JF Ptak Science Books
I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste.
I have a good number of English-language propaganda pieces published by such Hearts and Minds institutions as the Foreign Affairs Association of Japan describing, through the merriest and most defensive eyes, the Japanese viewpoint of exactly what it was that was going on in China between 1931 and 1945. This leaflet, Why? Who? How? Questions and Answers on the Sino-Japanese Conflict (1937), is particularly worth noting because of how quickly and cleverish-cleanly the issue of the war and the fault of fighting was dispatched, and done with such astonishing condescending alacrity, and with such an enormous bodyguards of lies,as to be staggering. I guess this is why the Duchamp quote came to me just now. Old Marcel, the supremely gifted magician, certainly meant to be an enormous, itchy pain in the butt and a source of confusion, an artistic anarchist; the thinking behind the quote served him well, and I think that it can be well-applied here.
- 11x", 4pp, map on rear page. Old fold. Provenance: Library of Congress, Carnegie Institution of Washington. Small "LC" perforation in front and rear page, bottom. Good condition. Scarce. $150
The first issue is in the subtitle: the “Sino-Japanese Conflict” implies that the Chinese were at fault for having the Japanese invade Manchuria back in 1931; secondly, the Chinese started a conflict and not a war.
Actually, the naming of the war there is quite an issue, and an issue still—and an issue at it most base level: the word “war” is not generally used in Japan. It wasn’t used in Japan during the war, or at least until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Until 1941, the millions of Chinese who were being killed by the Japanese armed forces were the result of a series of ”incidents”. Even though there was a war raging from the beginning in 1931 to the start of total Japanese-Chinese war on 15 July 1937, the stuff that was happening from ’37 to ’42 was still an “incident” except for a period of 1940-ish to Pearl, when the idea of the Holy War (“Seisan”, eight corners of the world under one roof, etc.) was introduced by the Japanese Diet in 1940. After that there was the occasional use of the “Great East Asian Conflict”, with the word “war” not being the part of any Japanese vocabulary.
An interesting phrase that entered into the parlance though, if not “war”, was “Sanko Sakusen”, the “Three Alls”, as in KILL All, LOOT All, BURN All. The Japanese wound up getting part of the Chinese All, eventually killing 20 million people or so in those 15 years. But it wasn’t a war.
This four-page document asks twenty questions, and answers them usually, emphatically, with simplicity, starkness, and with total complicity of innocence on the side of Japan. For example, in discussing the “incident” in Beiging in 1937 which led to the total war between the two countries, asking the reader “why did the attempts to settle the incident locally at its early stage fail?, we are told “Because the Chinese never meant to do so”. Which of course is not the case.
An incredible bit of thinking comes next, when the question “If Japan is on the defensive, how can the dispatch of large military and naval forces be accounted for?” Indeed! Its hard to explain the invasion of another country as a purely defensive action. (We have seen this rather recently ourselves, the fictionalized account of terror-sponsorship in Iraq being about the only fuel necessary for a full-fledged defensive invasion and 2000-day long war.) But the answer in 1937 was the Chinese defensive maneuver of massing troops for an impending invasion of China by Japan was then threatening Japanese interests in China, thus necessitating a defensive invasion of China which was mobilizing to defend itself from a Japanese offensive, which wouldn’t have come if the Chinese hadn’t adopted a defensive posture. Basically, to paraphrase the immortal Mayor-for-Life of Washington, D.C, Marion S. Barry, “basically, the man dead”. (This was Barry’s response to reporters who were clamoring to find out what exactly had happened to a crazy man who climbed into a step van in a Buck Rogers suit and threatened to blow up the Washington Monument with a bucket of pee, an old rifle, and spray paint and then was shot about 200 times by cops of every shape and description. True story.)
We further find out that the attacks on the schools and hospitals in China were carried out, somehow, by Chinese troops; that a Chinese fishing fleet that was attacked and pulverized by Japanese submarines really wasn’t, and that they just disappeared; that Japan was protecting the rights of third party powers by “removing” Chinese troops occupying foreign-owned properties; that the Japanese fight against the “Sovietization” of China would “protect” foreign democracies, and so on. The questions hardly matter, as the answers are all sort of the same. Japan would “reach a settlement” (the word “peace” is not used anywhere here) however, if China “realized the error if her ways”.
Word do control mental images, and the further you get away from the situation described the more powerful the words become. Somehow the Korean Conflict seems less so than a war because it wasn't "legally" so; it was a "police action". And the Japan-China War isn't a "war" in name in most Japanese histories of the period. I think you can dissolve things with loose undefined language to such a point that the thing itself no longer exists; the only stuff that survives are the words used to hide it.