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.


The Daily Kos admits the truth on the Keystone Pipeline (well, sort of)

The Daily Kos for once managed to come as close as it can to admitting a good thing about the Keystone Pipeline: if the Pipeline is not built, oil companies will just transport their oil by rail, which is less environmentally safe, more expensive, and more dangerous to human lives.

As the Daily Kos notes, transportation of crude oil by railroad has increased 74 percent since 2012.  This has led to accidents like the Saint Lac-Megantic Disaster, where 47 people and billions of dollars in property by a derailed crude oil that blew up.  And the tragic disaster in Quebec is hardly a single anomaly.  Residents had to evacuate in North Dakota in response to a crude oil derailment, and as of May 2014, over $10 million in property damages have occurred thanks to train incidents regarding rude oil.  The State Department last week released an analysis of the Keystone.  They explicitly stated that the amount of injuries and death caused by crude-oil rail shipments will increase fourfold over the next 10 years if the Pipeline is not built.

Because the Daily Kos is the Daily Kos, they choose to blather about how we must wean ourselves off of oil and so must fight both the Keystone Pipeline and rail shipments.  Well, perhaps it would be best for them to take a look at Japan then.  In a lecture at the Brookings Institute last week, Toshikazu Okuya, the Director of Energy Supply for Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry talked about Japan’s ongoing efforts to promote renewables.  The result is that Japan is now importing its highest percentage of fossil fuels in over 40 years.  This has negatively impacted the Japanese economy, as its trade surplus has fallen into a significant trade deficit to pay for the higher imports of oil and natural gas.  Meanwhile, Japan’s energy costs have risen more than any developed nation in the world, with the exception of one country – Germany, which continues its drive to develop solar and wind, the middle class’s energy costs be damned.  Score one for green energy.

The fact is that America is a nation that runs on oil, and that for now, solar and wind continue to remain a chimera.  The best way for America to transport its newfound energy abundance is to rely on pipelines and not relatively unreliable and unsafe trains.

On Japanese pacifism: the problem of those freeriding on American security.

A Department of Defense report released last Thursday discussed China’s continuing efforts to modernize its military. It noted that China is preparing not just for contingencies in its traditional problem with Taiwan, but in the South and East China Sea, where it has territorial disputes with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. The report particularly noted the modernization of the Chinese Air Force, calling it “unprecedented in history” and also mentioned that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy conducted its largest naval exercise at the Philippine Sea. Chinese President Xi Jiping and Barrack Obama did affirm that their two countries should work together to expand cooperation and dialogue, but naturally such Chinese military modernization must provoke concern in the eyes of Washington. And if Washington is worried across the Pacific Ocean, surely nearby Asian countries like the Philippines, Vietnam, South Korea, and Japan are also starting to prepare for China’s military rise, correct?

No, not really.


The Diplomat: On Buddhist Extremism

Southeast Asia is not particularly a major interest of mine.  What I found amusing about this article from the Asian news magazine The Diplomat is how it refutes the idea commonly heard among Westerners that Buddhism is somehow this uniquely peaceful religion.

The reality is that Buddhism in the West and Buddhism in Asia have about as much in common as Chinese food here in America and real Chinese food.

Brookings Lecture: Discussion on the Russian Gas Markets

The Brookings Institute held a discussion today about the future of Russian gas markets and Gazprom, especially in the aftermath of the Russia-China deal. I have a summary of some of the topics which the energy experts discussed during today’s meeting below, but there is one thing I want to focus on in particular: namely, the idea that somehow America is capable of driving out Russian natural gas.

Ever since the Ukraine crisis began a few months ago, a common refrain of discussion has been the idea that the American shale gas boom can help America supplant Russian natural gas.  Russia is the main supplier of natural gas to Europe, but given its political relations with Western Europe, the idea is that America could become an alternative source of energy, one which is not beholden to autocratic interests like Putin’s Russia.  But as oil and gas experts have noted, including the group leading the discussion today, the idea of America saving Western democracy with natural gas is utterly infeasible.


China-Russia sign a gas deal worth $270 billion.

Reuters and other new sites today are reporting that China and Russian company Gazprom are on the verge of finalizing a natural gas deal that would be signed tomorrow. This deal would see Russia export 38 billion cubic meters/year to China at a price of about $350-400 per 1000 cubic meters. That amount would be about a quarter of China’s current natural gas consumption. China’s demand for gas has grown exponentially over the years, increasing nine fold since the turn of the century. And while China’s domestic production is expected to make a leap over 2014 and 2015 from 200 million to 6.5 billion cubic meters as I observed in an earlier post, it is nowhere near enough to power its growing economy. Yet despite the fact that China will need gas more than ever in the future, China and Russia have chosen to sign an agreement now, and President Vladimir Putin will be flying to China to ensure the deal is done.