Looking back on History: Imperial Japanese treatment of prisoners and the myth of General Nogi

One hundred years and three days ago, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife was shot in the streets of Sarajevo, kicking off the First World War. As the world “celebrates” the anniversary of the First World War, analysts have used the war to suit whatever story they wish to tell.

But while the world focuses on the Western front of the war, it is forgotten that this was indeed a “World” War. Fighting between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia was not like the trench warfare in the west. And across the world, the Great Powers fought over control of colonies in Asia and Pacific. Allied member Japan seized key German colonies in the Pacific islands as well as the German-controlled Chinese of Tsingtao.

There have already been multiple articles talking about what Japan (as well as China) can learn about World War One. I am however in discussing a historical question. Japanese treatment of German prisoners during the First World One was noted to be humane. This was similar to the Japanese treatment of Russian prisoners during the Russo-Japanese War. Russian officers were permitted to go on unaccompanied strolls, lived in comfortable quarters, and were adequately fed. Some were so impressed by Japanese hospitality that they chose to stay in Japan after the war rather than deal with the chaos that was Russia during the 1905 Revolution. This is a massive contrast to the well-known horrid Japanese treatment of American prisoners during the Second World War.

So, what changed? Plenty. But I wish to discuss one of the seminal figures of early Japanese history, General Nogi Maresuke, and his role in how the Imperial military changed. General Nogi, as he is known by the Japanese, never condoned the abuse of prisoners. He was a highly honorable man. But it was this honor which would lead to his famous death, and his death which facilitated a cultural and psychological change that affected how the Japanese military treated its own men and thus its prisoners.


Brookings Lecture: Banri Kaieda and Perspectives on Japanese politics.

Today at the Brookings Institution, the president of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Banri Kaieda gave a brief lecture on Japanese politics and the DPJ’s perspective on the US-Japan alliance.  The Democratic Party of Japan is the main opposition in Japan as opposed to the more conservative Liberal Democratic Party(LDP), though I would strongly note that “liberal” and “conservative” do not always mean the same thing in foreign countries that they do in the United States.  For example, Kaieda expressed his strong support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, and it was in fact the DPJ who initiated the first steps to see Japan join back when they were in power from 2009-2012.

Here is a transcript of the speech which was passed out afterwards.

Afterwards, Mr. Kaieda answered a brief Q&A session.  A couple things that I noted to be of particular interest during this session.


Japan to hand over weapons-grade plutonium to the US.

Asahi Shimbun link

I touched on the problems of Japanese nuclear security in an earlier post, but one thing I did not discuss was that Japan already has a large stockpile of plutonium and uranium, not only stored in Japan itself, but in France and Britain.  This plutonium was supplied to Japan by the United States during the Cold War, and it appears that Japan will be handing them back.

This is without a doubt a very good thing.  Just as an Iranian nuclear bomb is bad for global peace as it could spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, a Japanese nuke would be a possible spark towards creating a arms race in the even more vital East Asia.  North Korea is already dangerous enough – South Korea, which doesn’t particularly trust the United States to begin with, having nukes on their own would do nothing for the sake of stability.  It should be noted, however, that despite this transfer, Japan has without a doubt the scientific and technological know-how to make a nuclear bomb within a time frame of 6 months to 2 years should it so desire, but there is really nothing which can be done about that.