Attempting Analogy: Japanese Manchuria and Occupied Iraq

News Abroad

Mr. Dresner is Assistant Professor of East Asian History at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo and a contributor to HNN's group weblog Cliopatria.

Pulitzer-prize winning Japanese historian Herbert Bix's long analysis of the U.S. situation in Iraq, focusing on the problem of the source of war crimes, has been posted on HNN (HNN got it from Japan Focus, which got it from ZNet). I am not sure about Bix's analysis of war crimes: categories have to be broad to encompass the variety of situations he cites, and in the end it's hard to imagine a war without war crimes. Perhaps that's his point, as Hemingway said,"Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime." Bix's invocation of the Nanjing Massacre of 1937-38 caught my attention, however, and suggests at least a possible course of action for us in Iraq today. For a while now -- since the alliance of Shiite and Sunni insurgencies reminded me of the Nationalist-Communist United Front against Japan -- I've been thinking about the parallels between the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Japanese militaristic imperialism in Manchuria. John Dower, much more distinguished than I, drew parallels between Iraq and Manchuria almost a year ago, but the situation has changed somewhat since then -- strengthening the analogy in my opinion -- and, without criticizing his analysis, our emphasis and conclusions differ. A brief history, then the parallels.

The Japanese occupation of Manchuria began with the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) which resulted in undisputed Japanese influence in Korea (Protectorate, then annexed in 1910) and transfer to Japan of Russian railways in Manchuria, which came with considerable land and mineral development rights. The dissolution of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) opened up decades of confusion and warlordism in China. This disorder suited Japanese purposes: a major seizure of Chinese autonomy was attempted, and largely thwarted in 1915 (21 Demands), but Japanese influence in China remained substantial and offensive to most Chinese. The Chinese warlord who controlled Manchuria, Zhang Zuolin, was assassinated by the Japanese in 1928; Zhang Xueliang, his son and successor, actually had a working relationship with Japan, though they were not happy about his support for the Nationalist movement. In 1931 a group of mid-level Japanese officers, with some support and consent from higher-ups, staged a railway bombing in Mukden, and used the incident as an excuse to"suppress bandits" and initiated a full-scale occupation of Manchuria. The official justification was the protection of natural resources -- Manchuria's coal, iron, and minerals -- crucial to Japan's economic health and strategic security.

The occupation of Manchuria was solidified into the puppet state of Manchukuo, nominally headed by the Manchu who had briefly held the position of the last Qing emperor, but quite thoroughly controlled by Japanese"advisors." The League of Nations sent observers, the Lytton Commission, who condemned the invasion and sham-autonomy as an imperialistic land grab, whereupon Japan resigned from the League and began courting better relations with other international outcasts (Germany and Italy).

The establishment of Manchukuo, though, did not settle the question for Chinese, and border skirmishes between Japanese forces and various Chinese forces (neighboring warlords and Communists, mostly) continued. Japanese also increased their military presence in China's treaty ports, in order to better protect Japanese nationals and their increasingly important business interests in China. A minor clash in Shanghai in 1937 between Japanese and Chinese patrols escalated into a substantial Japanese assault on the city (resulting in the first U.S. WWII casualties, including Robert Karl Reischauer).

In spite of civilian and military reservations about full-scale operations, the opportunity to"settle" the ongoing border skirmishes was too good to pass up, and Japan proceeded to invade deep into China. They took a huge swath of northern China, and the urbanized coast, with remarkably little difficulty. What resistance they did meet they responded to with great brutality, including the atrocities at Nanjing. Chinese forces, though, did not collapse: Nationalist and Communist forces, along with warlords of unoccupied territories, began to work together against Japanese occupation. They didn't make a lot of progress (nor did they entirely overcome their hostility to each other), but the Japanese spent huge quantities of human and economic capital trying to"settle" the situation. Eventually, as a result of Roosevelt's economic pressure against the China campaign, Japan declared war on the U.S., but did not have the resources to carry it out successfully, largely because of the continuing continental conflict.

What are the commonalities between Manchukuo and Iraq?

  • The most obvious is the economic root of the conflict -- resources necessary for continued economic health -- and popular support based on an inflated sense of crisis.
  • There is an interesting, but inconclusive, structural parallel between the two Chinese campaigns and the two Gulf Wars.
  • The collaborationist puppet government had no native legitimacy, little de facto sovereignty, and no real desire to see their external supporters withdraw military and economic support.
  • The ongoing low-intensity conflict between a powerful mechanized military and a popular local guerilla movement is another; add, too, the way in which the external enemy produced a united front between groups with local conflicts.
  • The rhetoric is parallel, too: the Japanese were very clear that they hoped to bring the benefits of modern economic development and political"stability" to north China. The unrealistic expectation that overwhelming military force could settle questions of economic and social conflict is also strikingly similar.
  • Civilian authorities even denounced the military actions, though they had no constitutional grounds to restrain them.

Unlike Prof. Bix, I don't want to draw a moral equivalence. There are differences, enough of them that any attempt to draw moral conclusions must be done independently. The U.S. Constitution is a much more balanced and nuanced document underlying a more vigorous and dynamic system than the Meiji Constitution. At least, I think so. Twenty-first century Americans are not Imperial Japanese. At least, not mostly.

What I do want to do is suggest that the end result of the Japanese"adventure" in Manchuria and China is clearly undesirable for the U.S. in Iraq and the Middle East. The Japanese failure to respect Chinese autonomy, even in disorder, resulted in a quagmire the likes of which make Vietnam look like a duck-pond. The Japanese desire to impose stability and development turned not only the occupied and unoccupied Chinese against them, but invited the ire of the non-fascistic West. The Japanese ideology of superiority and manipulated atmosphere of crisis resulted in war crimes, atrocities and greater disorder. The end result was the utter destruction of Japan: physical devastation, millions of deaths, tens of millions of injuries, extended occupation, social and intellectual and religious purges, and complete political reconstruction on enemy terms, not to mention decades of lingering hostility.

"What could they have done differently?" I hear skeptics asking. Does it matter? What worse result could you possibly construct from that situation? You can't even argue that anti-Communism was a worthy cause because; a, it wasn't really a substantial goal of Japan and; b, China fell under Communist control in no small part because of the Communist Army's fortitude and successes against Japan created goodwill and provided valuable experience for the civil war against Nationalism. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, but it wasn't bad luck: it was a sustained systemic failure.

What can we do differently? The obvious answer is to disengage. I don't mean run away, but to shift from military occupation and U.S.-run reconstruction to diplomatic engagement and aid. We must have reasonable expectations of what might result from elections, and a tolerance for disorder and non-optimal outcomes. We must show every possible respect to Iraqi self-determination and sovereignty, so that whatever government we leave in Iraq can indeed survive without our military support, and that our financial support of Iraqi reconstruction, which will remain necessary until Iraqi oil revenues are well above their present levels, is not tied to political subservience.

Hegel, in Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction, said"What experience and history teach is this -- that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it." He is wrong -- the brief-lived Powell Doctrine is proof of that. I'd like to prove him wrong again.

Related Links

  • John Dower, Is the U.S. Repeating the Mistakes of Japan in the 1930s?

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    Bill Heuisler - 6/7/2004

    Mr. Shcherban,
    Sorry about the delay. Your response was lost in the stream or I would've answered sooner.

    You indulge in hyperbole, and inaccurate hyperbole - none of your examples of dead "millions" identifies a free Republican people with a representative Government:

    1) There were not "millions of Indians" killed on our continent and there are more living here now in Arizona - living better than many non-Indians - than there were in the whole North American continent in 1600.

    2)Ditto Central America and remember Tarahumara, Puebla, Yaqui and Papago Indians killed by Socialist Mexican Governments and Mosquito Indians killed by the so-called Sandanista collectivists. For their own good, I assume.

    3)Indochina saw millions killed, but not by French, Japanese, and Americans. Only the Killing Fields of Cambodia and reunited VN bore the bones of millions who died in lieu of "reeducation" to a collectivist model.

    4) Fascist Germany was led by a party called the National Socialists, had you forgotten? Their economy was neither free nor Capitalist.

    The difference in each, Sir, is Freedom. As a matter of history, free Democracies do not usually attack each other. But collectivist Tyrannies nearly always seem to kill their own people and attack neighbors, don't they?
    Bill Heuisler

    Jerry West - 6/5/2004

    We could wander around in the analogy maze for eternity. :)

    Iraq = control of oil vital to US economy

    Manchuria = control of minerals and other resources vital to Japan.

    Phillipines, Guam, Cuba, Hawaii, etc. = control of secure fueling stations for a coal/oil based navy.

    Panama = control of the strategic Atlantic/Pacific shortcut

    And we haven't even begun to consider such things as Japan's invasion of Siberia between 1918 - 1925, nor done much with instances of foreign war to distract the populace from domestic problems with mindless chest beating and flag waving.

    The fact is though no analogy may be a perfect or even sloppy fit, many probably have elements worth considering in reading the tea leaves of the Iraq adventure.

    None of this, however, hits the main point which is the morality of pre-emptive war.

    Jonathan Dresner - 6/5/2004


    Arnold Shcherban - 6/4/2004

    I'm here too, Bill

    And, allow myself to defend another side of this polemics without their invitation; I'm sure such attitide
    will go well with so dear to your heart interference without invitation, won't it?
    You quoted, responded and challenged:
    "There may be good reasons to argue against cooperation and collectivism, but mass deaths is not one of them. That is something common to many others too." Really? Where? There's no comparison in modern history.
    Thirty million dead in Red China 1955 to 1962, four million dead kulaks in thirties USSR, three million dead in seventies Cambodia and a million dead in reunited Vietnam - all in the name of collectivism.

    I'm ready to take on the challenge.

    On the territory of the modern USA with millions Indians dead as the result of thriumph of freedom and capitalism/individualism, in Central and South America with many millions killed by murderous foreign and local capitalist regimes and by their collectivist adversaries(in difference with you I do recognize the facts even when they might lead to the conclusions opposite to mine), in Indochina many millions killed by French, Japanese, and Americans in the name of civilization, freedom and democracy or national interests, in Mid East, India, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Fillipines many millions of natives killed by British and Americans in the name of civilization, freedom and
    democracy, in Africa(Algeria, Ethiopia, Congo, Angola,
    Sudan, South African Republic, and others) many millions
    killed in the result of apartheid of European capitalism, agression of capitalist-fascist Italy, colonialism of British, French, Portugal and other capitalist, civilized, democratic countries, and
    civil wars primarily caused by the above,
    in the MidEast individualist/capitalist local regimes killed millions of their own citizens - Armenians, Kurds, and others.
    Finally, in the very heart of modern civilization - Europe - fascist/capitalist Germany directly or indirectly killed over 45 millions of peoples in different countries, not mentioning direct genocide, which left six millions Jews, one million Serbs,
    and one million Gypsies dead.

    Resume: following your logic we MUST condemn capitalism/individualism, as well.

    Jonathan Dresner - 6/4/2004

    Mr. West,

    I agree with the direction, though I might push it back a little further, a century and a half, because of the cloak of purpose we still have over our imperialism. By the turn of the 20th century, though, imperialism was open and clearly power-related. We're not quite there yet.

    We're not far away from it, either....

    Jerry West - 6/4/2004

    Dr. Dresner wrote:

    It was the hypocrisy of imperial powers condemning latecomers for imperialism that drove Japan and Italy out of the League of Nations; and the parallel between that and the hypocrisy of atomic weapons pioneer and unchallenged world leader USA condemning latecomers for "proliferating" is more than a little troubling.


    Good point.

    One can not beging to appreciate the history of Japan over the last 500 years without understanding the history of Western colonialism, particularly as it relates to China. The Tokugawa policy of excluding and ignoring the West failed in the end and the Meiji Restoration and the rise of both militarism and modern industry in Japan were direct responses to threats from the West. One might characterize it as an "if you can't make them leave you alone then join them" type of response.

    The real problems arose when joining them proved to particularly difficult due to racism and other negative attitudes towards Japan held by the Western powers. As a result we have Japan isolated and condemned for conducting itself in ways that were previously employed successfully by the West.

    Getting back to analogies, one might say that current US foreign policy has more in common with colonial policies from a century ago than with those that came out of WWII. A step backward one could argue.

    Jonathan Dresner - 6/3/2004


    Jerry West - 6/3/2004

    Both Ben Severance and Andrew Todd make lucid and insightful points. A tip of the hat.

    Andrew D. Todd - 6/3/2004

    The problem about economic motivations is that political leaders are so often economically incompetent. A truly progressive technology tends to be comparatively disengaged from government. One does not call a lawyer in, and pay him a fee, to solve a problem which one can fix with a design change. Industries become politically engaged only when they are beginning to run out of choices. This means that a politician who essentially "takes counsel of his bribes" is likely to be proceeding on faulty industrial intelligence.

    Japan did have options at a point. Certainly, once it was in Manchuria, Japan had abundant gross resources. At a certain level, this would have been a good time to cease advancing and give the world time to forget its annoyance. Japan could probably have gotten away with Manchuria, if it had not tried to raise the stakes by pushing down into China proper and Southeast Asia. The push into Southeast Asia rested on essentially two materials-- oil and rubber, neither of which was required in huge quantities (unlike coal, for example). In the course of the ensuring World War, one or other of the combatants were forced to synthesize both from more abundant materials. See Arthur Squires, cited below, for a discussion of the American synthetic rubber program. Japan built the two biggest and most advanced battleships in the world, the Yamato and Mushashi. The same skill and steel could equally well have gone into economic autarchy. Postwar Japan has taken a leaf from the Dutch and begun to expand into the sea. The Japanese "metabolic school" architect Kenzo Tange's unbuilt _Tokyo Bay Project_ (1960) may be considered as a kind of "counsel of perfection in this matter, comparable to the Zuider Zee (see Banhan, cited below, for details). This is, again, something that could have been done earlier.

    The American oil industry has long since ceased to be technologically progressive. Its most advanced oil exploration techniques are essentially cribbed from medical electronics practice. Its refineries are rusting behemoths with persistent environmental problems, which sometimes explode for reasons amounting to gross negligence. The proposal to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, is, in engineering terms, a kind of declaration of intellectual bankruptcy. It is expensive, it will take time, and it will not provide a long-term solution. Thoughtful engineering opinion runs to increasing the efficiency of automobiles as an immediate measure. The Japanese automakers are leading the way, just as they did in the last oil crisis, because they place the least reliance on being able to pull political strings in Washington. It is entirely feasible, through technological means, to go beyond oil, and consequently, beyond middle-east politics as they are presently understood. The automobile is long overdue for fundamental rethinking, on a whole series of grounds, ranging from highway fatalities to traffic congestion, to emissions, to oil imports, to flood control and soil conservation (pavement run-off). In fact, detailed and practical proposals were worked out in the 1960's (see Tomorrow's Transportation... and Metrotran-2000, cited below). Instead, we merely project our internal problems onto the Arabs.

    What impresses me about the present situation is the sheer extent to which government policy is driven by the technologically obsolete, not just with respect to oil and automobiles, but with respect to a whole range of technological issues, most notably copyrights and patents. Similarly, I am concerned by the the extent to which the most technologically progressive elements are writing political manifestos along the lines of "when in the course of human events..." The computer techies are becoming increasingly interested in the Boston Tea Party as a precedent. That is dangerous. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan precipitated a revolution in Russia, growing out of tensions which already existed in Soviet society. Do not exclude the possibility that it could happen here.


    Tomorrow's Transportation: New Systems for the Urban Future, U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Metropolitan Development, Urban Transportation Administration, Washington D.C., 1968 (Library of Congress catalog number 68-61300)

    Metrotran-2000: A Study of Future Concepts in Metropolitan Transportation for the Year 2000, Cornell Aeronautical Laboratories, Inc., by: Robert A. Wolf, Transportation Research Department, CAL No. 150, October 1967

    Amey Stone and Carol Vinzant, Lean, Green Tips for Energy Savings

    Arthur M Squires, _The Tender Ship: Governmental Management of Technological Change_, Boston : Birkhäuser, 1986, ISBN: 081763312X

    Reyner Banham, _Megastructure, Urban Futures of the Recent Past_, Harper and Row, New York, 1976

    Richard Henry Morgan - 6/3/2004

    There seems to be some evolving evidence of Iraqi connections that have gone underreported. Seems that Mohammed Atta withdrew $8,000 from a Virginia bank on April 4, and then disappeared from view in the US until April 11. He was identified by Czech counterintelligence at a meeting with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague on April 8th -- who refused Czech requests to explain the purpose of the meeting, and was thus expelled. Subsequent search of the Iraqi embassy (post-fall of Iraq) in Prague revealed the agent's calendar which listed a meeting on April 8th with a "Hamburg student" -- precisely the characterization of Atta that he put on his visa request. Similarly, Atta made a stopover from Hamburg in Prague before his first trip to the US. Vaclev Havel stands behind the identification of Atta as the object of surveillance on April 8th. And Spanish authorities believe the al Qaeda forgery ring they broke up supplied false documentation to Atta and others, which would explain how the CIA has yet to confirm Atta's presence in Prague on April 8th.

    Also, intelligence sources have identified an Iraqi agent who organized and ran a meeting of al Qaeda types in Thailand (including 9/11 types) as the same guy who has shown up on three Fedayeen rosters listed as a Lt. Colonel.

    Thin reeds, to be sure, still ...

    Ben H. Severance - 6/3/2004

    Mr. Reiger,

    As an historian myself, I have often engaged in introspection about my relevance to current events. It isn't so much that historians are "useless" when it comes to analyzing current events, but that each event in human history is unique, thereby making it difficult for scholars in one area to analyze satisfactorily an event in a different time period, let alone an ongoing event. Complicating the matter, when it comes to current events, is the inadequate availability of primary sources and the not infrequent emotional attachment one may have for an issue or event that can directly affect one's life. Thus, historians can sometimes do little more than offer an educated opinion, which is no different than most everyone else: journalists, talk-show pundits, politicians, etc...

    Nevertheless, comparative history is important. It helps us identify patterns that may help explain what's going on and what might follow (though historians are hardly soothsayers). It also restrains us from jumping to conclusions or making ill-informed judgements (at least it should). What I admire about Dr. Dresner's article is its dispassionate assessment of his area of speciality and then his cautious application of those lessons to the situation in Iraq. He is not trying to produce a perfect model whereby someone can quickly see how the Iraq affair will turn out, but it does encourage us all to step back and reevaluate what we initially thought (or want to think) is going on in the Middle East. In my own speciality--Reconstruction--I tend to look at Iraq through the lense of force politics. Just as I think Reconstruction could have worked had southern Republicans used their state militias more effectively, I think reconstruction can (or could have--it may be too late) work in Iraq if Bush and Bremer would make better use of native troops. To this end, I am intrigued both by the activities of the Fallujah Provisional Guard and Bush's talk about training 27 battalions of Iraqi soldiers for the new republic.

    Anyway, historians try to find a "usuable past," but it can be frustrating. That our observations tend to be more critical than praising is less a case of scholarly bias (though it's certainly out there) and more a product of trying to learn from mistakes.

    Sorry for the long reply and I apologize for being didatic.


    Jonathan Dresner - 6/2/2004

    Mr. Reiger,

    You wouldn't be the first person on these pages to address the question of our utility. And plenty of others have addressed the post-WWII Japan democracy analogy, including John Dower (http://hnn.us/articles/1429.html), and found it largely unsuitable.

    Most of your critique seems addressed to Bix rather than to me. I'm not making an argument about atrocities and war crimes, except peripherally: my argument is about control and the need to impose order to safeguard resources and the danger of creating a crisis where none really exists. As I've said, I think we still have an opportunity to avoid the worst of it.

    But if you want to know what I think about democracy in Iraq and elsewhere, you might check the archives for my year-old article "The Two Essential Steps Needed to Turn Iraq into a Peace-Loving Country" (http://hnn.us/articles/1361.html) or the 8-month old "Constitution Writing 101" (http://hnn.us/articles/1726.html) or my more recent "How Can We Know for Sure When a Country Has Succeeded in Becoming a Democracy?" (http://hnn.us/articles/4356.html).

    I try to be relevant, and fair. Don't always succeed, of course, but that's life.

    Kurt Reiger - 6/2/2004

    When I read this essay or the one by Dr. Bix, I can not help but think the follow up comments should be a discussion of how useless most historian are with current events.
    Manchuria=Iraq, Nanking=Najaf?, Of all the horendous crimes against humanity in the last 70 years, you want to compare Nanking to Najaf? Think of all the unfortunate souls on this earth who had the misfortune of being in a location when horifically evil events occured - Nanking when the Japanese army entered, Cambodia in the late 1970's, areas of China in the 1950's & 60's, jews & others in German occupied europe of 1940, areas of the USSR purged by Stalin, Russian armies entering any number of eastern european & German cities around 1941-45, Rawanda in 1994, etc, etc,. America in Iraq and Najaf is so far down the list - well below Saddam in Basra in 1991 - that you have completely lost any since of proportion.
    If you or Dr. Bix wanted to be relevent, an essay on how democracy came to Japan would be timely. How did an authoritarian, autocratic society adopt democracy? Were the Japanese people of 1945 more ready for democracy than Iraq today? What problems occured that we might learn from? These are the questions a relevent historian of modern asia might be asking. Dr. Bix seems to be interested only in negative far-fetched comparisons. How about you, Dr. Dresner?

    Jonathan Dresner - 6/2/2004

    Thanks. I'm assuming "brillo" is some shorthand for "brilliant" not a reference to the cleaning pad, though.

    As for your complaint....

    Well, Hegel would have been closer to right if he'd used "rarely" instead of "never", but then we probably wouldn't quote him so often. Hegel is right, in the sense that leaders and governments very, very rarely use historical examples or lessons in a productive way. The military has a long tradition of examining events for logistical, tactical and strategic lessons, and sometimes those lessons, as in the Powell Doctrine, are passed up to the leadership in useful ways. It is an exception to Hegel's Dictum (to coin a phrase), which is so often true that I can claim it both as truth in general and as an error in rare instances.

    Smart historians change their minds. When the evidence warrants it.

    Cathal Copeland - 6/2/2004

    Brillo essay, so out of sheer envy I looked for something to bitch about. Found it.

    You write:

    “Hegel […] said "What experience and history teach is this -- that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it." He is wrong -- the brief-lived Powell Doctrine is proof of that. I'd like to prove him wrong again.”

    But on 19 March last you wrote:
    “If I've learned anything from history (aside from Hegel’s dictum "that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.") it is that what makes logical sense often has no relationship to what happened.”

    So what does history teach us then? That historians change their minds about what it teaches them every couple of months? Or that you learnt an awful lot of history since mid-March last?

    Just wondering.

    Daniel J. Johnson - 6/2/2004

    Not to discount ideological imperatives in our interventions in the Gulf, but there are clearly economic factors at play. As I recall, Iraq has about 11% of the world's proven oil reserves. The invasion of Kuwait gave them a further 9% share, and there was some concern that Sadaam would go after Saudia Arabia as well (25%), or at least use military pressure to influence their policies. That would have given him control over almost 1/2 the world's proven oil reserves. Given the critical importance of oil to our economy, any administration which DIDN'T take economics in consideration would have to be hopelessly stupid.

    The economic imperatives of the more recent war are less clear, but having even indirect control over 11% of the world's oil (through a U.S. friendly regime) would be a significant economic advantage. Keep in mind also that our relations with Saudia Arabia are somewhat shaky and that their huge reserves give them considerable power to control world oil prices. Consider what happened to the U.S. in the 1970s as a result of the OPEC oil embargo (sparked in part by U.S. support for Israel in the 1973 war). Having more cards to play (ie - a stable and U.S. friendly Iraq) would certainly be useful in the international oil game. The fact that in the short-term we haven't reaped any profit doesn't negate that idea that this is part of a long-term strategy.

    Jonathan Dresner - 6/2/2004

    Mr. Severance,

    Thanks (I'll tell my Dean!). I was surprised myself how well the analogy worked (then not as surprised when I realized that John Dower got there first). I'm hoping, of course, that the parallel DOESN'T fit, soon, if things go well.

    Actually, the news the last few days has given me some real hope, as well as pointed out two significant flaws in the analogy:

    First, the international community, though reluctant to participate in the occupation, is diplomatically engaged and setting a pretty high standard for continued US action and planning.

    Second, and more importantly, the Iraqis are not the Manchurian Chinese. I'm not entirely sure what that means yet, and whether it really means anything will depend a great deal on our reaction to their determined self-determination.

    Jerry West - 6/1/2004

    Dr. Dresner:


    Bill seems to favour the position that it is OK to go to war as long as sometime later down the road we can find a good excuse for having done so. At this point I guess expanding theories on what shreds of evidence that we have now obtained looks more fruitful than sticking to the WMD excuse.

    Of course the issue still remains whether or not the invasion and conquest of Iraq with all of its resultant casualties is the best response to a terrorist attack carried out by Saudis using a religion based organization that was also hostile to the secular Iraqi regime. Pearl Harbor 911 was not. More a cause celebre than a casus belli.

    Perhaps if Mr. Heuisler is so concerned about coincidences being ignored he might want to also bring up the connections between the Bin Ladens and Saudis to US oil interests including Cheney, Bush and others. There is a fertile field out there for all sorts of theories based on coincidences.

    Back to analogies, rather than looking at the Iraq adventure and comparing its progress to other instances in history, perhaps a better exercise would be going one step higher and looking at examples of the use of pre-emptive war in modern times and the success or failure of those who embraced the policy.

    Bill Heuisler - 6/1/2004

    Dr. Dresner,
    "...which are not as uncontested as you say..."? Fine. Name one source other than the NYT that contests the Atta meeting in Prague with Ani five months before 9/11. But you reject the evidence without countering it. We've obviously reached impasse, but it's been informative. Impasse? Of course, because you wrote, "This is a democracy: we do not go to war based on classified intelligence." So, you also totally reject my premise.

    We did not "go to war". We didn't want war, we even allowed the SOB to escape annihilation when we halted on the road to Baghdad in 1991 after he invaded Kuwait.
    1) We were attacked 9/11 in a more complete repeat of the earlier World Trade Center bombing where an Iraqi was implicated as bomb-maker and fled to Baghdad.

    2) The Afganistan intel was classified. We used sat photos and information from Sudan to pinpoint Al Qaeda camps in Afganistan. OBL publicly took credit and forced our hand, but Saddam publicly celebrated/congratulated.

    3) Examine reactions to the Baghdad museum, to Abu Greib (sp), Kerry's motivations while testifying in '71, and ask yourself if maybe some are being selectively cynical when it comes to evidence that helps President Bush.
    Bill Heuisler

    Jonathan Dresner - 6/1/2004

    Mr. Heuisler,

    Because even if I accept your interpretations (and I don't) of all the events you say happened (which are not as uncontested as you say), I would still object to the war on the grounds that it was poorly planned, diplomatically bungled, and, by the way, not properly explained to the American people or to Congress or the United Nations.

    This is a democracy: we do not go to war based on classified intelligence. We go to war as a nation, or not at all. We decide to go to war, or we don't; stumbling is not acceptable, nor is fait accompli.

    If, as you say, the connections to Iraq are better documented than the connections to Osama bin Laden and Taliban Afghanistan, then why didn't we attack Iraq first? Given the UN resolutions, only a small casus belli would be necessary, and it would have given us a fantastic base from which to launch the Afghani campaign.... As long as we didn't give the Iraqis a say in whether we used the country or not.

    Ben H. Severance - 6/1/2004

    Mr. Dresner,

    A fine piece of scholarship; balanced, rational, trenchent, and non-partisan. This is the first historical parallel I've seen that seems to fit (though I am no authority on Japanese imperialism), including my own awkward efforts to relate Reconstruction in the South to Reconstruction in Iraq. Anyway, well done. Univ. of Hawaii has a good historian in you.

    Bill Heuisler - 6/1/2004

    Dr. Dresner,
    Thanks for the qualified agreement. But I want more.
    Back to the Japan metaphor. Had there been a 9/11 in Tokyo in the early thirties directly connected to a Manchurian consulate officer in Chinese Intelligence the metaphor would be strained, but comparable. And there was equally direct connection to Iraq after 9/11 - more than Afganistan. This has been emerging slowly over time, but has received little major press attention because the facts run counter to NYT coverage. What if NYT is wrong?Inconceivable? But you wrote, "The problem in Iraq is that it was overdue, but not justifiable."

    What do we know? We know Mohammed Atta piloted a plane into an American building on 9/11. We can only surmise from tapes and second/third-hand witness testimony that OBL was responsible for the plan. Wouldn't connecting Atta to Iraq make a better case than connecting OBL to 9/11 and OBL to Afganistan and OBL to the Taliban?

    There's plenty of connection, but we're asked to believe a series of non-facts and ignore a series of coincidences by what source? By the NYT. Okay. Reexamine and posit.

    Mohammed Atta may never have met an Iraqi intelligence officer — perhaps he made those furtive (but filmed) mid-2000 trips to Prague in order to meet someone besides an Iraqi agent; perhaps, the Government-employed watcher who saw him meet al-Ani on April 8, 2001 — during the time when no other witness, neither FBI, nor DCIA Tenet, can account for Atta's whereabouts — is mistaken, and maybe al-Ani should never have been immediately expelled by the Czechs, and of course the entire Czech Cabinet shouldn't insist the NYT is wrong. But they do.

    What if Mohammed Atta met the Iraqi Consul's intelligence officer five months before 9/11 and went directly back to the US to plan? Wouldn't that meeting be direct evidence of Iraq's involvement? Talk about a casus belli.

    Dr. Dresner, why do you and others of uncontested intelligence ignore uncontested evidence?
    Bill Heuisler

    Jerry West - 6/1/2004

    Dr. Dresner:

    Although I may not live that long it will be interesting to see if future historians with access to more documents than most of us have now, write a thesis about this time portraying the Mid-East as the shoals of destruction and Osama and Saddam as performers who sang the siren song.

    We are spending money there like drunken sailors on shore leave while cutting taxes and piling up debt. Our military is over extended and apparently lots of service personnel are dropping out as fast as their enlistments expire. The National Guard may face serious recruiting problems now that it has become part of the first line of defense rather than a reserve force and our allies are not happy with us. One more major crisis to tackle without significant international involvement and the rubber band may snap.

    Perhaps if we are looking for analogies here we should turn from broader national histories and go down to the small unit level. One word that comes to mind is ambush. :)

    Jonathan Dresner - 6/1/2004

    Mr. West,

    I don't think we need to think too hard about whether the Taliban could have escaped our wrath: they couldn't have "given up Al Qaeda" without sacrificing their legitimacy and their financing as a government. I agree that the Taliban were objectionable long before (and if destruction of cultural property or repression of women were considered casus belli, I would have signed up myself, not that they'd take me), and their toppling (they're still there, but they're not in charge, anymore, for a while) was a great thing. There was "international reaction" but not enough to penetrate the alliances and supports they had around them. But it didn't matter, I don't think. We didn't act out of concern for human rights, except that governments that protect human rights tend to make better allies. We didn't act out of concern for democracy, except that democracy tends to moderate radicalism and inhibit fundamentalism.

    Was invasion the best solution? It was overdue, and it was justifiable under public policy and international law. The problem in Iraq is that it was overdue, but not justifiable. I'm not a pacifist (though militarists see me that way because I take pacifism seriously) and I'm not a Realpolitiker (though pacifists seem me that way because I believe that there are times when violence is an appropriate tool of public policy). I'm a moderate, and it's lonely out here.

    Jerry West - 6/1/2004

    Iraq's invasion of Kuwait that began the war? Of course we should also mention that Iraq might not have invaded Kuwait if they had not thought that they had the OK from Bush I. Then of course they might not have had Saddam had we not been interfering in their affairs earlier, never mind what might have happened had the Arabs been given independence in 1917 when the Ottoman Empire was dissolved.

    It seems that there are a lot of things that haven't been mentioned. And none of it so far really presents a good case for invasion, conquest and the wasting of American lives which is not only my opinion but is shared to various degrees by a number of generals and others with a lot more inside knowledge than either of us probably have.

    As for the mass deaths, what kind of comparison do you want? Mass deaths are wrong no matter who engineers them. You can not credibly claim that collectivist regimes are the sole proprietor of mass deaths. We could draw up a list from Armenia in 1915 through the Holocaust, Latin America in the last half century, and Africa up to today. You and I both know that it has and is happening, what's the point in digging up the exact numbers? Is the morality of mass killings a quantitative thing, some mass killing is more acceptable than others?

    The point is that you can not credibly use it as an argument against collectivist forms of government. Why haven't there been mass killings in Scandinavia, Canada and other countries that have incorporated more collectivist models than the US? Perhaps you want to argue that some forms of collectivism are good?

    Mass killings are the result of either poor or depraved leadership and any form of society can have that, and our society through its foreign policy has often been a participant to one degree or another.

    At the end of the day in reality there is a choice of only two positions that one can take on this. Either say that terror, murder and such is wrong and that there is no excuse ever for participating in it, or that it is the reality of power and necessary to maintain one's position on top of the dung heap while keeping other down.

    Dr. Dresner,

    I don't disagree that the relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban provided a cause to invade Afghanistan. The mere existance of the Taliban should have provoked more international reaction much sooner than 911. The fact that it did not, nor do a lot of other repressive regimes elsewhere, makes a mockery out of any claim that we acted there or in Iraq out of a concern for human rights and democracy, claims as I recall were quick to be put forward.

    But the question remains, was the threat of the Taliban such that an invasion was the best solution, or was the opportunity to justify an invasion the main importance of the threat? One has to wonder if the Taliban had given up Al Qaeda if it would have been enough?

    As for Germany declaring war on the US when it didn't concern them, I'm not sure if that is true. On the surface it was certainly foolish for Hitler to give FDR the war that he really wanted, but on the other hand that war was already underway with Lend-Lease and US actions in the North Atlantic in support of convoys. I am not familiar with studies on Hitler's decision to go to war with the US. Perhaps others here are and could shed more light on the issue.

    Jonathan Dresner - 6/1/2004

    Actually, I realized that I forgot to include the category of "enlightened self-interest" which is sometimes used to explain why altruism is a social value, and sometimes to explain the capitalist acceptance of regulation. Generally, it means doing something for someone else because in the long term it's good for you as well. Collectivism and cooperation mean many more things than collectivization, Mr. Heuisler.

    However, I have to take issue with one of Mr. West's points (and side with Mr. Heuisler): the Afghanistan invasion was based on more than "connections": Taliban-led Afghanistan was the primary physical base and only open political partner of al-Qaeda, and once it was established that al-Qaeda was the responsible party and the Taliban refused to disavow or expel them, the Taliban revealed themselves as at war with the US, much as Germany revealed itself to be at war with the US by declaring war on us after Pearl Harbor, which didn't really concern them.

    I had doubts at first, as I do about everything, but the evidence was substantial, it was unequivocal, and it was public before fighting started.

    Bill Heuisler - 5/31/2004

    Your jaundiced view of the US doesn't impress me any more. Repeating opinions has little persuasive effect.
    For instance you wrote:
    "the most charitable thing that can be said about the current adventure in Iraq is not that we are liberating it or bringing democracy, but that we are imposing a vision on them whether they want it or not. Other things that can be said go downhill from there."

    You neglect to mention:
    Iraq's invasion of Kuwait that began the war.
    UN resolutions broken, planes fired upon, UNSCOM ejected, mass graves, political executions, assassination attempt on HW Bush, training for Al Qaeda at Salman Pak and 999 before 9/11, Atta meets for funding in Prague/the Sudan connection pre-9/11, sanctuary for Al Qaeda after 9/11.

    And you expect your opinion to be taken seriously?

    You wrote, "There may be good reasons to argue against cooperation and collectivism, but mass deaths is not one of them. That is something common to many others too." Really? Where? There's no comparison in modern history.
    Thirty million dead in Red China 1955 to 1962, four million dead kulaks in thirties USSR, three million dead in seventies Cambodia and a million dead in reunited Vietnam - all in the name of collectivism.

    You have no facts, Jerry, only midguided opinions.
    Bill Heuisler

    Jerry West - 5/31/2004


    Dreamers vs reality? Yes, and more power to the dreamers. Think where we would be if not for them. We might still have a Royal Family, or maybe even living in caves, who knows? :)

    You say that "Self-defense vs altruism is an excellent enigma and might indicate reasons for major US problems in Iraq." Perhaps in the long run if we are looking at survival of the species altruism might be the best self defense. As for the case of Iraq I don't doubt for an instant the altruistic actions of many GIs there individually or at lower command levels (nor do I doubt some of the less reputable stuff, but that is another story). However, the word cynicism comes to mind when anyone tries to connect altruism to national policy, particularly in this era. The most charitable thing that can be said about the current adventure in Iraq is not that we are liberating it or bringing democracy, but that we are imposing a vision on them whether they want it or not. Other things that can be said go downhill from there.

    As for Pinochet, he is only one example of many, we could get over him and move to another one every week for ages, but why should we get over any of them? Our conduct in supporting, financing, training, creating such thugs around the world flies in the face of all of things that our propaganda says that we are. Some may think this OK and that it is not practical to live our ideals, I disagree. If we can't live our ideals let's change them to meet reality, then we could have a good debate unclutterd with fairy tales. To date Pinochet sybolizes much of our foreign policy, why not bring him up?

    You asked "Explain how you can write 'Having connections doesn't in itself justify the invasion' when that's precisely why we invaded Afganistan."

    It is convenient to believe that that is precisely why we invaded Afganistan, but also debatable. Perhaps securing a route for Central Asian oil that did not depend upon China might have had something to do with it. Then there is the issue of rallying domestic support for a troubled presidency, and more I am sure. Invading Afghanistan soley because of 911 would be a knee jerk reaction. I think that history in the end will show that the issue is more complicated than that.

    You said "And you're also well aware the job of the Pentagon and State Department is planning potential wars with potential enemies. So don't make that part of your indictment of President Bush."

    Of course I am aware of this. I think that we can confidently say that the Pentagon probably has war plans for almost every possible occasion including against Canada and Mexico. But, Pentagon what if planning is not the point. I recall from articles and discussions some time ago that the Bush clique in particular had plans to invade Iraq prior to 911. An action plan rather than a contingency plan. For them 911 was a godsend.

    You make the point that "that collectivist chimera that's resulted in the deaths of millions in China, Russia, Cambodia, North Vietnam and other places...."

    What you don't mention is that capitalist and other systems are also guilty of this. There may be good reasons to argue against cooperation and collectivism, but mass deaths is not one of them. That is something common to many others too.

    You said "ergo democratic government and hands off private property." However, democratic government does not require private property, nor does private property guarantee democratic government. They are not related and it is disingenious to lump them together. Where do you stand on a democratic government that limits private property?

    Dr. Dresner makes a good point when he says "Capitalism is selfish and generally dumb, but it is efficient and energetic. To be a good part of a good society, it needs oversight by a good government with the long-term interests of its non-corporate citizens in mind."

    I would qualify that by saying that it is not always efficient and energetic. Capitalist bureaucracies can be as bad or worse than any other kind. Private enterprise is certainly a good thing within limits, but the common good must always prevail over the private one, and there are areas where public ownership and control are more efficient and productive for the population as a whole than if they were controlled by the private sector.

    Particularly as enterprises get bigger more public control and direction is required. Allowing any one group or person to acquire large amounts of power is destructive of democracy.

    Personally I prefer mixed economies, as do most people whether they realize it or not. The real debate is over what kind of mix.

    Jonathan Dresner - 5/31/2004

    Thank you, sir.

    Nonetheless, the Generals aren't solely responsible for the planning. They've done the best they could, I think, given the directives and strategic plans they were forced to work within; a few failures notwithstanding, the military has done its job. It's the cultural and economic and political planning, not to mention the diplomacy (public and official) that was and is most deficient.

    Bill Heuisler - 5/31/2004

    Dr. Dresner,
    Planning for post-war before the war began would've been a waste of time as you will realize once you think about it. Hell, we'd planned for 1st Armored to hit Baghdad from the North out of Turkey. We'd planned for large-unit defenses of the oil fields etc. etc. Our Generals aren't clairvoyant. They know even planning tomorrow is iffy.

    That said, Mr. Moser is correct. You, your articles and your erudite, but stylish commentary and defense make HNN worth while. In spite of the fact you've somehow gone astray philosophically, it's always a pleasure to cross rhetorical swords with a gentleman.
    Bill Heuisler

    Jonathan Dresner - 5/31/2004

    Prof. Moser,

    Thank you.

    John E. Moser - 5/31/2004

    While I am not entirely sold on the idea that the U.S. effort in Iraq is comparable to the Japanese campaign in China, Professor Dresner has provided us with a thoughtful and well-argued piece. Though I have been--and still am--a supporter of the war, this effectively lays out the sorts of dangers of which we ought to be wary.

    I should add that I am particularly grateful for the respectful and learned tone of this essay, which sets it apart from a great deal of what we have seen at HNN in recent months.

    Jonathan Dresner - 5/31/2004

    Mr. Heuisler writes: "Problem is, now we're accused of not having a post-war plan."

    No, actually, some of us were accusing the Administration of not having a viable post-war plan well before the war began. And, as near as I can tell, we were right.

    And the model of pacification you suggest has worked.... where? It would solve our long-term problems in the Middle East, how? The Israelification of US policy is not a good thing, in my view.

    Finally, and I'm sure we've had this debate before, but capitalism only "works" (which I define as creating healthy and sustainable economies) when it is restrained and shaped by values other than just greed: otherwise it becomes pure exploitation, short-term and deeply destructive. Capitalism is selfish and generally dumb, but it is efficient and energetic. To be a good part of a good society, it needs oversight by a good government with the long-term interests of its non-corporate citizens in mind.

    Bill Heuisler - 5/31/2004

    Dr. Dresner & Mr. West,
    Paradox. Dreamers vs reality. We want low prices, but don't want to dirty our hands. Self-defense and altruism: Damned if we don't and damned if we don't. But I'll bet Japan didn't worry about being damned by anybody.

    The President's energy bill has been hanging fire in the Senate for over two years. Had we begun then, oil would be flowing soon from our own energy resources (Markets anticipate, Doctor). The same is true in other venues - off-shore East-coast, Florida and California drilling.

    Self-defense vs altruism is an excellent enigma and might indicate reasons for major US problems in Iraq. Mingling mitigates both. In Nasiriyah B-1-2 (my old outfit) lost a dozen Marines because policy forbad leveling towns when attacks were launched from town centers. We want to kill Radical Muslims without breaking civilian eggs. Problem is, now we're accused of not having a post-war plan. But the alternative would've been criticized vociferously because decisive plans would entail proactive (inexact) defensive measures like clearing buildings at possible ambush sites, punishing towns for harboring terrorists who inflict American casualties and wholesale arrests of activists before they get active. Seldom has an invading army tip-toed the way we have in our laudable attempt to defend ourselves while remaining true to our democratic (nation-building?) and altruistic goals.

    My point? Given self-defense, we should be applauded by the Left and the anti-war Liberals. Imagine, Doctor, how similar anti-war sentiments in the majority of the press and among a preponderance of academics would've been greeted in 1932 Japan. Were there any at all?

    Jerry, get over Pinochet, You're beginning to sound like Chomsky, Zinn, Markowitz and other lost souls of the Left whose raison d'etre has attenuated to one-note whining. Explain how you can write "Having connections doesn't in itself justify the invasion" when that's precisely why we invaded Afganistan. And you're also well aware the job of the Pentagon and State Department is planning potential wars with potential enemies. So don't make that part of your indictment of President Bush. If the US hadn't been planning a war with Iraq in the nineties, you'd carp about the lack of a plan. Finally, Jerry, "a world where resources and wealth are shared equally" is more of that collectivist chimera that's resulted in the deaths of millions in China, Russia, Cambodia, North Vietnam and other places where the dreamers forget that in order to share equally everyone must produce equally, and that the collective implies decisions by hierarchy. You can't trust hierarchies, even altruistic ones, ergo democratic government and hands off private property. How often must we have this discussion? Capitalism is selfish. That's why it works so well. Self defense is selfish, altruism isn't, that's why we've got problems in Iraq.

    Maybe we should selfishly keep our altruism to ourselves and allow object lessons to obviate wars and terrorism.
    Bill Heuisler

    Jerry West - 5/31/2004

    Assuming that 911 was a reason to invade Iraq rather than an excuse, Bill, you ask what was Japan's reason for occupying Manchuria and China. Looking for single, causitive events to explain policy is certainly a comfortable way to simplify issues and avoid examining a whole host of motives.

    I think to understand why Japan invaded the Asian mainland one has to study at least the history of the Meiji and Taisho periods and the history of western intervention in Asia from the 16th Century on.

    Briefly, Japan observed the fate of China at western hands and wanted both to avoid that as well as get in on the action. A succession of military victories coupled with diplomatic setbacks may have taught the Japanese that military solutions were a better bet than diplomatic ones.

    Their need for resources that were available in China, Manchuria and Siberia and the inability to get these without using force may be the reason or 911 that justified their invasion and occupation.

    Our reason for being in Iraq certainly runs much deeper than a terrorist attack by Saudis, particularly since it seems that the invasion was in the planning prior to 911.

    I doubt that the motivation for our intervention in Iraq or Afghanistan has anything to do with liberation or bringing democracy. Despite the current price of oil I think a better case can be made for protecting and expanding our economic interests (our in this case not meaning the American people as a whole). Same for Japan in Asia and even though no analogy is going to be picture perfect, I do think that there is some lessons to be learned by us from the Japanese experience among others.

    The Hayes piece is no surprise, nor does it pin 911 on Iraq. Having connections doesn't in itself justify the invasion. One can draw all kinds of connections outward from Al Qaeda and Osama and his family, and not just to foreigners. And, even with proof of greater complicity on the part of Iraq it can be argued that the conquest and occupation of the country was not the best choice of responses unless control of resources in the region was the main issue.

    As far as acting altruisticly in self defense, which Dr. Dresner is not sure can be done, perhaps we can if we define the best self defense as having a world where resources and wealth are shared equally. When our government adopts a policy of and starts acting on achieving a more equitable distribution of wealth and power and quits enabling and defending thugs like Pinochet and others of that ilk, then I will have more faith in its altruism.

    Jonathan Dresner - 5/31/2004

    ANWAR oil isn't even a trickle in the imagination yet.

    More importantly, the price of oil, even from our chosen suppliers is entirely dependent on the world market for oil which depends a great deal on total supplies. The point is not to make money on the war, which is highly unlikely without outright colonization and appropriation (unless the people profiting from the war aren't the same ones paying for the war), but to secure access and put control of those reserves under a government not inclined to cut revenues (and democracies hate to cut revenues): it's a long term strategic issue.

    I'm not sure, as an ethical point, you can act altruisticly in self-defense. I think that's a contradiction. If we acted in self-defense, that should be justification enough, and any good we do anyone else does not rebound to our merit (while any profit we make from the situation clouds our image). If we acted altruisticly, that should be justification enough, and any profit we make from it should be turned back over to those whom we intended to help. If we acted in our self-interest, then I'm not sure ethical calculus applies.

    Bill Heuisler - 5/30/2004

    Dr. Dresner,
    Three facts mitigate the economic motive. Two votes in the Senate (Kerry & Kennedy?) stand against ANWAR oil; we've just concluded a treaty with Mexico stabilizing imports from the Campeche Banks at a specific price, and we only imported about 8% of our oil from pre-war Iraq.

    Admittedly, Iraq has enormous oil reserves, perhaps a third of the world's, but we could've purchased more at lesser expense than the war has cost. Chances are pretty good we've acted in self-defense with altruistic motives.
    The same could never be said of Japan in 1932.
    Bill Heuisler

    Jonathan Dresner - 5/30/2004

    Mr. Heuisler,


    I'm not sure exactly where economic motives fall in this mix, but it seems highly unlikely to me that they are irrelevant. Note, however, that it is entirely possible that "economic motives" means genuine concern over access to the natural resources which literally fuel our economy. The high oil prices now may be a result of unforseen problems (sabotage and terrorism, and other difficulties getting Iraqi production back up), AND they may be the result of precisely the kinds of forseeable demand increases (China, India) which drove the administration to take what they saw as preventative action to maintain and increase supply in the face of oil-for-food limitations.

    I read Hayes' piece, and I still wish that there were evidence showing that we knew about some of this beforehand, rather than the "look what we found" stuff we're getting. Unless there was evidence of future attacks, it's still not much more (if at all) than the Syrian and Saudi connections.

    The "Cease-fire-violation-equals-state-of-war argument" begs the question of what kind of response: it was not necessarily all or nothing, nor was it necessary to do it immediately.

    Jonathan Dresner - 5/30/2004

    Mr. Heusler,


    I'd be thrilled if the President means what he says about Iraq (and if the rest of the government is behind him), as I've said elsewhere (http://hnn.us/blogs/entries/5337.html) but whether he means it and whether he has a plan and the resources to carry it out are two different questions. A democratic, stable, secure, Iraq that sees the US as an ally would be a fantastic result, desirable beyond words, as I've argued elsewhere (http://hnn.us/articles/1361.html and http://hnn.us/articles/1726.html, for example, and I took flack for not sufficiently criticizing the origins of the situation there), but I have some question as to whether that is a plausible result from our current situation.

    Also, I'm not assuming intentions or motives not in evidence (or at least I'm trying not to): PNAC and others have argued for a more imperialistic approach to US power; more importantly, I'm not trying to assume intentions, but horrible events and bad reactions often take place in spite of our best intentions. It wasn't yet out when I wrote this article, but the limited sovereignty being bruited about for post June 30th reminds me horribly of Manchukuo: if we leave behind "advisors" we'll be going down that road. And we haven't "solved the security problem" but we're talking about military drafts, and about how we can't engage in other peacekeeping operations because of our overstretched forces.

    As I said in response to Mr. Safranski, I don't think the US as a whole desire imperialism, and I'm not really sure about the actual leadership. But I don't want to see us wander into imperialism without thinking it through, because the end results are so highly unlikely to be to our advantage.

    Bill Heuisler - 5/30/2004

    Dr. Dresner,
    You're good...really good.
    You answered my rather opaque question before I'd fully asked it. Okay. Now the question becomes the projections of quagmire and failure when we've hardly had time to complete a brilliant military campaign that liberated a large country with relatively few military or civilian casualties in one of the shortest campaigns in history.

    You ask, "...long-term occupation, puppet states and overcommittment? Or do we take a more responsible, less imperialistic approach? That statement assumes facts not in evidence. In fact our stated objectives are precisely the opposite of "long term...puppet...imperialistic". How can you assume the worst motives and then ask about them as though they were fact?

    What if, heaven forfend, President Bush means what he says? What if we leave a more democratic, less threatening - maybe even an ally - Iraq in six months?
    Bill Heuisler

    Bill Heuisler - 5/30/2004

    Dr. Dresner,
    That last was too brief; hit the wrong key. Sorry.
    Interesting article - better exposition than Bix.

    The basic problem with the whole metaphor is motivation. Do you think US motivation in Iraq was economic? If so, why our high oil prices now? Why did we wait until Saddam invaded Kuwait? Why did we stop and offer a cease-fire in 1991? Do you contend the Mukden incident was similar (in result) to 9/11? Do you deny a connection from 9/11 to Iraq? Or do you deny the Cease-fire-violation-equals-state-of-war argument?

    It seems to me opponents of this war are attempting to finesse history without explaining themselves. Ignoring the attacks on our homeland while discussing the Iraq war is like ignoring the glove in the OJ trial.

    "The Connection" by Stephen Hayes is excerpted in the Weekly Standard 6/7/04 explains the situation quite well.
    (on line http://www.weeklystandard.com)
    Bill Heuisler

    Jonathan Dresner - 5/30/2004

    Mr. Heuisler,

    I assume you're asking whether there is an analogy to the 2001 attacks in our discussion of Japan, and that you believe the attacks make a stronger case for a powerful response, as in Iraq, than the Japanese had.

    You're right, to an extent. If this were about Afghanistan, I'd agree wholeheartedly: the analogy doesn't apply there, as we have done very little to maintain control or power there, aside from a small peacekeeping and bounty-hunting force.

    But Iraq is a different matter. I know you consider the invasion a direct response to an imminent and serious threat. I disagree. But this analysis isn't about that, mostly. We're there now, and we have to figure out what we're going to do about it.

    This is about what we do as an occupying power: do we allow an obsession with security and control to drag us into long-term occupation, puppet states and overcommittment? Or do we take a more responsible, less imperialistic approach?

    Bill Heuisler - 5/30/2004

    Jonathan Dresner - 5/30/2004

    I enjoyed Bix's book as well, though it stretches the available sources more than I'm comfortable with: he may be right, but we're not quite there yet.

    Part of the reason why the early 1930s analogy interests me is that a significant portion of the Japanese population, not to mention the civilian political leadership, wasn't interested in empire expansion at that time. But a significant activist portion of the government, mostly in the military, was interested in expansion, and their actions forced the rest of the nation to follow their lead and eventually feel that it was an inevitable and necessary war. It's hard to say "I don't really think the US is in a quest for" anything, without specifying that there are indeed influential groups (PNAC being the most egregiously obvious; Niall Ferguson providing intellectual support) that does indeed want to expand US influence and power in an imperial fashion.

    I don't think the vast majority of the US citizenry or leadership wants it, but we may be forced to go along if we don't realize what's happening.

    mark safranski - 5/30/2004

    "My main problem with Bix's comparison is that I don't think we're at 1937 yet: I think we're in 1932, and we have a chance to avoid going down that road."

    I can't say Bix is an idiot - I enjoyed his book too much - but his recent analogy was an example of letting contemporary political feelings run away with his historical analysis. I don't really think the US is in a quest for a formal or informal empire of the kind Japanese ultranationalists envisioned.

    Perhaps a better analogy might be Great Britain's quest for " paramountcy " in Southern Africa that precipitated the Boer War. A real strategic concern, vaguely defined and poorly executed. Or American intervention in Central America in the late 19th and early 20th century.

    Jonathan Dresner - 5/30/2004

    In defense of the CPA (I can't quite believe I'm saying this) the Kwantung army wasn't new to Manchuria: Japan had been working the mines, the railroads, etc, under quasi-military command for decades before the Mukden incident.

    But relatively recent research by my old grad school colleague Tak Matsuzaka suggests that the Manchurian situation really did take a couple of years before things settled down: there was considerable debate and discussion within Japan about the political status that Manchukuo would have.

    My main problem with Bix's comparison is that I don't think we're at 1937 yet: I think we're in 1932, and we have a chance to avoid going down that road.

    mark safranski - 5/30/2004

    Bix, who wrote a stellar biography of Hirohito, was off the deep-end with his analogy with the Nanking massacre. Tommy Franks was not Nakajima and even the harshest US actions in Iraq are not equivalent to official orders to " Kill all prisoners " or unofficial directions to Imperial troops to encourage pillage and rapine.

    Manchuria was much more efficiently run under Japanese control than Iraq has been under the CPA. The Bush administration has been incompetent in administering the occupation more than they have been insincere. If they were as cynical about " democracy " as the Japanese were in Manchuria about " order " the country would have been ruthless about seeing Iraqi cities be properly secured, utilities restored and infrastructure rebuilt in order to foster economic exploitation.

    More or less, the posture of the CPA has been ad hoc confusion, reaction to events and paralysis in the face of tactical and strategic choices. The Kwangtung army generals, the Naimusho bureaucrats and the Secret society gangsters by contrast generally took what they saw as the shortest routes to exploitation and empire. They made a number of bad choices ( the vast size of China impacting modern military operations made it worthwhile to recall that it took the Mongols of Ghengis decades to conquer Sung China, not years or a few quick campaigns)but generally they tried to keep the initiative.