Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Turning Japanese

Last night's news spent a minute or so on a contribution to the increasingly popular genre of counter factual history by Kiwi military historian Ian McGibbon. McGibbon has pondered the possibility of a Japanese invasion of this country in 1942:

[I]f Japan had not been defeated by America in the crucial Battle of Midway in the Pacific, they may have targeted New Zealand. "I don't think people realise how on a knife edge their security was in June 1942," says McGibbon...

McGibbon contends an invasion force would have hit the lower North Island before seizing Wellington. "I think they could have captured the city itself within days to be honest, once they got inside the port defences," he says.

A Japanese invasion is just one of the scenarios explored in New Zealand's first-ever counter factual history book, What If...

"Sometimes when we say that things are inevitable it's sometimes an excuse for us, for leaders having done nothing or having done poorly," says editor Stephen Levine.

McGibbon notes that the vast majority of New Zealand soldiers were overseas in 1942, fighting under British command as the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. After the string of Japanese victories that followed Pearl Harbour a fear of invasion stimulated the growth of the Home Guard, which soon had many more members than rifles or uniforms. The Guard struggled for support in some parts of the big cities, where the working class remembered the role that volunteer police had played in smashing the general strike of 1913, but it was wildly popular in the countryside, where fear of the Japs prompted the formation of a large and fervent movement called Awake New Zealand, whose leaders demanded the immediate conversion of all industry to the production of armaments and other war-related items and the suspension of remaining civil liberites in the interest of the war effort. On the left of the political spectrum Labour Party rebel John A Lee and his supporters demanded the immediate recall of the Expeditionary Force.

Japanese defeats in the Battle of Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway and the arrival of large numbers of American troops in the second half of 1942 helped ease fears of an attack from the north. The Americans, who were planning to retake the Solomons and nearby island groups, had been persuaded to make New Zealand a base by the Churchill government, which was keen to hold onto the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

I grew up on a farm that was used by American troops training for action in the Solomons, and as I boy I was regularly told that 'If it wasn't for the Yanks, you'd be speaking Japanese'. When New Zealanders have argued about issues like the visit of American nuke ships and support for Bush's War of Terror the supposed role of the Yanks in saving us from Japan has often been invoked by commentators on the right. McGibbon's argument, then, has a certain lineage, and I look forward to reading it as soon as I get to a copy of What If. I'm not sure, though, how the man can possibly make a plausible case for a Japanese attack on Wellington in the middle of 1942. How could the Japanese have moved enough troops this far south, without a support base in a place like Fiji or New Caledonia? What sense would it make to seize Wellington but not the rest of New Zealand, and thus invite attacks and harrassment from the South Island and the upper North Island? Why would Wellington be a useful base for raids on Australia's ports, as McGibbon apparently claims, when Japan already held parts of New Guinea and was capable of bombing Darwin and sending subs into Sydney harbour?

There is no evidence Japan ever seriously considered conquering either Australia or New Zealand, though one of its admirals did apparently draw up a plan for a diversionary occupation of parts of Queensland. The Japanese were fond of very complex military operations which included diversionary feints as well as full-blooded offensives: a famous example is the occupation of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, which was an attempt to draw American forces north away from the Battle of Midway.

In fact, the Japanese did make at least one attempt at a diversionary attack on a piece of Australia. In January 1943 one of their submarines surfaced near Port Gregory in Western Australia and fired ten shells, in a rather feeble effort to draw attention from the fighting raging on Guadalcanal in the faraway Solomons.

But old myths die hard. A couple of years ago I bought some Japanese invasion money from a dodgy military memorabilia shop in Auckland, and showed it to a couple of friends. Without much help from me, they decided that it was incontrovertible proof of Japanese plans to colonise this green and pleasant land. The small fact that the invasion money was printed in dollars rather than pounds didn't seem to matter.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The world of the citizens of the British Empire was founded on the belief that the British race was superior. The racism was explicit. In the Pacific war, racism was an important subtext to the conflictfrom both sides. The idea of a "British" nation being over run by the inferior, Asiatic Japanese was simply not within the intellectual orbit of anyone in 1942. Had the Japanese come, I suspect something akin to what happened when the Soviets arrived in German territory for the first time in the other great racial conflict of WW II to have occurred. Fanatical resistance to the invader; and mass suicides. This may not have happened - the past is of course another country. But my mother has never forgotten my great-grandmother (to put it mildly, a woman well known for her left wing views) telling her that if the Japanese came she would kill the children and herself rather than let them be defiled by Asiatics.

12:10 pm  
Anonymous Liv said...

What a coincidence - I clicked on the "comments" because I wanted to ask if anyone here knows anything about the infamous - yet strangely elusive - WW2 Whangarei Suicide Pacts that M Kelly and I caught an inkling of...

On another note, I suppose if someone invaded Auckland instead of Wellington, the rest of the country would just laugh.

2:58 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

The Japanese intended to invade NZ - they intended to castrate the men and rape the women to build a better race. Don't go soft on the Nips. Maps - it was a fight to the death. They were in league with the Nazis. (In the end had the Axis won they would have probably fought a war with Germany etc). We owe the US - ok they didn't fight for us per se - but rather the US in the 2nd WW than the Japs.

No one should forget the terrible atrocites committed by the Japs. That included decapitating NZ soldiers - but also the terrible slaughter of Chinese and many many others.

This is not to overlook the Imperialist nature of the War - the US and Birtain of course also committed atrocities ( But this came partly from erroneous policies as to how to prosecute the war and partly it was revenge). - but probably less than the Nazis and the Japanese.

12:19 am  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

BTW I remember the song - who or what group sang that song "Turning Japanese"?

12:20 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

P.S. I remember reading somewhere that the Japanese invasion plan for N.Z. (such as it was, probably a staff exercise or somesuch) involved landings in the Bay of Plenty and a simultaneous advance directly South via Taupo to Wellington and West across to the coast to isolate Auckland and the north.

10:37 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'The Japanese intended to invade NZ - they intended to castrate the men and rape the women to build a better race.'

This is racist mythmaking of the highest order. In which country which fell under Japanese occupation were there mass castrations of men and attempts to breed a new part-Japanese population? There were mass rapes, yes, but the Japanese did not want to turn the whole into carbon copies of themselves. And where is the evidence the Japanese wanted to invade NZ?

Perhaps Richard Taylor has been fantasising about Japanese men?

6:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was told that by a Scotsman who had read huge book about it all (the Tanaka Memorial I think it was called) - hewas actually in the CP but had been British Army Seargent from before the war (2nd) and he was very knowledgeable - reality is reality BTW.

The Japs wanted to take NZ. Let's get real on this. Let's be fair -it was the Japanese right wing the fanatics who wanted to expand their empire a lot of them were as bad as the Nazis and intended to kill or enslave the kiwis after doing the same to Australia then taking the women...they were actually short arses because they didnt get enough good meat in their growing stages...the racists amongst the Japs thought that because they were all (or many were) stunted (or vertically challenged) it was a genetic difference - it was a dietry problem - now that they get good whale MEAT (refer this to Skyler) etc they are often much bigger...

Mind you my father (Londoner) was short - so are some Portuguese. Dwarfs are also short.

9:15 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard's 'evidence' comes down to a book which he says an old friend of his read decades ago and told him about. Some 'evidence':

'When the Allies searched for documents following the war, they did not find the Tanaka Memorial among them. Most academic historians regard the Memorial as a forgery and rank it somewhere between the Zinoviev letter and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.'

So once again Richard: do you have some evidence for the claim that the Japanese planned to create a master race in NZ by castrating all the men and breeding with all the women? Is there one historian who has said this, besides yourself of course?

8:50 am  
Anonymous Indian Pharmacy said...

This is very sad, how can someone call history a war... a fact that killed a thousands of people around the world... but the worse is that many people died because of the decision or problems of just one person...

4:02 am  
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6:14 am  

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