Friday, April 01, 2011

Praise Japan - Up To A Point

Katharine Birbalsingh in the Telegraph lauds those Japanese executives with whom the buck stops.

"These Japanese men have a code of honour that tells them that they are responsible simply because they were in charge. These days, that way of thinking is so alien to us in the West. We used to think like that once upon a time, long before I was even born. When the terrible events in Japan first happened, I looked on with admiration at their ordered and sensible behaviour. Now I look at two men and wish not only that my kids could know their sense of honour and duty, but that I might have the privilege of being like them too."

Well, up to a point - or maybe several points. One is that a sense of honour and duty can be associated with very unpleasant behaviour. The Japanese sense of honour and duty - bushido - led their soldiers to fight unto death in WWII. At Iwo Jima "of the 22,785 Japanese soldiers entrenched on the island, 21,569 died either from fighting or by ritual suicide. Only 216 were captured during the battle.". The flip side of this was that Japanese troops despised those Allied soldiers who did surrender - and this attitude enabled the dreadful treatment of Allied prisoners, among other war crimes.

Another point relates to the sense of personal, corporate or national responsibility. Twenty five years back, a younger Laban was impressed by the reported response of Japan Airlines executives to the JAL123 crash, where one of their planes lost all control and flew into a mountain, killing more than 500 people in what remains the world's worst single-plane disaster. According to press reports at the time, JAL executives accompanied relatives of the dead on the difficult climb to the crash site - and they carried or supported frail or elderly relatives up the mountain as a token of contrition. The JAL president resigned and a maintenance manager committed suicide, as did the engineer who supervised the repair which failed and was the cause of the crash.

All very noble, and accepting of responsibility. But ...

"United States Air Force controllers at Yokota Air Force base situated near the flight path of Flight 123 had been monitoring the distressed aircraft's calls for help. They maintained contact throughout the ordeal with Japanese flight control officials and made their landing strip available to the airplane. After losing track on radar, a U.S. Air Force C-130 from the 345 TAS was asked to search for the missing plane. The C-130 crew was the first to spot the crash site 20 minutes after impact, while it was still daylight. The crew radioed Yokota Air Base to alert them and directed an USAF Huey helicopter from Yokota to the crash site. Rescue teams were assembled in preparation to lower Marines down for rescues by helicopter tow line."

Now we see the other side of "accepting responsibility".

"The offers by American forces of help to guide Japanese forces immediately to the crash site and of rescue assistance were rejected by Japanese officials. Instead, Japanese government representatives ordered the U.S. crew to keep away from the crash site and return to Yokota Air Base, stating the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) were going to handle the entire rescue alone."

But by now darkness was approaching. The JSDF helicopter didn't get to the site before dark and couldn't land. It could see no signs of life, and so rescuers didn't start out to the site until the following morning.

"Medical staff later found a number of passengers' bodies whose injuries indicated that they had survived the crash only to die from shock or exposure overnight in the mountains while awaiting rescue. One doctor said "If the discovery had come ten hours earlier, we could have found more survivors."

Yumi Ochiai, one of the four survivors out of 524 passengers and crew, recounted from her hospital bed that she recalled bright lights and the sound of helicopter rotors shortly after she awoke amid the wreckage, and while she could hear screaming and moaning from other survivors, these sounds gradually died away during the night."

Those people died because the Japanese authorities did not want to lose face by making the rescue an American one, despite the fact that the Americans could have had medics on site within an hour of impact. Responsibility also meant that the responsibility for the rescue must be Japanese. I can't but feel there's a parallel here with the behaviour of TEPCO (and, to some extent, the Japanese government, with whom the buck finally stops) in the first week after the tsunami hit the Fukushima nuclear reactors. It was only after two major explosions, a series of fires, and efforts which revealed to the world that they were running out of ideas, that outside help was brought in.


AgainsTTheWall said...

Not sure Id describe fighting to the death as 'very unpleasant behaviour'. I rather see it as admirable. Would you be so ungenerous toward Bowie, Crockett and Travis?

I get your point about honour and face-saving leading to further tragedy though. Not sure why the face-savers think that it is honourable to let people die who might have lived. Still no people is perfect and on the whole the Japanese ways have much to commend them.

Laban said...

I didn't describe it as such. The problem is that the code of 'no surrender' - that surrender is not honourable - is also the thing that makes you despise and treat as sub-human those Allied soldiers who DO surrender. Because they've done what to a Japanese soldier would be a shameful, disgraceful thing.

Brian said...

Katharine is a silly girl. Those TEPCO chiefs are responsible because they presided over the decades-long culture of complacency and cover-up of nuclear power plant safety. What was done after the 2007 Nigata quake? If those executives were really contrite they, and not their underlings, would be dying of radioactive poisoning trying to make the plant safe.

Guy said...

'No surrender' also lead to:

1. Mass suicides by Japanese soldiers and civilians, to no purpose. A large number of those who died on Iwo Jima blew themselves up.
2. Compelling others to kill themselves. I forget the battle - I think it was Okinawa - where the Japanese forced Korean labourers into committing suicide by jumping off the cliffs so that they couldn't surrender.

AgainsTTheWall said...

I didn't describe it as such.

Sorry my mistake

The problem is that the code of 'no surrender' - that surrender is not honourable - is also the thing that makes you despise and treat as sub-human those Allied soldiers who DO surrender. Because they've done what to a Japanese soldier would be a shameful, disgraceful thing.

Hmmm maybe. Im not sure of my facts here but were nt civilians also treated equally badly by the Japanese military?

In passing I just wonder what code of honour it was that lead the Allies to wipe out whole cities? The Nips were nt viewed as 'sub-humans' - they could nt have been we were the antifa Good Guys. What could it have been?

Anonymous said...

Waar is war.
Can you tell of persistant dainty behaviour in battle hardened soldiers outside of 'Hogan's heros'?

Anonymous said...

Japanese savagery during WW11 had a lot more to do with the racism cultivated by the militarists and the Emperor-worshippers than any code of military honour. When the Commonwealth forces surrendered in Singapore they would not have expected to be as Untermenschen but that is exactly what happened. The British then learned that the way to treat the Japanese was with extreme prejudice, a lesson they applied in Burma when no mercy was shown to the bushido warriors.


H said...

There is more to the Japanese mistreatment of prisoners in WWII than this implies. In WWI, when the Japanese fought on the allied side, they treated the small number of German prisoners they took very well, with many of them indeed staying on in Japan after the war. This suggests that at least part of the problem was a change in ideology coupled with being overwhelmed by the number of prisoners taken, rather than being deepseated within the culture.