Misguided take on world history

As a schoolboy in England in the late 1940s, I clearly remember seeing much of the world colored in red, the red of the British Empire. We were told that “we controlled one-quarter of the globe.” That empire, with all its faults, was primarily founded on trade, and its trading routes were stoutly protected by the then-mightiest of naval fleets in that world, the Royal Navy, especially in the Far East at Singapore, etc.

Based on this simple fact, I was surprised to read of yet another Japanese writer’s misguided slant on world history, especially the time of World War II: Masamichi Hanabusa’s July 11 article, “Abe’s defense policy from a historical perspective.” He seems abysmally weak on that history when he states that “The situation in which Japan finds itself today closely resembles that of Britain on the eve of World War II in that its overseas economic interests would not be secure without maintaining its strong alliance with the U.S.”

He is wrong!

He further states: “Like Britain in the 1940s [when exactly?], it is in Japan’s interest … to align itself more closely with the U.S.” Japan? Perhaps so. For Britain? Not at all!

Britain had no such reliance on the U.S. It did not need one! Its global position in the late 1930s was unassailable from any quarter save from Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Certainly Britain’s empire was secure, even as far away as the Far East, because of the Royal Navy and overseas ground forces at many bases. Hanabusa should have checked on the very strong antiwar feelings in the U.S. in those times, led in no small way by former U.S. ambassador to Britain Joseph Kennedy. The U.S. had been “dragged” into a European war in 1917, and it had no intention of being involved in another, despite Hitler’s machinations, saber-rattling and later blitzkrieg.

Britain did not need or expect any help from the U.S. When it declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, both the British and the U.S. knew that Britain was sorely outmatched by Germany in terms of arms, and it took a friendly U.S. president (Franklin Roosevelt) to help it under “Lend-Lease” and other convenient arrangements. But Britain stood alone against the might of Germany through the remaining months of 1939 and throughout 1940. All that changed, of course, from the “Day of Infamy” — Dec. 7, 1941. From then on, the U.S. fought alongside Britain and its empire forces.

paul gaysford

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

  • Austin

    Well done Mr Paul Gaysford for setting out the true historical record of
    policies and events.

    It is now very alarming for many in Europe to hear what is a campaign of “historical revisionism”, the falsification of historical facts, and the deceitful tailoring of the historical narrative of the last century by so-called “academic historians” in Japan: who tailor and misrepresent historical fact and policy, in order to advance and promote the policy of the present government of Japanese Prime Minister Mr Shinzo Abe.

    The Administration of Mr Shinzo Abe, is advancing a political policy of militarism, under the pretext and claim that Japan is in, or will soon be under, military attack by it’s neighbour country the Peoples Republic of China.

    This claim and notion, presented and falsely justified and supported by so-called “academic historians” in Japan, is rising as the greatest threat to peace and good relation in the Asia Pacific region – and possibly the world.

    Reports in the media of the present rapid armament and militarization of Japanese society, above and far beyond it’s already very large armed forces (including and to the extent of the rewriting of historical text books to support these policies, and the political expediencies of the present government of Prime Minister Mr Shinzo Abe), say only that Japan is now heading in a direction which will only, and ultimately, lead to war with China, and result in a pan-Asia Pacific, or even world war.

    Comments like those of by Mr Masamichi Hanabusa, in his article ‘Abe’s defense policy from a historical perspective’ Jul 10, 2014, speak a similar propaganda to that of the dictatorial regimes of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in the 1930s and 1940s leading to war.

    Statements such as:

    “Today many Japanese have come to realize that it is no longer possible for Japan to maintain its vast interdependence with the rest of the world by simply depending on the benevolence of other nations.”

    “Some Japanese media have been prone to utopian pacifism, often sounding doctrinaire and unduly critical of Japan’s own actions, even masochistically so…”

    The whole, tenor, and intent being to claim that Japan needs to bestride
    the world like a giant, and step on all who would question this policy.

    Japan is already a giant. Not in arms and domination of it’s neighbours: but in science, technology, finance and other areas.

    China has no military ambitions towards Japan, but what we hear in the West, is a slow and ever loudening drumbeat to war with China, coming out of Japan.

    No nation, in world trade, expanding it’s peaceful influence in the world, importantly growing rich, wants war with it’s neighbours; and this is true of China, as it is of any other nation.

    China wants peace, because China is enjoying getting rich. It’s as simple as that.

    War brings universal poverty. China wants to be rich!

    So the false claim advanced for the political policy of militarism, by the Administration of Mr Shinzo Abe, under the pretext and claim that Japan is in, or will soon be under, military attack by it’s neighbour country the Peoples Republic of China: has no basis in fact or Chinese policy.

    The alarming things for me, and for many others observing the return of Japan to the propaganda and doctrine of ‘militarism’ of the 1930s and 1940s leading to war: has been how easily, quickly, and with such little resistance from the Japanese people, this Neo-Fascist policy and objective, has been accomplished.

    Historical “revisionism”, and the falsification of historical facts, is how every bad regime comes to power and seek to exercise tyranny over the people.

    As George Orwell famously wrote in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four published in 1949, four years after the defeat of Nazi Germany in Europe, and Imperial Japan in Asia – as a warning to the generation that would follow:

    “He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present,
    controls the past.”

    The Administration of Japanese Prime Minister Mr Shinzo Abe, and his supporters, are seeking to “control the past” with lies, falsehoods, and deliberate misrepresentation.

    I and many other observer fear, there are terrible and devastating things to follow.

    Being British born people, and it being our history that is being misrepresented, it is our duty to tell the audiences for such propaganda the true historical facts.

    So I say again. Well done Mr Paul Gaysford for setting out the true
    historical record of policies and events. So that those who do not know
    history, will not be led, in ignorance of the true historical facts, to war!

    London, United Kingdom.

  • Steve

    Wow, this letter is all over the place. I mean, what are you trying to say? It seem you aren’t attacking Abe et all from the perspective of them being nasty right wing scumbags, but from what you take to be a slur against Britain’s glorious maritime past! Who cares about that for pete’s sake. And which is it, Britain’s “global position in the late 1930s was unassailable” or Britain “was sorely outmatched by Germany in terms of arms” and needed “help it under “Lend-Lease” “? The fact is, Britain maintained its empire at the end on the basis of its 19th century reputation, not on its actual military or economic power. You are right that the empire was huge, but Britain at the time just didn’t have the resources to deal with every trouble spot. One challenge would’ve been the end, which is why we (yes, I’m British, graduating uni in 20th century history) did cozy up to the Americans. You think without the US we would’ve recovered Burma etc from Japan? We were kicked out of most of our Asian empire bar India (and that was touch and go) even when the Americans were fighting with us!!
    But whether Abe and his minions are right to draw comparisons between the two situations is another issue which you completely fail to mention. The world is different now to back then, thank god. Abe thinking its all a pre-war style Great Power game is highly alarming, and given his revisionist ideas (including history, but weirdly, not from the perspective you discuss), this is really what you should be posting letters in the JT about rather than YOUR revisionist ideas about schoolboys proud that the world was coloured imperial red.

    • Starviking

      The letter writer is commenting on claims about the British Empire leading up to WW2, not on the progression of that war after the US joined the fray.