Are the Japanese ‘Barbarians’?
Nobody – not even the Japanese Government – denies the inhumanity of ruthless air war on defenceless civilians such as the Japanese are waging in China and Franco’s airmen in Spain. The almost universal protests against the former (but not such widespread protests in the case of Spain) are, therefore, natural. Nevertheless, they conceal a good deal of muddled thinking. In the first place, the ghastly consequences of air attack do not justify indicting the Japanese people as a nation of barbarians. The double standard of conduct which can abhor private murder but glorify the mass slaughter of “the enemy” is not a peculiarity of the Japanese. It is a characteristic of all the capitalist powers and is deliberately fostered by governments, newspapers and churches in every land. Moreover, it is a feature of all military training and action, but especially of aerial warfare, that the individual who fires the shell or directs the blockade or drops the bomb does not see and is discouraged from contemplating the results of what he does. All soldiers, sailors and airmen of all countries are potential baby-killers, slaughterers of civilians, perpetrators of Guernica or Lusitania massacres – but they are trained not to regard their highly-skilled and often dangerous activities in that light.
When, therefore, Bishop Boutflower asks (Times, October 11th, 1937), before joining in the ; protests against Japan, for assurances that aerial warfare can be anything else than the slaughter of civilians and that “our own nation would forgo the use of counter-attack by air on enemy territory where any like risk (to civilians) was entailed,” he puts questions the British Government will have difficulty in answering. In short, for what purpose are the British bombing fleets being built if not to turn some European Shanghai into a shambles? And when the Labour Party demands the boycott of the Japanese because they bomb civilians, how do they square this with their endorsement of British rearmament? Instead of boycotting the British ruling class, they are prepared to enter into an unholy pact with them in the event of war.
The Labour Party themselves have times without number denounced Mr. Baldwin’s Government for refusing to agree to the outlawry of air bombing, and the Japanese militarists are able to quote a similar refusal in 1923 in their defence now. Writing to The Times (October 6th, 1937) a number of Japanese notabilities say:
“We would add a word on air bombing. Japan always disliked and reprobated this new method of attack, precisely on account of its inevitable danger to civilians. She pressed earnestly for its entire abolition on the occasion of the official commission of jurists assembled at The Hague in 1923, when her proposals failed to be adopted before French and British opposition.”
We need not accept their statement as to the motive of the Japanese Government in proposing the abolition of air bombing, but we are faced with the fact that the British ruling class are in no position to protest. Have we not the late Lord Thomson’s description of the appalling destruction of life when the British Air Force bombed natives in Transjordan during the first Labour Government’s term of office?
War cannot be humanised. Its brutalities will cease only when capitalism, which is the cause of wars, has been brought to an end. That demands action by the international working class, the first step towards which is that the workers in each country should accept the existence of the class struggle as the basis of their organisation and line up in opposition to their own ruling class and its government. The excuse for deserting internationalism being used at present by the British Labour Party is that the working-class movement has ceased to exist in the dictatorship countries. While this is largely true as to facts, it overlooks the point that loyalty to internationalism by the workers in the democratic countries is needed to inspire the oppressed workers in Germany, Italy and elsewhere to renewed efforts. Actually, despite the dangers and difficulties, the workers under dictatorship are doing their part, as the continuing, arrests and trials in Italy and Germany prove. One case of many is reported from the small industrial town of Empoli, 25 miles from Florence, where the police recently arrested 130 persons for illegal organisation. One of their activities was collecting money to help the Spanish workers (Manchester Guardian, October 14th, 1937).
The same issue of the Manchester Guardian reports from Japan that the combined youth Organisations, with eight million members, have divided into two equal groups, one of which has so far steadfastly refused to endorse the war on China.
Only by fierce pressure has the Government induced the Social Mass Party to vote for the emergency war budget. The party’s defence for so doing is that “they voted virtually with bayonets at their backs.”
When the ruling class talk war it is more than ever necessary for the workers in this country to remember that the workers in other countries have as little direct responsibility for their callous ruling class and bloody-minded military castes as we have for ours.