The Last Samurai and Europe's First Suicide
From the desk of Takuan Seiyo on Fri, 2008-08-22 21:21
Right: World War 1, French assault on German trenches,date and location not certain. Courtesy of Photos of the Great War.
Between Roppongi and Akasaka – the two fanciest precints in Tokyo -- there lies a somnolent spot, curiously underutilized for this, among the most expensive acres of land anywhere in the world. It’s the residence of a long-dead Japanese soldier, crouching under a shroud of weeping cherry trees in the shadow of Japan’s tallest and most fabulous building, the Midtown Project.
The opulent Midtown Project has a motto: “Introducing Japan’s newest significance to the world.” But right next to it, in this austere, smallish house built in 1902 with a red-brick stable and a compact garden, Japan’s oldest significance to the world may be found.
For Tom Cruise was not the last samurai. General Maresuke Nogi was.
Born to a samurai family in 1849, at the age of twenty Nogi embarked on a military career. Being of the first generation to come of age during the Meiji Restoration, he trained according to Prussian infantry procedures. In 1871, he was commissioned as a major in the unseasoned Imperial Japanese Army, with which he would fight in 1877 in a civil war, the Satsuma Rebellion.
For his valorous service in this campaign, Nogi was promoted to colonel. Around that time, he married Shizuko, a daughter of a Satsuma samurai. In short order, Shizuko gave birth to two sons.
In 1887, Nogi went to Germany to study European military tactics. From then on, his career would follow the fortunes of the expanding Japanese Empire. By 1894, already a major general, Nogi had the command of the First Infantry Brigade that bested Chinese defenses during the First Sino-Japanese War and occupied Port Arthur after only one day of combat. In 1895, now a lieutenant general, he was charged with the task of invading Taiwan, and a year later was appointed as the Japanese Governor-General of Taiwan.
Nogi had a good tenure in Taiwan, but in 1899 he was recalled to Japan and placed in command of an infantry brigade. His appointment with destiny would have to wait another five years.
Imperial designs by both Russia and Japan on Manchuria and Korea would come to a head in Manchuria. Manchuria’s key port, Port Arthur – now the Chinese city of Liaoshun -- lay along a natural harbor in the Liaodong Peninsula. Japan had been ceded this port in the 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki with China, but Russia would manage to lease it from China anyway. In February 1904, Japan gave notice that it would have none of it. Its navy launched a surprise attack on the Russian fleet at anchor in the Port Arthur bay.
In May 1904, the Japanese Second Army, 38,500 strong, landed on the Liaodong peninsula. The Russian forces arrayed against it consisted of 17,000 soldiers under the command of Major-General Anatoly Stoessel.
By 26 May 1904, the Japanese had fought their way to the 116-meter high Nanshan hill, which guarded the approach to Port Arthur. 3000 men of the 5th East Siberian Rifles were there, dug into fortified positions protected by mine fields, machine guns and barbed wire obstacles. Nine assault waves by determined Japanese troops failed to break the Russian defense. It was only when the Russians had run out of ammunition that they retreated toward Port Arthur.
A British officer, Captain F.R. Sedgwick, on site to observe the first “high-tech” war in history, wrote in his report:
“(B)odies of gallant men dashed forward to the obstacles again and again, only to leave two-thirds of their numbers lying on the bullet-swept ground. All day forward and backward swept the lines of battle, charge after charge was met and repulsed.”(1) Capt. Sedgwick reported the Japanese losses at 4324, the Russian at 850.
Ten days later, the Japanese Third Army, led by General (and by now Baron) Maresuke Nogi, made landfall on the Liaodong Peninsula. Nogi already knew that his firstborn son had just been killed in the Battle of Nanshan. Nogi’s younger son was with him, among the 90,000 troops under his command.
Battered by Gen. Nogi’s troops, the rest of the Russian forces retreated to Port Arthur, where they consolidated under the command of General Stoessel. Nogi believed that he could take Port Arthur quickly, just as he had ten years before. He had a 2-to-1 advantage against the nearly 50,000 Russian soldiers, and he had 380 canons. But the Japanese general did not realize that the Port Arthur of 1904 was not the one he had known in 1894.
Port Arthur was a natural stronghold, surrounded by hills that protected against attack from all directions, including the sea. It was Russia’s only warm water port in the Pacific. Since taking over in 1898, they had turned it into a giant fortress, with four major forts, Laoti, Chikuan, Erhlung and Sungssu in the east, and four major forts in the west.
All these were built of brick and stone on steep hills, with gun batteries, deep moats and ditches, bastions, firing parapets, blind turns and no-exit mazes. Such classic features of European fortification engineering were augmented by new defensive inventions: 6-meter wide belts of densely interwoven barbed wire, night illumination by powerful searchlight batteries and star shells, electric fences, plus such dual-use technologies as hand grenades, poison gas, machine guns and quick-fire howitzers, heavy mortars, bolt-action magazine rifles, and more.
On 7 August 1904, General Nogi launched a frontal assault on the Russian positions. After bitter fighting in torrential rain, the Russian defenders were forced to withdraw, but only after inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers. The Japanese now attacked the northwest hill positions. Here, the barbed wire entanglements held up their advance at an effective Russian machine-gun range. By dawn, the entanglements had been buried under piles of Japanese soldiers’ bodies.
An assault on Erhlung and Chikuan put the Japanese force on a 1 km-wide strip between the two forts, where it was mowed down by Russian machine gun crossfire, even as the two forts were being turned to rubble by Nogi’s artillery. An attack on the Russian fort on the 174-Meter Hill replayed the Pyrrhic victory scenario of Nanshan. An attack on the 203-Meter Hill saw whole battalions of Japanese soldiers charging repeatedly with fixed bayonets up the 40-degree incline of the ramparts, to be cut down by machine gun and cannon fire.
After three weeks of fighting and not much territorial gain, the butcher’s bill for the Japanese Third Army was 16,000 casualties. The attackers now dug in for a classic siege. They built trenches perpendicular to the Russian forts, and dug tunnels under them. Despite their bravery, by September’s end they had conquered little new territory. The Russians, though weakened by many dead and wounded, dwindling food supplies and scurvy, were digging tunnels under the Japanese tunnelers. In some of those, the two sides met and fought with sapper’s knives and pick mattocks.
Nogi then resumed the assault on Erhlung and Chikuan. The Japanese had reduced Erhlung to a pile of rubble through heavy shelling and underground mining. Still, the remaining Russian defenders at the two forts continued to rake with dense fire, turning the approach slopes into blood-slicked killing fields. Repulsed, Nogi concentrated now on the 203-Meter Hill, which he intended to present to Emperor Meiji for the latter’s 29 October 1904 birthday.
Wave after wave of Japanese soldiers crashed onto the hill, using hand-grenades and bayonet-fixed rifles, under cover of dense artillery fire. It was hand-to-hand combat, six days and nights, with the latter illuminated by Russian searchlights. Instead of the intended present, Nogi had to report to Emperor Meiji the deaths of additional 124 officers and 3611 soldiers.
But failure was unthinkable. On 17 November, the Japanese attacked Chikuan again. They were repulsed after a night of close combat. Again, fallback, artillery bombardment, renewed attack. The Japanese attackers on 26 November were showered with hand grenades and explosive charges, burning oil and firebrands. The maze works channeled them straight toward the business end of Russian machine gun nests. They sustained 12,000 casualties in that assault, with nothing gained.
Next day, Nogi resumed the frontal attack on the 203-Meter Hill. Again, columns of Japanese soldiers charged up the steep slope, led by volunteer units whose order was not to come back alive. The battle lasted 15 hours, and left the hill strewn with Japanese bodies.
By December 5, out of the original force of 5000, only 1000 Russian defenders remained on the hill, most of them wounded. The Japanese launched one more attack, at dawn. This is how Lt. Tadayoshi Sakurai, who took part in the assault, described the preamble to this battle:
“(T)he colonel rose and gave us a final word of exhortation, saying: ‘This battle is our great chance of serving our country. Tonight we must strike at the vitals of Port Arthur. Our brave assaulting column must be not simply a forlorn-hope, but a "sure-death" detachment. I as your father am more grateful than I can express for your gallant fighting. Do your best, all of you.’ (In) this particular battle to be ready for death was not enough; what was required of us was a determination not to fail to die.”
Out of ammunition, the Russians fought with rifle butts and swords, to the last man standing. By mid-afternoon, a Japanese standard was flying from the top of 203- Meter Hill. Among the dead, four layers thick that day, was General Nogi’s last surviving son.
15,000 Japanese troops had been killed or wounded in the final six-day assault on 203-Meter Hill. Nogi was so emotionally shattered that he asked for permission to commit the ritual samurai suicide, seppuku. Emperor Meiji’s direct order prevented him from carrying out his wish.
It was back to Chikuan and Ehrlung. More giant mines exploded under ramparts, hand-to-hand combat, soldiers killed and maimed by the thousands. Chikuan fought to the last man. Out of the initial 50,000, only 5,000 Russians were still capable of combat. General Stoessel surrendered Port Arthur on 2 January 1905. Rarely had so valiant defenders fought such brave attackers.
The Siege of Port Arthur cost the Japanese 57,780 casualties, not counting thousands more dead from diseases.(2) The Russians had 31,306 casualties. Over 23,000 more were taken into captivity. General Nogi had little time to contemplate this, as he now took his remaining soldiers north, to join the forces of Marshal Oyama against the main bulk of the Russian army.
Nogi’s breach through the Russian rear over the Hun River sealed the fate of the Battle of Mukden. It would be the last land battle of the Russo-Japanese War. There had been and there would be further sea battles, with the Battle of Tsushima ranking as one of the greatest naval battles in history. But we aim here to trace the fate of an infantry commander.
Nogi returned to Tokyo to a hero’s welcome and to great honors. But he settled with his wife as a now-childless couple in their spartan home in Akasaka, and became a personal tutor to the future heir to the Japanese throne, Hirohito. Late in his life, Emperor Hirohito would remark that Nogi had had a lasting influence on him, instilling precepts of frugality and stoic virtues of endurance, loyalty and dignity. (3)
Guilt over the carnage of Port Arthur and despair over the loss of his sons must have tormented the old general. He spent his personal fortune on memorial monuments for the Japanese soldiers killed during the Russo-Japanese War, and on hospitals for those wounded there. It’s a testimony to his character that he caused the Japanese government to erect a memorial monument in Port Arthur to the Russian fallen too.
On 13 September 1912 at 19:40, just as Emperor Meiji's funeral procession was getting under way, Maresuke Nogi and his wife seated themselves facing the emperor's portrait in the upstairs parlor of the home that now stands under the weeping trees. They had already bathed, changed into white kimonos, and shared a cup of sake. Then, Mrs. Nogi plunged a dagger into her heart, and the general disemboweled himself with his sword. In notes left for posterity, Nogi apologized for the tens of thousands of Japanese soldiers he had sent to their death in Port Arthur, and for other self-perceived failures in his military career.
The Nogis’ suicide was front page news for months in Japan. Many saw it as a warning from an exalted member of the last samurai generation against the rampant materialism and decline in moral values that had become evident since Japan’s opening to the West. But the establishment saw a golden opportunity in emphasizing Nogi’s loyalty to the emperor, for in his exit poem Nogi had expressed the wish to follow the emperor in death.(4)
Within days of General Nogi’s suicide, government propaganda commenced to enshrine it as the embodiment of the highest virtue – loyalty to the emperor. This loyalty-unto-death aspect would grow to mythical proportions – until it, and the emperor’s divinity, crashed in the embers of World War 2.
Today, the mention of Maresuke Nogi’s name in Japan elicits a mild embarrassment. The military-political junta that had led Japan to suicide in World War 2 had chosen to emphasize those parts of General Nogi’s life and death as would bolster its misbegotten aims. But the man who rendered judgment onto himself deserves better. To see how much so, one must compare him to his European peers.
Those who didn’t
Some aspects of General Nogi’s life story are impenetrable to the Western mind, starting with the idea of a divine emperor of a modern nation, and ending with the slicing of one’s own belly like a ripe pomegranate. It’s unwise, as well, to judge a man born in 1849 by the standards of 2008. But it’s useful to compare Nogi’s conduct to that of European generals who, merely two years after his suicide, would send millions of soldiers to their death in frontal attacks on fortified trenches in the hail of bullets and clouds of mustard gas of the Great War.
Nogi was the first commander to lead a major infantry campaign in the face of 20th century military technology. His Prussian training had emphasized massed infantry charges against defensive positions. Such tactics had led to his first easy conquest of Port Arthur, in 1894. But by 1904, firepower capability had doubled, and new defensive technologies had been implemented. Nogi was unable to understand the full implication of this in time to adapt his tactics. For that, 57,780 of his soldiers paid with their lives, and, by his own choice, so would he.
But the Allied generals of World War 1 had Nogi’s errors to learn from. Yet they ignored the Port Arthur lessons out of haughty stupidity and unwarranted hubris. The French in 1915- 1917, the British in 1916-1917, and the Americans in 1917-1918 would commit all the deadly tactical errors that the Japanese had committed in 1904 and 1905. 5.7 million Allied soldiers paid for this with their lives, and 4 million Central Powers’ soldiers too – the greatest carnage of soldiers in history, until World War 2 upped the ante.
It was eminently avoidable. For the siege of Port Arthur had been one of the first international mass media events ever. Reporters from the major Western newspapers had come to observe the fighting, and they described it in newspapers, magazines, and books. The Illustrated London News brought out on 7 January 1905 an extra double number, “Port Arthur: Its Siege” . Among its three special supplements, one was a detailed, illustrated history of the operations by Charles Lowe, a military historian. The Times’ reporters were so zealous that the Russians threatened to arrest them, citing security concerns.
Foreign military observers from all the Western powers were thick on the ground and at sea in all the large battles of the Russo-Japanese War. They saw and reported to their superiors what modern firepower from fortified defensive positions could do. They published voluminous accounts and analyses.
Then-Major General Sir Ian Hamilton witnessed the Japanese assaults on the 203-Meter Hill, of which he would write:
“(T)hese trenches and their dividing walls had been smashed and pounded and crushed into a shapeless jumble of stones; rock splinters and fragments of shells cemented liberally with human flesh and blood. A man’s head sticking up out of the earth, or a leg or an arm or a piece of a man’s body lying across my path are sights which custom has enabled me to face without blanching. But here the corps do not so much appear to be escaping from the ground as to be the ground itself. Everywhere there are bodies, or portions of bodies, flattened out or stamped into the surface of the earth as if they formed a part of it.”(5)
Yet, the same General Ian “Too Much Feather In His Brain” Hamilton would send division after British and ANZAC division, to storm over minefields bullet-spewing fortified Turkish positions on the cliffs and beaches of Gallipoli, wasting 141,000 soldiers in the 1915 Dardanelles campaign.
In 1915 too, General Douglas “Bottle For a Brain” Haig would state, "The machine gun is a much over-rated weapon," and would later send repeated charges of tens of thousands of British soldiers “over the top,” straight into entrenched German machine gun, mortar and howitzer fire. In the four months of the Somme campaign alone, by ignoring the lessons of Port Arthur the British high command wasted 420,000 British soldiers, and the French 200,000, to gain two miles of land. A generation of British women would be left to live and die as “Haig spinsters.”
It wasn’t necessary. Just a few years earlier, Captain Sedgwick had written of the Battle of Nanshan, “With regard to the tactics of the battle, the great value of machine guns in the defensive is to be remarked.”(6) Another British observer, Major J. M. Home, emphasized in his report “the crushing effect of modern artillery” that he had witnessed in Manchuria. This appeared in the multi-volume The Russo-Japanese War. Reports from British Officers attached to the Japanese and Russian Forces (7). The lessons were there, but the donkeys who lead the lions of World War 1 weren’t interested.
The British were not alone in this shame. General Lombard, chef the French Mission Militaire attached to the Japanese Army, described in his reports a 2600-strong Japanese regiment that had been reduced to 30 soldiers and three officers at the Battle of Mukden, due to the power of modern firearms. (8) Yet, a few years later, the French General Robert Georges Nivelle could plan a 48-hour offensive against the German forces along the Western Front, with 10,000 projected casualties. The offensive lasted 23 days and resulted in 148,000 French casualties.
Throughout World War 1, Allied casualties were especially heavy among officers, who dressed in spiffy uniforms that German riflemen had learned to spot at a distance. Camouflage, crawling under fire, and other defensive methods were considered dishonorable, even though French military observers had concluded already in 1905, in Manchuria, that these precisely would be the indispensable methods of survival in the modern theatre of war. (9)
Nor were the Americans immune. Among the 17 American military observers in Manchuria was Captain John J. Pershing.(10) Yet, 13 years after Port Arthur, Pershing, now Lt. General and commander of the American forces in World War 1, allowed 1,811 U.S. Marines to be slaughtered and 7966 to be wounded in six foolhardy attacks against sweeping German machine gun fire at the Battle of Belleau Wood.
These bemedaled, calcified eminences went on to fame and glory after the war, with few exceptions like Hamilton and Nivelle, who were slapped on the wrist for having sent hundreds of thousands to their profligate death. General Maresuke Nogi occupies a different moral plane, and for that he deserves remembrance and respect.
Once was not enough
What happened to General Nogi, to his troops, and to the valiant Russian defenders of Port Arthur, was a tragedy. But when tragedy repeats itself, the second time it’s as comedy. And the clowns on the second occasion, the Great War, would neither be held to account nor would they hold themselves to account like Nogi had done. It’s in this macabre farce, worthy of Rowan Atkinson’s Blackadder and Jaroslav Hašek’s Good Soldier Švejk, that Europe’s first suicide was enveloped.
The trauma of mechanized slaughter of millions of cannon fodder conscripts, orchestrated by operetta generals in World War 1 was so great, that almost all the social pathologies of the 20th century may be traced to it. Communism, Fascism, Nazism, “democratic” socialism, pacifism, militant feminism, nouveau liberalism, false egalitarianism, aggressive Third-Worldism – all blossomed from the wreckage of this war.
George Orwell could thus write of an England ruled by “people whose chief asset was their stupidity,” and a generation of post-War writers, from PG Wodehouse to Evelyn Waugh, seconded him in this opinion. Orwell wrote of the British generalship: “The higher commanders, drawn from the aristocracy, could never prepare for modern war, because in order to do so they would have had to admit that the world was changing. They have always clung to obsolete methods and weapons, because they inevitably saw each war as a repetition of the last.” (11) Let it be said, however, that Orwell was advocating socialism as a panacea, even as an Austrian refugee in London was writing a treatise showing that socialism was the road to serfdom .
The Western system of values, its standards of merit and beauty, were destroyed too. An artistic movement called Dada, a urinal on a pedestal in a museum, would have been unthinkable prior to the Great War. The devaluation of manly valor, of honor, integrity, stoicism, fidelity, loyalty, patriotism, began when Europeans realized that millions of their kin had just been sent to automated abattoirs in foreign mud fields by inept, mustachioed martinets in cavalry breeches, spouting patriotic slogans in an unnecessary war.
People who had experienced the horrors of the Great War came to believe that nothing was worth fighting for. Even as Hitler arose amidst them, they would do nothing until it was nearly too late. Philippe Pétain, the hero of Verdun, would mutate into the coward of Vichy. Neville Chamberlain would sue for peace before a shot had been fired. Western intellectuals were marching as one to the drumbeat of a psycho Georgian killer running Mother Russia the way Ivan the Terrible once had.
The Spanish writer, Sebastián Vivar Rodríguez, wrote that Europe died in Auschwitz. But Europe had already died in Somme, Verdun, Ypres and Passchendaele, twenty five years earlier, by its own hand. What incinerated in 1939 -1945 was just the new shoots that had sprouted from the stump of a felled tree.
A few such shoots survived, regenerated, and grew into a new Europe, again full of self confidence and vigor between 1946 and 1966. But this new tree too is being sawed through by the West’s “best and brightest,” though not of the beribboned kind now. Running as fast and as far as they can from the evils of the two world wars, they are dragging the West right into the opposite evil.
Like a pendulum that can only quantum-leap from one extreme of its arch to the other, the 2008 heirs to the mantle of 1908 politicians have become their cartoon antithesis. Though Europe’s 20th century suicide in two parts should have discredited militarism, pusillanimity, chauvinism, racism, colonialism, gender and class discrimination and nihilism, the bien pensant have harnessed the blowback to discredit war in self-defense, courage, patriotism, white ethnicity, the white peoples’ self-determination, white males, inequality based on merit, and Christianity.
The Anglican Archbishop of the former Rule Britannia is now a promoter of sharia. Spain’s prime minister wants the country that once reconquered itself from Muslim rule, to let itself be conquered again. The Dutch want to sue a man for loss of profits when he warns of their colonization by people who boil over for cartoons, but bowl over for beheadings.
The Vikings are now the obsequious servants of their women and their imported freeloaders. Not that there was true glory in being savage brutes; but being eunuchs is not much better. And the United States, once of ‘manifest destiny,’ has curdled into a “proposition nation” of no discernible borders, language, culture or continuity -- as though the people who founded and built it, their culture and their descendants, never existed.
From the self-confidence and sense of superiority of the 1900s and 1950s, the West has evolved into a groveling clump of meek masochists, worshipping false idols because they are not the old false idols. The political, intellectual and artistic elite in every country of the West is now fawning on its previous perceived lessers: the non-white, the foreign ethnic, the non-Christian, the female, the homosexual, the dumb and deviant. And it does so as though such “minorities” had the sole purchase on virtue.
Forever fighting the previous war when it’s no longer relevant, eyes firmly planted on the realities of 1915 and 1940, Western elites are busy combating “racism,” “orientalism,” “ethnocentrism” and “sexism” that no longer exist in Western societies but exist in all others. And they do so by committing a dual act of treason. Its one prong is the forced dilution and suppression of the Western founding peoples’ racial, ethnic and cultural heritage and identity. Its other prong is the forced injection of the previously slighted “minorities” into the upper echelons of power, regardless of merit.
Just because a hundred years ago power was wielded by incompetent white males of dubious character, the main qualification for the new Praetorian Guard is to be a woman, a non-heterosexual, or a “person of color” of dubious wisdom. But only true meritocracy and ethnic cohesiveness can save the West from being destroyed by the spreading chaos from the Third World, and by the might of the East, where male oligarchies, tribal allegiance, and ruthless meritocracy still hold sway.
In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the West and Japan came to kiss the hand of the once-sleeping giant that they had formerly belittled and exploited, and now enriched and armed to the teeth beyond the wildest reaches of imagining. And China, the world’s most ethnocentric, racist, tyrannical and imperialist power, skillfully exploits their shame at having once been themselves ethnocentric, racist, tyrannical and imperialist.
Mouthing their mea culpa for Port Arthur and Nanking, opium and Hong Kong, the world’s leaders would have to pass under the giant portrait of Mao Zedong, to enter the Forbidden City. And Mao, proudly flaunted by the Chinese hosts, is the worst mass murderer in history, responsible for snuffing out at least 60 million Chinese lives, and by some accounts up to 80 million.
Then the great chiefs of the guai-lo, the white devils, would attend an opening ceremony in which a fake singer was lip-synching to the words of "Hymn to the Motherland” , and 56 children from the Chinese Han majority dressed in the ethnic costumes of the 56 Chinese minorities would be paraded to show the white fools that China too loves diversity. And after that, the poor white devils went on to cheer at ball games and toast at 30-course banquets even as the Chinese continued working dawn to dusk and saving 35% of their income while the armored columns of another patriarchal, ethnocentric, racist and tyrannical empire, Russia, having planned for months for precisely this moment, smashed into Georgia.
There were lessons for the West to be drawn from the 2008 visit in China, just as there had been in 1904. But if the lessons of 1904 had fallen on the deaf ears of cocky chauvinists, the lessons of 2008 were lost on capon globalists.
Future historians will see the West’s postmodern regime of liberalism, multiculturalism, sham egalitarianism, tolerance of the intolerable, cowardice, one-worldism and stigmatization of the male and the white, for the suicide it is. It will be just as plain as our image of World War 1 is now. And just like then, by paying heed to lessons from the East, the Western self-erasure unfolding now could have been averted.
The greatest lesson, though, and one that is by now outer-space alien to the shallow midgets running the West’s countries on behalf of their devitalized demos, is embedded in the character of the man whom we seek to commemorate here. This is how war correspondent, Richard Barry, who was with General Nogi for nine months in Manchuria, eulogized him in the New York Times on 14 September 1912:
“Of all the human beings I have ever known he rises in my memory as the one superb, complete person. He was at once soldier and poet, statesman and artist. Always he was the gentleman -- wondrously gentle, and a man to the bone. That figure of a poised, intent, suffering, masterful spirit, tried alternately by desperate defeat and by tremendous triumph, neither deterred by the one nor elated by the other, will always stand before me as an ideal. He had learned that the hope of heaven and the fear of hell are vulgar vices and that the superior man loves right for its own sake. He was the arch-type of the old high order of chivalric thinking, of unshrinking living, and of stoical dying. Other great men may come, but such a great man as this we are not likely to see again.”
Takuan Seiyo is a multiethnic, naturalized American writer and former international media executive. His grandfather-in-law, fighting for Japan in 1904-05, survived the Russo-Japanese War. His paternal grandfather, fighting for Austria in 1914, died in the Battle of Galicia.
(1) Captain F.R. Sedgwick, R.F.A., "1904 The Russo-Japanese War", quoted at http://www.russojapanesewar.com/sedgwick-3.html. Several volumes and editions of this work were published in the U.K. after the Russo-Japanese War.
(2) Approximately 25,000 Japanese soldiers fell sick with beri-beri alone, and were shipped home.
(3) Herbert P. Bix, Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, HarperCollins, 2000, pp. 42-43
(4) To stay with our main subject, it’s necessary to refrain from discussing the separate and unique significance of Mrs. Nogi’s suicide.
(5) Lieutenant-General Sir Ian Hamilton, K.C.B., A Staff Officer’s Scrap Book during the Russo-Japanese War, vol. 2, Chapter 36, Edward Arnold, London, 1907.
(6) Captain F.R. Sedgwick (ibid.)
(7) Published by Eyre and Spottiswood, London, 1908.
(8) Général Lombard, “Rapport d’ensemble du Chef de la Mission Militaire Française à l’armée japonaise,” décembre 1905, S.H.A.T., 7 N 1700.
(9) “Enseignements de la guerre russo-japonaise,” note n° 3, “Outils”, Décembre 1905, S.H.A.T., quoted in Olivier Cosson, “Expériences de guerre et anticipation à la veille de la Première Guerre mondiale. Les milieux militaires franco-britanniques et les conflits extérieurs,” Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, no50-3 2003/3, pp. 127 – 147, http://hairn.info/revue-d-histoire-moderne-et-contemporaine-2003-3-page-127.htm
(10) Quoted in Major James D. Sisemore, US Army, “The Russo-Japanese War, Lessons Not Learned” Master of Military Art and Science thesis, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2003, p.9, http://cgsc.cdmhost.com/cgi-bin/showfile.exe?CISOROOT=/p4013coll2&CISOPTR=113&filename=114.pdf .
(11) George Orwell, “The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius,” originally published in 1940, reprinted in George Orwell, Why I Write, Penguin Books, year not indicated, p. 34.
Submitted by Kapitein Andre on Wed, 2008-08-27 07:02.
Takuan Seiyo: ...there was one honorable general in WW1 who killed himself after an ignominous defeat by the Germans: the Russian, Aleksandr Samsonov.
I'm not certain that Samonsonov had any other choice. Moreover, honor's overrated in combat, unless one is superior by every measure e.g. colonialist/imperialist forces facing indigenous insurgencies.
Takuan Seiyo: ...Russia is not infected by the particular Western rot that is of concern to me.
Russia obviously has some type of "rot", given its need for a firm cauterizing hand. "Western rot" is a direct consequence of a vanished sense of superiority - replaced by the state and elites as equality or inferiority to other societies. Superiority increases martialism, economic growth, fertility rates and spiritualism/religiousity. Over extended time horizons, societies expand and contract - they are never static. One is either enslaving another tribe and making off with their women, or watching their neighborhood "change". The price of superiority is obvious. But conformity doesn't seem to be part of it given multiculturalism's hegemony.
As always, another excellent article by Takuan.
Submitted by Dee on Mon, 2008-08-25 06:49.
BTW, Lt. Tadayoshi Sakurai's entire account of the Russo-Japanese War is public domain, and has been archived as a PDF file on Google Books.
@Takuan Seiyo - El Capitano's rambling reply
Submitted by Kapitein Andre on Mon, 2008-08-25 01:16.
The mistakes of Allied commanders in the Great War did not merit suicide. And I'll explain why.
The Central Powers' tactical victories - namely the severe attrition on Allied armies - were the direct consequences of strategic failures. The Germans were unable to blitz through France as they would in 1940, or as the Prussians had done some decades before. Despite their adaptation to trench warfare, German rifles were designed for hip shots and together with their conscription system, these facts indicate a reliance on massed infantry, frontal attacks and regular movement. The British Lee-Enfield's were more suited to trenches. And let's not forget that the British commanders maintained a small, professional and volunteer army for minor and quick engagements. When I weigh the facts, the onus was on Central Powers and also Russian generals to succeed.
The BEF was tactically successful, but was wiped out by its small absolute number vis-a-vis the Germans. Thus, Great Britain had to quickly employ a steamroller that had long been the scheme of German and Russian planners.
German generals were as guilty as thinking "inside the box" as anyone else. The economic impact of the general mobilisation was only avoided later by the Third Reich's far better implementation of a war economy in the 1940s, in which production peaked in spite of the approaching Eastern Front and in the midst of heavy strategic bombing.
Furthermore, Samsonov's suicide was not enough to cover his blundering.
Germany should have prepared defensively against France and carved a path straight to Moscow. The Brits are like the Swiss - it's just better to let them be.
The "rot" in the West is purely a lack of a sense of superiority. Unfortunately, societies either expand or contract - they're not static. Either your tribe is overunning everyone else and taking slaves and booty, or you're land is being seized. Due to the extended time horizon of these scenarios and their internal complexities, people tend to treat these cycles as linear. When Whites comprised a third of all human beings and ruled the world, it was easy to sympathise with the underdogs, and even combat your own position. But to do so when you're being foreclosed upon - is suicide.
Lastly, if the Great War marks the "suicide" of Europe, then the Civil War was America's undoing - the undoing of a union of separate 'states', the undoing of democracy and the imposition of democratic centralism.
Submitted by Takuan Seiyo on Mon, 2008-08-25 02:00.
I tried to stay away from military technophile points, though I was sorely tempted with so many new lethal toys (e.g. 11" Krupp howitzers)in action in Port Arthur. But your remarks are pertinent, of course. I also stayed away, simply for lack of space, from analyzing the blunders of the Russian generalship both in Manchuria and in WW1, though that too was a case of lions led by donkeys, and a direct cause for both the 1905 and 1917 revolutions.
My main interest is how WW1 relates to what's going on today. It relates so primarily in the West. Russia, under Putin, no matter what one's moral judgment, is on a course to increased strength, not debilitating weakness.
I am a softie on the American Civil War, though I understand such arguments as yours. Slavery was a unique evil in that day and age, in a Western democracy, so it required a strong remedy. Like all such remedies, it had strong adverse reactions as well. To me, the suicide of the United States is tied with the Johnson-era civil rights laws and 1965 Immigration Act.
Submitted by Takuan Seiyo on Sun, 2008-08-24 20:52.
There is nothing in this piece that can be interpreted as a defense of Japan’s colonial policies, occupation of Manchuria etc. But you have to understand that colonialism and imperialism was the reigning mindset of the era, even in the United States. Japan wanted to ascend to the status it thought it deserved, as a great power. So they emulated what the great European powers were doing. BTW, this “divine” emperor business was also an emulation of what they saw in Europe – the king of the greatest empire of the era who was also the head of its church. That’s why Meiji suppressed Buddhism and elevated Shintoism, with its divine emperor aspect.
If you think that Nogi – or you, if you were of his culture and times --could have escaped the imperialist mindset, you also believe that Jefferson’s portrait should not be displayed in public places because of his ownership of slaves. I do not subscribe to a presentist view of history.
Nogi was a Japanese, a soldier, and a 19th century man. Within that framework, he was an admirable person – and in many respects, he was so in any framework at all. First, he had to succeed in his mission. And his two sons were not spared from this mission either. Then, he killed himself because of his conscience.
As to butchering innocent foreigners, I assume you mean the Chinese – for the Russians were colonial occupiers too. Actually, in the 1904-1905 war, the Japanese conquerors were remarkably humane toward the Chinese, though in 1894 they hadn’t been, and in the 1930s they wouldn’t be, as is well known. I haven’t studied the issue enough to know the reason for this difference.
In Taiwan, on the other hand, the Japanese occupation, both under Nogi and under his successors, was consistently humane and benign to the conquered population. Unlike mainland Chinese, the Taiwanese harbor positive sentiments to Japan until this day.
As to Rozhestvensky, he did what every good soldier does. He fought with what he had. It’s standard conduct for the Japanese too, with innumerable examples strewn across their history. As it is for Americans, Germans, Scots, Poles etc. – but not the French or Italians.
@ Takuan Seiyo
Submitted by traveller on Sun, 2008-08-24 21:35.
That is the real difficulty of historic interpretation, the circumstances of that time. No I cannot tell you what I would have done under the circumstances, I am a normal weak individual, but when we speak about true heroic good human beings we are obliged to put the bar higher, aren't we?
I grant you the difficulty but I have still my doubts.
As for slavery, I know I wouldn't have kept slaves because of a certain christian reaction I have kept my whole life: do unto others etc. etc., it's practically my only rule. I can't speak for Jefferson though, I don't know his history very well, only his writings which are exceptional.
As for the butchery, yes the Chinese and Korea, not a very nice story from 1895 onwards.
As for emulation of the Europeans, that has never been any ground for moral behaviour, not then, not now, not ever.
We Europeans have the most remarkable high morals regularly lauded in our books, but never in our practical behaviour. Today we are just some kind of boneless, spineless molluscs without any belief in anything, so tell the world that emulating Europeans leads to disaster.
Further I want to assure you that my doubt about the high moral and heroic value of one general is not a reflection on the Japanese as a people. I had the opportunity of living more than the average visitor in Japan, mostly Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo and I regretted not to pass more time there because I would have loved to get to the core of the people I met, which is not easy with anybody, but nearly impossible with Japanese in a short time.
My main reaction was: a people with an enormously complicated social structure and behaviour, practically dictating their lives. The exceptions were very strong individuals like your general or intresting outcasts. They also absorb "knowledge" like sponges, no matter what type of "knowledge", anything new.
BTW I did not mean to imply that you defended the Japanese colonialism, no way.
Submitted by Takuan Seiyo on Sun, 2008-08-24 20:08.
The lower-tier populace at large doesn’t, but the West’s elite, and its young, do bow to art that’s not art. Can’t get into documenting for you specific examples here, but there was a case, for instance, of a French Minster (of Culture, I think), attending a performance in which all the orifices of the body were used on stage for their natural and unnatural functions. Or think rap. Or the Y generation and the crack of their ass displayed under the hideous tattoos between T-shirt and drooping pants.
As to “Europe died in Auschwitz,” it’s a most excellent and true piece. It wouldn’t matter to me if the corner ice-ceam vendor penned it. Isn’t it true that the EU, starting with its German-French-Dutch axis, filled itself with fanatical, unculturable and incompatible Semites in order to expiates for its murder of its mild, highly productive and compatible –after 2400 years of residence -- Semites? Or Africans, in order to expiate -- by self-immolation -- for colonialism?
Your quoting my phrase about Russia to impute my one sided condemnation of Russia tells me that I failed in my literary intent. The phrase, and the preceding few paragraphs are an ironic comment on our disembowelment due to a phobia of racism, authoritarianism etc. Meanwhile, the nations that retained the vices we are preoccupied in looking for with a magnifying glass in ourselves, thrive. They attend to the business or living while the West attends to the business of being holy. No question Georgia provoked the attack, though Putin would have found one reason or another to attack.
Russia & Georgia
Submitted by Armor on Sun, 2008-08-24 20:26.
"Your quoting my phrase about Russia to impute my one sided condemnation of Russia tells me that I failed in my literary intent."
Maybe it was my fault. I'm always reminded by Marcfrans (an obnoxious commenter on the BJ website) that I can not read properly.
re: racist and tyrannical empire
Submitted by Atlanticist911 on Sun, 2008-08-24 17:49.
It is truly unfortunate for the world that neither Putin nor Saakashvili, the Russians, Georgians, S. Ossetians, Chinese and Bretons aren't JW's, Essenes or Kappertarian taoists but they're not so I suppose we'll all just have to live with it.
Submitted by Atlanticist911 on Sun, 2008-08-24 17:16.
"History emphasizes that no maker of arrows, darts, spears, swords, helmets, breastplates or shields, no manufacturer of arms or engines of war, or any man whatever that made things belonging to war, or even such things as might lead to wickedness in times of peace, could ever be found among the Essenes...".
I suspect there is little doubt that if all the people of the Middle East were Essenes today, that part of this troubled and imperfect world would be a far better place than it is. The problem? They are not (never will be) and it isn't.
Europe's First Suicide
Submitted by Armor on Sun, 2008-08-24 16:27.
"The Western system of values, its standards of merit and beauty, were destroyed too. An artistic movement called Dada, a urinal on a pedestal in a museum, would have been unthinkable prior to the Great War."
But urinals on pedestals were never accepted as art by most Europeans. Not in 1920. Not in 2008 either! I think we have a problem with our leaders and bureaucrats, who are under the influence of leftism, but most people remain healthy-minded.
"The Spanish writer, Sebastián Vivar Rodríguez, wrote that Europe died in Auschwitz. But Europe had already died in Somme, Verdun, Ypres and Passchendaele, twenty five years earlier, by its own hand."
Here is a funny link about el señor Rodríguez.
"Though Europe’s 20th century suicide in two parts should have discredited militarism, pusillanimity, chauvinism, racism, colonialism, gender and class discrimination and nihilism, the bien pensant have harnessed the blowback to discredit war in self-defense, courage, patriotism, white ethnicity, the white peoples’ self-determination, white males, inequality based on merit, and Christianity."
I think WW1 had more to do with statism than nationalism. The ideology was not completely the opposite of today's. We could argue that it was already an anti-European ideology.
A few conclusions I draw from WW1:
• The majority is not always right, especially when it is subjected to non-stop brainwashing. We should not be afraid to be dissidents. During WW1, it is the anti-war minority that was right, even though they were called traitors.
• A courageous European who would resort to violence against the leftist non-elites who are responsible for our current predicament would be called a criminal. Meanwhile, the WW1 soldiers agreed to go and butcher each other for no reason at all and continued to be called heroes, even 50 years after the facts.
• If there ever was a just war, then it would be justified to declare war today on our western governments.
Today's racial replacement policy is similar to the policy of wiping out young Europeans during WW1. Western governments destroy their people thanks to brainwashing, censorship, and the control of all institutions by a perverse ideology. We are only a minority vocally resisting the "Europicide" which is carried out by the immigration fanatics, but we know that most people do not support the disastrous policy enforced by our governments. Likewise, during WW1, young men were drafted to war by the European governments and non-elites. European peoples did not spontaneously send their children to be killed. War opponents could not rally popular support because they were silenced by the governments. That is why they remained a minority. But it is possible for a minority to articulate an opinion that would be dominant if there was no censorship and brainwashing. This is true today of the immigration disaster. The reason we can not organize referendums over immigration is the same reason there was no referendum organized in france in 1914 to ask people if they were really interested in conquering Alsace and Lorraine for the perverts in Paris.
racist and tyrannical empire
Submitted by Armor on Sun, 2008-08-24 17:23.
"while the armored columns of another patriarchal, ethnocentric, racist and tyrannical empire, Russia, having planned for months for precisely this moment, smashed into Georgia."
Others say that it was Georgia's Saakashvili who took advantage of the Olympic Games to invade South Ossetia.
Submitted by Takuan Seiyo on Sun, 2008-08-24 06:26.
I have no knowledge of the modern Chinese military doctrine, though I have no doubt that there are people in the US military who have studied the subject in depth. The Chinese of course were not involved in Port Arthur, and there is hardly any military doctrine discernible there until Mao's long march in the mid-30s. But I will vouchsafe for one thing: the Chinese have studied their Sun Tzu. And the wily trickster would have looked on Port Arthur or Verdun with the most abject horror. There is no way he would have gone that way.
As to your question about the lessons to be drawn from Beijing 2008 et al. I have to remain coy for the time being, as there goes another 4000-5000 words. To use a Chinese concept, let me say that the West suffers from an acute case of yin-poisoning. I will get into that in my next piece for BJ.
@ Takuan Seiyo
Submitted by traveller on Sun, 2008-08-24 11:21.
You know that I like your writings, but here you make a quantum leap to compare the deficiencies of the Japanese infantry strategy in "modern warfare" with the deficiencies of modern military tactics and behaviour. Further you compare the character of the "last Samuraï" with the cowardly and idiotic behaviour of the WW1 English generals.
I don't know if I agree with the broad picture you paint.
Japan had no reason to be in Korea or Manchuria or Port Arthur, it was pure and utter imperialism of the worst kind.
A real man of valour would have resigned his post and/or committed seppuku there and than. I know that the first duty of the Samuraï was to the emperor, but that is in flagrant opposition with the human values if the emperor wants to slaughter innocent foreigners in their foreign land, it had nothing to do with defending his own country, not even by a stretch of the imagination.
The infantry attacks were completely according to the Samuraï code but they were stupid. They only wanted to execute the emperors orders and have a honourable death doing it. This is acceptable for an individual, like a Samuraï if he is so inclined, but it is not acceptable to order others to do it, willing or not. This becomes the Prussian "Befehl ist Befehl", and has no individual moral values for the commanding officer.
His suicide has cleared most of his sins if that suicide was due to his personal guilt feelings, I agree with that.
I am waiting to read your opinion about admiral Rozhestvensky(or Rojestwensky) who, for me, was the better Samuraï, sailing knowingly to his death with inferior armour, ammo and badly trained seamen, to defend his country. This combines Samuraï code with human moral code.
I have a problem with butchering innocent foreigners in their own country.
In one of the comments here by KA he mentions the "Blitzkrieg".
It is not widely known thet the "Blitz" was first shown to an international group of high ranking military observers during an English war game presentation in the 1930's. The German military who were present went back to Germany and started working immediately on refining the concept, the English and other military observers ignored it.
The Russian military strategists did not learn very much since WW2. Even in Iraq, where they did the training of the Iraqi military, they honoured the concept of the static reinforced tank battles. They were useless against the US "Blitz".
Submitted by logicalman on Sun, 2008-08-24 16:05.
How else to explain the commanders' and soldiers' behavior in such battles, where common sense and logic are replaced with indescribable actions of suicide and killings. Only man does that to other, killing to the last man.
Jehovah Witnesses are known to refuse to kill under all condition including threat of being killed (by the Nazi at concentration camp) for not renouncing to their faith. They have hurt and killed no one. The world would be a better place with more of them.
It was a lengthy article
Submitted by reconquista on Sun, 2008-08-24 06:12.
It was a lengthy article Takuan but I enjoyed it and I learned a lot from it.
Nice history lesson
Submitted by pashley on Sun, 2008-08-24 06:08.
but you need not go any farther than the daily newspaper to find misdirected military tactics. Fighting guerrilla wars is as old as rebellion and piracy. So, for how to conduct war in Iraq and Afganistan, go to, for one of hundreds of examples, the Roman Pompey's campaign against the pirates, 67 BC.
You divide the rebellious area into areas small enough to be easily occupied, restrict movement between the areas with your less elite troops, clean out these smaller areas one-at-time with the better troops (or ships, in this instance).
There are countless other examples.
Took one of the greatest armies in history 3+ years to open up and read their history books. Go figure.
@Takuan Seiyo: How about China ?
Submitted by Rudyard Kipling on Sun, 2008-08-24 05:49.
Did the Chinese warfare strategists learned something from the battle at Lushunkou or did they neglected the lessons in the same way as the western countries?
What do you mean by: "lessons to be drawn from the 2008 visit in China" Can you please elaborate that ?
Submitted by Takuan Seiyo on Sun, 2008-08-24 01:31.
The Germans were the only ones who learned something from Port Arthur. And there was one honorable general in WW1 who killed himself after an ignominous defeat by the Germans: the Russian, Aleksandr Samsonov. But what's interesting about Nogi is that he killed himself after a victory.
I had to treat these things very concisely here, and Russia is in so many ways different from the West that it just didn't fit within the tight framework. And Russia is not infected by the particular Western rot that is of concern to me. As to our different conclusions about the nature of that rot, mine are based on my direct, long-term observations, particularly in the Anglosphere and France, with much supporting data from Sweden and Norway. It would be interesting to know what has led you to your conclusions.
On the Lessons of 1905
Submitted by Kapitein Andre on Sat, 2008-08-23 17:57.
Russian generals in 1914 too forgot Port Arthur, and lost some one million men to the German machine guns and artillery.
Interestingly, the 1930s French Army dismissed De Gaulle, while the German one adopted his rather intriguing ideas on combined arms tactics (i.e. Blitzkrieg). That grave error led to Sitzkrieg and the circumvention of the Maginot Line, etc.
And despite Zhukov's pioneering use of Blitzkrieg tactics at the Battle of Khalkhyn Gol, the Soviet/Russian Army would suffer its worst reverses as the German launched Operation Barbarossa.
Indeed, Mr. Seiyo, the fight is against bureaucracy and "dead wood", not old, young, straight, Christian or any other sort of White men.