Friday, December 7th, 2012

Famous last stands, as at Thermopylae and the Alamo, are famous because last stands are so rare, Gregory Cochran notes:

So an army that routinely executed last stands — one that always refused to surrender, that kept fighting until eliminated by firepower or starvation — would  be anomalous.  It’s hard to imagine, but it’s easy to remember: that’s what the Imperial Japanese Army was like in World War Two.

In a typical battle, less than 2% of Japanese forces were taken prisoner. Of those that were, many had been knocked unconscious. Wounded Japanese soldiers would try to kill Allied medics: Japanese sailors would attack Americans trying to fish them out of the water. As a young American infantry officer who faced them in Guadalcanal and Burma said, “for sheer, bloody, hardened steel guts, the stocky and hard-muscled little Jap doughboy has it all over any of us.” George MacDonald Fraser told of a Japanese soldier he encountered in August of 1945, when they had utterly lost the war: ”the little bastard came howling out of a thicket near the Sittang, full of spite and fury. He was half-starved and near naked, and his only weapon was a bamboo stave, but he was in no mood to surrender.”

The Japanese usually lost those battles (after their attacks in the beginning of the war), losing something like ten times as many killed as their Western opponents, a ratio normally seen only in colonial wars. The Japanese relied on “courage and cold steel”, which simply wasn’t very effective. They simply did not grasp the dominance of artillery and automatic weapons in modern war — partly because they hadn’t fought in WWI (except for a small naval role), but, more importantly, because they didn’t want to understand. They’d had a chance to learn in the border conflicts with the Soviet Union in the late 30?s (Khalkin-Gol), but refused to do so.

In addition, Japanese heroism is seldom fully appreciated because they were such utter assholes, in their treatment of prisoners and of conquered nations — cannibalism, vivisection, the Rape of Nanking and the destruction of Manila, germ warfare experiments on prisoners… even the water cure, although now we’re in favor of that. Under the Japanese, Asia was a charnel house. Regardless, their courage was most unusual.


  1. Red says:

    It wasn’t really usual… for the 14th century. They had iron clad guarantees that their women would be supported and faithful. The Japanese government went to great lengths to make sure they were well sexed up. They fought with the knowledge that each battle was to defend their families directly and they had a very good assurance that their kids came from their own seed. That creates a strong will to fight to death in most men. When men don’t have women and children to fight for they tend to be poor fighters apt to run.

    How they treated the enemy and their women was pretty normal in the history of warfare. America may not have raped our way across Europe — the Russians did — but we certainly burned Japan and Europe into the ground from 20,000 feet. Americans also largely refused Japanese prisoners. Charles Lindbergh himself wrote of US marines gunning down the last defenders of a Japanese island who were disarmed and had their hands up.

  2. Doctor Pat says:

    Actually, I’ve been reading that it was the other way around.

    The Japanese were the FIRST to encounter modern industrial warfare.

    In the Russo-Japanese war in 1903, the Japanese had staged a major land attack on Russian Port Arthur. The Russians had surrounded the place with modern artillery, trenches, and machinegun emplacements. The Japanese army tore itself to pieces. (As anyone would predict after the World War 1 experience.)

    This was observed by military observers from most of the world powers at the time.

    The Russians… well Russia was pretty messed up at that point, and in the process of slow collapse. They didn’t do anything with the knowledge.

    The Japanese had the bad luck to win that war (via Naval battles). Victory only convinces people that they were right.

    English, French, USA… well this just goes to show that face-to-face, a white man will still beat an asian…. no lessons to be learned here.

    Germany… well the French and the English got to see what Germany learned from this event.

  3. Isegoria says:

    Not only did the Japanese win the war, but they won the battle, too — the Battle of Nanshan:

    The Russians, with mines, Maxim machine guns and barbed wire obstacles, inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese during repeated assaults. By 18:00, after nine attempts, the Japanese had failed to overrun the firmly entrenched Russian positions. General Oku had committed all of their reserves, and both sides had used up most of their artillery ammunition.

    Finding his calls for reinforcement unanswered, Colonel Tretyakov was amazed to find that the uncommitted reserve regiments were in full retreat and that his remaining ammunition reserves had been blown up under orders of General Fok. Fok, paranoid of a possible Japanese landing between his position and the safety of Port Arthur, was panicked by a flanking attack by the decimated Japanese Fourth Division along the west coast. In his rush to flee the battle, Fok had neglected to tell Tretyakov of the order to retreat, and Tretyakov thus found himself in the precarious position of being encircled, with no ammunition and no reserve force available for a counter-attack.

    By 19:20, the Japanese flag flew from the summit of Nanshan Hill. Tretyakov, who had fought well and who had lost only 400 men during the battle, lost 650 more men in his unsupported retreat back to the main defensive lines around Port Arthur.

    The Russians lost a total of about 1,400 killed, wounded and missing during the battle. Although the Japanese did not win lightly, having at least 6,198 casualties, they could claim victory.

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