A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that


Friday, 11 September 2015

Journey to the "Missouri"

I am currently reading Toshikazu Kase’s Journey to the Missouri, which I bought in Kindle version for next to nothing. I’m not going to offer any kind of formal review (I’d be too embarrassed, for one thing), but I have found the book absorbing and educational, and I would recommend it as a beginner’s overview of Japan before and during WW2. I am certainly a complete beginner in this subject.

Kase is in the top hat, right of centre, listening to McArthur's speech
Mr Kase is most celebrated as a member of the deputation which signed the Japanese surrender in 1945, on board the USS Missouri, but he was also a prominent member of the Japanese Foreign Ministry during the 1930s and 1940s, was Japan’s observer at the United Nations after WW2 until such time as they were awarded full membership, and was a delegate thereafter. He was also posted in the London embassy at the time of the Pearl Harbour attack, much to his personal discomfort, since the embassy staff had no prior warning of the attack.

So he was a very high-profile diplomat, and was unusual in a number of respects, since he was educated in the USA (Amherst College and Harvard) and was well accustomed to Western culture and protocols. His (American) editor makes the point that it is a remarkable achievement that Mr Kase wrote his book in English, without a translator – the editor pauses to wonder how many Western diplomats could write such a work in a language which was not their own (which begs the further question of how many could write so well even in their own language…).

I have the Kindle version, but the book was reprinted many times
Kase describes the desperate instability of the political situation in Japan in the 1930s, and the progressive domination of the country by the military, who – under the pretext of obedience to the Emperor – exerted complete control over education, indoctrination of the population, government, religion and foreign policy. This is an astonishing story, and it includes the headlong rush into war and the continuing obsession with fighting on – to the last man if necessary – in a war effort which was clearly doomed from late 1943 onwards.

To an extent, Mr Kase can be expected to attempt to save his nation’s face a little, and to cover himself and the liberal majority who took over after 1945 – there are a good number of points where I found myself thinking, well he would say that, wouldn’t he? He is supremely supportive – to the point of adulation – of post-war Britain and the USA, and generally hostile to Russia and China throughout. His description of Japan’s shameful annexation and exploitation of Manchuria does not accord well with my understanding of what went on there, but provides an interesting alternative view.

He insists that there was a strong anti-war lobby in Japan for a long time before the atomic bomb, though such a stance was likely to lead to disappearance or assassination of the individual. His English is perfect, though a bit rich on occasion – he expresses himself well, but often in emotive terms, and his use of identifiably Eastern imagery takes a little getting used to; he likens the youthful kamikaze pilots to the petals of cherry blossom, and so on.


Mr Kase died in 2002, at the age 101, I understand – apart from the deck of the Missouri, his other most famous appearance was probably as one of the interviewees in Thames TV’s magnificent The World at War (1974) – I have a box set of the DVDs, and I still cannot believe that anything so good was ever produced – it has its critics, and it is probably overexposed (and underwatched?) on the History Channel and elsewhere, but in my opinion those films will never be equalled as coverage of WW2 – it was sufficiently long after the event for a bit of balance to start to appear, yet it was soon enough for a hefty number of the participants to appear to describe and explain their experiences.

I digress – Mr Kase’s book is recommended – I am getting a lot out of it. I hesitate to mention this, but next up on my Kindle list is Mein Kampf – I’ve had it hanging around for a while, so had better have a go at it – I do not expect that it will influence my personal attitudes, but it’s an obvious gap in my reading list!




    

12 comments:

  1. Sadly the BBC's WW1 series first shown in the 1960's (?) didn't get the deserved airing it deserved last year (BBC4 ?) . It and the above series are true classics , Tony

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    1. The BBC Great War series is currently selling at about £190 (for 7 DVDs) on Amazon, but the Daily Mail ran it as a giveaway series of 19 discs (same 26 shows) last year, and there are a few sets of those going on eBay pretty cheaply (have bought one for about £20). That got me started on back-cataloguing, and I sussed out some used sets of Victory at Sea and War in the Air, both of which I have fancied for years - the trick is to get the re-engineered original (1952) version of VaS which has the proper Richard Rodgers score etc - there were some ghastly reworkings. Your comment here has just set my beer fund back a couple of months, but I think it will be worth it - thanks!

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  2. Fascinating stuff. Might see if I can dig that out. Best of luck on Mein Kampf - I tried to read it many years ago at a time when I had copious free time and a seeming ability to devour trash like nobody's business. I gave up after about sixty pages. I learned later that the book was dictated (there's a pun there to be made about dictators - but I'm too tired to find it) which I think account for its rambling style and general u readability. I'm sure you're made of sterner stuff.

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    1. See me? See stern...? Wuff wuff.

      Mr Kase is getting more complicated at the moment, so progress is slowing, but Mein Kampf is still next in the queue.

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    2. I'm with CK, I tried Mein Kampf years (and years) ago - mind numbingly tedious, but it did raise eye brows at the local library when I reserved it (aged 14 I think)

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    3. Fortunately, my mind has been numb for some years now, so I may do OK.

      When I was 14, I used to raise eyebrows by visiting the communist bookshop in Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, to buy CND badges. As in most things, I was a dabbler - I would have run a mile if anyone had tried to discuss politics with me. Interestingly (or probably not) I attended the Socialist Club for a couple of meetings when I went to university, but gave up on that as well. When the Data Protection Act made it necessary for employers to reveal personal details held on staff records, I learned to my surprise that my employer had a note on my file - supplied by the university when I was first recruited - that I had been an active socialist. Sad, really - sad in a lot of ways!

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  3. Mein Kampf, a disappointing attempted read. I too got only a few rambling pages before realising the writer was an idiot. Mind you I was a precocious 13 at the time and was intrigued to see he never actually said "Achtung! Spitfire!" once. I wonder where the comics got it all from.

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    1. That is a disappointing omission - I may not bother reading it now. Perhaps he did say it, but the editors removed it?

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  4. Very interesting. What happened to Kase and his colleagues in London once war was declared? Were they interned, or as diplomats, were they allowed to go home to Japan?
    I wish the History Channel would show The World at War. Now it seems to be stuff about horders and ice truckers. Very disappointing.

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    1. Hi Michael - having got further through the book, I now realise that I picked this up incorrectly from the introductory sections. My suggestion that Kase was in London at the time of Pearl Harbour is, to use a technical term employed by historians, bollocks. My apologies.

      He was, however, attached to the Japanese embassy in London at the time of the tripartite agreement between Germany, Italy and Japan in 1940, an event of which the Japanese Foreign Office received less than 24hrs notice - this is the event which caused him difficulty. In passing, it is an interesting coincidence that the ambassador in London when Kase was there was Shigemitsu, who eventually signed the surrender on the Missouri as Foreign Minister.

      This is not the place to set out my understanding of the politics, other than to say that it was very complex, and I have had to go back through the book a little and start keeping notes of the main characters, to make sense of it.

      The theme is one of constant shape-shifting factions which assassinated each other, struggled for power and made crazy decisions based (chiefly) on pride and ignorance. The military gradually infiltrated, bullied, replaced or simply killed off all other interests - all in the supposed service of the Emperor - and even the military contained a lot of bitter internal rivalries.

      The Japanese had been discussing a treaty with the Germans from 1938 - their interest was in the German opposition to Russia, who Japan held as a traditional enemy, and Japan was shocked by the signing of the non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin. When Russia changed sides in 1940, the way was clear for Japan to sign the tripartite agreement (which surprised Kase, whose life must have been full of surprises) - by this time, the Japanese military had designs on British and French territories in the Far East, as well as an ally against Russia.

      By the time of Pearl Harbour, Kase was in Tokyo, where his main role was as liaison with the British embassy. Again, he was surprised by the rapid rush to war. Negotiations between USA and Japan had staggered along during 1941 - in Japan it was felt that these were doomed to failure, and on 1st December an imperial conference was called to redefine strategy - despite the wishes of the Emperor, this produced a commitment to prepare for war, forced through by the military and the hawks in the government, and the diplomatic shockwaves this generated were still being worked on when the Pearl Harbour attack took place. It is, again, interesting that the fleet which attacked PH had set sail on 26th November, before the conference began.

      No doubt I will change my mind again in a chapter or two - this is gripping stuff, but I really do need to keep notes - Japanese politics of the day were very like a cross between the Mikado and a history of Capone's Chicago. If your college creative writing class produced this plot line you would tell them not to be silly, and to start again.

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  5. Ah, I could not get through Mein Kampf either. But like like SRD above, I was a young lad too. Perhaps it would be an easier read much later in life?

    As for the Missouri, I have visited the ship twice. Once when she was berthed at Bremerton, WA and then later at Pearl Harbor. I have a tie to the ship. My grandfather was in the US Navy during WWII and saw action in the Pacific. We have a photo of him on the deck at the signing of the surrender. At least that is the story I remember as a young lad. I ought to confirm with my mother and see if that photo still exists.

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    1. That photo sounds like gold dust - you must try to find it!

      I am always reluctant to recommend any reading material to anyone - people usually hate or despise books I recommend! - but you might find Kase's effort interesting. Undoubtedly he does a fair amount of backside-covering - both personal and national - but the political background of Japan - which was always undersized, undersupplied and paranoid - makes an interesting top-up to the received histories which have been handed down!

      My respects to your grandfather, by the way!

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