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2001 (UK)  »

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Victory and Defeat.
23 May 2015 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

It's very well done, a balanced documentary that takes us from Japan in the 1930s through the end of the war. There are many recollections from the participants, both military and civilian. They include Americans, Brits, Japanese, and Fillipinos. We see a good deal of combat footage and still photos from the period.

I called it balanced because we get to learn the Japanese point of view. They were an island nation with an exploding population in the 20s and 30s , and of the four factors of production they had one -- labor. Ably assisted by a militaristic government, with a naval victory over Russia in its recent history and a huge naval fleet, Japan scythed its way into Manchuria and China. At that point, embargoes were imposed, which only exacerbated the need for raw materials from elsewhere. The drive into China involved a lot of unnecessary brutality, beheadings, rapes, and mass slaughters.

The habit of misusing subordinates was part of the Samurai history -- or rather histories because there were so many variants developed over the thousand years of Bushido. In feudal Japan, Samurai had the right of kirisute, slaying an inferior on the spot for a impudence. But in recent years a distorted version evolved. It's as if our own armed forces were imbued with a code of conduct based on the bounty hunters of the old Western movies.

The program doesn't go into it, but sadism was beaten into Japanese recruits by their own superiors. At the Japanese Naval Academy at Eido, candidates were literally whipped with rods and tied with lines. Towards the end of the war, on the island of Chichi Jima, after the officers had executed the American fliers, they ordered pieces of liver retrieved from the decomposing bodies and ate them. They didn't enjoy it. Some had to get drunk to do it at all. But the act was so repugnant that it served as a demonstration to the men that any act was possible during war and that all orders must be implicitly obeyed. We often misinterpreted the Japanese, as much as they misinterpreted the West. The surprise attack at Pearl Harbor was designed to bring the US to the negotiating table.

The British were no better off at the end of 1941 than the US, either militarily or psychologically. The Japanese had already taken Hong Kong. Eleven hours after the attack at Hawaii, they invaded the Malay peninsula. A cartoon in Punch showed them as brachiating monkeys but in fact they quickly forced a great and humiliating surrender of all British forces in Singapore which, in fact, outnumbered the Japanese two to one. It was the worst defeat in British military history. The usual atrocities followed. Japanese troops "went on a rampage" in the city hospital, bayoneting patients and staff, shooting a patient on the operating table and killing the surgeons.

The idea behind the expansion of Japanese territory was the Greater Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The Japanese were liberating Southeast Asian colonies from domination by the European powers. Asia for Asians. But the benign facade collapsed in the face of reality. Hitler had the same trouble in Russia. He was hailed by many of the people in the Ukraine, for instance, because they felt they were being liberated from Stalinism, but the hope soon disappeared after the persecution and mass executions of the inferior Slavs.


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