The smallness of Japanese emigration is attributed mainly to Japan’s seclusion policy which prohibited overseas emigration until 1868 and its integration into world capitalism. Destinations for Japanese emigrants were limited, because by the time Japan began to modernise, most Pacific-Asian countries had been colonised by European powers. Although Japan’s rapid modernisation from the late 19th century with colonisation of Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria and Micronesia created space for emigration, this was only possible in a short period of 50 years ending with the Pacific War.

Japanese emigration to Papua and New Guinea began around the turn of the 19th century. It was an offshoot from the settlement of Japanese pearl divers on Thursday Island where they were squeezed out by Australian restrictions on migration and by the exhaustion of pearl beds. The migration was also a result of a series of searches for new beds and a place to settle by an adventurous Japanese skipper Komine Isokichi.

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Malaria in Sicily, 1943

From The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy, by Rick Atkinson (Henry Holt, 2007), Kindle pp. 145-146:

In 1740, the writer Horace Walpole noted “a horrid thing called mal’aria” that afflicted Italy every summer. Before the war, the Rockefeller Foundation had published a sixteen-volume study on where the disease, which killed three million people each year, was most prevalent; Italy, infested with the mosquito Anopheles maculipennis—soon shortened to “Ann” in GI slang—had the highest malaria rates in the Mediterranean. Quinine had been used for centuries to suppress malaria’s feverish symptoms, but U.S. supplies came almost exclusively from cinchona trees in the East Indies, now controlled by the Japanese. American scientists seeking a substitute examined fourteen thousand compounds, including dozens tested on jailhouse volunteers; the best replacement proved to be a substance originally synthesized by the German dye industry and given the trade name Atabrine.

Soldiers detested the stuff, which they dubbed “yellow gall.” It tasted bitter, upset the stomach, turned the skin yellow, and was rumored to cause impotence and even sterility. Many soldiers stopped taking it, prophylactic discipline grew lax, and proper dosage levels were misunderstood. Moreover, some malaria control experts failed to reach Sicily until weeks after the invasion. Soldiers also grew careless about covering exposed skin in the evening. Protective netting was in short supply, and insect repellent proved ineffective: troops agreed “the mosquitoes in Sicily enjoyed it very much.”

More than a thousand soldiers afflicted with malaria in North Africa on the eve of HUSKY had been left behind when the fleets sailed. On July 23, doctors detected the first case contracted in Sicily. By early August thousands of feverish, lethargic soldiers had been struck down. Ten thousand cases would sweep through Seventh Army, and nearly twelve thousand more in Eighth Army. (The swampy Catania Plain was particularly noxious.) All told, the 15th Army Group sustained more malaria casualties than battle wounds in Sicily. A medical historian concluded that “the disease record of the Seventh Army on Sicily was one of the worst compiled by any American field army during World War II.” With soldiers also suffering from dengue, sandfly, and Malta fevers, distinguishing one malady from another became so difficult that many patients were diagnosed simply with “fever of unknown origin,” soon known to soldiers as “fuo.”

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Other Names of the Spanish Flu

From Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World, by Laura Spinney (PublicAffairs, 2017), Kindle pp. 63-65:

When the flu arrived in Spain in May, most Spanish people, like most people in general, assumed that it had come from beyond their own borders. In their case, they were right. It had been in America for two months already, and France for a matter of weeks at least. Spaniards didn’t know that, however, because news of the flu was censored in the warring nations, to avoid damaging morale (French military doctors referred to it cryptically as maladie onze, ‘disease eleven’). As late as 29 June, the Spanish inspector general of health, Martín Salazar, was able to announce to the Royal Academy of Medicine in Madrid that he had received no reports of a similar disease elsewhere in Europe. So who were Spaniards to blame? A popular song provided the answer. The hit show in Madrid at the time the flu arrived was The Song of Forgetting, an operetta based on the legend of Don Juan. It contained a catchy tune called ‘The Soldier of Naples’, so when a catchy disease appeared in their midst, Madrileños quickly dubbed it the ‘Naples Soldier’.

Spain was neutral in the war, and its press was not censored. Local papers duly reported the havoc that the Naples Soldier left in its wake, and news of the disruption travelled abroad. In early June, Parisians who were ignorant of the ravages the flu had caused in the trenches of Flanders and Champagne learned that two-thirds of Madrileños had fallen ill in the space of three days. Not realising that it had been theirs longer than it had been Spain’s, and with a little nudging from their governments, the French, British and Americans started calling it the ‘Spanish flu’. Not surprisingly, this label almost never appears in contemporary Spanish sources. Practically the only exception is when Spanish authors write to complain about it. ‘Let it be stated that, as a good Spaniard, I protest this notion of the “Spanish fever”,’ railed a doctor named García Triviño in a Hispanic medical journal. Many in Spain saw the name as just the latest manifestation of the ‘Black Legend’, anti-Spanish propaganda that grew out of rivalry between the European empires in the sixteenth century, and that depicted the conquistadors as even more brutal than they were (they did bind and chain the Indians they subjugated, but they probably did not–as the legend claimed–feed Indian children to their dogs).

Further from the theatre of war, people followed the time-honoured rules of epidemic nomenclature and blamed the obvious other. In Senegal it was the Brazilian flu and in Brazil the German flu, while the Danes thought it ‘came from the south’. The Poles called it the Bolshevik disease, the Persians blamed the British, and the Japanese blamed their wrestlers: after it first broke out at a sumo tournament, they dubbed it ‘sumo flu’.

Some names reflected a people’s historic relationship with flu. In the minds of the British settlers of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), for example, flu was a relatively trivial disease, so officials labelled the new affliction ‘influenza (vera)’, adding the Latin word vera, meaning ‘true’, in an attempt to banish any doubts that this was the same disease. Following the same logic, but opting for a different solution, German doctors realised that people would need persuading that this new horror was the ‘fashionable’ disease of flu–darling of the worried well–so they called it ‘pseudo-influenza’. In parts of the world that had witnessed the destructive potential of ‘white man’s diseases’, however, the names often conveyed nothing at all about the identity of the disease. ‘Man big daddy’, ‘big deadly era’, myriad words meaning ‘disaster’–they were expressions that had been applied before, to previous epidemics. They did not distinguish between smallpox, measles or influenza–or sometimes even famines or wars.

Some people reserved judgement. In Freetown, a newspaper suggested that the disease be called manhu until more was known about it. Manhu, a Hebrew word meaning ‘what is it?’, was what the Israelites asked each other when they saw a strange substance falling out of the sky as they passed through the Red Sea (from manhu comes manna–bread from heaven). Others named it commemoratively. The residents of Cape Coast, Ghana called it Mowure Kodwo after a Mr Kodwo from the village of Mouri who was the first person to die of it in that area. Across Africa, the disease was fixed for perpetuity in the names of age cohorts born around that time. Among the Igbo of Nigeria, for example, those born between 1919 and 1921 were known as ogbo ifelunza, the influenza age group. ‘Ifelunza’, an obvious corruption of ‘influenza’, became incorporated into the Igbo lexicon for the first time that autumn. Before that, they had had no word for the disease.

As time went on, and it transpired that there were not many local epidemics, but one global pandemic–it became necessary to agree on a single name. The one that was adopted was the one that was already being used by the most powerful nations on earth–the victors in the Great War. The pandemic became known as the Spanish flu–ispanka, espanhola, la grippe espagnole, die Spanische Grippe–and a historical wrong became set in stone.

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