ga('send', 'pageview');
John Passant

Site menu:

June 2011
« May   Jul »



RSS Oz House



Subscribe to us

Get new blog posts delivered to your inbox.


Site search


Keep socialist blog En Passant going - donate now
If you want to keep a blog that makes the arguments every day against the ravages of capitalism going and keeps alive the flame of democracy and community, make a donation to help cover my costs. And of course keep reading the blog. To donate click here. Keep socialist blog En Passant going. More... (4)

Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
You can prove my 2 ex-comrades wrong by donating to my blog En Passant at BSB: 062914 Account: 1067 5257, the Commonwealth Bank in Tuggeranong, ACT. More... (12)

My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)



The good war in the Pacific?

Sometimes an historian will challenge one of  the key ideological myths of Australian capitalism.

Henry Reynolds does it in his work on the colonial treatment of Aborigines, a treatment some go so far as to label genocide. 

To a lesser extent myth busting is true too of others in debunking the lies of nation building surrounding Gallipoli.

Tom O’Lincoln’s important new book Australia’s Pacific War: Challenging a National Myth stands in the grand tradition of debunking pervasive myths.

O’Lincoln shows that the Second World War and its war in the Pacific were a consequence of imperialism and the needs of late blooming German and Japanese capitalism to expand and in doing that to challenge the established imperial order of a declining Britain and a surging United States.

In the context of this imperialist rivalry, O’Lincoln argues that the reality is that the US viewed war as inevitable and the best strategy was to force Japan to make the first move.

A cornered but hawkish led Japan responded to US and other countries’ provocations and bombed Pearl Harbour.  Part of that provocation had been the tightening of supplies to Japan making it necessary from the point of view of Japanese capital to expand southwards for vital material like rubber and especially oil in Indonesia.

Japanese brutality is one of the enduring stories of this war. This demonisation of the Japanese , who in Asia were sometimes welcomed as liberators by local populations keen to escape their brutal white colonial overlords, forgets an important point. The Allies were brutal too.

As O’Lincoln says ‘In reality the viciousness of camp guards is no more inherent in the Japanese people than dropping atomic bombs is inherently western.’ 

Prisoners of war were treated horribly, not so much at first, but as the war progressed. As O’Lincoln shows the mistreatment was not something inherent to the Japanese but rather ‘something specific to how the conflict developed.’

As Japan over-extended itself and its capabilities hunger and starvation spread among its people and soldiers. Prisoners of war were among the first targets and an ideology that those who were captured were weak developed among sections of the Japanese.  

‘Our’ side had similar views and took it to a logical conclusion of sorts. Australians shot prisoners and the wounded. It was ‘the only safe way.’

O’Lincoln quotes a conservative ex-POW to make the point.

The wider Pacific War was bitter, racial and merciless and the cruelties of which the enemy were guilty did not exceed those practised by us.

 The racism of empire, and of the white colonial settler state that was Australia were part of the war hysteria and a tool to tie the working class to the war.

 The White Australia policy had been one of the foundations of Federation, helping cement workers to the employing class on the basis of skin colour, especially after the defeats of the industrial labour movement in the 1890s. 

Ideas of racial superiority, of white civilisation and yellow and black skinned barbarians dominated Australian society from its foundation. So too did anti-Irish and anti-Catholic ideas, ideas reflecting the seeming reality of the dominant Protestant ruling clique as it strangled and repressed Ireland.  

O’Lincoln documents overt anti-Japanese racism during and after the war. It is not pretty.

From John Curtin’s exhortation not to forget the principle of a White Australia to Department of Information race hate broadcasts, the Japanese were variously described as sub-human, maniacal, crazed killers, with dwarfed, twisted souls.  

Labor Prime Minister John Curtin argued the war was about maintaining the white race’s control of Australia, and in this context he proudly reminded Australians that they were  the sons and daughters of Britishers, that is that they were white. 

The cement that is racism binding the working class to the ruling class is clear.

This war was as much a war for democracy as Iraq and Afghanistan are. Not at all.

Empires that before the war repressed the local populations did the same thing after the war. From Indonesia to Vietnam the imperialist powers sought to re-establish their dictatorial rule over the peoples there.

This was not  war for democracy but for imperial domination.

One of the enduring myths surrounding the war in the Pacific is that Japan wanted to and was going to invade Australia.

O’Lincoln points out that even the Japanese army thought that this was ‘gibberish’. It would divert resources from China and Manchuria. The Japanese navy couldn’t spare the ships.  And seizing large parts of the country would mean that ‘long supply lines and Australia’s industrial capabilities would have beaten them’.

Labor Prime Minister John Curtin knew, probably from April 1942, that the Japanese would not and could not invade Australia. 

This invasion threat was an important part of his fear mongering to bolster support for the war. He would continue to use it, despite the fact he knew it was untrue. What this fear did do was produce more and more hard work from the working class, and the economy grew 15 percent.

By1943 it was clear the Japanese could not win. The war was no longer defensive from Australian capitalism’s point of view. It became an expansionist war in which Australian and American forces set out ‘to capture the South Pacific’. 

One of the many strengths of O’Lincoln’s book is the reintroduction of class struggle into the analysis of the Australian war effort. He challenges the idea that Australia was a country totally united behind the war effort with class divisions and struggle banished to some backwater of history.

For a start some of the Australian ruling class and its military had pro-fascist sentiments, at least until fascism threatened Empire. More importantly, as O’Lincoln notes, based on Department of Labour and National Service figures:

Industrial disputes spiked in 1940,and were still high in 1941. They fell dramatically in 1942  under the impact of a seeming invasion threat, but revived as the apparent danger receded.

The decline in strikes also had much to do with the Australian Communist Party’s change of attitude to the war after the German invasion of the USSR in 1941. That change was dramatic – from a correct as far as it goes depiction of the war as imperialist to it becoming, after the ‘socialist’ fatherland was invaded, the also partially correct war against fascism. 

Part of the radical actions can be attributed to women and their lack of union traditions. The war bought millions of women into the workforce. Their lack of work and union experience meant they were less likely to listen to the conservative arguments of the trade union bureaucracy. 

The labour market was tight so wages rose higher than prices during the war. However, increased taxation meant that workers were worse off.

The war sacrifices saw many workers long for a better world after the slaughter finished. The groundwork for the upsurge in class war after 1945 and the grand post war welfare state compromise between labour and capital were built during the war by the class struggles that broke out or were lidded during it.

This is a book that challenges all our preconceptions about the war in the Pacific. Read it.

Tom O’Lincoln Australia’s Pacific War: Challenging a National Myth (Interventions Publishers 2011).



Comment from Terrance
Time June 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Further to this John, the historian Christopher Browning, in ‘Ordinary Men’ analysed the circumstances that lead ordinary men to commit genocide and barbaric acts or murder, torture etc. He mentions the actions of US forces in the Pacific as being similar to the Holocaust – where a combination of prejudice, race hate, propaganda and peer pressure combined to create a situation where atrocities are committed.

And of course, like the Nazis, we saw the ‘Japs’ as inferior in every way, sub-human and lessor.

One point though, I always understood the Japanese demand for rubber, oil etc was a factor in their expansion southwards?

Comment from John
Time June 18, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Yes Terrance I should have made that clear. And the oil in Indonesia… I’ll update the piece to make it clearer. Tom talks a lot about that.

Comment from Arthur
Time June 18, 2011 at 9:09 pm

I have always so much enjoyed the puerile historical commentary that comes out of Australians.
In this case absolutely no ‘give’ at all and no consideration for the fact that the Asiatic people generally have a historical record that makes our pathetic two and a bit centuries seem a tad ‘flash in the pan’.

Then Terrance comments with such profundity.
Well done mate.

I can see that you’ve studied the code of ‘Bushido’ and its influence on the thinking of the Japanese and their politics during and after the time of the Meiji Emperor.
A proud people arbitrarily stripped of their customary status within Japan had to vent their spleen somehow.
That ‘ somehow’ became history – the relationships that developed between Japan as a rapidly emerging Pacific power and those nations wanting to exploit Eastern Asia.

Much has been said about the Japanese admiring and copying that other island Nation, the British.

Forget admiring and copying.
The Japanese became what they were for the same reason as the brits – and a large part of that was their common enemy, the USA.
And as it happened Japan was there in East Asia and pulled her weight doing her damnedest to stabilise her domain politically and economically.

Her reward was the concentrated attention of the USA and the sort of interference and skulduggery the seppos are too weak to pull with China these days.

Japan had essentially two choices – either to kow-tow to the USA and consequently become a client state of about the same status as the Phillipines or engage in war.

The decision was made to engage in war based upon the reasoning that Britain and the other European powers would be finished as colonial powers in Asia and the Pacific.

The Japanese should be applauded for making such a pragmatic but risky decision.
The tiny wars South East Asia has had to endure post 1945 are nothing compared to what would have happened had not Japan done the right thing when she had the opportunity.

Comment from Grant
Time June 19, 2011 at 11:47 pm

The racism, ethnocentrism and imperialism travelled in both directions. It is telling that mainland China suffered the highest number of civilian deaths of any country in WW2. I wonder how many people really comprehend the sheer, appalling scale of the atrocities committed by the Japanese oligarchy in 1895-1945. “It may be pointless to try to establish which World War Two Axis aggressor, Germany or Japan, was the more brutal to the peoples it victimised. The Germans killed six million Jews and 20 million Russians [i.e. Soviet citizens]; the Japanese slaughtered as many as 30 million Filipinos, Malays, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indonesians and Burmese, at least 23 million of them ethnic Chinese. Both nations looted the countries they conquered on a monumental scale, though Japan plundered more, over a longer period, than the Nazis. Both conquerors enslaved millions and exploited them as forced labourers—and, in the case of the Japanese, as [forced] prostitutes for front-line troops. If you were a Nazi prisoner of war from Britain, America, Australia, New Zealand or Canada (but not Russia) you faced a 4% chance of not surviving the war; [by comparison] the death rate for Allied POWs held by the Japanese was nearly 30%.” (Chalmers Johnson)

Number of Chinese POWs returned form Japan after the war:

Comment from John
Time July 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Tom O’Lincoln responds:

1. In response to Terrance I would add that the system of empires gave rise to much of the racism. If you are going to seize entire countries and kick the inhabitants around, you need an ideology that says they are inferior to you.

2. Arthur writes: “The Japanese should be applauded for making such a pragmatic but risky decision…” I want to make clear I do not applaud Japanese imperialism for anything.

3. On mass killings Grant is probably right on the facts, not that we have any way of really knowing how many people died in, say, China. My argument is not about who was worse, it’s about whether the behaviour of the West was such that we should blithely follow similar leaders into today’s wars.