Sunday, June 11, 2017

Welsford navigator 'Annie' build slideshow


To celebrate more than 1.5 million views of my boat building pics on Flickr- half of which are of the building of the Welsford Navigator 'Annie', I have put together a five minute slide show of the build process as it happened for me. 

In writing, emailing and talking to dozens of Navigator builders since posting these some years ago, I know that having pictures and resources available is a big factor in motivation for some who are facing these challenges for the first time, often with little experience in the shed, or 'on the tools' (as Australian tradesmen express it).

I hope this is of some use to builders- particularly of Welsford designed boats which all share some common build and design features. The Flickr pics are somewhat annotated and are more useful for careful dreaming, but maybe a slideshow might be of use in big picture dreaming when you should be doing something normal, but need a boat building fix.

Mine isn't the prettiest of Navigators, nor is it the best build. I'm certainly not the best sailor or the best film maker or the most adventurous owner. To be honest I love timber and lines and building challenges most of all and sailing is something I came to very late in life. The workshop in which most of the build happened is crude and agricultural (although some bits are nice when I took it to my place of work) but the boat functions well and the pics have been feasted upon because they are there to be seen.
There is also the book 'Something About Navigator' (available on Amazon) which people tell me has been useful. I think I earn about $3 per copy when one sells, so please don't think this is a commercial plug- I wouldn't have bothered for the money! The black and white edition has pretty ordinary illustration quality, but I had strong advice at the time that I needed to keep the cost of the book down to $20. The colour edition is better, but twice the price.



Navigator 'Annie' build slideshow from Robert Ditterich on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

escaping the noise





Below, a noiseless piece of winter sun on water to calm our nerves in an angry, tense world. Play on full screen and dismiss all worldly affairs from your mind, have two full minutes of almost empty landscape.


Sunday, June 4, 2017

OM steel string guitar build slideshow




My OM steel string guitar is having it's truss rod adjusted for the first time since I finished the instrument in 2011. I was finding the strings a bit high, and on applying the straight-edge test I found that since moving here the neck had crept a little towards a bow. This is a normal periodic adaption by the wood to changes in humidity. Adjustment done I re-tensioned the G and D strings and promptly broke the G- and of course in the pile of strings under the bench, the only steel string I don't have is a G. Never mind, the action is much better, and I'm just surprised that I let the neck get away with this, unnoticed.

There are some violins and a viola on the bench too. First time in a couple of years. A very persistent friend of a friend (over a period of a year) wore me down to an undertaking to restore three or four instruments for her. Weird feeling, because I do miss the contemplative work, but not the tasks of running a business. 
But the point of this post is to include a small slideshow of the build of this instrument. Of all the dozens of instruments that I made over twenty five years, this is the only one that I made for me.




Wednesday, May 31, 2017

2012 Harp slideshow








Ditterich Harp from Robert Ditterich on Vimeo.

The label  'harp making' in this blog has more than a dozen posts about the making of this particular harp. I wanted to bring it all together for the family that commissioned the instrument, and for me to have a simple record of the process. While I'm spending time on house renovations I find it is a good opportunity to reorganise and consolidate my record of things that have been enjoyable- particularly since others have expressed pleasure at seeing the process unfold.

It often shows multiple images so I do recommend a full screen viewing.


Sunday, May 28, 2017

philosophy and fascism

”The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.” Hermann Goering in Nuremberg Diary, by Gustave Gilbert, 1947

RAAF burial at Darwin 1942


I become  frustrated with the shallow coverage of world news, as if we are living in a spontaneous bubble, with no context and no subtlety in it's causes. Our current world leaders represent us in the latest developments of  the colonial and post-colonial expressions of capitalism and the permutations of power. Are they well placed to handle this?

An understanding of where we are now can best be achieved through some familiarity with the beginnings of the modern era; the narrative that starts with the Industrial Revolution, moving into the colonial era and (in our lifetime), the complex and often violent undoings of it. 

The experiences of the 1930's in particular can be helpful in understanding that history needs to be viewed from perspectives other than Western ones. Japan was never formally colonised by the West, but it was forced to engage with the modern era on Western terms and was denied it's right to isolationism by America. Middle Eastern, African and Asian cultures face the same problems as those faced by Japan as they emerge from being colonial possessions. This emergence has been playing out since the 1930's, and some have yet to come to grips with it, but many of us in the West see only the violent parts of this emergence that have been brought to our doorsteps. 

In addition, the label 'Fascism' is bandied about a great deal lately, and some reflection on the meaning of the word might be useful.

The following are two essays from my book 'Before Pearl Harbor. Making the Pacific War' (2008) and if there are assertions made without evidence in this excerpt, I believe they will have been addressed in other chapters.

The Kyoto School of Philosophy

“To become global, Oriental culture must not stop at its own specificity but rather it must shed a new light on Western culture and a new world culture must be created.” Nishida Kitaro


The Japanese struggle to modernize detonated a powerful tension between two apparently irreconcilable realities. It was impossible for Japan to avoid the technological challenge inherent in the Euro/American appearance on their horizon. This appearance was set uncomfortably against the need to maintain a national cultural identity in order not to be subsumed. Decades of political contradictions followed, and yet these finally focused on the single issue of control within the armies that were created to defend Japan.

Modern Japan evolved in a Western colonial context, responding to Western actions and the failure of Western ideals. The Japanese people of the time had to take responsibility for the actions of its government and its armies, but the cumulative effect of frustrated engagement with the West in commerce and politics ran almost parallel to the cumulative growth in power of the ultranationalists within the Japanese armies.

However, the Japanese mission was not intended to be just military and defensive. Those reactions were born of an understandable paranoia. The challenge to reconcile national identity with modernity required the creation of an intellectual framework more than a military one. The first step in this process was to understand modernity.

For those of us who were raised in the West, it is difficult to see modernity as anything other than a normal consequence of the passage of time, leading to the undisputable present. Modernity, though, is an attitude as much as a location in recent time. It has a huge collection of roots that are invisible to most people in their everyday lives. A Protestant context in Scotland produced the ‘founder’ of capitalism. Western philosophy retains its Greek rationalism.

The technology of the industrial revolution, also emerging from Scotland, redefined workforces and cities and the countryside, and so on.

The consequence was an amalgam of concepts and structures that placed Britain and Europe at the center of progress, technology, and wealth. This was an unseen by-product of the capacity of the individual to reshape culture through invention and creative thought. While always present as a tendency throughout the ages, this creative energy was generally considered to be culturally very dangerous if uncontrolled in the individual. Some progressive societies emerged gradually into ‘The Age of Reason’ partly as a consequence of allowing the freedom to reject Myth on an individual level. Importantly though, they maintained the right to embrace Myth collectively. This is an expression of pluralism. Few collective human changes have offered more promise or created so many problems since the first use of language.

Cultural domination was implicit in this transition, despite the enormous sophistication of many subjugated cultures, and it was assumed as a consequence, that the rest of the world would provide cheap labor and raw materials. In the European mind, Western rational materialism became the measure of value and progress, and it seemed universal and inevitable. To many, it still does, but materialism tends to undermine cultural meaning, personally and collectively. Modernity in the Western sense is not the inevitable form for a progressive society. Imagining that, and constructing an alternative from within a pre-modern society was, and is still, a huge task.

The ‘Post-Perry’ Japanese nation found themselves on the wrong side of a bi-polar world: East/West, progressive/backward, traditional/scientific. Western/Other.

The East/West view of the world (toyo vs. seiyo) became ingrained as the framework for Japanese people to understand their path to progress and the sometimes radical changes this brought to their lives.

Many romantic reinventions of Japanese tradition followed as reactions against change, but this split view also had the effect of politicians, military men, and intellectuals becoming more receptive to philosophical ideas and theories than would have been normal in the West. The Japanese had embraced the challenge of creating the ideal nation state with enormous enthusiasm, and they were receptive to those who could provide the language and the terms in which this could all be expressed. A similar motivation occurred in America when revolutionaries rejected colonial rule and turned to the language and ideas of the European Enlightenment to give shape to the new democratic dream. By comparison, though, this was a minor paradigm adjustment because it represented cultural extension or adaption, rather than reinvention.

Japanese philosophy came to be most representative and influential at Kyoto State University, mainly under the guidance of Nishida Kitaro around 1913. Several generations of scholars followed. It was never a ‘school’ as such, but a loose aggregation of independent thinkers. The scope of the work done under this banner is huge, touching on developments from Greek, French, German, and English philosophers, Theism, Christianity, and Buddhism.

What is particularly interesting for the purposes of this book is the self- positioning of Japanese philosophy relative to a Euro-centric world, which expressed itself through what is often called Western universalism. As it represented the center of progress, the West had no need to define its achievements in relation to the rest of the world. But thinking or action elsewhere occurred in an inevitable Euro-American frame of reference, and it hadn’t been very long since America itself had become part of that frame of reference.

Third–world, or even First World, colonial intellectuals felt compelled to reference European examples while their European counterparts felt no need to reciprocate. Eastern intellectuals often felt compelled to write for an unseen Western reader, but no Eastern equivalent exists for the Western writer. Of course, this is not a ‘racial’ phenomenon; it is a cultural one, to varying degrees applicable to everyone on a periphery, and it applied in Sydney as it did in Tokyo. The difference between these two in degree can be expressed in terms of the relative capacity to apply the general concept of ‘us’ to the relationship.

By emerging into a confident and optimistic position in the new century, it was felt that Japan could provide its own version of ‘universality,’ drawing upon its own traditions, but speaking in a philosophical language that would not only be understood by Western scholars but also be recognized for its own truth and universal relevance. Nishida expressed this idea in many ways and the following is from his collected works:

“Up to now Westerners thought that their culture was superior to all others, and that human culture advances toward their own form. Other peoples, such as Easterners, are said to be behind and if they advance, they too will acquire the same form. There are even some Japanese who think like this. However...I believe there is something fundamentally different about the East. They [East and West] must compliment each other and...achieve the eventual realization of a complete humanity. It is the task of Japanese culture to find such a principle.”1

This seems unremarkable at first reading, but it contains the kernel of an idea that challenges the West’s ‘ownership’ of universal culture, hinting that history can no longer claim to culminate in European civilization. This required that history would need to recognize multiple centers.2

Whatever meaning we ultimately attach to the causes or outcomes of the Pacific War, and how ever repulsed we are by the conduct of the war, this emerging philosophy was the first serious intellectual challenge to Euro- centrism. Given that the vast majority of people in the world are not Western or Euro/American, this is hugely significant in modern history. It is destined to become more so.

Our examination of the Kyoto school will be quite superficial. Philosophy makes for demanding reading, and this school in particular has been the subject of a huge body of writing and debate. The reason is that Japanese philosophy has been both blamed for, and absolved of, guilt and complicity in the development of imperialist and ultranationalist tendencies in Japan before and during the war. Several difficulties apply in particular.
First, nearly all the philosophers produced contradictory statements over the course of their careers. This should not seem surprising when dealing with subtle human minds, particularly when the analysis of a pure idea can often relate opposites to each other by virtue of their extreme difference. This is further complicated by the application of the Zen notion of absolute nothingness to an entity that in the West is seen as an absolute something. These things are compounded by the political climate of the time, the subtle but all pervading censorship as well as the potential consequences of challenging the prevailing view.

Second, the Japanese language and the presentation of its concepts do not lend themselves to simple translation into English. Huge differences in meaning can arise from a culturally insensitive choice of a word. Where possible, it is helpful to work from texts by Japanese nationals who learned English, or scholars who have lived for significant periods in Japan and have studied there.

Further, the method of debate and the presentation of argument in Japanese culture cannot be appreciated from a simple Western perspective. Language use in forming an argument in Sinitic cultures is different from the Western, linear, polemic methods. Opposing arguments may be approached in a more circular manner, converging on points of similarity or difference, somewhat like an insect spiraling down to land on a flower, considering its object throughout several passes. The consideration of the ‘object’ may be likened to recognition of status and the preservation of ‘face.’

Nishida began a national, intellectual project that involved the very rigorous study of Western sources synthesized with core Zen Buddhist concepts. But by the early 1930s, the wider national discussion focused increasingly on nationalism, causing the critique of Euro-centrism to become more emphatically nationalist, rather than universal.

Unless you are prepared for an enormous research task (and possibly even then), your view of the position of Kyoto thinkers within this debate will depend on your choice of reading and your view of history. It is still debated, but it does seem that the most compelling and consistent writings by the leading philosophers, notably Nishida and Tanabe, emphatically rise above extreme nationalism, expressing abhorrence for any abuse of people for national purposes. Their support for a national agenda was perhaps no more nationalistic or imperialistic than that which was considered moderate in Britain, America, or Australia at the time. The difficulty is that there are exceptions.

What Kyoto intellectuals were searching for was a particular form of modernity, which could address a persistent aspect of Euro-centrism that sought to dominate other cultures. Some would argue that in addressing it they became it, but that is to confuse the idea with the reality. One inhabits the realm of the philosopher and, the other, the realm of the soldier. The issue came to a head during a series of discussions, or symposia, held immediately before Pearl Harbor and not concluding until 1942 but published in 1943. The realities that needed to be dealt with were very different from those at the beginning of their intellectual journey, and they took place in a very different atmosphere and context.

The language of the wartime debates became more expansive in a way that to modern eyes might sometimes seem imperialistic. But since Japan’s struggle in China, Taiwan, and Korea had been both imperialistic and in competition with other imperialistic powers, this is not surprising. A China of the 1930s without Japanese interference would have been a China under either Soviet, British, or American influence or control, or any combination of those. But they spoke in terms of freeing Asia from foreign domination by unifying these and other Asian nations in a new world order. In doing so, they unwittingly provided the rationalization for aggression. However, the kind of mind capable of imagining the transformation of the Asian peoples into co- operative post-colonial nations was not the kind of mind that had been trained by the Army and placed into politically ambiguous frontiers.

In fact, semi-autonomous sub-imperialists whose military conditioning was based on the mythological and the quasi-religious staffed the Japanese overseas project. Many were agents for all that was irrational, self-serving, and chauvinistic, and their semi-autonomy was the basis for all of the ‘incidents’ that undermined Japanese intellectual life, politics, and foreign policy.

From the Kyoto School point of view, Ultra-nationalism and Fascism were manifestations of a Romantic exuberance, born of, and fed by, suffering, poverty, fear, and frustration, and they were destined to fail. Despite the debates about the meaning of the School, this much is clear: They understood that Tojo’s aggressive policies would fail and they acted, as best they could, to undermine them. They stood instead for rational self-mastery.

The Japanese experience understood in these terms can inform our understanding of current struggles against imperialism and the subjugation of peoples, as well as the futility of resorting to emotional and irrational means in the pursuit of self-realization.

We are not really naive enough to believe that the West’s interest in the Middle East is about the altruistic desire to export freedom and democracy. Modernity demands fuel and raw materials, and the actions of America, Britain, and Australia in the early 21st Century have parallels in those of Japan of the late 1930s: If not to own the supply, then to make sure the supplier is of a co-operative or compliant frame of mind. The Kyoto struggle to find a non- dominating form of modernity has to be our struggle, if the West is to earn its unlikely claim on continued hegemony. Further, the facile attempts to transplant democracy into countries that cannot embrace intellectual pluralism represent a shameful ignorance or disregard of the Japanese experience. First rational pluralism, then, gradually , democracy . Democracy is potentially dangerous and very superficial until certainty is widely superseded as a national paradigm.

What was the thrust of Kyoto thinking as it developed into the 1930s? A very good place to start is with Tanabe and his thoughts on subjectivity, arguably his central concept.
Subjectivity (shutaisei) is the essence of this rational self-mastery, a complex set of values, practices, and institutions without which the planet cannot be properly managed, or in the language of the Kyoto School, history cannot be made.3

But self-mastery is also that quality that equips a people to become dominant over other peoples. By itself and without a rational foundation, self- mastery is not only potentially destructive, it is also ultimately self-defeating. The North American democratic adventure that seemed so pure an example of Enlightenment thinking still managed to enslave thousands of Africans and almost purge the entire continent of its First People and is a perfect example of the dangerous paradox within the concept of subjectivity.194 Huge power harbors huge temptations. 

To illustrate this point, compare our understanding of the actions of the Japanese Army to the words of one of Japan’s leading philosophers, Hajime Tanabe.
The following extract is from The Philosophy of Crisis or a Crisis in Philosophy, Reflections on Heidegger’s Rectoral Address, 1933. The translation from the Japanese is by David Williams.
”To reject philosophy and acknowledge only the rule of political necessity as a standard for state conduct exposes the state to the judgment of history, a judgment that in the end it cannot endure. No state can long survive, let alone flourish, if it turns its back on reason.
“When Athens rejected the philosophy of Socrates and Plato, Athenians proceeded down a one-way street to their destruction. In the same way, when philosophy disregards the historical necessities that press on states in a self-satisfied manner, philosophy invites its own ruin. The fate of late Greek philosophy is one of the best known examples of such a failure.

“Abandoning the struggle, each side should recognize that the realist moment and idealist moment form an absolute identity. This holds out the promise that a concrete unity of these two moments is achievable. This is what Hegel’s expression ‘What is rational is actual, and what is actual is rational’ means.”

This is a very grounded perspective from the period before war with China, but what does Tanabe have to say after Pearl Harbor, when Nazism appears to be all conquering in Europe, and the Pacific appears to have been recast as a Japanese possession? The following are extracts from Tanabe’s article “On the Logic of Co-prosperity Spheres,” again translated by David Williams, and dated September 1942.

page253image17976
Noting that the British concept of equality as expressed by Missionaries stood in marked contrast to the reality of the situation in which the developed country relentlessly exploited the undeveloped one, Tanabe typifies this as vertical hegemony dominating horizontal equality. He adds the observation that “Western colonialism attempts to hide the realities of economic exploitation behind this pretended commitment to equality.” He wanted Japan to do better, by openly facing the gap between developed and developing nations and managing the imbalance to the advantage of both. He wrote:

” The link between the persistence of power and order as well as the hierarchy of power between states that results from this relationship—need to be acknowledged clearly by both leader and follower states. But it also implies that this imbalance of power must not result in the imperialistic exploitation of one side by the other. The autonomy of the developing states needs to be advanced and their sovereignty recognized. Effective integration between the member states is vital to the success of any great project such as that of building a co-prosperity sphere.”

David Williams provides the first port of call for the reader who needs to explore the topic in some depth. He demonstrates an intimate knowledge and understanding of Tanabe’s work and the challenges it poses for the orthodox view of Pacific War history. In explaining the relevance of the Kyoto philosophers he writes, in part,
“[the Kyoto philosophers] were rational thinkers in a sense that any educated European will find plausible. This is what makes the Kyoto thinker so formidable and therefore so disturbing to any proponent of Pacific War orthodoxy.

“This brings us to the greatest failure of the Western critic of the Wartime Kyoto School. In the eyes of the Kyoto philosopher, the war against Anglo-American hegemony had to be fought with rational means for rational ends; otherwise, it was wrong metaphysically and would not succeed practically. But because the Tojo regime pursued the war for other than rational ends and insisted on fighting it with less than rational means, the assessment of the war effort by the Kyoto School may qualify as among the most important expressions of public criticism (admittedly oblique) of the government’s military strategy to appear in print in Japan between 1941 and 1945.”4

Tanabe was involved in secret discussions with the Yonai Faction of the Imperial Navy to bring down the Tojo Cabinet. The writings and actions quoted here are not those of a person we can justifiably call fascist. By seeking to apply universal standards to national behavior, the Kyoto group threatened the very basis of the ultranationalist appeal. As Williams put it, “Like the American exceptionalist, the Japanese chauvinist believed that his country was in the world but not of it.”5

The Kyoto group were not interested in a national narrative but in the Japanese role in world history as conceived by Hegel and judged by universal standards. Tanabe was loathed by the nationalists, in the same way that Minobe had been in the controversy surrounding his ‘Emperor as Organ Theory.’ Minobe and Tanabe both tried to subject Japanese institutions to rational analysis, challenging the distribution and the application of power. Their persistence, despite criticism from left and from right, from Japanese Government and Allied Occupation Forces alike, can explain in part the success of post-war Japan, the ‘economic miracle’ that became the exemplar for post-colonial Asian subjectivity.
A neo-Marxist will take issue with this line of thinking, and with the arguments omitted from this very brief and somewhat shallow outline but will do so because history from that position must follow a predictable path. This book has been an attempt to avoid a rigid starting position in order to let the events lead us to a rational, satisfying view. The dissatisfied reader can do no better than refer to David Williams’ thorough dissection of these issues. His analysis is extensive, rigorous, and incisive.
page255image15640

Footnotes.
1. Nishida Kitaro Zenshu, vol 14 Pp404-405 cited in Yoko Arisaka, Beyond “East

and West”: Nishida’s Universalism and Postcolonial Critique, in The Review of Politics 59:3 Summer 97,
2. Yoko Arisaka, Beyond “East and West”: Nishida’s Universalism and Postcolonial
Critique, in The Review of Politics 59:3 Summer 97, P3
3. Williams, David, Defending Japan’s Pacific War, Philosophers and post- White
power, Routledge Curzon, London & NY, 2004, P11
4. Ibid, P 139 Read Williams’ on ‘European origins of the Kyoto School crisis’ for an
excellent and very thorough account 



Harnessing Discontent & The Issue Of Fascism 

Making national policy from national discontent: Japan in the 1930's.


The diverse tasks involved in subverting and harnessing the widespread feelings of discontent, which fed and sustained various revolutionary movements, became a major national project in Japan. The success of the project provided a relatively stable national platform for industrial growth and the generation of wealth, but it also created a military movement that saw its legitimacy as rivaling that of government, rather than merely being its instrument. This chapter explores the accumulation and the nature of military power: the threads that became woven into the mantle of Japanese militarism.

We have seen that the project began with the young. Some of the youth movements that evolved in pre-war Japan combined the expertise of the War and the Education Offices in their establishment and in their running. Just as men of influence congregated in groups of common interest to press for change, the youth were encouraged to seek higher purposes both in and out of school.

The Society of the Military Valor of Great Japan had about three million members in 1935. It was supported and supervised by military officers in preparing boys for military life and learning the benefits of obedience and discipline, including “exultation of the Japanese war spirit, and rallying the entire nation, united by Samurai traditions, around the sacred person of the Emperor.” The Japanese Youth Association organized by the Home Office maintained sixteen thousand groups with a membership of over two million in the 1930s. There were many others.

Military societies originally founded to support ex-servicemen were expanded to play a larger role in developing and maintaining militaristic traditions. They often distributed huge quantities of propaganda material, and they also organized mass meetings in villages and cities across Japan.

The Ex-Serviceman’s Association, or Zaigo Gunjinkai became much more aggressive after 1932, and it was this organization that was able to humiliate several leading liberal thinkers over subsequent years including Minobe Tatsukishi.

Many early protagonists for totalitarianism used secret societies as training centers for terrorist activities. Membership of these included many of the younger officers of the army, and these formed an interesting group for several reasons. With senior figures heading these societies it is no surprise to find ambition and zeal amongst the young, but socio-economic factors played a part as well. Many of the young recruits and conscripts came from backgrounds of rural poverty or the urban working classes. They harbored resentment toward the privileged upper strata that could evade military service by simply continuing their studies. They also resented the corrupt alliances between the parties and the zaibatsu and the bribery and scandals among political leaders.

Recruits were exposed to many books of the period, written with their sympathies in mind. The powerful nationalistic rhetoric in them appealed to their resentments and ambitions, filling a need that may otherwise have been satisfied through socialist or communist ideals.
Writing in 1936, Kenneth Colgrove puts their position this way: “their salaries are small, their education is limited. In the large cities, on the crowded Ginza, and in the restaurants, they feel out of place. Their self-respect is preserved only by resort to a preposterous patriotism and anti-foreign prejudice. And they burn with indignation at the thought of the oppression of their father’s families.”163 From these groups came the young men who assassinated Premier Inukai and others.

As a mid-1930s assessment of the progress of fascism, Colgrove’s book Militarism in Japan is a valuable insight into the mood of the country at the time, because without the benefit of hindsight he argued that fascism would not become the significant force in Japan. That he was able to reach this conclusion even as late as 1935 tells us a great deal about the force and speed of events over the subsequent five or six years. He was certainly aware in detail, of the many complex forces at work in Japan, and had written comprehensively about the stumbles and frustrations associated with the democratic experiment.

Despite the progress made against parliamentary democracy by assassins and terrorists, Colgrove felt that the militarists had failed to unite the nation or capture control of the state. In arguing this he gave six, slightly overlapping, reasons, and these can be summarized as follows.

First: he cited the lack of unity among the various groups, each with its own program.

Second: there was no co-ordination or strategy as there was in the Italian and German examples.

Third: They lacked unifying slogans and concepts to mobilize the population. The danger of communism seemed too remote. He felt the ‘Great Asia’ idea was a hackneyed battle cry. Russia and America did not pose sufficient threat.

Fourth: A movement to take the nation by force needed mass organization. The fascists, he claimed, failed to win the masses, and had in fact alienated millions who would have responded to a more aggressively anti- capitalist stance. Terrorism had lowered the prestige of the movement.

Fifth: In spite of the Manchurian Incident, the bourgeois parties had not entirely lost the battle for parliamentary government. They had succeeded in gaining universal suffrage [for men], and there had never been a complete surrender to the militarists.
Sixth: The Genro, the Emperor, and the circle of high officials surrounding the Emperor had not been in sympathy with the militaristic movements. At that time, he felt the Emperor appeared to favor a constitutional regime.

There is one issue, which by itself can address at least the first four of the limiting factors given above. That is to say, it informs them and sheds some light on our understanding that Colgrove’s conclusion is still debatable. It points us to the leadership in Japan and its traditional attitudes to the population and to politics.

What German and Italian totalitarianism had in common was a cult of personality, a singular voice and a focused vision, which were thrust energetically upon an audience of individuals who could be motivated to think as a mass. Political leadership was public, noisy, and seldom subtle.

In contrast, Japanese leaders remained aloof and unwilling to be seen to engage with the socially inferior electorate. To explain this it is necessary to look briefly and relatively at the absorption of individualism as a Western concept in Japanese political practice.

In the West, authoritarianism had to develop in societies for which individualism was relatively more entrenched than it was in Japan. Despite its exposure to modernity, Japanese society never found it necessary or possible to consider the individual as an isolated unit. That Japanese modernity had built upon and embraced many traditional values, enabled leadership to gain enormous power, by Western standards, without the need for the mass rallies and stirring speeches used in Europe.

The majority of the Japanese elite appears to have had nothing but abhorrence and fear of mass movements of any type and therefore had no desire to create a personal political relationship between the leader and the led. As Scalapino wrote in 1953, “oratory continued to be considered vulgar, and there was probably no group of modern political leaders who maintained such resolute silence in public as the Japanese statesmen.”164

The difficulty with oratory was probably that, to engage in speech making or debate, was to admit to the existence of pluralism, and this by implication means it is possible to be wrong. Most other parliamentary traditions had their foundations based in oratory and debating skills. This is part of the Western inheritance of Greco-Roman intellectualism. The difference is also partly directional, in that power and wisdom traditionally flowed downwards in Japan, just as allegiance flowed upwards.

Colegrove gave what seemed to be a reasonable assessment from an informed 1936 point of view. Many commentators probably shared his overall assessment at the time, and as we gain distance and moral perspective from the horrors of the Pacific War, scholars may now be more likely than they have been, to accept it again. In the post-war years, the label ‘fascist’ was to become a very hot potato among scholars and apologists.

Nevertheless, fascism has been described and defined in many ways, and the consensus of most modern scholars of Japan seems to be that Colgrove’s assessment was correct. A more thorough exploration of this question follows.

Fear Challenging Pluralism

The extent to which a society can adapt and learn, take risks, and face complexity is dependent upon the safe persistence of pluralism. These things were all prerequisites to Japan’s participation in modernity, world industry, and global power. Paradoxically, the very creation of complexity threatens pluralism, and this was the case in Japan, as it was in many countries in the period following World War I and the Depression.

When investigating the disintegration of party politics in Japan we can justifiably regard it as a failure of pluralism. Pluralism in society can be inclusive, energetic, creative, and evolutionary, but it is often also relatively threatening and challenging as people are taken into the unknown and the untested.

Many rural Japanese were happy to have the possibility of a disposable income and perhaps some previously unavailable goods, but many were also unprepared to turn their backs on the traditions and values that had formed the pattern and texture of their collective lives for centuries.

The non-progressive society may appear quaint by modern standards, but it provided reliable parameters and something of a predictable future— with all the positives and negatives that could be entailed in that. Modernity challenged the fundamental relationship between the Japanese people and the natural world, as well as their sense of belonging within a traditional community and their spiritual relationship to both the landscape and their ancestors. Those embracing or demanding modernity regarded all of these as simply irrational and inefficient.

To drag a newly developing industrial economy into the modern world, the fears and conservatism of the largely uneducated labor force needed to be redirected to the national purpose. Our judgment as to whose purpose was the national one will color our view of the various realities in which European and Asian people found themselves in the 1930s.
With Japan under enormous economic and social pressure, the forces that were able to endure and to break through the ‘noise’ of choices, fear, and confusion were the ones that could most closely become identified with safety, survival, and strength.

The Totalitarian Mindset

In one sense, the Japanese had to deal with a pluralism run riot, as hundreds of societies, groups, and parties, each with its own agenda, vied for support, often from overlapping as well as from competing interest groups. This was a time of kaleidoscopic ideation, a bit map creating too many images to comprehend. A type of fractured pluralism developed that could never be inclusive or even stable in the long term.

The decay of party politics in Japan and the tightening grasp of totalitarian government, involved normal human responses to generalized threats and uncertainties, but it did so within the context of a fragile and immature democracy, which was not able to offer a simple, rational set of choices to the electorate.

The parallel arm of militarism, with its link directly to the national symbol, was able to benefit from these uncertainties and anxieties, as were the arms of bureaucracy. The convergence of industrial and military imperatives around the concept of national survival created the necessary conditions for a kind of totalitarian gestalt.

Before we assess the political transformation that followed, there are some factors that allow the possibility that in differing degrees, the human and social responses to extreme situations are predictable and normal. Cynical leaders, for reasons of wealth, power, and control, are able to intensify the degree of the response. Threatening or emergency situations create a desire to reduce ambiguity and complexity in social systems in favor of simplistic binary thinking typified by choices such as us/them, good/evil or right/wrong.

This is a form of totalitarian thinking, and it can exist in varying degrees even within outwardly liberal states, or as a tendency that can be harnessed even by a single confusing issue. It does not require very much imagination to see modern occurrences of this type of thinking, as prevalent now as it has ever been.

In Japan, to keep things in perspective, many people were not compliant or involved in totalitarian thinking. Pacifists, people of some religious faiths, elements of the moderate and extreme left, and ordinary people resisted, personally or outwardly.

Some of them were silenced by fear, by gaol, or by assassination. We have seen that by 1935, however, they had become silent or silenced. It should also be remembered that for many, a Western style democracy was never considered appropriate for the traditional Japanese social structure, and indeed many saw goodness in the paternalistic alternative, which was not inevitably linked to rampant militarism or its consequences. That apparent inevitability is a consequence of hindsight.

In traditional Japan, paternalism was familiar, while ambiguity was culturally distasteful. In discussing the influence of ambiguity in the authoritarian mindset, Sampson wrote in 1999:
“First when confronted by an ambiguous situation, one allowing for a variety of meanings or shades of gray, they feel discomfort. Second, they deal with the discomfort by seeing a quick and easy solution that minimizes the subtleties that exist. In short, they make their world into simple black and simple white. From time to time, all of us show aspects of this intolerance. The mark of high authoritarianism, however, is the tendency to deal uncharitably with ambiguity most of the time.”165

Uncertain situations, like the disarray of party politics in Japan, a growing trade crisis, and major population shifts from traditional rural centers to the cities, as well as other factors outlined elsewhere, here, were all causes of social stress and anxiety. Perhaps we can establish a direct link between anxiety and the need for order and predictability, in the attempt to avoid potential chaos. As a social phenomenon, this seems almost always to occur at the cost of novelty, originality, and creativity, producing a restrictive, controlling atmosphere, which is intolerant of differences.

Diversity is likened to ambiguity by authoritarian personalities who show a preference for eliminating them in favor of conformity and homogeneity. Under extreme situations of pressure, even individuals who are not normally so inclined will exhibit authoritarian tendencies to deal with anxiety, and this makes them particularly susceptible to propaganda and prejudicial thinking.

Another indicator in the totalitarian mindset is the creation of an out- group as a potential threat, and therefore an enemy. The well-known Nazi Hermann Goering maintained that this was a key strategy for uniting people and enabling them to set aside internal differences while emphasizing separateness from ‘the other.’

Perceived differences may be racial, religious, or ethnic, and leadership will often seek to identify the threat of ‘the other’ in such a way that people see a polarity—such as, for/against or patriotic/traitor. Emphasis on ‘otherness’ enables the stereotyping of groups and their consequent dehumanizing. ‘Scapegoating’ is an easy progression wherein problems can be linked to the actions or qualities of the ‘other.’

A fear of imminent threat can also give strength to a leader who can paint a simple picture of the threat and appear to be decisive about its solution. The need for strong leadership associated with the factors mentioned above can also allow a population to make significant personal sacrifices to fund a military effort, for example.

In a journal article, Alfonso Montuori wrote that,
“the literature of social psychology provides us ample 
research into the dynamics of conformity and conversion. Particularly when there is great anxiety, the forces of conformity come into play and an increasing alignment occurs to what is perceived to be the voice of authority. Psycho-dynamically , a process of collective projection occurs, endowing the leader with all the clarity and power individuals seem to lack—and playing into the leader as a father role.”166

In the case of Japan, this latter point is subtler than it was in either Germany or in Italy during the 1930s. The Emperor embodied a spiritual as well as father role, and while this is arguably also true of Hitler, if it existed, it was a recently invented, superficial affectation. In Japan, the Emperor was very remote from the population and was perhaps more powerful and unchallengeable to the Japanese psyche as a consequence, and the ‘spiritual’ nature of his position had roots deep in national history.

Some comparison of the Japanese experience to that of Europe is inevitable, despite the obvious fact that Japan shared almost none of the Western historical experiences. The sweep of history uses the same cast of players in creating different dramas, and on the level of the individual, humans tend to respond to situations in ways they always have. Brilliance is the exception.

Japanese Fascism, Corporatism or Unique Entity?

In 1946, the populations of the allied countries were more than happy to be reassured that Imperial Japan, like Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, was a criminal nation that had engaged in a conspiracy to take over the world. They had been stopped, but attribution of blame would stem from that premise. In the 21st Century, historians have much more access to research material that can enable a view with more nuances and possibly less bias?
In the late 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, the Japanese Press was regularly discussing fascism and, also in that period, many books were published discussing the merits and disadvantages for Imperial Japan.

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In his article on Japanese fascism in 2005167, Marcus Willensky claims that for the allies there was never any question that Imperial Japan was a fascist nation. He maintains that it was only in the immediate post-trial era that Japanese authors seriously began to discuss the implications for historians, of labeling the pre-war era fascist.

The Cold War and the economic miracle of Japanese recovery added strength to the arguments of those who felt that the Japanese experience was somehow different, and that ‘fascist’ was not an appropriate description of the movement that occurred there. In reconfiguring national policy to include the former enemy as an ally against communism, many American voices were enthusiastic in avoiding ‘fascism’ as a descriptor in relation to Japan. Study of many sources finds that most Japanese of the period were adamant that what they had was a Japanese phenomenon. Consensus among international scholars in the half-century since has vacillated.

In a recent book, David Williams argues that despite the grievous crimes committed in the name of the Emperor, the regime should not be labeled as fascist. His major interest is in exploring the role of the Kyoto school of philosophers in Japanese thinking and re-examining their contribution as the formulators of the first rational philosophy that could embrace and inform a future in which ‘non-white’ cultures could be more than mere reproductions of ‘whiteness.’

Williams examines a strong Japanese case against Western hegemony, challenging an orthodoxy, which, he claims, “dishonestly insists that we set allied ideals against Japanese moral failure.”168 His main focus is on the Kyoto school of philosophy and the misguided criticism of it since the war. He strongly resists the use of the term fascist as a descriptor, but it is sensible for us to separate the philosophers from the government, with the possibility that one may be fascist and the other not. We will look further at this issue again, but at this point, it is useful to keep to the question of fascism and whether it developed in Japan or not.

In debating the merits of calling the Japanese phenomenon ‘Emperor- System fascism,’ Herbert Bix draws an interesting distinction between militarism and fascism. He writes:
“Where militarism denotes a technique of class rule associated with military budgets, the arms race, the development of weapons technology and everything which contributes to the spiritual support for waging war, the discussion of fascism is intended to focus attention on the process of change in the political form itself and the conditions under which such changes persist.”169

Is it important to have a view on this? Does it matter what we call the system that contributed to the Pacific War? That question raises a further complication in that we have already seen that the reasons for a confrontation between America and Japan may have pre-existed Japanese totalitarian government. In this case, the existence, or not of fascism may be simply academic, or it might mean that fascism was in part a response to American attempts at hegemony.

In recent times, the term fascism has been rather loosely applied in conversation and in the media, and it has come to be used in describing almost anything vaguely right wing. It is worth being a little more definitive here. Is fascism a general concept or a specific description, and in either case, is it instructive or accurate to use it as a reference to the final stages of pre-war Japan?

The intention of this book is to explore the roots and meanings of the war, and since debates of this kind can reveal the processes at work from different viewpoints, it is worth delving deeper than a simple chronological outline. We don’t need to adopt a position on these questions to benefit from a discussion of the issues involved.

The term ‘fascism’ is used to represent a range of meanings. Beyond its application to Mussolini’s Italy, scholarly consensus dissipates as the exact meaning and application become more general. For some scholars, fascism was an Italian movement and even German National Socialism does not fit within their definition. For others, fascism was a general phenomenon in Europe between the wars, and an inevitable outcome of capitalism.
In his essay, “Fascism,” Wolfgang Schieder felt that the term applied to “any extremist and nationalist movements with authoritarian and tightly hierarchical structures and anti-democratic, anti-liberal, and anti-socialist ideologies which founded authoritarian or totalitarian regimes, or aimed to do so...”170 This is a very general description, which for the non-specialist seems quite useful in illuminating the situation in Japan. But is it too general?

The international socialist movement first identified the fascist ‘movement’ as it observed the rise to power of Mussolini. It was seen to have pan-European roots in the “social, economic and political upheavals of the immediate post [first] war, which bred a turn against liberalism, democracy and socialism.”171 The early Stalinist view was that fascism represented the final, and necessary, form of bourgeois-capitalist rule, and was therefore welcomed as a sign of the death of European capitalism.

Of the dozens of theories explaining fascism, the work of AKF Organski provides a useful insight into the Japanese case, without referring significantly to it. In discussing fascism as a phenomenon linked to the persistence of an established governing class in the face of accelerated modernization, Organski identifies three patterns that mark the political transformation.

First Organski sees clearly detectable, long range, rapid economic growth. His second observation is of large-scale mobilization with a heavy component of rural to city migration. His third element is vast and rapid political mobilization, particularly acute just before the fascists assume power.172

A development of this attention to the role of modernization was made by Barrington Moore, Jr., who maintained that for late industrial developers, “the pre-industrial elites in these societies were not displaced by revolution and thus were cast in the historically anomalous role of directing the process of ‘revolution from above’ to try to rationalize and modernize their societies, while at the same time ensuring that they retain their social dominance. To this end, mobilization and repression were necessary, and the contradictory nature of the combination in turn necessitated militarism.”173

Both of these theories are very general and do not address class issues in a way that would be satisfactory to a Marxist historian but they do inform our search for understanding the Japanese phenomenon. Explaining Marxist dissatisfaction with such views, McCormack claims that “bourgeois scholars are inclined to want to set aside the theoretical problems of definition, partly because they see further research as necessary...but also because of a more fundamental ideological reason; too many of the paths of theoretical enquiry lead to various formulas for the association of fascism with liberalism, middle- class society and capitalism...”174 There is more than a little truth in that, but we might simply argue that most scholars are more interested in the forces at work behind the events of the period than they are in nomenclature or definition.

The period after World War II saw the politicization of some academic research, as governments encouraged an accommodation of the fact that the former Soviet ally was now the ‘enemy’ and the former fascist enemies were now allies. Wartime rhetoric suddenly seemed inappropriate. Establishment views of each regime were encouraged through funding, patronage, and appeals to patriotic principles, to recast the popular perception in a more palatable way. The major thrust of the Western agenda quickly shifted from being anti-fascist to anti-communist.

From seeing the Japanese in the ‘fascist camp,’ the conventional explanation became that they had been taken over by militaristic cliques and ultra-nationalist secret societies.
The extension of this thinking saw a growing emphasis on the importance of constitutional contradictions inherent in the Japanese attempt to place the Diet, the military, and the emperor in a nationally appropriate relationship. It is hard to ignore these structural factors, though, because they create the entire internal context of national development.
Militarism as a descriptor became a Western orthodoxy in a way that was never applied to the European examples.

The historian Albert Craig asserts that “Japan in this period is better labeled militarist than fascist. The basic state apparatus was not new or revolutionary, but merely the ‘establishment’ overlaid by controls and permeated by an unchecked spiritual nationalism”175.

European Comparisons

The Italians and the Germans of the 1930s provide examples to compare with, and contrast to, the Japanese developments. The Italian case is represented best through the words of Mussolini and the writer Alfredo Rocco. The following description gives some insight into the Italian Fascist thinking.

“Fascism never raises the question of methods, using in its political praxis now liberal ways, now democratic means and at times even socialist devices. The indifference to method often exposes fascism to the charge of incoherence on the part of superficial observers, who do not see what counts with us is the end and that therefore even when we employ the same means we act with a radically different spirit and strive for entirely different ends.”

In this, Rocco embraces the contradictory and pragmatic nature of fascism. He asserts that for fascism the goal and not the path is the key to understanding the term; therefore, fascism will undoubtedly take on different forms in different situations and in different hands.

“The end towards which Rocco was striving was the creation of an all- powerful state that would play the central role in organizing the lives and livelihoods of its citizens. How this was achieved was less important than its realization.” 176 In the Japanese example, a preference for pragmatic action unfettered by political principles represents the right wing determination to catch up with other imperialist powers as fast as possible, by whatever means, to assert their unique cultural agenda and their spiritual mission.

Writing in 1932, Yoshino Sakuzo explained that, “To define fascism is an extremely difficult task. We can, however, say in general terms that it implies the rule of the disciplined and resolute few as against that of the undisciplined and irresolute many. It is anti-democratic, and particularly anti- parliamentarian; it is national rather than international; and it tends to dignify the State as against the individual, or any group of individuals, except of course the resolute group in whose hands power is concentrated. These are the ideas which animate the various groups in Japan...and therefore, in spite of their occasional repudiation of the title, they can be reasonably be called Fascists.”177

Pre-war Japanese politics can be said to have exhibited these particularities: It was intensely nationalistic. It was racialist—expressing a belief that the Japanese were racially superior to Westerners and all other Asians. It was militaristic and imperialistic.178 The element missing in defining the period as fascist is “the totalitarian organization of government and society by a single party dictatorship.”179

It can be argued that this missing element was no longer missing from 1940, following the disbanding of opposition parties. This left the Imperial Rule Assistance Association as the only functioning party, and this, combined with the consolidated powers of the Emperor, was the final link in functionally legitimizing de facto fascist elements and tendencies, which had been evolving on a separate path, politically and in the military.

Most Western writers, including Peter Duus and Mark Peattie, both of whom have been referred to frequently in this book, argue that Imperial Japan was not fascist. Duus and Okimoto, after dissecting the literature and demonstrating several inconsistencies and the unsatisfactory nature of fascism as an analytical concept, suggest a possible alternative paradigm of ‘corporatism.’ They argue that the 1930s were a period of “general impulse toward managed economies that was on the rise all over the world,” and in the Japanese case it saw “the formative period of a managerial state or polity, in which a dirigiste bureaucracy became the central element in the formation and execution of national policy.”180

Willensky takes a different view. His main emphasis involves the role of social rather than economic factors. He points out that “the Imperial Japanese Military and bureaucracy placed great emphasis on collective belonging and a shared past.” 
He goes on:
“Starting in the Meiji, Taisho and certainly in the Showa era there was no lack of government-sponsored propaganda designed to help the average citizen to see his place in terms of the family, the household, and the nation, and their relationship to the Emperor in an unbroken line through history. This process stressed the sacred importance of Japanese language, culture and history. Part of this indoctrination was an emphasis on the importance of the Kokutai, literally the ‘body of the State’ in which the concept of the individual must be subsumed.”181

It is fair to argue that most of the concepts of Mussolini’s fascism existed, at least as tendencies, in Japan from the beginnings of the Meiji period. The Meiji vision projected Japan forward as a nation built upon its past and not as a diluted European democracy, nor a nation of individuals.

The Emperor remained central to the Japanese concept of State despite several contradictions in his actual relationship and role with regard to the oligarchs in the Meiji period and the Military in the pre-war period, for example. In Willensky’s words, “Imperial Japan was fascist not because it successfully copied what was happening in Italy and Germany but because that is what the Meiji oligarchs intended it to be, though at the time they lacked the words to describe it as such.”182

In this, Willensky implies that the various expressions of fascism in the 20th Century were manifestations of pre-existing phenomena which, when combined, can be labeled as fascist. This is an important difference from the view of Japanese fascism as a version of an Italian theory or concept. 

Carl Cohen puts it this way:
“For Fascism, Society is the end, individuals the means, and its whole life consists in using individuals as instruments for its social ends. The State therefore guards and protects the welfare and development of individuals not for their exclusive interest, but because of the identity of the needs of individuals with those of society as a whole.”183

The Japanese expression of these elements was called Kodo, and this included a quasi-religious relationship to the Emperor, who represented the link with cultural roots and the very birth of the State. In this, the highest achievement of individuals was the sublimation of their wills to that of the Emperor, regardless of the sources of his policy.

In 1932, Hiranuma Kiichiro made a speech in which, among other elaborations of national militarism, Kodo claimed, “The individual Japanese never hesitates to sacrifice his life for the maintenance of that great national life...” He adds, to clarify the Japanese position, “Fascism, which has become important of late, is the product of a foreign country resulting from national circumstances in that country. Our country has its [own] independent object and its [own] independent mission.”184

Our comprehension of Japanese totalitarianism depends greatly on our understanding of the democratic movements in Japan, which developed in the period following the Washington Conference in 1922. The liberal and democratic elements that grew in this period should not be seen as forces that could have prevented totalitarianism, but as ones that were necessary for totalitarianism to move to center stage. This seemingly counter-intuitive argument was well explained by Ebenstein when he wrote, “No fascist system can arise in a country without some democratic experience (as in Germany and Japan), there is not much likelihood of fascist success in countries that have experienced democracy over a long period.”185

In Japan, a level of democracy enabled a literate society exposure to a pluralist media, which produced a diversity of opinions and a level of discontent and confusion. The democratic movement lacked a singular sense of purpose.

Although the party system gave hope and a voice to some elements, there was a backlash against it because of confusion and bitterness within others, undermining the sense of security that modernization had set out to achieve. Seen from this perspective, democracy was a gamble with which the nation was unable or unwilling to persist.

The growth in power and prestige of party politics during the late Meiji and Taisho eras was largely eradicated by changes to the composition of the Justice and Home Ministries and the death of the last of the Genros,186 or elder statesmen of the Meiji restoration. The result was a return to a power structure more in keeping with the authoritarian and bureaucratic inclinations first outlined by the Meiji architects.187

The National General Mobilization Law, passed in 1938, gave the government much greater power than it ever had in previous eras. Among other things, it gave authority to move people anywhere the state needed them. In practice, this created a mobile slave force of Koreans and others.

By 1939, government power was stronger still, but almost as an instrument of the military, in the form of the Ministry for the Army. The following example demonstrates its confident power; it is part of a statement by the Army Minister quoted in the Trans-Pacific.188
“The basic policy regarding the disposal of the China incident has been established with Imperial approval. It is immutable and will not be affected by Cabinet change. It is the intention of the Army to pursue its fixed course and concentrate on containment of the objectives in the holy war.”

In this, the Minister refers to direct access to the Emperor as being the unquestionable justification for the initiation of government policy at a domestic level as well as foreign policy, beyond the jurisdiction of constitutional government. Note also the jingoistic reference to the pseudo- religious ‘holy war’ in defining national goals. The transformation to totalitarianism is complete.

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Is this representative of a break down of the governmental processes that evolved from the Meiji restoration? Or does it represent a system returning to its truer roots, those implicit in the initial authoritarian and bureaucratic restoration of the Meiji era?

At the heart of the Meiji restoration was an ancient, exquisite culture that was fiercely conservative and non-progressive. Faced with a modern world that would no longer be ignored, it embraced change and modernity but in doing so it grasped even more firmly the central qualities by which the people could define themselves.

Security and freedom from fear—as opposed to freedom—could only be achieved by making even more precious the core identity values that had become the national ‘story.’ The pressures for economic and technical change served to intensify and concentrate conservative forces in direct proportion to the insecurity that came with change.
The kind of change faced by Japan was not the gradual, incremental change mostly experienced in the West; it was explosive and confronting, changing roles that had been constant for centuries. It produced the type of anxiety and stress discussed at the start of this chapter, which made the people even more susceptible to the authoritarian mindset.
These factors allow a view of the transition to totalitarianism “as a manifestation of cultural continuity.”189 Ebenstein goes further, saying, “In Germany and Japan [in that period] the authoritarian tradition has been predominant and democracy is still a very frail plant. As a result, a German or Japanese with fascist tendencies is no outcast and may be considered perfectly well-adjusted to his society.”190

In fact, in the case of Germany, the liberal cultural tradition that existed outside the Prussian field of influence may well mean that the German fascist experience does not sit well in that example. In Germany and in Italy, separate states with strong, independent cultural traditions and identities were unified into nations, and this may have been a more central issue for them.

The need to find a common national identity in these cases involved a good deal more invention than in the case of Japan. For example, the people of Bavaria continue to embrace an independent self-image, despite their 19th- Century domination by Prussia and unification into Germany.

In summary, those who believe that Japan became a fascist state might use the following seven events to indicate the unfolding of such a development.

The first would most probably be either the Manchurian Incident of 1931 or the Japanese withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933. Then, the ‘Emperor as Organ Theory’ controversy of 1935 cemented the Emperor as Supreme Commander. Following this, the commitment to the Ant-Comintern Pact of 1936 committed the Japanese to an international anti-socialist allegiance.

In 1938, the National General Mobilization Law placed the country effectively in the hands of a military dictatorship capable of over-ruling the legislature, followed by the dissolution of Political Parties in May 1940.

The sixth event was the signing of the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in September 1940. The final point of transition is possibly the inauguration of the Imperial Rule Assistance Association as the only political force in October of the same year.

These events moved Japan into a pattern of behavior that fits many definitions of fascism, despite Japanese denials at the time, wherein Kodo is explained as a Japanese phenomenon free of Western inspiration. As we have seen, this latter point may well be true, and their path to the pattern we call fascism may have occurred, even in the absence of a European model.

A lingering doubt arises from the fact that in Japan, so many moderate and flexible minds were still able to stay within the political process, even after the installation of Major General Tojo.

When we examine the final negotiations to stave off a war with America in a later chapter, it becomes evident that Japanese politics oscillated from extreme positions, but centered on a persistent fear for national survival. Among all this, there remained a core of people of significant humanity whose grip on power was only taken from them when it was finally believed that America’s intentions amounted to starvation of resources, and probably war. 


Even when Tojo was given the Imperial sanction to govern, he did not become a dictator in the conventional sense but the instrument of mobilization for the national task. Seen from the point of view of those charged with national survival, this was an entirely rational process—even if Premier Tojo acted in an irrational manner in carrying out his task.
It can also be argued that ‘fascism’ as a descriptor is only useful as a polemical concept in the context of Marxist orthodoxy, which is no longer particularly relevant.

In any case, we can revel in the marvelous irony that a political and social phenomenon, which sought to address fear and disorder by a reduction of them to simple dichotomies, without shades of gray or expressions of doubt or uncertainty, can be so difficult for scholars to agree upon in its definition.

footnotes 163Colegrove KW, Militarism in Japan, World Peace Foundation, 1936, P38 
164 Scalapino, Robert. A, Democracy and the Party Movement In Pre-War Japan: The Failure of the First Attempt, University of California Press Berkeley , 1953, P304
165 Sampson E E, Dealing with Differences, An Introduction to the Social Psychology of Prejudice, Harcourt Brace, Fort Worth 1999 P85
166 Montuori A, How to Make Enemies and Influence People: Anatomy of the Anti- Pluralist, Totalitarian Mindset, Futures, Vol37: 1, 2005 P4
167 Willensky, Marcus, Japanese Fascism Revisited, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, vol 5 Number 1, Winter 2005, P59
168 Williams, David, Defending Japan’s Pacific War: the Kyoto School Philosophers and Post-White Power, Routledge Curzon NY, 2004 P16
169 Bix H P, Re-Thinking Emperor-System Fascism: Ruptures and Continuities in Modern Japanese History, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars Vol14:2 1982 P7
170 Schieder, Wolfgang, “Fascism” in Kernig C D, (ed) Marxism, Communism and Western Society: A Comparative Encyclopedia, Vol 3 NY P282171 McCormack G, Nineteen-thirties Japan: Fascism? Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars Vol 14; 2 1982 P21
172 Organski A K F, Fascism and Modernization in Wolf S J, (ed) The Nature of Fascism, Weidenfeld and Nicholson London 1968 P23 cited in McCormack P22
173 Moore B, Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, Beacon Boston 1967, P442174 McCormack G, Nineteen-thirties Japan: Fascism? Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars Vol 14; 2 1982 P25
175 Reischauer E O, Firbank J K, Craig A, East Asia: The Modern Transformation, Houghton Mifflin, Boston 1965 P605
176 Willensky, Marcus, Japanese Fascism Revisited, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, vol 5 Number 1, Winter 2005, P62177 Sakuzo, Yoshino, Fascism in Japan 1932 vol.1 No 2 P185, cited in Willensky, Marcus, Japanese Fascism Revisited, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, vol 5 Number 1, Winter 2005 P63. Yoshino is often referred to as the foremost democratic theorist in the Taisho and Showa eras.
178 Willensky, Marcus, Japanese Fascism Revisited, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, vol 5 Number 1, Winter 2005, P64
179 Ebenstein, William, To-day’s ISMS: Communism, Fascism, Capitalism, Socialism. Prentice Hall NJ 1967 P105, cited in Willensky, Marcus, Japanese Fascism Revisited, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, vol 5 Number 1, Winter 2005, P65180 Duus P and Okimoto D I, Fascism and the History of Pre-War Japan: The Failure of a Concept, in JAS 39:1 Nov 1979 Pp65-76 cited in McCormack P30
181 Willensky, Marcus, Japanese Fascism Revisited, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, vol 5 Number 1, Winter 2005, P65182 Ibid P67183 Cohen, Carl, Communism, Fascism and Democracy: The Theoretical Foundation, Random House NY 1972, P323 cited in Willensky, Marcus, Japanese Fascism Revisited, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, vol 5 Number 1, Winter 2005, P67
184 Kiichiro, Hiranuma April 28 1932 in The Trans-Pacific P12 cited in Willensky, Marcus, Japanese Fascism Revisited, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, vol 5 Number 1, Winter 2005, P69185 Ebenstein, William, To-day’s ISMS: Communism, Fascism, Capitalism, Socialism. Prentice Hall NJ 1967, P105 cited in Willensky, Marcus, Japanese Fascism Revisited, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, vol 5 Number 1, Winter 2005, P72
186 The last Genro’ was a book published in 1938, focusing on the last member of a distinguished group called genros- elder statesmen- who were responsible for drawing up the Imperial Constitution187 Willensky, Marcus, Japanese Fascism Revisited, Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs, vol 5 Number 1, Winter 2005, P74
188 Ibid PP74 quoted from The Trans Pacific Jan 12 1939, P8
189 Duus, Peter and Okimoto, Daniel, Journal of Asian Studies Nov 1979 P68190 Ebenstein, William, To-day’s ISMS: Communism, Fascism, Capitalism, Socialism. Prentice Hall NJ 1967, P111