Monthly Archives: June 2009

Aristocrats Corrupt the Clergy, 800-1050

From Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History, by William Wayne Farris (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 74-75:

The Buddhist clergy continued to serve as an adjunct to the aristocracy, not only performing state rituals but also helping the privileged gain salvation. During these centuries, however, several changes overtook this class and Japanese religion in general. Buddhism and the native cult, already starting to meld in the 600s, became amalgamated and local gods and goddesses turned into protectors of the Buddhist law and then manifestations of Buddhist deities. Buddhist temples and shrines combined into powerful religious complexes, such as Kasuga Shrine and Kōfukuji, and helped the religious class acquire even more wealth and power.

The gender and class composition of Buddhist devotees also began to change. The state all but stopped ordaining women and banned them from some sacred sites because they might be a temptation to sin. Still, some women, especially of aristocratic birth, continued to accept unofficial ordination. The class origins of powerful monks began to shift as rank holders with many sons and no other outlets for them started to place them in high positions at famous temples. For example, between 782 and 990, ninety-seven percent of these powerful monks were of commoner background, studying for and attaining ordination. Between 990 and 1069, however, that proportion slipped to fifty-two percent. In other words, the crowded aristocratic class began to seek religious appointment as a way to produce an income for their children. Temples no longer followed rules of seniority but instead rewarded their aristocratic patrons, despite loud protests from well-qualified ordinands.

The increased role of aristocratic offspring in administering the daily affairs and extensive estate lands of these temple complexes helped to politicize these institutions and increase factionalism. By the mid-tenth century, violence occasionally broke out among factions within and between religious complexes. These confrontations could cause considerable damage, as when more than forty buildings were destroyed on Mount Hiei in a factional dispute in 993. Many monks of minimal education were there merely for the tax exemption—and readily took part in scuffles. These same clerics engaged in all sorts of behavior once banned by monastic rules, including eating meat, drinking rice wine, and engaging in homosexual and heterosexual liaisons. Some abbots such as Ennin (794–864) condemned these violations of religious conduct, but until 1050 the anticlericalism implied in terms like “evil monk” (akusō) [悪僧] was not yet widespread.

Ryōgen (912–985) was a powerful monk of this time. Born to a poor commoner family, he ascended Mount Hiei at the age of eleven, found a suitable teacher, and was ordained in the Tendai sect at sixteen. Lacking a powerful sponsor and ambitious for a career that included more than just performing everyday ceremonies, Ryōgen succeeded in attaching himself to more powerful monks and showing off his knowledge in a series of religious debates. This attracted the attention of court aristocrats, especially members of the northern branch of the Fujiwara. In exchange for his expertise at various esoteric rituals employed when Regent Fujiwara no Tadahira died, Ryōgen became a protege of Tadahira’s son Morosuke. Morosuke obtained a series of important appointments for Ryōgen and cemented his alliance with the monk. Eventually, Ryōgen was appointed to the headship of the Tendai sect. In that post, he strengthened monastic discipline and helped rebuild many structures on Mount Hiei after the disastrous fire of 966. He also expanded Tendai power into the provinces and aided in the ordination of women. He remained the head of the Tendai sect until his death.

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WW2: National Armies vs. Imperial Armies

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 516-518:

The Axis powers were fighting not only against the British, Russians and Americans; they were fighting against the combined forces of the British, Russian and American empires as well. The total numbers of men fielded by the various parts of the British Empire were immense. All told, the United Kingdom itself mobilized just under six million men and women. But an additional 5.1 million came from India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Victories like El Alamein and even more so Imphal were victories for imperial forces as much as for British forces; the colonial commitment to the Empire proved every bit as strong as in the First World War. Especially remarkable was the fact that more than two and a half million Indians volunteered to serve in the British Indian Army during the war – more than sixty times the number who fought for the Japanese. The rapid expansion of the Indian officer corps provided a crucial source of loyalty, albeit loyalty that was conditional on post-war independence. The Red Army was also much more than just a Russian army. In January 1944 Russians accounted for 58 per cent of the 200 infantry divisions for which records are available, but Ukrainians accounted for 22 per cent, an order of magnitude more than fought on the German side, and a larger proportion than their share of the pre-war Soviet population. Half the soldiers of the Soviet 62nd Army at Stalingrad were not Russians. The American army, too, was ethnically diverse. Although they were generally kept in segregated units, African-Americans accounted for around 11 per cent of total US forces mobilized and fought in all the major campaigns from Operation Torch onwards. Norman Mailer’s reconnaissance platoon in The Naked and the Dead includes two Jews, a Pole, an Irishman, a Mexican and an Italian. Two of the six servicemen who raised the Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima were of foreign origin; one was a Pima Indian. More than 20,000 Japanese-Americans served in the US army during the war….

The Germans, as we have seen, had made some efforts to mobilize other peoples in occupied Europe, as had the Japanese in the Far East, but these were dwarfed by what the Allies achieved. Indeed, the abject failure of the Axis empires to win the loyalty of their new subjects ensured that Allied forces were reinforced by a plethora of exile forces, partisan bands and resistance organizations. Even excluding these auxiliaries, the combined armed forces of the principal Allies were already just under 30 per cent larger than those of the Axis in 1942. A year later the difference was more than 50 per cent. By the end of the war, including also Free French* and Polish forces, Yugoslav partisans and Romanians fighting on the Russian side, the Allies had more than twice as many men under arms. Fifty-two different nationalities were represented in the Jewish Brigade formed by the British in 1944. They followed an earlier wave of 9,000 or so refugees from Spain, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia who had joined the so-called Alien Companies, nicely nicknamed the ‘King’s Own Loyal Enemy Aliens’.

The best measure of the Allied advantage was in terms of military hardware, however, since it was with capital rather than labour – with machinery rather than manpower – that the Germans and the Japanese were ultimately to be defeated. In every major category of weapon, the Axis powers fell steadily further behind with each passing month. Between 1942 and 1944, the Allies out-produced the Axis in terms of machine pistols by a factor of 16 to 1, in naval vessels, tanks and mortars by roughly 5 to 1, and in rifles, machine-guns, artillery and combat aircraft by roughly 3 to 1.

*It is seldom acknowledged that for most of the period from 1940 until D-Day, black Africans constituted the main elements of the rank and file in the Free French Army. Even as late as September 1944, they still accounted for 1 in 5 of de Gaulle’s force in North-West Europe.

I did not quote the immediately preceding section that compares the mismatch in purely economic terms, but I cannot resist quoting the footnote appended to the end of it (on p. 516):

‘We must at all costs advance into the plains of Mesopotamia and take the Mosul oilfields from the British,’ declared Hitler on August 5, 1942. ‘If we succeed here, the whole war will come to an end.’ But three-quarters of total world oil production in 1944 came from the United States, compared with just 7 per cent from the whole of North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Kawaigaru = Itaburu

In most contexts, Japanese 可愛がる kawaigaru means ‘to dote on, to fondle, to caress’, but for novices in a sumo stable, kawaigaru is a synonym of いたぶる itaburu ‘to torment, to harass, to tease’, as Mongolian ozeki Harumafuji explains in an interview that appeared in the Taipei Times.

Harumafuji, who last month won Japan’s major tournament, recalled the pain and tears that toughened him up in the nine years since he arrived from his native Mongolia with no money and not a word of Japanese….

In sumo, kawaigari means “crying, then being forced to stand, then being beaten again. It’s not simple to express with words because it’s a physical experience,” he said.

But it’s not just the beatings that steel the wrestlers in the quasi-monastic life of the sumo stable, where the fighters forfeit much of their personal liberty and embark on a grueling daily routine.

The younger wrestlers start the day at 3am cleaning the stable, washing their seniors’ loincloths and preparing meals. They are banned from watching television and using cellphones, and receive only modest pocket money.

Harumafuji said he found it toughest to get used to a diet heavy on fish — which has sent some of his mutton-eating compatriots running to the Mongolian embassy to escape Japan — served in huge quantities of 10,000 calories a day.

“Everyone says going on a diet is hard, but I think gaining weight is so many times more difficult,” he said. “Eating was the scariest, and my most painful experience.”

“I’m thin by nature, so I really had a hard time to eat in the beginning. I ate and I vomited. Ate and vomited. Your stomach expands when you do that, so I was forced to eat until I vomited,” Harumafuji said. “When I vomited, there would be someone already waiting with food, and I was forced to eat again.”

The force-feeding helped boost the 1.85m athlete’s weight to 126kg from 86kg — still about 30kg lighter than the average top division wrestler….

As fewer young Japanese sign up for the harsh life of the sumo stable, the sport’s 700-strong elite now include men from China, South Korea, Eastern Europe and as far away as Brazil and the Pacific island state of Tonga.

Geez. That seems to shed new light on the after-sumo career of another diminutive rikishi, Mainoumi, which included a stint as a traveling gourmet as well as general TV personality.

(I hope the Brazilian and the Tongan make it to the upper ranks soon! Surely the Tongan won’t have to get used to eating fish.)

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Early Evolution of the Samurai

From Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History, by William Wayne Farris (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 81-82:

Since the Tomb era, an aristocracy had ruled Japan. It grew and became more elaborate over the centuries, but the essential idea of a hereditary class of noblemen and women administering the islands had remained unchanged. Beginning about 1050, however, the aristocracy—now exclusively civilian in function—was joined by two other elites: the clergy and the military. Each class had its own function, clientele, geographical base, and relation to the sovereign, which in conjunction provided legitimacy for the system. Further, members of each branch formed alliances with the others, and joined together in political factions. These three functionally distinct but politically and socially intertwined elites held sway in Japan until about 1300.

The military was the newest group to attain elite status, but the roots of the samurai lay in the Tomb age. Around 450, the horse had been introduced to Japan from Korea, and when men combined riding the animal with the Jomon technology of archery, a deadly new form of combat was born: mounted archery. Even the small, unneutered horses of early Japan (about one hundred thirty centimeters at the shoulder) made armies more mobile; equestrians could annihilate lightly armored foot soldiers. The two major drawbacks to this form of battle were the great expense of buying and feeding a horse and the large block of time required to learn to ride and shoot from a galloping animal. Typically, a horse cost five times the annual income of a peasant, and would-be mounted archers had to have time to practice. They needed to learn to release the bridle, and guide the on-rushing beast with their legs or voice, all while taking aim and firing arrows. The cost and time invested in mounted warfare meant that it was an occupation limited to local notables and certain members of the service nobility.

Under the Yamato monarch, around 600, armies fighting in Korea or Japan included forces supplied by approximately one hundred twenty local magnates allied to the sovereign, as well as smaller contingents led by the service nobility or from the royal guards. Altogether, these armies may have numbered ten to twenty thousand fighters. The first riders wore iron helmets and slat armor, in which iron pieces were sewn together with leather into flexible sheets. Wielding straight swords, these elite warriors fought alongside foot soldiers employing spears or swords and protected by a cuirass or other armor. During battles, infantry formed lines behind walls of wooden shields.

Beginning in the early 600s, the court feared invasion from either Tang China or Silla and hurriedly adopted a version of the impressive Chinese military system. The main element was a draft of common soldiers, determined through the census and then posted to the local militia. During the winter, these commoner draftees were to drill as units to engage the enemy in the same coordinated way that Tang forces did. Because fighters were responsible for supplying their own weapons, the new system was inexpensive for the government but burdensome for the draftee. Nearly a quarter of adult males were called for service, and the duty was so onerous that there was a saying that “if one man is drafted, the whole household will consequently be destroyed.”

Despite the adoption of the draft from China, the Japanese court retained two crucial elements originating before 650. They designated local notables, at that time usually district magistrates or their kin, to lead armies as cavalry. Even in the late seventh century, the Kanto region was home to the largest number of daring and skillful mounted archers. In addition, certain court families—the Ōtomo, Saeki, and Sakanoue among them—gained reputations as military aristocrats, holding high rank and office.

As described in chapter 3, the Chinese-style army met its stiffest challenge during the wars against the emishi between 774 and 812. The residents of northeastern Honshu were expert mounted archers fighting as guerillas. During the long conflict, the court discovered how inadequate peasant conscript foot soldiers were against the emishi cavalry; there was a dictum that “ten of our commoners cannot rival one of the enemy.”

These long wars helped lay the foundation for the classical samurai way of doing battle. From these small bands of emishi riders, the court learned that leather armor was better suited to mounted warfare and soon abandoned iron. The emishi also wielded a curved sword, instead of the straight one employed by government soldiers. The emishi curved sword was probably the predecessor of the vaunted samurai slashing weapon. Because most engagements involved mounted archers, there were many opportunities for the government’s equestrian elite to hone its skills. In other words, these long wars constituted “practice for becoming samurai.” With the cessation of hostilities in 812, the technology of the samurai had come together: they were lightly armored mounted archers wielding curved swords.

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Why China Props Up North Korea

In a New York Times op-ed last week, North Korea-watcher and Korea Times columnist Andrei Lankov explains quite starkly why China will continue to prop up North Korea.

International sanctions, introduced after the first nuclear test in 2006, have not had any noticeable effect — in part because they have not been seriously implemented. It is clear that no “stern warnings” from the United States or the United Nations Security Council will have any effect on Pyongyang’s behavior.

With all other approaches failing, one last hope is often cited — China. Today, some 45 percent of all North Korean trade is with China, and between 30 and 50 percent of China’s entire foreign aid budget is spent on this one small country. So, the reasoning goes, Beijing must have tremendous leverage over Pyongyang….

Nonetheless, there are compelling reasons why China is unlikely to press North Korea hard.

North Korea accepts Chinese aid, but it has shown no inclination to heel to Beijing’s advice. The North Korean regime is such that it is largely immune to foreign pressure. It has been tried before, but when the pressure is only moderate — such as a partial reduction of aid or less favorable trade conditions — North Korean leaders have simply ignored it.

That may lead to a further deterioration of living standards, but the well-being of the population has never been among Pyongyang’s major concerns. North Koreans have no influence on the state’s policies, and are unlikely to rebel. If deprived of food, they starve and die quietly. So in order to influence Pyongyang’s behavior, it has to be hit really hard — in China’s case, that might mean cutting all aid and stopping all shipments of fuel.

Such drastic measures, which approach a land blockade, would likely destabilize the fragile domestic situation inside North Korea, with regime collapse being a probable outcome.

For China, collapse of the North Korean state would mean millions of refugees, many of them armed soldiers, crossing into China. That would increase instability in some of China’s major industrial and population centers. Finally, it would result in a loss of control over North Korea’s stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium, as well as chemical and biological weapons.

The longer-term consequences of a North Korean implosion are also unwelcome to Beijing. It would probably lead to the unification of the country under Seoul, depriving China of a strategic buffer and, even worse, creating a large U.S. ally. The alternative — military intervention — is a costly and risky option that Beijing would prefer to avoid….

China will make gestures of condemnation and, contrary to what some China-bashers believe, they will be sincere. But Beijing will not go much further: It will do nothing that might jeopardize the internal stability in the North. Like any rational player, China prefers to stick with a lesser evil.

via the Marmot’s Hole

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Japan’s Worst Century, the 700s

From Japan to 1600: A Social and Economic History, by William Wayne Farris (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 36-37:

Between 698 and 800, there were at least thirty-six years of plagues in Japan, or about one every three years. The most well-documented epidemic—and to judge by the mortality and its social, economic, and political effects, the most significant—was a smallpox outbreak during 735–737. It started in northern Kyushu, a certain sign of its foreign origin, but by 737 the virus had spread up the Inland Sea and on to eastern Honshu, aided, ironically enough, by the improved network of roads linking the capital and provinces. To its credit, the court tried to apply pragmatic principles to treat the symptoms of the disease, but to little effect. Statistics from various provinces scattered from northern Kyushu to eastern Honshu suggest that mortality was about twenty-five percent, meaning that a million or more persons may have succumbed. As a result of the depopulation, an entire layer of village administration was abolished. Another irony was that the death rate among the exalted aristocracy—living crowded together in the capital at Nara—was even higher, a full thirty-nine percent. At the end of 737, chroniclers wrote,”Through the summer and fall, people … from aristocrats on down have died one after another in countless numbers. In recent times, there has been nothing like this.” In the wake of the epidemic, government revenues plunged by more than twenty percent, even more draconian measures were implemented to stem cultivator flight from the land, and a guilt-ridden [Emperor] Shōmu approved large expenditures for Buddhist temples, statues, and other religious icons.

Epidemics certainly helped to reverse the long demographic expansion of the last several centuries, but two other factors contributed to population stasis. The first was crop failure and widespread famine, occurring about every third year between the late seventh and eighth centuries. Causes for bad harvests were complex, but various climate data indicate that the eighth century was one of the hottest and driest in Japanese history. In Western Europe, where there was a “medieval warm” at this time, the effect was to dry out water-logged soils and encourage the expansion of agriculture; in Japan, where farmers often depended upon rainfall as the only way to irrigate their paddies, the result was frequent crop failure and hunger. At ten to fifteen percent, mortality from a severe famine was lower than an epidemic, but, like pestilence, malnutrition also reduced fertility. Even in years when the harvest seemed adequate, the populace frequently went hungry in the spring when their supplies of grain were exhausted. More sophisticated means of watering rice paddies may have remedied the problem, but they were either unavailable or not applied.

A second factor leading to population stasis was the ecological degradation besetting the Kinai, the richest and most financially important region in the eighth century. Altogether, the government sponsored the construction of six capital cities and countless temples, shrines, and aristocratic mansions from 690 to 805. All these structures were built from timber harvested in the Kinai and adjacent provinces, and most had roof tiles requiring baking with charcoal in a kiln. During the second half of the eighth century, the shortage of lumber became so critical that planners began to recycle used timbers and roof tiles from older capitals, such as Fujiwara and Naniwa. When the court left Nara for Nagaoka in 784, for example, they used recycled lumber and tiles almost exclusively.

By the late eighth century, tile bakers were relying upon red pine to fire their kilns, a secondary forest cover that typically grows in nutrient-poor soil. Furthermore, the government began to note that the bald mountains in the Kinai and vicinity produced less rain and more erosion. In essence, the stripping of the forests throughout central Japan exacerbated the effects of the hot, dry climate and encouraged farmers to give up cropping altogether and flee to the seashores and mountains to forage as of old.


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Iran: It All Depends Who You Talk (and Listen) to …

Stratfor‘s George Friedman weighs in on what’s going on in Iran in his characteristically hard-nosed way. Here are some excerpts from his take on the situation as of 15 June (via RealClearPolitics).

In 1979, when we were still young and starry-eyed, a revolution took place in Iran. When I asked experts what would happen, they divided into two camps.

The first group of Iran experts argued that the Shah of Iran would certainly survive, that the unrest was simply a cyclical event readily manageable by his security, and that the Iranian people were united behind the Iranian monarch’s modernization program. These experts developed this view by talking to the same Iranian officials and businessmen they had been talking to for years — Iranians who had grown wealthy and powerful under the shah and who spoke English, since Iran experts frequently didn’t speak Farsi all that well.

The second group of Iran experts regarded the shah as a repressive brute, and saw the revolution as aimed at liberalizing the country. Their sources were the professionals and academics who supported the uprising — Iranians who knew what former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini believed, but didn’t think he had much popular support. They thought the revolution would result in an increase in human rights and liberty. The experts in this group spoke even less Farsi than those in the first group.

Limited to information on Iran from English-speaking opponents of the regime, both groups of Iran experts got a very misleading vision of where the revolution was heading — because the Iranian revolution was not brought about by the people who spoke English. It was made by merchants in city bazaars, by rural peasants, by the clergy — people Americans didn’t speak to because they couldn’t. This demographic was unsure of the virtues of modernization and not at all clear on the virtues of liberalism. From the time they were born, its members knew the virtue of Islam, and that the Iranian state must be an Islamic state.

Americans and Europeans have been misreading Iran for 30 years. Even after the shah fell, the myth has survived that a mass movement of people exists demanding liberalization — a movement that if encouraged by the West eventually would form a majority and rule the country. We call this outlook “iPod liberalism,” the idea that anyone who listens to rock ‘n’ roll on an iPod, writes blogs and knows what it means to Twitter must be an enthusiastic supporter of Western liberalism. Even more significantly, this outlook fails to recognize that iPod owners represent a small minority in Iran — a country that is poor, pious and content on the whole with the revolution forged 30 years ago.

There are undoubtedly people who want to liberalize the Iranian regime. They are to be found among the professional classes in Tehran, as well as among students. Many speak English, making them accessible to the touring journalists, diplomats and intelligence people who pass through. They are the ones who can speak to Westerners, and they are the ones willing to speak to Westerners. And these people give Westerners a wildly distorted view of Iran. They can create the impression that a fantastic liberalization is at hand — but not when you realize that iPod-owning Anglophones are not exactly the majority in Iran….

Ahmadinejad enjoys widespread popularity. He doesn’t speak to the issues that matter to the urban professionals, namely, the economy and liberalization. But Ahmadinejad speaks to three fundamental issues that accord with the rest of the country.

First, Ahmadinejad speaks of piety. Among vast swathes of Iranian society, the willingness to speak unaffectedly about religion is crucial. Though it may be difficult for Americans and Europeans [at least their elite classes—Joel] to believe, there are people in the world to whom economic progress is not of the essence; people who want to maintain their communities as they are and live the way their grandparents lived. These are people who see modernization — whether from the shah or Mousavi — as unattractive. They forgive Ahmadinejad his economic failures.

Second, Ahmadinejad speaks of corruption. There is a sense in the countryside that the ayatollahs — who enjoy enormous wealth and power, and often have lifestyles that reflect this — have corrupted the Islamic Revolution. Ahmadinejad is disliked by many of the religious elite precisely because he has systematically raised the corruption issue, which resonates in the countryside.

Third, Ahmadinejad is a spokesman for Iranian national security, a tremendously popular stance. It must always be remembered that Iran fought a war with Iraq in the 1980s that lasted eight years, cost untold lives and suffering, and effectively ended in its defeat. Iranians, particularly the poor, experienced this war on an intimate level. They fought in the war, and lost husbands and sons in it. As in other countries, memories of a lost war don’t necessarily delegitimize the regime. Rather, they can generate hopes for a resurgent Iran, thus validating the sacrifices made in that war — something Ahmadinejad taps into. By arguing that Iran should not back down but become a major power, he speaks to the veterans and their families, who want something positive to emerge from all their sacrifices in the war….

Western democracies assume that publics will elect liberals who will protect their rights. In reality, it’s a more complicated world. Hitler is the classic example of someone who came to power constitutionally, and then preceded to gut the constitution. Similarly, Ahmadinejad’s victory is a triumph of both democracy and repression….

What we have now are two presidents in a politically secure position, something that normally forms a basis for negotiations. The problem is that it is not clear what the Iranians are prepared to negotiate on, nor is it clear what the Americans are prepared to give the Iranians to induce them to negotiate. Iran wants greater influence in Iraq and its role as a regional leader acknowledged, something the United States doesn’t want to give them. The United States wants an end to the Iranian nuclear program, which Iran doesn’t want to give.

I suspect he’s right, unfortunately. And that’s why I don’t put much stock in analysis by either international media twits or high-flying professional diplomats, both of whom tend to talk too much with fellow elites, and then just repeat what they hear, as if their interlocutors deserve to speak for everyone else. (I’m waiting for a noncomprehending elitist like Thomas Frank to write What’s the Matter with Iran?)

UPDATE (in response to comments on my Blogger blog): A whole lot of people who are already fairly well off seem to be quite willing to trade economic progress for social justice or traditional values or some set of religious or ideological goals, especially if other, ideologically offensive people take the biggest economic hit, not themselves. And political leaders who haven’t a clue about how to achieve economic progress are only too willing to pander to those other values to stay in power, not just in Iran.

Friedman mentions the high likelihood of electoral fraud, but seems to think it didn’t make the crucial difference. Perhaps he now realizes he underestimated the fraud and is backtracking in his latest analyses.

When I look at the results of the 1979 revolution in Iran, the 1989 counterrevolt in China, and the fate of so many revolutions that only led to devolution and repression, I find it hard to be optimistic. When the dust settles (without too much blood in it, I hope), the liberal internationalists we’re all so fond of will not be the ones in control. It’ll be either the same old corrupt clergy of the revolutionary generation (perhaps with a more human face), or the bizarre new populist nationalists of the war generation.

Finally, one also has to ask, Who does Friedman listen to? The same types of status-quo-favoring spooks who failed to predict the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1989?

FURTHER UPDATE: Doug Muir at Fistful of Euros has two interesting, well-informed (and pessimistic) posts about future prospects in Iran: From Yerevan to Tehran? notes the close historical and economic ties between Armenia and Iran, as well as the close personal ties between Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian/Sargsyan and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Why Ahmadinejad will win compares factors that affected the outcomes of similar protests in Armenia, Burma, China, East Germany, Georgia, the Philippines, Romania, Serbia, and Ukraine. (via Randy MacDonald)

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Civil Wars on the Eastern Front, 1940s

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 455-457:

Collaborators could be found not only in countries that allied themselves with Germany – Italy, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria – but also in Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France, Yugoslavia, Greece and the Soviet Union, countries the Germans invaded and occupied. Some were undoubtedly motivated by a hatred of the Jews as violent as that felt by the Nazi leadership. Others were actuated by envy or base greed, seizing the opportunity afforded by German rule to steal their neighbours’ property. Self-preservation also played its part. There were even Jewish collaborators, like the uniformed men of the Office to Combat Usury and Profiteering who policed the Warsaw ghetto, or the leaders of the various Jews’ Councils who helped organize the liquidation of the ghettos, or the concentration camp prisoners who accepted a measure of delegated authority in the (usually vain) hope of saving themselves.

The experience of Jedwabne typifies the way German rule also fomented civil war. It was as if even the approach of German troops encouraged conflict to erupt in multi-ethnic communities. Poles were not the only killers, Jews not the only victims. Germans themselves could fall victim to this kind of violence. Between four and five thousand ethnic Germans were murdered in Poland in September 1939 as Poles took revenge for their country’s invasion. They then retaliated by forming ‘self-protection’ groups, which were ultimately subordinated to SS leadership. By the time that had happened, however, these groups had already massacred more than four thousand Poles. As a philologist, Victor Klemperer was struck by the way the Nazis delighted in euphemistic neologisms like Volkstumskampf (ethnic conflict) and Flurbereinigung (fundamental cleansing). This daily subversion of the German language, he believed, was far more effective than the more overt kinds of propaganda. Sanitized language also made the cycle of ethnic violence easier to live with.

The Ukraine was perhaps the most blood-soaked place of all. In Volhynia and Eastern Galicia, members of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), egged on by the Germans, massacred between 60,000 and 80,000 Poles. Whole villages were wiped out, men beaten to death, women raped and mutilated, babies bayoneted….

Waldemar Lotnik, a Polish teenager who escaped from a German labour camp and joined a Polish ‘Peasant Battalion’, was just about to rape a girl when he realized he knew her family and remembered her as a child. As another Pole recalled, ‘Stories abounded of Polish mothers being held by the Ukrainian Nationalists and forced to watch as their families were dismembered piece by piece; of pregnant women being eviscerated; of vivisected pregnant women having cats sewn into their bleeding abdomens; of Ukrainian husbands murdering their own Polish wives; of Ukrainian wives murdering their own Polish husbands; of Ukrainian fathers murdering their own sons in order to prevent them from murdering their own Polish mothers; of sons of Polish-Ukrainian heritage being sawn in half because, the Nationalists said, they were half Polish; of children being strung up on household fences; of helpless infants being dashed against buildings or hurled into burning houses.’ Here was ethnic conflict not merely between neighbours, but within families. The internecine war in the Ukraine only grew more ferocious as the war progressed, with some Ukrainians fighting for the Axis, some for the Allies and others for an independent Ukraine.

In the Balkans, too, there were multiple civil wars along ethnic, religious and ideological lines. Yugoslavia had fallen apart in the wake of the German invasion of April 1941. Seizing the moment, the Croatian leader Ante Pavelic had pledged to side with Hitler. In the ensuing chaos, his Ustašas waged a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against their Serbian neighbours in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina, torturing and killing hundreds of thousands of them. The populations of entire villages were packed into their churches and burned to death, or were transported to be murdered at camps like Jasenovac.

Serbian Četniks and Partisans repaid these crimes in kind. Of the million or so people who died in Yugoslavia during the war, most were killed by other Yugoslavs. This included nearly all of Bosnia’s 14,000 Jews. In Greece the German occupation was the cue for bitter conflict. There, as in Yugoslavia, a three-cornered war raged – between the foreign invaders and nationalists, but also between nationalists and indigenous Communists. When Bulgaria annexed southern Dobruja from Romania, tens of thousands of people were expelled from their homes on either side of the new border.

Most empires purport to bring peace and order. They may divide in order to rule, but they generally rule in pursuit of stability. The Nazi empire divided the peoples of Europe as it ruled them – though, ironically, the divisions that opened up in Central and Eastern Europe generally had as much to do with religion as with race (most obviously in the conflicts between Poles and Ukrainians or between Croats and Serbs). But the ‘skilful utilization of inter-ethnic rivalry’ the Germans consciously practised did not lead (in the words of one German officer) to the ‘total political and economic pacification’ of occupied territory. On the contrary, in many places their rule soon degenerated into little more than the sponsorship of local feuds; the institutionalization of civil war as a mode of governance.

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Effect of Economic Sanctions on Japan, 1941

From The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West, by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press, 2006), pp. 487-488:

The sole obstacle to Japanese hegemony in South-East Asia was America. On the one hand, it was clear that the United States had scant appetite for war, in Asia or anywhere else. On the other, Americans had little desire to see Japan as sole master of China, let alone the whole of East Asia. But those who ran US policy in the Pacific believed they did not need to take up arms to prevent this, because of Japan’s dependence on trade with the United States and hence its vulnerability to economic pressure. Around a third of Japan’s imports came from the United States, including copious quantities of cotton, scrap iron and oil. Her dependence on American heavy machinery and machine tools was greater still. Even if the Americans did not intervene militarily, they had the option to choke the Japanese war machine to death, especially if they cut off oil exports. This was precisely what made it so hard for American diplomats and politicians to foresee the attack on Pearl Harbor. As normally risk-averse people, they could not imagine the Japanese being so rash as to gamble on a very swift victory when the economic odds were stacked so heavily against them. They assumed that the partial sanctions imposed after the Japanese invasion of Indo-China would send a clear enough signal to deter the Japanese. The effect was precisely the opposite.

The path to war in the Pacific was paved with economic sanctions. The Japanese-American Commercial Treaty of 1911 was abrogated in July 1939. By the end of the year Japan (along with other combatants) was affected by Roosevelt’s ‘moral embargo’ on the export of ‘materials essential to airplane manufacture’, which meant in practice aluminium, molybdenum, nickel, tungsten and vanadium. At the same time, the State Department applied pressure on American firms to stop exporting technology to Japan that would facilitate the production of aviation fuel. With the National Defense Act of July 1940 the President was empowered to impose real prohibitions on the exports of strategic commodities and manufactures. By the end of the month, after a protracted wrangle between the State Department and the Treasury, it was agreed to ban the export of high-grade scrap iron and steel, aviation fuel, lubricating oil and the fuel blending agent tetraethyl lead. On September 26 the ban was extended to all scrap; two months later the export of iron and steel themselves became subject to licence. No one knew for sure what the effect of these restrictions would be. Some, like the State Department’s Advisor on Far Eastern Affairs Stanley Hornbeck, said they would hobble the Japanese military; others, like the US ambassador in Tokyo, Joseph Grew, that they would provoke it. Neither view was correct. The sanctions were too late to deter Japan from contemplating war, since the Japanese had been importing and stockpiling American raw materials since the outbreak of war in China. Only one economic sanction was regarded in Tokyo as a casus belli and that was an embargo on oil. That came in July 1941, along with a freeze on all Japanese assets in the United States – a response to the Japanese occupation of southern Indo-China. From this point, war in the Pacific was more or less inevitable.

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Kim Jong Un: Apollo of the Amnok, Titan of the Tumen, …

Whenever I wonder what Romania might be like now if Nicolae Ceauşescu had somehow managed to survive long enough to pass his kingdom on to his son, Nicu (alas, poor Nicu!), I just turn my gaze to the royal succession in the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea, which fits Tony Judt‘s characterization of Ceauşescu’s Romania only too well.

Romanian Communism in its last years sat uneasily athwart the intersection of brutality and parody. Portraits of the Party leader and his wife were everywhere; his praise was sung in dithyrambic terms that might have embarrassed even Stalin himself (though not perhaps North Korea’s Kim Il Sung, with whom the Romanian leader was sometimes compared). A short list of the epithets officially-approved by Ceauşescu for use in accounts of his achievements would include: The Architect; The Creed-shaper; The Wise Helmsman; The Tallest Mast; The Nimbus of Victory; The Visionary; The Titan; The Son of the Sun; A Danube of Thought; and The Genius of the Carpathians.

But now it looks as if the heralds of the Kim dynasty are preparing for another royal succession by echoing the epithets of the Genius of the Carpathians in describing a Brilliant Comrade, the Grandson of the Sun, the Dauphin of Dokdo, the Titan of the Tumen (or Dionysus of the Duman), the Apollo of the Amnok, the Priapus of Paektusan, the East Sea of Ecstasy, the Yorik of the Yalu, the Need-shaper, the Wisen Heimer, the Un, etc.

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