Grassroots Fascism
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Grassroots Fascism

The War Experience of the Japanese People

Yoshiaki Yoshimi, Ethan Mark

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Grassroots Fascism

The War Experience of the Japanese People

Yoshiaki Yoshimi, Ethan Mark

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About This Book

Grassroots Fascism profiles the Asia Pacific War (1937–1945)—the most important though least understood experience of Japan's modern history—through the lens of ordinary Japanese life. Moving deftly from the struggles of the home front to the occupied territories to the ravages of the front line, the book offers rare insights into popular experiences from the war's troubled beginnings through Japan's disastrous defeat in 1945 and the new beginning it heralded.

Yoshimi Yoshiaki mobilizes diaries, letters, memoirs, and government documents to portray the ambivalent position of ordinary Japanese as both wartime victims and active participants. He also provides penetrating accounts of the war experiences of Japan's minorities and imperial subjects, including Koreans and Taiwanese. His book challenges the idea that the Japanese people operated as a mere conduit for the military during the war, passively accepting an imperial ideology imposed upon them by the political elite. Viewed from the bottom up, wartime Japan unfolds as a complex modern mass society, with a corresponding variety of popular roles and agendas.

In chronicling the diversity of wartime Japanese social experience, Yoshimi's account elevates our understanding of "Japanese Fascism." In its relation of World War II to the evolution—and destruction—of empire, it makes a fresh contribution to the global history of the war. Ethan Mark's translation supplements the Japanese original with explanatory notes and an in-depth introduction that situates the work within Japanese studies and global history.

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Year
2015
ISBN
9780231538596
1
FROM DEMOCRACY TO FASCISM
HOPES AND MISGIVINGS REGARDING THE WAR
GRASSROOTS DEMOCRACY
When the Manchurian Incident began in September 1931, support for war spread like a fever among the Japanese people, fueled by extensive media coverage of the conflict.1 But the fever was a temporary phenomenon. Once the fighting subsided, people reexamined their lives. Agricultural depression continued in the villages, and inflation mounted in the cities, driven by military spending. By 1935, government attempts to overcome the Great Depression through military campaigns abroad were being reappraised.
“Imperialism externally, constitutionalism internally”: It has been argued that these were the guiding principles of Taishō democracy, which took root following the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905).2 The popular demands for democracy that accompanied the democratic expansion of the Taishō period had not disappeared but continued to resonate in the mid-1930s.3 In general, people demanded political and social liberation and improvement in their lives, to be actuated by the people themselves. Of course, insofar as it took the emperor system as a given, this thinking had an authoritarian aspect.4 Its tendency toward an Asian version of the Monroe Doctrine was one indication of an “imperial” ideology prevalent in the Japanese nation as an imperialist latecomer. This popular framing of liberation in terms of “one sovereign for all subjects” (ikkun banmin) may be viewed as a grassroots imperial democracy consciousness.5
VOICES CRITICAL OF THE MILITARY
Through the mid-1930s, people continued to maintain this consciousness distinctive to post–World War I Japan, forcefully calling for social and political liberation and improvement in their lives. The startling military rebellion of February 26, 1936, occurred within this context, and amid the resultant turmoil, imperial democracy consciousness made an emergence onto the historical stage.
People felt a strong antagonism toward the young officers who had perpetrated the February 26 incident and toward the army authorities who used them in an attempt to secure hegemony.6 Expressive of such sentiments in the wake of the incident, the family of a policeman who died in the line of duty defending a high-ranking government official was showered with condolence money and letters from all over the country.
On March 4, 1936, Vice President of the Asahi Newspaper Company Shimomura Hiroshi informed Imperial Household Minister Yuasa Kurahei of mass anger toward the rebel army.
Every day I hear voices of righteous indignation and receive letters of anger and lamentation. Women are shouting that it was wrong to kill [Finance Minister] Takahashi [Korekiyo], and children are crying. Around Saitama [Prefecture] schoolteachers too have unexpectedly been telling their students, “after this sort of thing, you can’t trust the army either.” A growing number of people say, “if it’s gotten like this, we can’t send our boys out as soldiers.” And at places like the Japan Club, even normally courteous elderly men are in quite an uproar.7
The large number of personal messages of encouragement, support, and sympathy received by Diet Representative Saitō Takao following his “purge the army speech” of May 7, 1936—in which he hammered upon the responsibility of the military authorities for the incident—revealed the people’s genuine sentiments in opposing the trend toward military-directed fascism, yearning for the restoration of constitutional politics, and the realization of imperial democracy.8
Personal messages in the form of letters, postcards, and telegrams that Saitō received between May and June demonstrated the following variety of popular standpoints:
Writing as “a loyal subject,” one unnamed person called for an imperial politics of “harmony” (wa). “Killing a number of high-ranking officials and destroying capitalism,” the person wrote, “will not make people’s lives carefree just like that. Fascism, Nazism, communism—they’re all the same.”9
Regarding the political maneuvers of the military authorities and the “young officers” who imitated Hitler and Mussolini, Kondō Tsugishige of Tokyo’s Kanda Ward wrote, “We the Japanese people have been unanimously unhappy for some time.” He urged the restoration of constitutional politics.10
Demanding reform of “the capitalist economic system,” another person in the name of “we, the proletariat of Tajima” wrote, “We register our admiration for your great speech, in which you said that the patience of the Japanese has its limits. We the proletariat have limits to our patience as well.”11
Running through almost all of these personal messages to Saitō were expressions of gratitude for his strong reaction to and critique of the military authorities: “Mr. Saitō, thank you. You spoke well for us. Everything you said represents the voice of the people,” read an anonymous letter. “I was thinking how regrettable it was that the people were unable to make their voices freely heard in the Diet, but you’ve said it well enough for us.”12 From this we must conclude that imperial democracy consciousness continued to survive at the grassroots.
Yet the people expressing this range of sentiments lacked the political power to come together into a movement that might have resisted the military authorities’ fascism, and so their urgent appeals simply floated in space. That these sorts of expressions continued to represent a strand of public opinion again became clear, however, when an attempt to form a new cabinet miscarried in January 1937.
In the wake of this incident, in which former Army Minister Ugaki Kazushige was instructed by the emperor to form a cabinet but was prevented from doing so by army opposition, there was a strong popular reaction against the military.13 “Among area residents” within the jurisdiction of the Sendai second division, warned division command and army reservist association reports, “there are those who criticize the army’s attitude and act perversely for no good reason, while antimilitary thinking is on the rise. Strict precautions must be taken.”14 In Takata City in Niigata Prefecture, it was observed that “throughout the city and countryside, where public opinion is concerned, most people eagerly desire the formation of the Ugaki cabinet.…Commentary regarding the army’s attitude ranges from discontent to indignation.”15 Within the jurisdiction of the Kanazawa ninth division, it was reported that “wherever local residents gather—in steam and electric trains, in the public baths, at the barber shop, et cetera—they never fail to discuss the issue of the change of government. What’s more, there is a violent outcry against the military authorities.”16
Despite this intense reaction against the military authorities, popular sentiment remained unable to transmute itself into a political force capable of stopping the move toward fascism. Stifled by the outbreak of full-blown war between Japan and China, popular views would end up changing dramatically.
TWO VIEWS OF THE WAR
When the Sino-Japanese War began on July 7, 1937, popular calls for “imperialism externally,” a desire previously well buried, suddenly came to the fore. Along with limits on freedom of expression and the manipulation of public opinion, a number of other factors began to have a determining influence on popular consciousness. There was a manner of thinking along the lines of a fait accompli: “Now that the war has started, we’d better win it.” There was a strong sense that Japan was winning the war. And by the end of 1937, Japan had dispatched some 770,000 troops, a reality that weighed heavily.
According to a national survey of thirty-eight municipalities conducted at the end of 1937 by the Cabinet Planning Board’s Industry Section,17 the attitude of people in farming, mountain, and fishing villages toward the war against China, summarized in terms of a single village, was divided between “the middle class and up,” who “want the war to be pursued…to the fullest (to the point that [hostilities] will not flare up again),” and “the middle class and below,” who “want it to be brought to as speedy an end as possible.”18
Because their lives were comfortable, it can be argued that local people representing “the middle class and up” subscribed fundamentally and enthusiastically to the official war aims, to the ideology of a “holy war.” In contrast, it may be said that “the middle class and below,” who would pay a heavy price for the continuation of the war, were not so quick to absorb the whitewashed “holy war” ideology and strongly desired a quick end to the conflict.
Of course, there were those among the “middle class and below” who were enthusiastic, and attitudes toward the war varied considerably from one municipality to another.
At one end of the spectrum there was the following negative posture toward the war in Shizu’ura Village in Shizuoka Prefecture: “It may be assumed that the vast majority wish in their hearts that the Incident be brought to an end at the soonest possible moment.”19 In Aikawa Village in the same prefecture, the perceived mood was “There’s nothing to be done about it,” with residents desiring an early end to the war.20 In Omoe Village in Iwate Prefecture, the general standpoint was “It would be good if it ends soon.”21
At the other end of the spectrum were voices saying, “We hope that things are pursued thoroughly and are properly dealt with to prevent any reoccurrence.” This view prevailed in more than half of the localities, including Kurotaki Village in Nara Prefecture, Wakasano Village in Hyōgo Prefecture, Nishishiwa Village in Hiroshima Prefecture, Kantama Village in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and Wakimisaki Village in Nagasaki Prefecture.22
A more ambivalent stance between the two extremes described above was probably closer to the general state of popular opinion.
GRASSROOTS IMPERIALISM
If we examine the calls for a speedy end to the war more closely—voices mostly from “the middle and below”—the following sorts of examples emerge with particular force.
image
“We hope that it ends quickly. (We hope that overseas development will be possible. There is only one person who does not want to leave the village and emigrate to Manchuria).”23
image
“In order to extend Japan’s influence in northern China, we are planning to send out two or three of my boys.”24
image
“To compensate for all the sacrifices the Imperial Army has made, [North and Central China] should be brought under the control of the Empire.”25
image
“We hope that we’ll be able to secure considerable rights and interests.”26
Each of these statements represented a hope for a swift end to the war that went hand in hand with a yearning for concrete profits or rights and interests, clearly demonstrating that a “grassroots imperialism” ideology had begun to surge among the people. The people of Kawashima Town in Kagawa Prefecture were a representative example. Reflecting the complexity of popular attitudes, it was reported here that “if the war goes on for long it will be a problem—this is what people genuinely say. Yet on the other hand, people of all classes also say that we have to keep fighting until we win.” Nevertheless, expressions like the following ones attributed to soldiers of the Zentsūji Eleventh Division—many of whom hailed from the same municipality and had fought in the two Shanghai Incidents of 1932 and 1937—were also on the rise.27 One said that “it would be a waste meaninglessly to give back territory people have given their lives for.” Another, in a viewpoint attributed “especially to the Eleventh Division,” said, “The people will not accept it if we gain nothing—either land or reparations. We don’t want to give back what we’ve already spent so much money getting for no reason. Northern China alone will not do. This is the second time we’ve shed blood in Shanghai.”
As the Japanese Army moved deeper into China, there was furthermore a tendency to see a corresponding reduction among those seeking to emigrate to Manchuria (northeastern China). Among those from the “middle and below” who had been hoping to do so, “comments [were] ventured such as “Northern China would seem preferable to Manchuria.”28
By and large, people of the “middle and below” did not resist cooperating in the war effort either. From Wada Village in Kagawa Prefecture came the following report: “When military bonds are up for sale, poor folks come up with money to buy them, but the big capitalists don’t. They’re criticized for having little devotion to the nation. This is evident in Takamatsu City as well. If this is the situation, then it is in fact the middle classes and above that need to be targeted for national spiritual mobilization.”29
Here, then, is the picture of a people who, in the midst of their difficult lives, earnestly desired to cooperate in the war because it was their “duty as Japanese,” wishing simultaneously for a swift end to the conflict and to gain privileges from it.
COOPERATION FOR THE WAR AND THE BACKLASH AGAINST IT
The Movement for Total National Spiritual Mobilization (Kokumin seishin sōdōin undō), initiated in September 1937, carried out campaigns for consumer thrift, the encouragement of savings, and the compulsory distribution of military bonds and the like. It was a movement for cooperation in the war effort that effectively centered on the...

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