Blogs > Cliopatria > AHA Day Three: Oligarchs and Patriarchs

Jan 9, 2005 8:59 am

AHA Day Three: Oligarchs and Patriarchs

"There are not enough jails, not enough policemen, not enough courts to enforce a law not supported by the people." -- Hubert H. Humphrey
At lunch today I attributed that to Herbert Hoover.... I had the great pleasure of lunching with some of my favorite people whom I've never met. Well, technically, I met Ralph yesterday, but it's still a new experience, and great fun. Tim Burke is as smart in person as he is in cyberspace: it's hard to keep up, but fun to try. Greg Robinson has only just begun to blog with us, and I am even more convinced now that he belongs in this group: wide-ranging interests and experiences, and I'll always look forward to hearing what he has to say. And technically this isn't the first time I've met Rick Shenkman, but it has been three (or four?) years: I remembered him looking more like Ralph and he remembered me without the beard which I've had since 1988. Between them, I think they know something about everyone doing American history today. You've been warned.

That would be the highlight of my day, if it weren't for the fact that my panel was this morning, so I'm going to have to call it a tie. It may be true, as my father says, that anything worth doing is worth doing at the last minute... but the next time I give a paper I'm going to try to have a thesis and a structure, not just"a confused heap of facts," more than 24 hours before the panel presentation. (Note to self: Just because the neon sign says"24 Hours" doesn't mean that the copy shop is open after midnight Friday. Check the actual hours on the door in small print.) That said, once I realized that chronology wasn't getting me anywhere and went to a functional organization, the paper took shape quite naturally and the presentation went pretty well: by which I mean that only the people who had read my draft knew how different it was from the presentation (OK, you know now, too). Our discussant was very kind to me in his comments, nonetheless.

My copanelists gave very interesting papers. Marnie Anderson's research is on a discussion of women's voting rights in the early Meiji (1870s, for the purposes of this panel) which hinged on the question of whether female heads of household could have voting rights to go along with the economic and legal privileges of household headship: political rights for men were also bound up with property, and there were serious proposals that the equation of property and political rights be consistently applied to both genders. The proposals were not adopted (except perhaps in some small localities), but it points to great complications in undestanding what Meiji Japanese meant when they used languages of rights and equality: my favorite odd fact from her talk was the Japanese writer who argued that men and women were equal, but husband and wife were not.

Abby Schweber's paper was, as she said it, something like a French farce: incomplete translations, secret policy meetings, and educational reforms modeled on French laws that were thirty years out of date and which actually missed the point of the originals. In 1872, when the oligarchic leaders of Meiji Japan went on a tour of the West known as the Iwakura mission, the" caretaker" government went ahead and made some fundamental law, including an educational law that was supposed to wait until the educational study mission returned from overseas. The law they wrote was based on a partial translation of an outdated French legal code (instead of the"best practice" we usually associate with Japanese borrowings) which resulted in a highly centralized and expensive compulsory attendance primary education system instead of the low-cost, decentralized compulsory availability primary system of France. Best odd moment: when two leaders of the Iwakura mission returned mid-trip to consult about some treaty matters, the committee drafting the law stopped meeting so as to avoid tipping their hand; when word finally got back to the Iwakura mission, the men responsible for education studies were genuinely surprised and horrified.

My own paper also had a connection to the Meiji oligarchs: one of the odd facts about Yamaguchi prefecture is that it was Chōshū before it was Yamaguchi, and a goodly portion of the Meiji oligarchs were born and came to power there. But after they moved to the central government, they abandoned their ties to the hometown (one actually moved his parents to Tokyo, and most of the rest only show up in Yamaguchi histories when passing through on their way to somewhere else), quite in contrast with the traditional image of Japanese as loyal to"blood and soil" (as our discussant put it). Only a few -- Kido Takayoshi and Inoue Kaoru -- played a role in Yamaguchi affairs, and the former was using Yamaguchi as leverage for national policy at least as much as he was giving Yamaguchi special attention. One of our audience (which would probably have been larger had we not been up against a Presidential Panel including papers on Japanese gardens and anime, but the turnout was solid, and clearly interested) was Sidney Brown, who translated Kido's diary, so we had some lively discussions of his role in our several papers.

I also went to the Marshall Lecture by Ronald Spector: normally I'm not much for military history, but this was about the post-1945 occupations and demobilization of Japanese territories. This was a huge and complex challenge, as the Japanese Empire had been huge and complex, complicated by the fact that we went into the job with too few troops and no clue about most of the societies we were occupying. Spector didn't make direct comparisons to Iraq, but he did say that we could draw our own conclusions.....

One of the fundamental problems faced by US military authorities is that they had a variety of what Spector described as contradictory jobs to accomplish:

  • disarm Japanese soldiers and repatriate military and civilian Japanese to their homeland
  • maintaining law and order in liberated territories
  • locate and release Allied POWs
  • reestablish civil governments, including colonial rules
  • avoiding conflict with local nationalist movements
  • another priority he listed elsewhere in the talk was the Cold War priority of resisting local communist movements.
Anyway, it's worth noting that, for a variety of reasons including
  • our failures of planning and resources
  • our belief that we were acting as apolitical neutrals when we were in fact taking sides
  • using Japanese as anti-communist forces and regional experts, which belied our role as liberators and their role as defeated and demobilized
  • British and French colonial beliefs that their former subjects would be sufficiently tired of Japanese rule that previous masters would be welcomed back with open arms.
by 1948, every territory released from Japanese rule was at war, mostly some form of civil war. The occupations of Japan and Germany, though successful, were only a part of a world-wide project which included some spectacular failures and ongoing challenges.

There were a few questions, then the talk adjourned before the allotted time had elapsed. In fact, every panel and event I've gone to so far has run out of discussion and questions before the allotted time (two hours for most panels; the lecture was only scheduled for 90 minutes). Not sure why. Two more panels tomorrow: marginal Japanese and scandalous historians. Then this conference is.... history.

comments powered by Disqus
History News Network