‘Eight decades ago, the serpent was Nipponese imperialism; today, it is a different dragon. But just as inscrutable and faction-ridden…’
THE atmosphere was so thick with intrigue that dime novels of the period had a ready scenario for a general audience: “Now he was above the Japanese spy-master. Hito, squealing, raised his gun to shoot upward, but Marty slanted a shot downward from his automatic, and it took Mr. Hito right in the top of the head.” [Parade of the Wooden Kimonos by Emile C. Tepperman; http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks13/1301511h.html]
The zeitgeist was reflected in the documents: “The Australian Minister expressed the feeling that the danger to his country was steadily increasing.” [Memorandum of Conversation by the Secretary of State, Washington, February 15, 1941;
Intrigue, information, inquest. “It is believed that it would be helpful were officers of the Department in conversations with Admiral Nomura and members of his staff, and officers of the Embassy in Tokyo in conversations with Japanese officials, to emphasize that Government circles in this country believe that…the United States is obviously going to do all that it appropriately can toward seeing to it that Great Britain is not defeated. A second point that might be made in those same contacts is that Italy has gotten into nothing but trouble by her following of German leadership and that Japan has a good chance of the same if she continues to do likewise.” [Memorandum by the Adviser on Political Relations (Stanley K. Hornbeck) Washington, February 17, 1941;
https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1941v04/d27] One wonders today if the current dispensation is gifted with advice of similar caliber or cursed with amateurish flattery by drooling sidekicks.
Additionally, one muses if the incumbent top kicks in the hierarchy of bureaucrat-capitalism have the patriotic awareness of the slithering serpent in the Southeast Asian Sea: “Japanese Government has become seriously disturbed by the reaction abroad to recent Japanese moves in connection with the southward advance, particularly the penetration into Indochina and Japanese naval movements in Camranh Bay.” [The Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Secretary of State, Tokyo, February 18, 1941—9 p.m.; https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1941v04/d29]
Eight decades ago, the serpent was Nipponese imperialism; today, it is a different dragon. But just as inscrutable and faction-ridden:
“Chiang and other informed Chinese officials profess to believe that there are three groups in Japan who are espousing different plans of action: (1) the pro-German group will advocate temporary abandonment of the China campaign for an attack on Singapore and the Netherlands Indies in concert with the expected German offensive in Europe; (2) the navy group who advocate consolidation of present gains in Indochina and Thailand and the conduct of vigorous operations against Chinese communications while watching developments in Europe…(3) marked commercial group who advocate retrenchment, settlement of the China campaign, economic exploitation of Indochina and the fostering of friendly relations with the United States and Great Britain. All the foregoing groups are said to favor improved relations with Russia…Most Chinese appear to feel that Japan would be inclined to follow the plan advocated by the navy group; some feel, however, that the young officers’ group in the army may stage yet another coup d’état and launch an attack in the South Seas.” [The Ambassador in China (Johnson) to the Secretary of State, Chungking, February 17, 1941—noon; https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1941v04/d26]
Be that as it may, it appeared then that the go-to-gambit of fascists is red-baiting. “The American informant recently had conversations at their request with Counselor Tsuchida of the Japanese Embassy here and General Morioka, head of the Asia Affairs Board in Peiping.
They appear still to be endeavoring to find an approach to General Chiang Kai-shek. Most of the conversation was along familiar lines, but the new note is that by convincing General Chiang that he and Japan have common ground in suppressing communism they can combine in this objective and cease fighting each other.” [The First Secretary of Embassy in China (Smyth) to the Secretary of State, Peiping, February 6, 1941—5 p.m; https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1941v04/d20]
Meanwhile, in Rizal’s native land, a more mundane preoccupation: “Feb. 17, (1941) — President Manuel L. Quezon reported to have told committee of provincial governors who called on him and asked him to run for reelection, ‘If you want me to run, you must also support Vice-President Osmeña’; Osmeña reported to have said he is ‘always ready to serve’. President orders Secretary of Interior R. R. Alunan to require communist municipal officials of Arayat, Pampanga, to take oath of office in form prescribed by government and sanctioned by established usage, Secretary of Justice having so recommended; officials attempted to take oath with closed fist.”
Electoral maneuvers in the midst of Year 2 of World War 2. How noble indeed. The real leader focuses public attention on the real problems and mobilizes the better angels in his people. “I must drop one word of caution, for next to cowardice and to treachery, overconfidence leading to neglect or slothfulness is the worst of martial crimes.” [“Give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job,” Speech Broadcasted By Prime Minister Winston Churchill, February 9, 1941] Coward? Traitor? Sloth? Neglectful to which danger? “It is my firm belief that the establishment of a sphere of common prosperity throughout Greater East Asia is not only Japan’s policy, but indeed a historical necessity in the event of world history.”
[Japanese Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka, Address At Opening Of Thai-French Indo-China Border Dispute Mediation Conference, Tokyo, February 7, 1941] Similar rhetoric reverberates today. From another Oriental despot. But clumsier and more greedy. Yet who are the ostriches denying that a pseudo war is obtaining? “Senator Clark, Democrat Missouri, expressed belief in the senate today that enactment of the pending British aid bill would be ‘equivalent to a declaration of a state of war’.” [The Log Cabin Democrat, February 18, 1941]
How about the other danger? “The world today faces most of the conditions with which the last devastating pandemic of influenza was associated. No one knows whether or not the experience of 1918 will be repeated in 1941…A vaccine against influenza A is now undergoing field trial. No vaccine has yet been reported for influenza B…Ordinary measures of isolation and personal hygiene seem not to stem the tide of an influenza epidemic.”
[Editorial, “Influenza: From Complete Ignorance To A Partial Knowledge,” American Journal of Public Health, Volume 31, Number 2, February 1941]