Events of this past week are at least ironic when viewed through a 70-year-old lens. On September 2, the world reflected upon the destruction and carnage of its first nuclear conflict. On that date in 1945, a rapacious imperial Japanese military campaign in East Asia and the Pacific ended in their humiliating defeat. To make a point, the US head-kicked the prostrate and vanquished enemy twice, once in Hiroshima and once in Nagasaki. America accomplished this to guard the Asian colonial possessions of Western powers, and their vast rubber and petroleum resources, from Japanese imperialism. On the deck of the USS Missouri, matters were settled: the United States became the undisputed imperial master of the Pacific.
This past week, the conservative Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe enjoyed the successful amending of the Japanese Constitution to remove the visionary prohibition against offensive military operations. Over the loud protests of peaceful Japanese who remembered the head kick and the Rape of Nanking, Abe rendered infamous and cynical the famous and hopeful Japanese “Peace Constitution.” Abe’s pen decapitated General Douglas MacArthur’s experiment in humanitarian political change, a benevolence now corrupted by imperial expediency. The Chinese ally becomes the Chinese threat, and the Japanese Bushido becomes a bulwark of democracy. Thus, history unfolds as a Commedia dell’arte of a global oligarchy rebranding a defeated and humiliated Japanese nation into a strategic “partner” in the common struggle against Chinese expansionism.
The legacy of capitalist colonialism confronts the comforting official narrative depicted in the 1950s TV documentary Victory at Sea, and more recently FOX News Channel’s War Stories, hosted by the rehabilitated star of the Iran-Contra Affair, Oliver North. As with much propaganda, these programs contain an element of truth. The Japanese indisputably waged a brutal invasion and occupation. However, propaganda also routinely cherry-picks content in order to deceive its target audience, and we should be careful not confuse style with substance. Regarding the war in the Pacific, that substance involved conflict among imperial powers for control over natural resources. The US and the other Western imperial powers largely embargoed these resources in protest over Japanese military operations in China and Manchuria. Japan’s defeat by the Allies, while determined, irresistible, and heroic, essentially restored the pre-war imperial status quo.
The resources in the region are vast. The same petroleum reserves prized by the Japanese in 1941 are in 2015 the prize a new imperialist dance between China, Japan and the United States. Ironically, the fight for political independence in Southeast Asia did not end with liberation from the Japanese. It would take decades before subsequent Western domination ceased as well. In the mean time, capitalism developed into a global financial hegemon, seated in the West, and requiring strong international protocols on trade. Hence, the TPP fast track conveniently passes through Congress, thus establishing a global trade regime that intends to isolate and economically disempower the Chinese. The value added is a disempowerment of Americans regarding local control over their environments and public health.
History and current developments in Asia inveigh against any claim that global capitalism does not largely guide today’s imperial aggression. In the Western Pacific, the US is constructing and improving military bases, under massive protest, in Okinawa and South Korea in order to strengthen America’s resource grab, the “Asian pivot.” The coffers of the military-industrial complex not quite filled by building more bases, climate change offers another opportunity for conflict and profit. While humanity must stop burning fossil fuels, the US, China and Russia think it prudent to drill for oil and gas in the now sub-Arctic, Arctic. As the exploitation for profit begins, suspicions and tensions rise. Vladimir Putin is making a Russian military presence in the region a priority, as are the Chinese. In response, the US dutifully and expensively deploys significant intelligence assets in the region. Eisenhower would scowl.
Although the players have shifted sides, the prize remains the same: American capitalist hegemony in the Pacific and Asia. Unfortunately, the methods for achieving domination remain unchanged, and results will likely be similarly unfortunate. The Asian pivot has been described as the US’s “I’m Back!” moment. Perhaps, but global capitalism, with its unquenchable and rapacious lust for natural resources, never left the stage. Perhaps the outraged Japanese people who faced America’s blazing, racist revenge; and who now cry for peace, should guide the course of nations.