NOBODY questions now that Germany and Japan have had dreams of world empire, or that their efforts to make those dreams come true must be crushed. But we should understand the nature of the enemy clearly if we are to fight him intelligently. The enemy that we fight and must crush is not Germany, it is not Japan, but it is militarism, that Satanic spirit with which both countries have become possessed -- not only the war lords who are primarily responsible, but the people who, whether willingly or unwillingly, are being used by them as their tools. We cannot either exonerate the people concerned, much as we might like to do so, nor condemn them out of hand and irretrievably, as it would be easy to do. We must be discriminating. Going behind surface symptoms, we must try to see how the cancerous growth has little by little sent its roots down so deeply that by now it has infected the entire body politic, primarily in those two nations but in lesser degree throughout the world. This will show us, first, that nothing will now avail but surgery of the most drastic sort, directed toward that area where the disease is worst, yet second, that if our surgery is not done in a way to save the patient, the world itself cannot be saved. The writer believes it can be done if due consideration is given to the factors involved.

As for Japan, let it be frankly admitted at the start that from the beginning of her history she has been, as she is now, a warlike nation. Her own scholars admit that Japanese history begins with martial exploits. Almost the first act of the first Emperor, Jimmu, was to conquer the northern peoples. Ever since, preëminence was accorded to fighting men as the acknowledged aristocracy with a right to rule and to be honored above all others.

It must be observed, however, that this soldier class was only one of the four classes into which Japanese society was divided, and, in point of numbers, by far the smallest of the four. The classification was soldiers, farmers, artisans, tradesmen -- and always in this order of importance, even though the soldiers, or samurai, constituted only about 5 percent of the population. Furthermore, it should be understood that until the Restoration in 1868 none but recognized soldiers were permitted to have anything to do with war or more than a little with politics. This is important, for the cultural skills for which the Japanese are rightly esteemed were developed entirely by the peace-loving, peace-practising 95 percent, and not at all by the soldier class. Still, the commoner was always trained to regard the fighting man as vastly superior to all others and to pay him exceptional deference and obedience. This produced a habit of subserviency and servility which the nation has never yet been able to shake off.

Is it strange that with such a heritage the Japanese soldier of today should continue to swagger and bully, even though he is now, potentially, every man in the nation? It is his to command and rule, whether on the battlefield, in legislative halls, in public offices, in the schoolroom, or even in his own home. He is by right the nation's tyrant, feared by all, loved by few, yet aped and deferred to by every aspiring youth.

Whence, we ask, came this spirit? Not even Germany seems to have it in like measure. Most nations divested themselves of it, or thought they did, centuries ago. The Japanese did not. They kept it, and fostered it, and adjusted all their organized life to its imperative. By the close of the twelfth century the whole nation had become organized under a military dictatorship. The Shogun was everything, the Mikado nothing, except perhaps a useful figurehead. By the end of the sixteenth century, the Tokugawas had come to power. From that time on, the populace to the last man was just what a Hitler would have desired it to be. It was kept in that status, rotting and spineless, until the middle of the last century. Then, as a result of the action of our own Perry and others like him, the dawn began to break. Through increasing contacts with the outside world the Japanese began to understand what men might be.

Almost immediately a popular clamor arose for the return of authority to the Emperor. The restoration was accomplished under the leadership of a mere handful of youthful civilians. Many of them had been abroad and had seen for themselves the meaning of representative government and free institutions. When they returned they reported, and their countrymen caught the vision, and soon the entire countryside was ablaze. The new young Emperor saw it, too, and realized what it meant, and faced the challenge of it. One of his first acts was to swear a fivefold oath, beginning with the declaration: "Public councils shall be organized, and all government affairs shall be decided by public opinion." Thus, in 1868, the cornerstone of liberty was laid in Japan.

One of the various embassies or groups of men who went abroad in those early years seems to have come back determined to push for a popularly elected legislative assembly at once. This was a dangerous thing to undertake in a country not yet fairly out of despotism. Fortunately, the petitioning group secured the ear of the progressive and determined young Emperor, and in less than two years a public proclamation was issued, promising not only an assembly but a written constitution as well. Soon thereafter the Emperor summoned to his court Hirobumi Ito (afterwards Prince Ito) as the most promising young man available, and to him entrusted the task of framing a constitution. He went abroad for the express purpose of studying constitutions, and in due time came back enamoured of the German model, for the reason that it centered in an autocratic head, as Japan's must do also. The two men worked together on the plan like brothers, the younger (the Emperor was 11 years younger than Ito) deferring to the elder. At length it was finished. The constitution came into effect in 1889, and the next year the first duly constituted legislative assembly was set up.

The constitution was not a wholly democratic document, but it went a long distance in that direction. It expressly made "the person of the Emperor sacred and inviolable," and invested him with all the rights of empire, including the sanctioning of all laws, the convoking and closing of the Imperial Diet, the supreme command of the Army and Navy, the declaration of war and the concluding of treaties. Yet it did provide for a bicameral Diet to which was given wide liberty of action. This was a transition period. The framework of the new order could not be made too different from the old military régime. Ito had seen clearly that there had to be time for the development of democratic practice. The wonder is that a constitution was given at all in such a moment. It positively guaranteed civil rights to the people -- something entirely unprecedented -- freedom of residence, freedom from arrest, detention, trial or punishment without due process of law, the right of trial by judges legally constituted, freedom of religious belief, liberty of speech, writing, publication and public meetings, and freedom of petition. As for the Diet, it must be convoked every year and every law promulgated must have its consent, including the approval of the annual budget for all expenditures and revenues of the state.

Unfortunately for Prince Ito, he was held responsible for all the blunders that occurred in getting out the document and putting it into execution. Misunderstandings and dissatisfaction resulted, and in the end he was assassinated by a Korean, to whose unhappy country he had devoted some of his best energies in vain. In his downfall the people's cause received what might have been a mortal wound; but other champions were soon raised up.

In 1898 the first people's cabinet came to power, and in 1901 the first people's party. This was mainly due to the work of Isoo Abe, a young man who began as a Christian pastor but saw an opportunity for larger usefulness in politics and plunged in, after taking a course of training for it in America. He has been the leader of the proletarian masses ever since. The first Social Democrat Party attempted too much and was almost immediately suppressed, but the ideals for which it stood had come to stay, or at least to serve as a constant thorn in the flesh for those who ruled. As Mr. Abe himself said: "It would be a great mistake to judge the influence of socialism from the yet small number of professed socialists only. The socialist spirit is afloat everywhere."[i]

Meantime, however, the militarists strode forward. Embassies sent abroad reported on the martial prowess of the western nations, on their armies and navies. "Here," cried the militarists, "is the secret of the power of the western nations. It does not lie in their peaceful institutions and ideals, but in their superior military organization. If we are to hold our own against their encroachments we must have an army and navy able to cope with the best any other nation may bring against us." Thus did the rising young nation adopt a completely organized military system to take the place of the 5 percent of military specialists. Now all men were to be fighters and all education must be focused on making them so. Furthermore, the reason why the motheaten and all-but-forgotten theory of the heavenly descent of the Japanese sovereigns was taken out and furbished up was to supply a divine imperative behind the program, making of it a religion.

To call it all-but-forgotten is not an exaggeration. A leading Japanese writer, K. K. Kawakami, remarked of Ito's inclusion of the words, "heaven-descended and sacred" in the constitution: "Certainly he did not expect the Japanese of these modern times to accept, at its face value, the obsolete doctrine [italics not his] of the divine origin of the Mikado." [ii] This agrees with a statement made by a Japanese of prominence within the last three years to the effect that not one of his compatriots in a hundred really believes in the doctrine. Nevertheless, believed or not, the theory served the bureaucratic manipulators of modern Japan.

As early as 1909, only four years after the war with Russia was over, the militarists succeeded in wangling a law which made it possible for them to take any matter of military importance direct to the Emperor, over the heads of Diet, Cabinet or Premier. Once the sovereign's imprimatur had been secured, those who objected to the procedure had nothing more to say. Of course it was unconstitutional, the people knew that; but the law was pushed through nevertheless. Thus a dual government was saddled upon the nation, to the consternation of those who had the real welfare of the country at heart and who believed even then that such a course would bring the nation to ruin.

The First World War was an unqualified boon to Japan's warmongers, for it threw into their lap exactly the thing for which they had been waiting: a foothold in China. But though the military were in the saddle, there was one element in the population that had to be reckoned with in those days: the student class and the intellectuals. Professor S. Yoshino, of the Imperial University of Tokyo,[iii] has told how students, in their effort to understand and sympathize with laboring men and Koreans and Chinese, were going out in large numbers to work side by side with them. "If the question of giving Korea independence or complete autonomy were submitted to the students," he says, "ninety in a hundred would say, 'give her independence or autonomy!' If the question were put to the students, 'Shall we withdraw from Shantung and give it back to China?' ninety in a hundred would say, 'Yes.'"

Though this attitude was stonily resisted by the militarists and punished by the police, it prospered. In 1918 there began a new surge of democracy with the establishment of the first uni-party cabinet under the leadership of Premier Hara. Another important new factor was the growing influence of big business which, in turn, greatly disturbed the Army men, in as much as approval of the military budget was in the hands of the Diet where that influence was powerful.

In the meantime, the Exclusion Act of 1924 was passed in the United States. This played directly into the hands of the military party. A particularly friendly attitude had been developing toward America by reason of her generosity in relieving the distress of the great earthquake of the year before. But the passage of this Act aroused the feelings of the entire nation to white heat. There is little doubt that active preparations for a war of revenge against America date from that time. Fortunately, Baron Shidehara was Foreign Minister at the moment. He was able to do much to restrain popular passion, and he also pursued a policy of conciliation toward China. But in 1927 he was compelled to surrender his position and Baron Tanaka was elevated to the Premiership. It was during his régime that the notorious Tanaka Memorial was originated, which set forth in no uncertain terms full details of Japan's world-conquest program.

In 1930 Hamaguchi came to power. But his acceptance of the 5-5-3 ratio in the London Treaty incensed both Army and Navy beyond endurance. Never before had the civil authority successfully defied them on a major question of national defense. This action, they said, constituted an assertion by the Cabinet of the right to control the foreign policy of the nation, a violation of the prerogative of the Privy Council to influence the Emperor in all of his important decisions. In 1931 Hamaguchi was slain by an assassin's bullet. On September 18 of that same year came the famous "Manchurian Incident." Since then the militarists have been firmly in control. It should not be thought, however, that the people surrendered supinely. The press remained rabid against the expansionist policy. Kagawa said he believed 95 percent of the people were opposed to it and to the war which they felt sure would come out of it. In 1931 there were three abortive revolutions, followed the next year by the assassination, or attempted assassination, of a number of prominent liberals. In 1933 the Government withdrew from the League of Nations. From 1933 to 1936 there occurred various intrigues and rebellions, with the people slowly but surely losing out.

Even yet, however, democratic idealism was not dead, as many events during the last ten years have shown. One such was the discussion that arose over Professor Minobe's theory of the Emperor as the organ of the state in contrast to the contention of the militarists that the Emperor was above the state. The latter theory had been taught for more than 30 years and Professor Minobe's action in challenging it caused consternation. His books were banned and he himself was humiliated and forced to resign his position in the House of Peers and his lectureships in three universities. Despite this new victory, the "militant patriots" were far from satisfied, as the famous "incident" of February 26, 1936, shows. So widespread were the assassinations and plottings that the Emperor himself had to take a hand, which he did by severely reprimanding the Army. That may be a hint that the Emperor is not hand in glove with the militarists and that if he had been free to act he would have checked them.

The year 1937 saw the sudden precipitation of the war with China -- by another "incident," this time on July 7 -- which marked the last step in crushing every vestige of liberalism. We must look in more detail at what led up to that event.

On January 21, 1937, the Diet reconvened with Hirota as Premier. In a stormy session the Army leaders were challenged as violators of the constitution and the injunctions of Emperor Meiji. This brought the resignation of General Terauchi, Minister of War, and the downfall of the Cabinet. General Ugaki, importuned to form a cabinet, attempted it and failed. No military man would sit with him, though the people all wanted him. His administration as Governor General of Korea had been too lenient for the Army. At last General Hayashi was called upon as being persona grata with his military colleagues. He had no sooner taken office, however, than his Government was vigorously assailed in the Diet by the veteran Ozaki, who severely criticized the China policy and the usurpation of political power by the military party. His speech called forth enthusiastic applause, but infuriated the Premier who, at last unable to contain himself, burst out with: "At such a time as this, one touch is liable to set off an explosion." It did, and that soon.

Naotake Sato, just back from serving as Ambassador to France, entered the Cabinet as Foreign Minister and immediately took the lead in a new conciliatory policy toward China, which, he said, he intended to carry out "with the support of public opinion." At the same time he tacitly criticized his chief for developing the trend toward war, declaring that "if the Japanese people make up their minds not to go to war there will be no war."

Summarily, then, the Diet was dissolved, producing a storm all through the nation. The press lambasted the Cabinet's action, one paper, the Yomiuri, intimating that the growing secretiveness in politics "must be partly due to the fact that some of the factors leading to these political changes could not bear scrutiny and that consequently those in power did not think fit to take the public into their confidence." In the ensuing campaign, the gendarmerie drew up a list of 16 points regarding which the candidates and their supporters would not be permitted to speak. The phonographic record of Ozaki's speech criticizing the dissolution, and intended for use in the election campaign, was banned, as was also his pamphlet, "Denouncing Dictatorship," despite the fact that Ozaki had served in every Diet from the beginning, had once been Minister of Justice, later Minister of Education, and was twice Mayor of Tokyo. So far as is known at the present writing, he is still in the Diet.

The election returns on April 30 were surprising, in that the vote was much smaller than in the election of the year before. The people knew by now that elections were a farce and that the newly-elected Diet would be disposed of as summarily as the one just dissolved. The "Shakai Taishuto" (proletarian party) made surprising gains. In Kobe half the electorate voted for that party. Thirty-six seats were gained in all. Abe declared that the election returns showed that the nation was squarely against the Hayashi Cabinet and it must resign. Both of the leading parties in the Diet reiterated the same demand.

A month after the election, Hayashi did resign, and was succeeded by Prince Konoye, who found no difficulty in forming a Cabinet wholly subservient to the Army's wishes. Events now marched rapidly to their climax, even though the common man, knowing absolutely nothing of what was going on behind the scenes, was protesting vigorously in all the magazines and newspapers of the country against the Government's policy in Manchuria that was leading to war.

On September 4 the Emperor appeared at the opening session of the Diet and expressed "his will regarding the conduct of the war in China, which was solely," he said, "for the purpose of inducing China to reconsider her attitude so that peace may speedily be established in East Asia." He continued: "In view of the situation I expect that all of my subjects will faithfully serve the public and act in close union, so that the objective may be attained." After that there was nothing more that could be said by anybody. Their Emperor had spoken. God wills it.

When the Panay was bombed on December 12 sincere expressions of horror came from the rank and file of people throughout the country, accompanied by large contributions of money as a solatium. On December 13, Nanking was captured and raped. Two days later, 400 leaders of the proletarian party were arrested. They had been too active in fighting Fascism and in agitating against the "China Affair." Admiral Suetsugu, Minister of Home Affairs, in explaining the action, said that the Government was determined to uproot all such movements and asked the nation to coöperate in making a clean sweep of radical ideas in order that the "brilliant victory of Japan may not be impaired." A few months later Premier Konoye said to the Diet: "Japan is now committed to continuous military effort until its objectives are reached," which implied, he said, "the facing of possible resistance from any of the foreign powers interested in the Far East. . . . A momentous task is before us, unparalleled in history."

In the same year all the political parties were greatly weakened. The Social Mass Party was reduced to complete submission, and Abe, the Party head, was set upon in his own home and beaten. The proletarian and rural parties were dissolved and their leaders jailed. A huge budget of 7,500 million Yen was passed. Leaders in the Christian churches were given a drastic questionnaire regarding God and the Emperor, and one of the foremost Christian leaders was humiliated and made to resign all public offices for misquoting in a speech one word of an Imperial poem by Emperor Meiji. After these events, there was hope of no other end than general war. The date chosen was December 7, 1941.

Why, it will be asked, all this detailed historical review and analysis? For the purpose of showing: first, that from the beginning of her history, the people of Japan have been under the domination of a small but powerful military caste which always sought to make its power absolute; secondly, that in spite of the gradual tightening of the military reins, there has been since the Restoration a strong progressive element of the Japanese people which has steadily attempted to curb the military dictatorship in the interests of popular government; and thirdly, to give room for the conviction that, though almost completely submerged at the present time, the democratic impulse is alive still and, following the complete defeat of the military régime, and given the encouragement of other nations, it may be expected to reassert itself and set up a reform government with which other nations can deal.

What conditions might be regarded as essential to the establishment of a new order in Japan? They may be stated as follows:

1. The existing Government, now in the entire control of the militarists, must be crushed in final and irretrievable defeat. Not until the militarist régime has been completely discredited can we hope for the emergence of a stable government able to promote the real welfare of the Japanese people. But once this has been accomplished, there is no reason to suppose that a sufficient number of strong and competent civilian leaders will not come forward, prepared and able to establish a government with which the other nations of the world can coöperate.

2. The continued sovereignty of the Emperor is indispensable for the realization of a people's government. Veneration of the Emperor and a readiness to yield completely to the dictates of his will are ingrained in the Japanese character. In practice, however, the Emperor has been a mere puppet, overawed and dragged about hither and yon by those able to command his services. There can be little question that he has the interests of his people at heart. If the turn of affairs made it possible, he might be expected to issue an Imperial Rescript completely abolishing the military dictatorship, as his grandfather abolished the Shogunate, and, like him, proclaim his resumption of complete sovereign control. This done, there is little question that the people would follow him gladly.

3. Besides completing Japan's military defeat and upholding the Emperor in his reassumption of power, the United Nations must also insist upon: a) The complete disarmament of Japan and her forfeiture of all conquered territories. b) The abolition of military conscription and the elimination of all military training from the educational system. c) The revision of the constitution, to the extent at least of abrogating the changes of 1909 which gave power to the military party. Other changes in the constitution must be effected to make it henceforth impossible for military leaders to go over the heads of the Cabinet and the Diet and adopt policies without the public knowledge and consent. This stipulation is most important. Mr. John Morris, for some years adviser to the Japanese Foreign Office, expressed the opinion in an article in Harper's Magazine for February 1944, that the Japanese Government acted in good faith in carrying on its negotiations with our Government prior to Pearl Harbor. He believes that the attack on Pearl Harbor was launched without the sanction of the Government. This opinion is shared by Ambassador Grew, who has said that he believes not even Foreign Minister Togo himself knew war was at hand.

The above may be regarded as our minimum requirements from Japan. With them, however, should go one more condition which we ourselves must supply. We must guarantee the people of Japan that after they have established a government such as will meet the above requirements, they will be given complete local autonomy, the right to trade with other countries, freedom of access to raw materials, and freedom to immigrate into other countries on a quota basis.

Doubtless it will be objected that the Japanese character, as proved by recent shocking developments, is so inherently bloodthirsty and cruel that henceforth it will be quite impossible to trust the Japanese in any capacity. To that one can only say that atrocities do not justify us in making undiscriminating denunciations. We must put the blame where it belongs, on the militarists and not on the common people as a whole. If we see exhibitions of barbaric cruelty among common soldiers, we must take them to be the inevitable consequence of a history during which military despots have made cruelty in its most repulsive forms an integral part of the war system. Not only have the leaders exhibited it in their own conduct, they have insisted on like conduct in their soldiers, drilling it into them as a prime essential of warfare. They have even made it a religion to them, part of the principle of being faithful to their Emperor's cause.

On the other hand, anyone who has had personal relationships with individual Japanese that have not come under the influence of the military regimen can cite innumerable instances where their Japanese friends have shown the utmost fidelity, even at the price of great personal sacrifice and danger. Ambassador Grew has given such illustrations, and every missionary has a hamper full of them. The writer saw so many demonstrations of esteem and affection for America and Americans by the Japanese people generally in recent years that he has never ceased to believe that if the vast majority of them had had their way this war would never have come to pass.

Among the Japanese people's characteristics through the ages have been an intense love of beauty in all its forms -- nature, poetry, art of every kind -- and a passionate fondness for little children. If we are to understand them at all, we must be able to see something more in them than the workings of sadistic cruelty. They must be released from their abject thralldom to the military ideology by means of a military defeat that will make them loathe the business of war forever. Then out of the ashes there will rise, we must hope, the true Japan that has always been struggling to be born.

[i]Cf. Count Okuma, "Fifty Years of New Japan." London: Smith, Elder, 1909, Vol. II, p. 512.

[ii]Cf. K. K. Kawakami, "Japan and World Peace." New York: Macmillan, 1919, p. 31.

[iii]Cf. K. K. Kawakami, "What Japan Thinks." New York: Macmillan, 1921, p. 91.

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  • C. BURNELL OLDS, a missionary in Japan from 1903 to 1939; for many years Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Kobe College
  • More By C. Burnell Olds