Of Pearl Harbor and Clouded Crystal Balls

Some people seem so fond of the thought of shocking or cataclysmic events that they manage to convince themselves they will happen tomorrow. Consider, for example, the predictions of civil war, “just around the corner,” we’ve seen on social media for the last decade and more. Recently our media have regaled us with stories about “imminent” invasions of Ukraine by Russia, and Taiwan by China. I won a dollar bet with a friend a year ago who had convinced himself that release of the Covid virus would inevitably result in the fall of the Chinese government. Of course, shocking and cataclysmic events do happen once in a while, and since the myriad Cassandra’s out there generate enough predictions to suit every occasion, some small number of them must inevitably come true. A case in point is the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, that took place 80 years ago today.

Consider, for example, an article entitled “Stop Japan Now,” that appeared in the December, 1941 issue of “Flying and Popular Aviation” magazine. The author was James R. Young, who had worked as a journalist in Japan for the previous 13 years. It starts with the following quote by Senator Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana:

Several months ago I stated that, before this war was over, our Government would have to engage in war with Japan. I know of no better time than now to do the job.

It didn’t take long for his wish to come true. Young agreed, advocating a quick, surgical preemptive war against Japan in order to release our Pacific naval squadrons for convoy duty in the Atlantic, thus averting a British defeat. According to the first paragraph of his article,

Japan’s threat in the Far East is perpetuated by an Axis plan to keep our Pacific Fleet from being released for immediate convoy duty in the Atlantic. America can and must call Nippon’s bluff and free our Naval squadrons in the Pacific, if we are to get the necessary aid to Britain in time. This is the hour to act. Japan is vulnerable to an attack by our Army and Navy air units operating from bases in Alaska, the Philippines, and even China. Almost single-handed our air power, as it now stands, can cut the lifeline of Japan’s only real menace – her navy – destroy her crowded cities, demoralize her army and render the nation worthless to the Axis.

Beneath a picture of a Japanese aircraft carrier one reads the caption,

U.S. Navy experts long have considered Japanese air and sea power third-rate.

Such hubris was probably similarly common among Russian naval experts back in 1904, before their attitudes about Japan’s “third rate navy” were adjusted by Admiral Togo in the Battle of Tsushima. A bit later on we read,

Less than 1,300 miles away from her industrial centers near Tokio, at Alaskan air bases, are U.S. Army Air Force bombardment groups, standing ready for action. And facing her Gibraltar of the Pacific, Formosa (largest island in the Japanese group), are strong U.S. land, sea and air forces in the Philippines. Japan could not withstand the highly developed and speedy striking ability of America’s new Pacific might. She would quickly crumble.

Indeed, we could knock out the feckless Japanese with one hand tied behind our backs. According to Young,

One effective attack from an American aircraft carrier, bombers from Siberia, or a squadron from China could cripple Japan’s transportation system. Night attacks on any part of Japan will leave her practically helpless… Important naval bases also will be vulnerable to bombardment, in view of the fact that antiaircraft defense cannot function until the attacking forces are over their objectives. Such airports as Japan has could be bombed completely out of commission as they have few such bases and cannot move freely to newer fields, due to the condition of the terrain.

As Young pointed out, the Japanese were particularly helpless when it came to military aviation:

In aviation, as in the auto industry, the Japanese have always had something of everything from everywhere. A big handicap is the development of carburators to contend with notoriously bad Japanese weather conditions. The have French carburetors, American piston rings, German and Italian cylinder heads, Swedish ball bearings and all kinds of machine tools – plus American cotton, Dutch rubber, and imported aluminum… For a number of years the Japanese have developed aircraft through adopting a type purchased through a manufacturing license from some other country. These licenses and designs have become obsolete by the time they have gone into production.

The Zero fighter had become operational in April, 1940, and had been used extensively in China for more than a year before Young’s article appeared, but, apparently, he hadn’t noticed. When war did begin in the same month as the article was published, Japanese fighters and bombers made short work of opposing air forces as they swept south through the Philippines and southeast Asia. Young continued,

The answer in dealing with such a nation is to take Vladivostok, Dakar and Martinique – and do the arguing afterward. If we find we do not need the bases, we can hand them back. (!)

Right! I’m sure Comrade Stalin would have meekly accepted our seizure of Vladivostok while his nation was fighting for its life against Nazi invaders. And, after all, it would only take a few days for Japan to crumble beneath the hammer blows of our vastly superior military, and then we could just hand back the city, good as new.

The same magazine had an article by Major General L. H. van Oyen, head of the Dutch air force in the Netherlands East Indies entitled, “The Netherlands Indies are Ready.” According to the general,

The Netherlands East Indies has two air forces, army and navy, The army air corps, which I head, is equipped with Rayan trainers, made in the United States, a formidable array of Brewster Buffalo fighters, Fokker reconnaissance planes (now used only for training), and Curtiss interceptors, known over here as the CW-21. We also have many Curtiss P-36 fighters.

Japan’s air force would soon make short work of the general’s Brewster Buffalos and P-36 fighters. Eventually, of course, nearly four years and two atomic bombs later, Japan did crumble beneath the weight of U.S. military and industrial might, but the job was somewhat more difficult and protracted than Young imagined. I find little about what happened to him and his “expertise” after the war. However, if our own times are any guide, he made out just fine. Consider, for example, the case of Gordon Chang, who predicted that the Chinese government would collapse in 2011 in his “The Coming Collapse of China,” published in 2001. Now, a decade later, the Chinese government seems to be doing just fine, and yet I continue running into articles citing him as an “expert” on China.

According to Julius Caesar, “Men willingly believe what they wish to believe.” It’s as true today as it was 2000 years ago.

Japan and the Eternally Ticking “Demographic Time Bomb”

There are few metaphors more hackneyed than Japan’s “demographic time bomb.”  It is a never-failing source of copy for aspiring journalists on slow news days.  Stories about it keep popping up like so many mushrooms, all bearing more or less the same lugubrious burden.  Recent examples included the following from the Business Insider:

Experts call situations like Japan’s “demographic time bombs.”  They’re places where fertility rates are falling at the same time that longevity is increasing.  Without young people to support older generations, economies can shrink, putting even more pressure on younger generations to keep families small and budget-friendly.

Another article that turned up last month at Zero Hedge cited some dire statistical trends:

Mark August 16, 3766 on your calendar.  According to…researchers at Tohoku University, that’s the date Japan’s population will dwindle to one.  For 25 years, the country has had falling fertility rates, coinciding with widespread aging.  The worrisome trend has now reached a critical mass known as a “demographic time bomb.”  When that happens, a vicious cycle of low spending and low fertility can cause entire generations to shrink – or disappear completely.

In another article in The Economist, ominously entitled “The incredible shrinking country,” the ubiquitous “time bomb” again raises its ugly head:

A quiet but constant ticking can be heard from the demographic time bomb that sits beneath the worlds third-largest economy.  This week it made a louder tick than usual:  official statistics show that the population declined last year by a record 244,000 people – roughly the population of the London bureau of Hackney… The 2012 government report said that without policy change, by 2110 the number of Japanese could fall to 42.9m, ie just a third of its current population.  It is plausible to think that the country could learn to live with its shrinking population.  But that might mean also embracing a much diminished economic and political role in the world.

The amazing thing about these repetitious articles is their utter lack of any historical context.  It turns out that Japan’s population has been a “ticking time bomb” for well over a century.  However, back in the day it was ticking in a different direction.  For example, according to an article that appeared in the April, 1904 issue of the British Edinburgh Review, discussing the conflict in the Far East that would soon culminate in the Russo-Japanese war,

In 1872 the population of Japan amounted to only 33,110,793; in 1900 it was 44,805,937, already too great for her territory.

A few decades later the “time bomb” was still ticking in drive instead of reverse.  As noted in an article at the website of Australia’s Pacific War Historical Society,

Between 1918 and 1930, Japan’s population had expanded dramatically and outstripped the capacity of the nation’s resources to support it. To sustain its population blow-out, substantial food imports were essential, but foreign tariffs imposed on its exports of manufactured goods limited the capacity of Japan to pay for its food imports. Japan had tried to deal with its population problem by encouraging emigration of Japanese to countries such as the United States, but had met resistance from Americans who feared the loss of unskilled jobs to cheap immigrant labour.

This time, of course, the “time bomb” led to Japan’s disastrous decision to attack the United States.  Even after the war there was much wringing of hands about its rapid forward progress.  For example from an article that appeared in the December, 1950 issue of the American Mercury,

Our exceedingly efficient Public Health and Welfare Division has succeeded in driving down Japan’s death rate from 29.2 per thousand in 1945 to only 10.9 per thousand in 1949.  The birthrate, meanwhile, was rising to 32.8.  Thus, with our help, Japan’s population is now increasing at the rate of 1,800,000 per year.  Every morning there are 5,000 more Japanese than yesterday… How can we say that we have helped Japan when Japan is less self-sufficient today than she has ever been.

A few thoughts come to mind in light of these rather substantial changes to the nature of the “time bomb” over the years.  It appears that Japan was so desperate about the apparent impossibility of feeding her rapidly expanding population that she was willing to risk war with Russia in 1904 and with the United States in 1941.  In those years her population was around 47 million and 73 million, respectively.  Now her population is 127 million, and suggestions that she supplement her dwindling work force by massive immigration are considered the soul of wisdom.  For example, from an article that appeared in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs,

Japan must embrace immigration as a solution to its impending fiscal and demographic woes. A declining birthrate is a global trend, as is an ageing population. It will therefore be increasingly difficult for any country to meet all of its labor needs relying solely on the population that exists within its borders. In the case of Japan, more caregivers, nurses, and other providers catering to a graying society will be needed, especially if more women choose to go back to work full-time. The Japanese government will thus inevitably need to consider seriously the possibility of opening its doors to more immigration, rather than just to the highly skilled workers it currently courts. Although the Japanese have been at the forefront of developing robots designed to meet the mounting tsunami of elderly people’s needs, there is a limit to what can be expected from technology, especially when the psychological as well as physical needs of an ageing society are considered.

This, of course, is one of the standard globalist rationalizations of the suicidal policy of promoting mass immigration.  Heaven forefend that Japan ever sheds her “xenophobia” and concludes that she “must” accept this brilliant “solution” to her “time bomb” problem.  It boggles the mind!  How is it that all the environmental issues raised by mindlessly expanding the already massive population on the relatively small Japanese archipelago have suddenly evaporated?  Is our planet really such a stable place that a country that once despaired about the impossibility of feeding 47 million will now never again have to worry about feeding three times as many or more?  Is it safe for her to assume that climate change and/or political instability will never impair her ability to feed all those millions?  If the assumption that nothing in the world will ever happen to threaten her food supply turns out to be wrong, Japan’s problem of caring for its senior citizens could easily pale compared to the potential problem of mass starvation.  Beyond that, it’s hard to imagine anything more self-destructive than importing a massive population of people who will perceive the existing population of Japan as an outgroup, will be perceived by that population in turn as an outgroup, and will remain unassimilable indefinitely.  Is it really necessary to demonstrate yet again the disastrous results of pretending there’s no such thing as human nature?

I have an alternative suggestion.  Let the “time bomb” continue to tick in reverse.  It’s unlikely it will remain stuck in that position indefinitely, any more than it remained stuck in fast forward.  If the Japanese are really lucky, perhaps their population will decline to around 30 million, which was more or less what it was for hundreds of years before the Meiji Restoration.  I suspect their islands will be much more pleasant places to live at that level than they would be with the 150 million and up that the helpful people at Georgetown suggest it would take to defuse the “time bomb.”  I doubt that Japan would “lose face” due to declining economic and political clout in the world as a result, even if it mattered whether she “lost face” or not.  As a survivor of the “time bomb” it would be more likely that other countries would look on her as a role model.  She needn’t necessarily worry that such a small population would encourage aggression by her neighbors.  Japan possesses many tons of plutonium, which can be put to other uses than the peaceful production of nuclear power if need be.