Hiroshima Manga

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno (hardback, 104pp, $14.95)
Cover of: Town of Evening CalmThis manga book contains three interlinked stories about the survivors of an ordinary Japanese Hiroshima family, from 1945 to the present day. The stories cover three generations. The hibakusha, or bomb survivors, suffered both from radiation sickness and prejudice from those not exposed. I remember that when I was young, the Hiroshima victims were much discussed, but with the passage of time and mortality (the youngest first-generation hibakusha now being at least 66 years old) they have been forgotten.
This book, a charming if bitter-sweet approach to its subject, is a timely reminder. In the first story, in 1955 a dying hibakusha says “I wonder if the people who dropped the bomb are pleased with themselves – ‘Yes! Got another one!’ ”
The text is thought-provoking, while the art charmingly brings to life its homely characters.
If you want the military historian view of what led to this, you could do worse than read “Sealing Their Fate- Twenty-two days that decided the Second World War” by David Downing.

Lancaster bomber

Lancaster by Leo McKinstry, 592pp
a long book which has enough space to get into everything to do with the Lancaster bomber, from its manufacture, to the heroics of the aircrew, to the still-controversial area bombing of German cities. Certainly Arthur Harris was determined to area bomb all German cities as thoroughly as he could manage, but at the time almost everybody agreed with him. Continue reading “Lancaster bomber”

Really Old Anime – Books

I forgot about printed sources when writing the previous post.
If you are interested in anime movies and OVAs from 1983-1995 then “The Anime Movie Guide” by Helen McCarthy (Titan,1996) is just what you need. There’s also “500 Essential Anime Movies – The Ultimate Guide” by Helen McCarthy [2008] (not seen).

The Anime Encyclopedia by Clements & McCarthy is a larger work (pub.2001, 550pp) which claims to cover Japanese animation since 1917.  Hovever its coverage of prewar anime is slight; of the first 30 titles in the AniDB list, it namechecks six and gives detail on none.  It does review the famous propoganda movie “Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors” (1945) and its 1943 prequel, but almost all other reviews are post-1960.  There’s a later edition (2006, 896pp) (not seen) which reportedly has “added quite a bit of material on prewar and wartime anime.”

Tokyo Year Zero

Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace (355pp)

A cracking good novel by Peace, set in 1946 Tokyo. It’s part historical novel, part crime story, and strikingly original. The main character is a police inspector, Detective Inspector Minami (or at least that’s what he says his name is), is one of the Tokyo police force’s finest, but like the rest of the  defeated Japanese, hungry, ill-paid, ill-housed, and flea-bitten. Minami is given the task, with his subordinates, of investigating the murder of a girl whose body has been found in a park.  This means working from their office without a break for twenty days or until the case is closed.  Minami finds that the case is linked to others, and to another case a year ago. Meanwhile the police force is being purged of unsuitable elements by the Public Safety Division, a branch of SCAP, i.e. the Victors.

Against a background of occupation, racketeering, prostitution, scavenging, and nasty rapes and murders, the police find a suspect. Serious violence breaks out between immigrant gangs and Japanese racketeers. Meanwhile Minami finds himself in trouble.

The novel, clearly well researched, vividly recreates the unpleasantness of survival in a defeated Japan, and explores the life and work of the immediate post-war police, which isn’t a common setting for fiction.


Winter reading

Over the winter I have been reading several books related to Germany and World War 2.
The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940 1945 by J Friedrich. This is about the destruction of German cities by aerial bombing, and from a German point of view. It reveals quite a number of facts that make uncomfortable reading today. The destruction by the end of the war was remarkably complete, with no German city or town of any size escaping destruction, and in most cases suffering the destruction of something like 75% of the buildings. Many towns and cities were so shattered that they had almost ceased to exist. Civilian casualties were correspondingly high. The author describes the suffering of the bombed population, and rather pointedly, town by town, describes the fine or historic buildings that existed pre-war and were destroyed in the bombing. There was little pretence at precision bombing of military targets; at first, area bombing was all that was possible, and when it proved singularly destructive, area fire-bombing was refined, and if the primary target was masked by bad weather, a secondary target of no military importance would do, or failing that, anything German.

The cost to the attacking airforces in men and material was also high. And for what? The fire-bombing was designed to break civilian morale, and in this it signally failed, just as it failed in Britain.  In the latter, post-Normandy phase of the war, when the bomber fleets went increasingly unchallenged, the raids were supposed to encourage the German troops and civilians to surrender, but, as the author points out, they lived in a totalitarian state, and it is very difficult to surrender to an air force…

(No wonder the British and American governments have been unwilling to condemn the recent Israeli bombing of Gaza in forthright terms.)

After the Reich by Giles MacDonogh. This is a massive 600-page book about what happened in the German territories after the end of the war in Europe. The dying didn’t stop in May 1945, when Germany surrendered, and things didn’t start to get better till around 1948.

3.6 million homes had been destroyed, leaving 7.5 million homeless. As many as 16.5 million Germans were to be driven from their homes, and some two and a quarter million would die during the expulsions from the south and east. The victorious Russians seized eastern territories from Poland, and gave to the Poles large tracts of eastern Germany, lands such as East Prussia that lie now deep within 21th century Poland. The nine million Germans living here were driven out of their homes, beaten, robbed and starved. Tens of thousands of those trying to flee died in refugee ships sunk by the Russian forces in the Baltic. Others died when trying to escape across the sea-ice. Others died of starvation while waiting for permission to travel westwards. It was a similar picture in the German-speaking parts of Czechoslovakia.  The ethnic Germans were forced to flee to Germany, but not before the victorious Czechs had rounded them up into unofficial concentration camps, where they were beaten up, robbed, starved and sometimes killed.

In the Soviet-held territories, Russian soldiers raped and robbed at will, and in the French sectors the French colonial troops were equally energetic rapists. Everywhere, mobs of hungry and homeless former prisoners and slave workers took revenge against the Germans. The victorious Allies were slow to take control and restore order, and were more interested in apportioning blame and sorting out the more guilty from the less guilty in a wide-sweeping “de-Nazification” process.  The prevailing feeling was that the German people as a whole deserved to be punished, and as is well known a number of prominent Nazis were tried and sentenced at Nuremburg. In the West, the Allied troops were given orders forbidding “fraternisation”. In the Soviet sector, rape and looting were tolerated at the highest  level, right up to the Kremlin. Soviet troops stole anything that took their fancy, being particularly attracted to watches, gramophones and bicycles. Much German factory machinery was removed, particularly in the Soviet sector.

Meanwhile the Germans starved and shivered among the rubble. In any case, with the most fertile farmlands under Soviet occupation, there wasn’t enough food in Europe to feed them. Mostly, it was not the criminals who were raped, starved, tortured or bludgeoned to death, but women, children and old men.  And despite the trials, quite a number of nasty Nazi war criminals escaped any punishment.

A striking feature of the book is the personal stories of individual Germans caught up in the aftermath of the war. Collectively, they paid a terrible price for having lived in Hitler’s Reich.

Reading the whole 600 pages, and the accounts of what happened to individual Germans, one cannot help but feel that this is a second holocaust that has been largely unknown to history, and that if it hadn’t been for two events: (1) the war and (2) the Jewish Holocaust, the fate of the German populations would have been the cause of some international outcry. As it was, they paid a terrible price for living in Hitler’s Reich.

Also received:

World War Two BEHIND CLOSED DOORS by Laurence Rees.  This book accompanies a six-part BBC documentary series.  This is a well-written and revealing book about the Allied leaders’ dealings with the Soviet leader, Stalin.  British readers may recollect that the trigger for Britain declaring war on Germany was the German invasion of Poland.  A few days earlier the Germans and the Soviets, formerly ideological enemies, had concluded a treaty of convenience. Rees explains the reasons why they did this. There had been feelers from the West about a possible treaty with the Soviet Union, but Stalin saw little point in making a treaty with unsympathetic nations. And two weeks after the Germans invaded Poland,  the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Their occupation had all the usual features of Soviet rule: terror, the pretence of coming to liberate, the destruction of the monied and educated classes, arbitrary arrests, mass murder, deportations, pillage, and the devaluing of the Polish zloty.

So did we declare war on the Soviet Union in defence of Poland? No we didn’t, because Britain had little enthusiasm for a war with the Soviet Union. There was also a secret treaty with the Poles that limited Britain’s obligation to defending them against attack from Germany.  And did the conclusuion of WW2 leave Poland at liberty? No it didn’t; in common with the rest of Eastern Europe, the Poles endured another four decades of tyranny.

In 1941, however, Hitler found it expedient to break his treaty and mount a blitzkreig invasion of the Soviet nion. Stalin ignored warnings that an invasion was imminent, but later stalled the Nazi advance with his characteristic determination and brutality.

Rees criticises Churchill and Roosevelt for their poor handling of meetings with the Soviet leader. Stalin made demands for an immediate second front in Europe, and for massive shipments of war supplies, niether of which Britain could readily accomplish.

In the Ruins of the Reich – Douglas Botting. An earlier work, one of the sources mentioned in “After the Reich.”

A Strange Enemy People – Germans under the British 1945-50 by Patricia Meehan. An earlier work, one of the sources mentioned in “After the Reich”.

Postwar – a history of Europe since 1945 by Tony Judt. Massive 900-page volume giving the political, social and economic history of Europe from 1945-2005. ‘A masterpiece of schloarship’.

Japanese war record

Slaughter at Sea by Mark Felton

Another book in my reading from the war section of the local library. This book is sub-titled “The Story of Japan’s Naval War Crimes.” The Japanese Imperial Navy (IJN) had poor relations with the Imperial Army. Consequently, the Navy gave all its recruits basic military training and had its own ship-borne soldiers who were frequently deployed onshore. The Navy was often given the task of administering captured islands and territories. As this book explains, this gave the IJN the opportunity to commit many land-based atrocities.

Clearly, the rape of Nanking (mentioned in reviews below) was not an isolated lapse, but symptomatic of a sinister general attitude towards anyone who fell under their power. In the territories over-run by the Japanese during World War 2, it was the norm for both military personnel and civilians, both white and non-white, to be ill-treated, robbed, and frequently murdered. This book details many incidents in which groups of captives were ill-treated and then murdered.

Most chilling is the revelation that it was official IJN policy, expressed in orders, that the crews of ships sunk by the IJN should be killed. In many cases, lifeboats were machine-gunned or rammed after the captain had been taken aboard the attacking vessel. American and British prisoners of war got no better treatment. If not murdered immediately, they would suffer ill-treatment while being interrogated and then transferred to “hell ships” taking them to slave labour elsewhere in the Japanese empire. Many were murdered on the Pacific islands after being held captive for some time. Others perished in several incidents where un-marked prison ships were torpedoed by Allied forces.

Allied naval sailors and airmen were often murdered in revenge for reverses, or even attacks, suffered by Japanese forces.

For the most part, the enlisted men and junior officers appeared to enjoy having the power to maltreat and kill prisoners, and had no problem at all in following orders to kill prisoners. In a very rare case, one Commander Junsuke Mii protested vigorously to several senior officers, including his Vice Admiral, about orders to “dispose” of a group of prisoners from a sunken ship. Mii sent ashore double the number he was ordered to, saving some thirty people. The rest of the captives were murdered and dumped at sea, the actual killing being done by junior officers and enlisted men using swords. Nothing happened to Mii, who was later promoted to Captain.

And why did the Japanese behave like this? Hard to say, but almost to a man they held the lives of non-Japanese to be of no account. And Japanese politicians can still be heard dismissing these war crimes today.

I found this book quite an eye-opener. It comes complete with notes, references, and brief accounts of war crime trials. Japan-ophiles will find this book uncomfortable reading, but it is part of a war record that, in common with the Jewish Holocaust, should not be brushed out of history.

Some books

Some recent reading:

“The Rape of Europa” by Lynn H Nicholas

You are probably aware that during the Second World War the Nazis stole a few paintings. This lengthy but very readable book details the full extent of the Nazi art looting. They started by seizing and suppressing or selling off what they considered “degenerate” (i.e. modern) art. Then when war was declared and they started to invade other countries, they had organisations set up to seize interesting art for the Fuhrer’s personal collection, for the new German state collection, and for the collection of Hermann Goering. Sellers were often forced to sell at unfavourable prices, and the property of Jews was often simply stolen. The quantities involved were astonishing, running into museums full, trainloads, salt mines full, over a million art items in all.
Meanwhile, national collections were being packed up all over the UK and Europe and shifted to safer accommodation.

When the Nazis were being defeated, the Allies put the process into reverse, setting up their own art protection and recovery teams, who followed closely behind the armies, trying to secure and protect what they could.

Many well-known works had an eventful and hazardous time during WW2, and an unquantified number of art items disappeared forever amongst the ruins. A trickle is still appearing today, as the descendants of those who took works into “safekeeping” go public.

A fascinating and eye-opening book, well worth reading.

“Tokyo” by Mo Hayder.

The Good German of Nanking – the dairies of John Rabe, edited by Erwin Wickert

Two books concerned with the notorious “Rape of Nanking” by the Japanese forces in 1937-38.

The first is a fictional thriller, in which the socially dysfunctional heroine, Grey, has been obsessed since childhood with the tale that a movie film record exists of some of the Nanking atrocities. She travels to Tokyo to interview an aged Chinese survivor of the massacre. She becomes convinced that this man has the film. While trying to persuade him to show her the film, she also gets involves with a nasty Yakuza gangster. The Nanking atrocities as depicted in the novel are also very nasty.

Over to the non-fictional diaries of John Rabe, who was a German businessman who worked in Nanking, running the Siemens office there. When the Japanese invaded, he felt obliged to stay on to protect his firm’s interests, and protect the Siemens Chinese staff and their dependants as best he could. He was also involved, with other foreigners, in setting up a “Safety Zone which they hoped would protect the Chinese civilians from the Japanese soldiers, not to mention the disorderly retreating Chinese troops. He also kept a diary.

One should recollect that at the time Germany and Japan were allies, so there is every reason to accept Rabe’s account as accurate. The Japanese troops killed all Chinese soldiers they could find, and also Chinese men whom they suspected of being soldiers, and broke into buildings looking for women to rape, killing any Chinese who resisted. They looted and destroyed throughout the city, and killed all livestock in the surrounding countryside, and embarked on a systematic looting and arson that eventually left much of the city in ashes. The Chinese were killed for resisting the ravages of the disorderly Japanese troops, or for no reason at all. In total, the number who died is thought to run to around a quarter of a million, though at the time nobody was counting the dead. Rabe’s efforts, though continually frustrated by Japanese indifference, are thought to have saved a similar number.

Horror Panegyric

Yes, I had to look it up too… Panegyric, a eulogy, panegyrise, to praise highly.

Horror Panegyric by Keith Seward, published by Savoy Books. 125pp.

This short volume is an introduction to the three “Lord Horror” novels Lord Horror (1989), Motherfuckers, the Auschwitz of Oz (1996) and Baptised in the Blood of Millions (2000), also published by Savoy. An essay by Seward introduces the books, and is followed by lengthy excerpts from “Lord Horror” and “Motherfuckers”

Of the three, Lord Horror is mainly known for its un-availability, the result of a vigorous campaign of persecution by the Manchester police (the few extant copies are worth several hundred pounds each), while Motherfuckers was available via Amazon for a time. As you may surmise from the titles, they are not everybody’s cup of tea. The author, David Britton, chose to savage anti-Semitism by means of a brutal and gory satire that was too much like its object of attack for some to see the difference. Mimicking the homophobic rants of the then Manchester chief of police was not a prudent move either. Britton was sent to Strangeways jail for four months.

In the books “Lord Horror” is a fantastic character inspired by William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw, of wartime infamy. The principals of the second book are Meng and Ecker, twins subjected to “scientific” experiments by Josef Mengele. They’re not nice – Ecker is rational but violent and Meng is a mutant with a huge cock and tits. There’s also a talking Volkswagen car called Herbie Schopenhauer. Auschwitz meets Oz.
Seward hails Motherfuckers as a masterpiece, and argues his case well. The reader can make up his (or her) own mind on reading the excerpts that follow at the end of “Horror Panegyric”. I used to find the three novels just too nasty to read, but after reading the panegyric and the excerpts I am inclined more to think that Seward has a point. He suggests that, just as it was said that it was impossible to write poetry after Auschwitz, a response to Auschwitz is to write in a deliberately barbaric way. The provocativeness of the books is perhaps a measure of their power and importance. Despite their extreme content, the books clearly have not provoked any rioting in the streets (only among police, judges and censors).
In any case, if you are interested in strong, cutting-edge writing, or radical literature, you owe it to yourself to obtain first the Panegyric and then Motherfuckers, and check it out for yourself.

Keith Seward lives in New York.