Category Archives: U.S.

Three Gorges Dam in Historical Context

From River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.), by Peter Hessler (HarperCollins, 2010), Kindle pp. 108-110:

The truth is that the disruption of the dam, which seems massive to an outsider, is really nothing out of the ordinary when one considers recent history in the local context. Within the last fifty years, China has experienced Liberation, the radical (and disastrous) collectivization of the 1958–1961 Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and Reform and Opening.

Fuling and the other Yangtze River towns have the additional experience of being a focal point of Mao Zedong’s Third Line Project, which had an especially large influence on the region during the 1960s. The early preparations for this project started in 1950, when Mao sent Deng Xiaoping to the southwest so he could research the feasibility of moving Shanghai’s military industry to remote mountain areas in Sichuan and Guizhou provinces. The American atomic bomb triggered this plan, as Mao became increasingly concerned that China’s heavily concentrated defense industry was too susceptible to a U.S. attack. The Korean War accelerated the project, and eventually three-quarters of China’s nuclear weapons plants were incorporated into the Third Line, as well as more than half of its aeronautics industry. The project was, as Harrison Salisbury describes it in his book The New Emperors, “something like that of picking up the whole of California’s high-tech industry and moving it bodily to the wilds of Montana as they existed, say, in 1880.”

In comparison it seems a small matter to turn the river into a lake. Much of Fuling’s economy had originally come via the Third Line Project, which made the locals accustomed to massive changes. The local Hailing factory, which now produces combustion engines for civilian use, had formerly been a defense industry plant moved from Shanghai. A few miles upstream from Fuling is the Chuan Dong boat factory, which in the old days made parts for nuclear submarines. All of the local Chang’an-brand cabs—the name means Eternal Peace—are made by a Chongqing factory that originally produced firearms for the military.

Many of the old Third Line factories had been converted in this way since Deng Xiaoping came to power and started dismantling the project in 1980. With China’s foreign relations rapidly improving, the American threat seemed less serious (and, in any case, it was clear that there wasn’t much protection in putting factories in places like Fuling). The Third Line had always been a huge drain on the economy; in some years as much as 50 percent of China’s capital budget was spent on the project. Never before had such a massive country reorganized its economy on such a scale—even Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan couldn’t compare—and according to some estimates, the Third Line did more damage to China’s economy than the Cultural Revolution.

Despite its enormous scale, the project had been developed and dismantled in remarkable secrecy, as few locals in Fuling and the other Third Line towns ever had a clear notion of what was going on. They knew that commands were coming in from Beijing, and that these commands were bringing factories from Shanghai; and they also knew that all of this had a military sensitivity that required secrecy. It wasn’t something you asked questions about, and after four decades of that it seemed natural enough not to ask questions about the dam. These things just came and went—just as the Chuan Dong factory, which arrived to build nuclear submarines, was subsequently converted to a boat plant, and eventually would disappear forever beneath the waters of the new Yangtze.

But even with all of this history in mind, I still found the lack of interest and concern about the dam to be remarkable.

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Speaking Latin in Sichuan

From River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (P.S.), by Peter Hessler (HarperCollins, 2010), Kindle p. 330:

We met Father Li and chatted in his sitting room. Politely he spoke to my father, with me serving as the translator, and I mentioned that the priest still used Latin during weekday Masses.

“Tell him that I used to be an altar boy for Latin Mass,” my father said. Father Li nodded and said that nobody else in Fuling still understood the language. I asked my father if he still remembered the traditional service, and he nodded.

“In nomine Patris,” he said, “et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.”

“Introibo ad altare Dei,” responded the priest. “I will go in to the altar of God.”

“Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam,” my father said. “To God, Who giveth joy to my youth.”

For a few minutes they went through the beginning of the service. I had been translating for nearly a week, and now it was strange to sit silent, listening and not understanding a word between these two men that I knew so well. The priest’s Latin was tinged with Sichuanese; my father spoke with an American accent. Theirs was a rote, formal dialogue in a rusty old language, but it was clear that something about the conversation changed the way the two men saw each other. After they were finished, Father Li kept forgetting himself, addressing my father directly in Sichuanese, as if he would understand. But as we left he used Latin once more. “Dominus vobiscum,” he said. “The Lord be with you.”

“Et cum spiritu tuo,” my father said.

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Satsuma at Admiral Perry’s Arrival

From Samurai Revolution: The Dawn of Modern Japan Seen Through the Eyes of the Shogun’s Last Samurai, by Romulus Hillsborough (Tuttle, 2014), Kindle pp. 171-172:

As the twenty-eighth daimyo of Satsuma, Nariakira had been a radical reformer and one of the most progressive feudal lords of his time—even before Perry. He advocated “enrich the nation and strengthen the military” and embraced Western technology, namely warships and guns, to fortify Japan. He realized that the island country must open its ports to foreign trade to acquire that technology; and that the Bakufu and the feudal domains must pool their resources and cooperate with one another to tackle the dangerous problems of the encroaching modern age—all revolutionary ideas in pre-Perry Japan. This is not to say that he advocated abolishing the feudal system in favor of a unified Japanese nation. Such a notion would not be considered by even the most radical thinkers for some years to come. Rather, as daimyo of Satsuma, he planned to reform the Bakufu to give outside lords like himself an unprecedented voice in national affairs. Hisamitsu inherited those plans.

Nariakira began the drive for modern fortifications in his own backyard, radically modernizing Satsuma. In Kaei 5 (1852), the year after his accession, he began the construction of reverberatory and blast furnaces for the manufacture of warships, cannons, rifles, and other modern weaponry, and fortified the coastal defenses of Satsuma, planting mines in the sea approaches to his castle town of Kagoshima. In the Second Month of the following year—four months before Perry’s first arrival—Nariakira began the construction of the warship Shōhei Maru, the first modern ship produced in Japan. He arranged with the Bakufu for permission to build the triple-masted sailing vessel even before the ban on ocean-going ships was lifted—under the condition that it be used for the express purpose of defending the Ryūkyū islands in the south, nominally ruled by their own king but subjugated by Satsuma since the beginning of the seventeenth century.

During the countrywide debate on whether to accept Perry’s demands, Nariakira urged Edo to enter into protracted diplomatic negotiations with the Americans to stall them until Japan could prepare itself to repel the foreigners by military force. As a means to this end, he advised the Bakufu to abolish the ban on oceangoing vessels. When the ban was lifted, he manufactured more warships. He westernized the Satsuma military, training his troops in modern artillery methods. He modernized Satsuma, transforming it into the most militarily, economically, and industrially advanced entity in all of Japan, bar none—including the Tokugawa Bakufu.

Satsuma was no doubt spurred into action by Admiral Perry’s visit to Okinawa in 1852, a year before he first arrived in Edo.

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What Surprised Japanese POWs

From The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II, by Ulrich Straus (U. Washington Press, 2005), pp. 144-145:

Traditionally, Japanese have lived in a society that highly prizes the reciprocal giving and receiving of favors, including those exchanged between superior and inferior. Once drawn into a “human” (that is, emotional) conversational relationship with their interrogators, the prisoners realized that they had already received many favors from their captors. They had generally been treated decently. Of particular importance to the Japanese, they had not generally been insulted or humiliated. These Americans did not generally look down on them with contempt.[…]

In addition to all the material benefits they had received, some prisoners mused, the Americans had given them their life, if only by not killing them. For the Japanese, this huge imbalance of “favors” granted and received represented a serious problem. Many solved it by giving the Americans the only thing they had to give—answers to seemingly innocuous questions.

While Japanese prisoners were impressed by the material things the Americans shared with them, they were deeply affected by the more personal touches. They could not easily cast these aside saying the “rich Americans” could afford such things. It was not only that the Americans readily took out a cigarette from their own pack; more significant for them was that they were prepared to do so within plain sight of others. A few former Japanese POWs noted in their memoirs that they might have had the chance during the course of their military service to slip an American POW a cigarette. Now that the roles were reversed they were ashamed that they had lacked the courage to overcome the Japanese convention of the time, that all POWs of any nationality properly deserved total contempt. Prisoners so badly wounded that they could not even light or hold a cigarette were overcome with inexpressible gratitude when an order lit the cigarette and passed it from his lips to theirs.

Of all the many unfamiliar things the Japanese encountered in the prison camps, probably the most astounding was their medical treatment. They could hardly believe that prisoners received treatment identical to that accorded their captors. They would find themselves in hospital beds adjacent to beds occupied by their “enemy.” Even more astounding, American medical orderlies deigned to lift them up with their own hands and even clean them when they soiled their bed. That Americans gave officer status to nurses often amazed the Japanese. That these nurses would not only treat lowly enemy enlisted men but also at times give them a smile astounded them even more.

Discovering that they received the same food and in the same quantities as their captors surprised them as well. For a status-conscious Japanese prisoner who viewed himself as beneath contempt, such recognition of common humanity left an abiding impression. In this sense, the whole atmosphere of the prison camp became conducive to maintaining a civil, personal relationship with the Americans. While not designed for the purpose, in some instances this could only further American efforts to gain intelligence.

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Japanese Civilian POWs

From The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II, by Ulrich Straus (U. Washington Press, 2005), p. 199:

Camp McCoy was unusual in that it initially held not only all ranks of the military up to field grade officers but also a sizable contingent of Japanese civilians. Except for the relatively minor incident recounted in the previous chapter, Camp McCoy tended to enjoy trouble-free relations with its POWs. According to a former civilian employee of the Japanese navy’s transportation division on Saipan, the civilian POWs constituted a solid bloc that was understandably opposed to the hotheads, whose suicidal intentions struck fear into the hearts of merchant seamen, businessmen, and journalists, among others. The civilians told the extremists that they would still have plenty of opportunities to kill themselves without involving the civilian element. When the hard-liners ultimately backed away from more confrontational tactics with the American guards and vented their frustration by beating up on the civilians, a larger group of civilians returned the favor a few days later.

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Koreans, Taiwanese, and Okinawans Among Japanese POWs

From The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II, by Ulrich Straus (U. Washington Press, 2005), pp. 196-199:

Allied forces also captured roughly ten thousand ethnic Koreans and Taiwanese working for the Japanese. Although some Koreans were integral members of the Japanese armed forces, most had either volunteered for or been drafted into labor battalions ordered into combat only when the tactical situation became desperate. Then they became little more than cannon fodder, along with the Japanese soldiers. The Koreans and Taiwanese in the labor battalions, however, did not share the Japanese preference for death over capture and surrendered to Allied forces in droves whenever it became feasible to do so. It was Allied policy to separate out captured Koreans and Taiwanese, assigning each group to its own enclosure. Cowra, in Australia, was the exception, in that it kept Japanese and the few ethnic Korean officers in the same enclosure. Koreans and Taiwanese were not imprisoned any further east than Hawaii, and many remained in the general area of their capture. Once the war ended, they were among the earliest to be repatriated.

There was never much love lost between the Japanese and Koreans, and imprisonment did nothing to change that fact. Japanese POWs felt genuinely appalled, almost betrayed, to discover that the Koreans thought of themselves as victors once the war ended and looked down on the Japanese. Some Japanese POWs, including Takahashi Shigeru, realized that Japan had discriminated against Koreans and Taiwanese and that the Koreans’ gleeful attitude when Japan lost therefore “could not be helped.” In the few instances when Japanese were erroneously placed into an enclosure with Koreans, they were beaten up in revenge for earlier treatment at the hands of their colonial masters.

Most ethnic Koreans who had served as integral members of the Japanese military chose to maintain their Japanese identity in the prison camps. They may well have feared the wrath of fellow Koreans who had been pressed into the labor battalions and believed they would be more secure in the Japanese section. One of the reports from Cowra noted that Koreans caused no trouble for the Australians, except for a small minority who were “very pro-Japanese.” This element compelled the rest to face east and bow reverentially after every roll call. When fellow Koreans disregarded this courtesy to the emperor, they were manhandled.

Taiwanese hostility toward the Japanese POWs was substantially less than that of the Koreans. American comments about Taiwanese prisoners, who never created problems, were entirely positive. When interrogated about possible American landing sites on Taiwan, they were uniformly eager to provide all the information they had.

On Okinawa the American army split up Japanese POWs in yet another way, separating not only Japanese and Koreans but Okinawans as well. Initially somewhat resistant to the idea of being distinguished from Japanese, Yamada Yuko soon became rather pleased to be called Okinawan rather than the pejorative “Jap” that was in common usages by Americans during the war. Given the Okinawans’ widespread disillusionment with the Japanese military, especially its ruthless treatment of tens of thousands of civilians needlessly exposed to the hazards of war, it is hardly surprising that Okinawans relished this separate treatment, a difference manifested in a number of ways. Noting that Americans were eager to obtain Japanese swords as souvenirs, Okinawan POWs volunteered to help them find some. On several occasions they were even allowed to leave the prison camp without guards to search for souvenirs. Such complete trust was so greatly appreciated that the Okinawans could not think of betraying it. Nevertheless, when news of Japan’s defeat filtered into the Yaka stockade, Yamada felt humiliation, and when the Koreans held their victory celebration, he thought that his own feelings were no different from the feelings of those who came from other Japanese prefectures.

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Chinese Treatment of Japanese POWs

From The Anguish of Surrender: Japanese POWs of World War II, by Ulrich Straus (U. Washington Press, 2005), p. xiii-xiv:

In China, Japanese forces were engaged in war against both Nationalist and Communist forces from 1937 to 1945. During that period, Japan’s military presence was by far the most powerful one in China. Up to the end of the war, Japanese forces were generally on the offensive, suffered relatively few casualties, and gave up few prisoners of war. Once the United States became involved in the war, combat in China diminished in intensity as both Nationalists and Communists husbanded their resources in anticipation of the civil war that was to follow. For the Japanese troops, the conflict in China was far less intense than combat in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, and their postwar treatment at the hands of the Chinese Nationalists was, as Japanese veterans recall, “magnanimous.” Although the Japanese expected revenge, there was no mass retribution from the Chinese, who had suffered grievous military and civilian losses at the hands of the Japanese. Both the Nationalists and the Communists held war crimes trials for those suspected of specific crimes. The Japanese surrendered largely to the Nationalists, partly because the United States arranged it that way, but also because it coincided with their own preference. The Nationalists’ primary interests were (1) that they seize all weapons from the Japanese forces, which had not been defeated in China; (2) that the Japanese departure not result in a security vacuum exploitable by the Communists; and (3) that Japanese troops not be used against them by the Communists. With the tacit concurrence of the American forces just coming on the scene in modest numbers, these interests ensured that the Nationalists treated their 1.2 million Japanese POWs with kid gloves, on occasion even with considerable deference.

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