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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 9, 2010

Japanese fascism never a factor in WWII

By Jim Abts

In his commentary ("Fascism, not racism, triggered war," April 1), Victor Davis Hanson takes issue with actor Tom Hanks' assertion that the Pacific war was fought because "we viewed the Japanese as 'yellow, slant-eyed dogs' that believed in different gods. They were out to kill us because our way of living was different. We in turn, wanted to annihilate them because they were different."

While Hanks' remark, which Hanson characterized as "ahistorical," is ludicrous in itself, Hanks was right that we viewed the Japanese that way. But it was an attitude, not a raison d'etre for war, one that contributed in large measure to our miscalculations about Japanese capabilities and intentions.

Hanks might be forgiven for his ignorance; he wasn't around then and is an actor, not a historian. Hanson wasn't around then either, but as a historian he can't be forgiven for his equally ahistorical conclusion that the Pacific war "was about ending an expansionary Japanese fascism that sought to destroy all democratic obstacles in its path."

In the first place, if there is any consensus among political scientists about the meaning of fascism, there is even less agreement that it applied to prewar Japan.

But in spite of its ambiguity or because of it Hanson and like-minded neoconservatives find the term ideologically useful in conjuring up recollections of Nazi aggression in order to warn us of the dire consequences of appeasement and to proclaim the inerrancy of military preemption.

But it wasn't the reason we went to war with Japan. After all, Japan had been expanding into Manchuria and China since 1931 without a military response from the United States.

Secondly, when Hanson instructs us that "... Japanese fascism sought to destroy all democratic obstacles in its path," one can only wonder what democratic obstacles Hanson had in mind, since there was not a single democratic entity in Asia in 1941; only British, German, French, Russian and Dutch colonies and what remained of Chiang Kai-shek's China, which he governed with dictatorial powers.

In the end, fascism and democratic obstacles had nothing to do with the Pacific war. It was about retaliation for Bataan, Corregidor and Pearl Harbor, and the absolute destruction of Japan's capacity to ever again threaten the integrity of the United States and China.

To suggest that restoring the old European colonial holdings in Asia was on the minds of the Marines who fought their way up the slopes of Mount Suribachi or was the objective of the soldiers who slogged through the mangrove swamps of New Guinea is about as ahistorical as you can get.