Rich country, strong army

For more than 300 years, Japan had closed itself off from abroad when, in 1854, a Us fleet under the command of Commodore Matthew C. Perry forcibly ended the island kingdom’s self-imposed isolation and opened the country to foreign trade. This marked the beginning of the end of the feudal system of Tokugawa rule, which was shaken by a far superior, new, rising imperialist power in the Pacific. In the end, however, the feudal order collapsed due to domestic political conflicts: peasant uprisings, crop failures, the shrinking of the population through increased tribute payments, and a rigid social system with rigid etiquette prompted reform-oriented young samurai (warrior nobles) from various feudal areas of the country to acquire its technological knowledge in order to counter the threat from the West, in order to possibly apply it to it at a later date. At the same time, instead of the military rulers of the House of Tokugawa, they wanted to restore imperial power and thus once again guarantee the central political position of the Tenno (Emperor). The conflicts lasted only briefly when, from 1868, a regent took over with Emperor Mutsuhito (1852–1912), who placed his era under the motto Meiji. Instead of Kyoto, the old Edo became the new capital of Tokyo.

Rich Country, strong Army

What followed was an unprecedentedly rapid and profound change in economics, politics, and technology. Initially, contacts were made with foreign countries in order to find what was best suited to the transformation of the state at home. In this process of Japanese filtration of Western modernity, it was logical that the country also and precisely systematically sought the advice and expertise of foreigners.

Among the approximately 3,000 foreign experts in Japan around 1890 were German experts in universities and medical schools, Us-American experts in agriculture, postal transport and diplomacy, British for railways and the navy, French for warfare and legal matters, and finally Italian experts in Western art. This carefully chosen selection reflected, on the one hand, the overall Japanese assessment of the situation in the West at that time. On the other hand, this also showed, as the Japanese political scientist Maruyama Masao put it, the “devil circle of ‘external’ universalism and ‘inner’-ground-thinking” in which the country was trapped. For Japan, European modernity first and foremost involved machines and techniques. Their further development brought him such industrialization successes that the island state later defeated not only China, but also Russia militarily and established itself in East Asia as a new hegemonic power.

“Rich country, strong army”

The construction of the empire on an industrial basis, as the policy in Tokyo was officially called, had become possible because the added value created in agriculture was specifically transferred to the industrial sector. With taxpayers' money, which the state demanded as a land tax to farmers and tenants, commercial houses and industrial enterprises were founded under state control.

First of all, the light industry company was concerned with the manufacture of fibres, textiles and clothing. But the state soon invested in strategic areas that included shipbuilding, the steel, heavy and defense industries. Freedom of trade was guaranteed as well as the free choice of occupation. In contrast to Europe, the bearers of this industrialization process were not an enlightened-modern bourgeois entrepreneurial class, which gradually secured its economic power through a bourgeois-democratic revolution, but a feudal large landowner class and rich merchants devoted to the emperor.

By 1890, the new system of domination was so consolidated that even a constitution de jure established the unrestricted power of the emperor as a central state authority par excellence, and the emperor could rely on a standing army with general conscription. “The emperor is holy and inviolable,” the constitution said. This legitimized him as a direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu with unlimited power. As the sovereign of the country, the Tenno was at the head of the army and navy, as well as the executive and legislative branches. The slogan “Reich Land, Strong Army” revealed how outstanding the military’s position would be in the future.

Unlike the West, for example, the army has traditionally held political leadership and enjoyed a high reputation among Japanese. She was not a government commander or controlled by a parliament. This had very limited influence in terms of the budget of the armed forces. According to the Japanese constitution, the Emperor commanded the army and navy, while military control in peacetime was the responsibility of the Minister of War and The Navy and the respective Chiefs of Staff, a position that assured them of a high degree of independence. Both ministers were members of the Cabinet, but they could, if they felt it necessary, present them directly to the Emperor at any time past the Prime Minister. In addition, they were able to force the resignation of the prime minister and the formation of a new government at the same time with a resignation. Because according to the constitution, no functioning cabinet could exist without a minister of war and a naval minister. Since these were usually proposed by the respective General Staff or recruited from its ranks, they were not only able to keep any civilian opposition at bay, but could in fact decide on questions of war and peace.

Victory against China and Russia

In the first armed conflict of interest, the Japanese armed forces fought against the Empire of China in 1894/95. The primary focus was on permanent supremacy on the Korean Peninsula. Korea has long been a tribute to the Chinese emperor, and its own royal family has been weakened by internal revolts and intrigues. At the same time (1894), the great Tonghak (“Eastern Learning”) uprising arose from a rapidly escalating crisis of disintegration of the Yi dynasty, which had been in power since 1392, unable to meet the needs of a modernization of state and society, which forced the economic-industrial development in the region and the intrusion of foreign influences, especially Western ones.

It is true that the Korean ruling house succeeded in crushing the Tonghak Uprising, first with the help of Chinese troops, and later by Japanese and pro-Japanese contingents. But these developments ultimately benefited the highly superior Japanese, who were highly superior in terms of weapons technology, while Beijing permanently lost its influence on the Korean peninsula and the royal family there became Tokyo’s puppet.

Due to its geographical location, Korea was a hinge between the East Asian mainland and insular Japan. And those who dominated it had gained not only (military) strategic advantages, but also control over the rich mineral resources in the north as well as over high-yield rice-growing areas in the southern part of the country. Japan won the arms attack against China and also received the island of Formosa (Taiwan) as spoils of war.

Rich Country, strong Army

The Japanese economy experienced a boom period around 1900. By 1905, the process of concentrating and centralizing capital into oligopolies had progressed so far that almost all of the country’s major banks, industrial enterprises, and transportation were owned by only half a dozen state-protected large families – including Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Satsume, and Okura. A large number of small and medium-sized suppliers were extremely dependent on these companies. The armed forces, in turn, benefited from the further development of heavy industry. New conflicts of interest in Korea and Manchuria, this time between Russia and Japan, led to the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05, from which Tokyo’s army and navy emerged victorious.

Korea was also the bone of contention in this war. It was about permanent control on the peninsula. Some envoys of the weak Korean royal family had sought to win over Tsarist Russia as an ally, which in turn had ambitions in the Far East, as a counterweight to Japan’s growing presence in Korea. With Japan’s victory over the Russian armed forces, and thus over a strong European country, the West first became aware that Tokyo had become a regional power in East and Northeast Asia.

“Great Justice”

When the Meiji Emperor died in July 1912, Crown Prince Yoshihito ascended the throne, who placed his term of office until the end of 1926 under the motto “Taisho” (“Great Justice”). As weak and physically frail as the new emperor, who had meningitis in his childhood, was, so turbulent and contradictory were the domestic political processes during his era. There have been shifts of power from traditionalists and oligarchic officials to democratic parties, who, despite frequent, sometimes chaotic, changes of government, interfered politically and demanded participation. The proletariat was growing, a communist party was emerging, and numerous intellectuals and artists, some of whom had lived in the USA or Europe, were equally inspired in their works by the ideas of socialism, anarchism and humanism. And freedom of the press and speech, which had never been seen before, led to the so-called Taisho democracy, although the Imperial Army, behind the scenes, purposefully and successfully expanded its political position of power and foreign policy events fueled nationalism in the country. “In the middle of the so-called period,” states the Japanese ologist Sven Saaler, “the roots of the disastrous development that Japan’s politics took in the 1930s lie.”

The First World War gave Japan a tremendous boost, as Europe’s great powers, among others, switched to war economy and neglected Asian markets. Since Japan was on the side of the entente between Great Britain and France in the years before, it inevitably competed with the German Empire. On August 23, 1914, Japan declared war on the German Reich and on November 7, the “German Protected Area Kiautschou” in the south of the Chinese peninsula of Shandong with the fortress Tsingtau was taken.

“Des Deutsche Abrechnung” had previously tinted a German propaganda postcard from the same year, which adorned a rhyme in which it went into the matter in a derb-racist manner: Approach, approach, you little Jap!!! With German fists swiping and swooning – one behind the ear, but not too short!!! You’re like the others here, you treacherous Mongolian animal!"

Although german-Japanese relations had become close at the end of the 19th century, and even German lawyers had been involved in the formulation of the Meiji Constitution, the bilateral relationship had deteriorated dramatically, especially under Kaiser Wilhelm II. He had repeatedly publicly invoked the “yellow danger,” the fear of a rising threat in the form of a modernized Japan in alliance with populous China, the fear of the “Asian masses” or “hordes.”

At the 1919 Versailles peace negotiations, Japan, in addition to Tsingtau, was also granted the other German colonies in the Pacific Ocean north of the equator – the Mariana, Marshall and Caroline Islands (except Guam) – as the trust mandate of the League of Nations. But the simultaneous request to tackle international racial discrimination at Versailles failed. A decisive factor in the interwar years, to steer an increasingly chauvinistic course in Tokyo.

Military expansion

With the signing of the Washington Fleet Treaty in 1922, the status quo in the Pacific was established, which basically meant recognizing China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, banning the construction of additional fortifications on some Pacific islands, and restricting ship production. But by the beginning of the 1930s, the situation had changed fundamentally. The global economic crisis did not spare Japan either. Unemployment in the city and land was rampant, and the villages fermented, as many farmers had descended overnight into destitful tenants. Growing poverty and discontent provided a breeding ground for fascist and chauvinist forces to loudly propagate their goals. Water on the mills of these forces was the driving force behind the decision in the United States to stop letting Japanese immigrants into the country from 1924.

In 1931, China succeeded in regaining some of its sovereignty lost to Japan in Manchuria, which caused concern in the island nation, especially in the army. After all, the area was not only rich in natural resources (coal and gas resources), but also of strategic importance with regard to Russia. Without consulting the politically responsible forces in Tokyo, the Japanese Kwantung Army, stationed in Manchuria, struck on its own and occupied several major cities in the region in September 1931. Moreover, this military unit brought the rest of Manchuria under its control, installed a puppet regime of the vassal state “Manchukuo” there, and prepared itself for further advance into the neighboring provinces of China. When this met with displeasure and rejection in the League of Nations, Tokyo ignored the criticism and left the international community in 1933.

The events in Manchuria marked a turning point in Japanese politics. From then on, the army was again the dominant force in politics, as it did not encounter any significant opposition both inside and outside the cabinet. In fact, the party system also became ineffective when, in mid-May 1932, young naval officers terrorized Tokyo for several hours and assassinated Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi. What followed was the violation of two important international commitments, namely not to upgrade the navy further and to respect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In 1935, a movement against fascism and militarism called for a return to parliamentary governance. Liberal forces in Diet, the parliament, publicly attacked the Minister of War, a signal for extremists within the army, to push for revenge. At the end of February 1936, there was an open military revolt against the government, in which about 1,500 soldiers took part. A few days later, an anti-army government took over the sceptre, the mutineers got away with it, and from then on, military-strategic calculations determined Tokyo’s politics.

Rich Country, strong Army

In four programmatic guidelines, the Japanese government decided to enable the country to become the undisputed hegemonic power in Asia, in the form of strengthening the heavy and armament surge industries; by integrating Manchuria into the Japanese war economy; through a “hard position” or the uncompromising assertion of Japanese interests on the Asian continent and finally by securing strategic raw materials to make the country self-sufficient. The resources needed for self-sufficiency were mainly found in insular and continental Southeast Asia, primarily East India (Indonesia) and Malaya, as well as Indochina.

This program, designed by the army leadership, defined Tokyo politics since the mid-1930s. The term “hard position” was an euphemistic term for establishing itself permanently in China, of salyting the sources of raw materials in Southeast Asia, and of keeping the Soviet Union at bay. The latter included close cooperation or an alliance with Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, which was realized by the signing of the Anti-Comintern Pact at the end of November 1936, which was explicitly directed against the USSR.

As in the case of Manchuria, the Japanese army used an incident near Beijing in July 1937 as an opportunity to invade northern China. The United States and the United Kingdom responded with initial sanctions, halting the export of aircraft, aircraft equipment and, later, the export of arms, ammunition, aluminum, iron and oil to Japan. In addition, Washington and London provided loans to the Chinese government, which had moved its headquarters to Chungking after the Japanese invasion of Nanking (1937/38).

War and Command Economy

Within a decade, from 1930 to 1940, Japan’s industrial production grew five-fold. During the same period, annual steel production had increased from an initial 1.8 to 6.8 million tonnes, and the production of automobiles and aircraft increased from 500 and 400 in 1930 to 48,000 and 5,000 in 1940, respectively. Ship production rose just as rapidly – from a tonnage for merchant ships from 92,093 (1931) to over 405,195 in 1937. Military spending also grew disproportionately. Measured against Japan’s total budget, they amounted to just under 30 percent in 1931, peaking in 1938 (one year after the large-scale invasion of China) at 75.4 percent, and then settled at at least two-thirds. At the same time, Japan dramatically increased its armed forces. From 1936 to 1941 alone, the number of conscripts and divisional strength doubled from 24 to 50, of which 27 divisions were stationed in China, 12 in China-separated Manchuria, and the rest on the Korean Peninsula. The number of soldiers ready to deploy soon exceeded the six million mark. In 1941, Japan had a navy in the Pacific that was stronger than the Us. and British-made warins in the region.

Under the command of the military, the economy had been transformed into a war economy, doing everything possible to create sufficient reserves of strategically important raw materials, substantially sourced from China and Korea, as well as from Dutch India and Indochina. In August 1940, the Vichy regime in France had to agree to Japan’s demand that colonial power airfields and naval bases in Indochina be used, from which Japan wanted to stop the supply of Chiang Kai-chek and the Chinese government in Chungking, which was still running on the Burma Strait.

Until the summer of 1941, Indochina, together with its important resources (rubber, tin, coal, manganese, bauxite and nickel), had been left to Japan without any significant resistance, where its troops could henceforth switch and operate at will. The more the US and The United Kingdom stepped up their pressure on Japan to withdraw from China and Indochina, the more vehemently Tokyo accused them of trying to bring the country to its knees with its embargo and sanctions policies.

“Reviving Pan-Asianism”

With a view to the regions of East and Southeast Asia, Japan reactivated and summoned its pan-Asian vision – this time in the form of the “Greater East Asian Common Prosperity Sphere” (GOGW), which was nourished by the religious-ideological construct of the state shinto (“Way of the Gods”). Thus, there was no dividing line between mythically transfigured and real history: the greatness of one’s own nation was invoked as well as the unshakeable belief in an extended family that had existed for human thought – led by a tenno with a divine aura, ancestor of an uninterrupted ruling dynasty of rulers.

The Tokyo government officially announced its concept of GOGW at a press conference held on 1 August 1940 by foreign minister Matsuoka Yosuke. According to Matsuoka, Japan’s foreign policy could be guided by the idea of building the Greater East Asian common sphere of prosperity with Japan, Korea, Manchuria and China as its core.

The GOGW aimed internally at the transformation of state, society, politics and economy and at the same time under the slogan “Asia the Asians” should inspire the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle of numerous countries in the Region (for more details see: Werning 2019). Japan saw its own colonial possessions as a precondition for gaining international prestige and even advancing into the Phalanx of “First-Class countries” (ittô koku). By a series of political measures on the part of the West, however, Tokyo’s diplomats felt constrained and provocatively humiliated. In 1919, at the Versailles Peace Conference, Japan’s request to include a clause on racial equality in the rules of the league of Nations was brusquely rejected. When the Washington Naval conference in 1921/22 sought to set the maximum limit for warships in naval contracts, Tokyo felt disadvantaged; a 5:5:3 ratio was established for the United States, Great Britain and Japan.

In order to increase the acceptance of the GOGW construct among neighboring countries, Tokyo promoted as one of its central goals to assist them in the struggle for independence and self-determination, whereby “the Japanese Empire considered itself the center and pioneer of eastern morality and cultural reconstruction, the light of Asia, protector of Asia and leader of Asia.”

But as had been the case since 1910, when Korea was annexed as a colony by Japan after five years of protectorate status, the population in the other occupied territories now had to experience first-hand how little the reality of the new Japanese order had in common with the benevolent ideals of the GOGW. The local governments set up by Japan in numerous countries in the Region were puppet regimes – totally dependent on the grace of Tokyo and alienated from their own people. In those countries, the new colonial rulers showed contempt for local customs, Customs, and beliefs, and instead sought a comprehensive “Japanization.” As a result, hundreds of thousands in the countries of East and Southeast Asia were tortured and executed as resistance fighters or died as forced labourers, as in the construction of the Thailand - Burma Railway. The GOGW soon turned out to be at least as repressive as the regimes of the Western colonial powers.

Kellerkind Korea

“In 1930, I was born in the Korean village Seonchon as a Japanese citizen. My parents gave me the name Choi Changwha, but for the Japanese, who had made our country a colony and occupied it since 1910, I was called Sai Shoka. This was more than just a name change; it was in line with the occupying power’s plan to erase the ethnic and cultural identity of Koreans and Koreans and turn them into Japanese. Even before the war, we in our own country were forced to worship the Tenno, the Japanese emperor, in front of the Shinto shrine, the symbol of our oppression. Shortly before the end of the war, the Japanese military police then dragged all Koreans into secret cellars and forcibly fingerprinted them. For me, it was a kowtow to this power; I was supposed to shed my ethnic identity here.”

With these words, the Korean pastor Choi Changwha, whose family had been forcibly deported to Japan during World War II, recalled the years of his youth. Choi Changwha suffered the fate of hundreds of thousands of Koreans after Japan, the eastern neighbour on the other side of the sea of Japan, called the eastern sea by Koreans, finally incorporated the country as a colony in 1910. For Korea and its people, a martyrdom that determined their lives for 36 long years. The country’s geographical position between the giant China and Japan, which harbours great power ambitions, became a disaster.

Declared a Japanese protectorate as early as 1905, Korea had to cede its diplomatic and state rights to its overpowering neighbour. As the first Japanese governor general and de facto Supreme Ruler of Korea, Ito Hirobumi took up residence in Seoul. The ardent proponent of a Japanese Empire was instrumental in undermining the authority of the Korean royal house. As powerful and respected as Ito Hirobumi was in Japan, he was and remained hated by the Korean population. In 1909, during a stay in the Manchurian city of Harbin, he became the first prominent victim of anti-colonial Protests. Reason enough for Tokyo to deepen its mastery of Korea. The Korean King Kojong had to abdicate in favor of his even weaker son, and on August 22, 1910, the Annexation Treaty was signed. Thus Korea’s colonial status was officially sealed. Henceforth, Japanese military officers were in charge, while Japanese large companies and companies allied with the imperial court and banks were cutting off Land and people. Although an infrastructure was built in Korea-roads were built and the rail network expanded in the interest of the new colonial power. But the occupiers did not allow the construction of an independent Korean economy and industry.

First, the new colonial power carried out a comprehensive land survey program to gain an overview of the property relations. The predominantly peasant population had to report the location and size of land plots to Japanese officials within a time limit set by the colonial authorities. Most peasants did not understand this request, as they could neither read nor write. If they missed the deadline, which was the rule, they lost the Land from which their families had lived for generations. Then the colonial administration ordered to grow mainly rice and to supply the Japanese population with the bulk of the crops. Korea became Japan’s rice chamber, but poverty and famine were rampant in the country itself.

Encouraged by the 14-point declaration by US President Woodrow Wilson, who called for national self-determination of the Peoples, prominent Korean opposition members publicly demanded the restoration of their country’s national sovereignty on 1 March 1919, which was accompanied by massive street protests. The Japanese authorities registered almost 1,500 large demonstrations in 217 cities across the country, in which about two million people took part by the summer of 1919 alone, one tenth of the population of Korea at that time.

In addition, in the following years, every effort was made to freeze the collective memory of Koreans, to erase their culture and traditions – in short, to “japanize” public life in Korea in all its facets (for more details see: Werning 2018). Which also meant that not only the names had to be changed, but also the history of Korea was reinterpreted. For Japan and a Guild of Korean historians loyal to it, Korea was condemned to Stagnation and unable to ever become independent. This was a colonial penetration of brains and hearts with far-reaching consequences, according to Korean-German philosopher Choe Hyondok: “the first reason is the stagnation thesis, according to which Korean society is not able to carry out a Reform itself. The second reason is the hegemony theory that the Korean people are not able to autonomously create something. And this colonialism has also mentally colonized the people. That means: somehow we have come into the Situation of having largely lost faith in ourselves, even our self-confidence.”

This deep humiliation fed various reactions: from political Protest to military resistance to despair and internal Emigration. The poet Kim Hae-Kyoung, who had acquired the stage name Yi Sang and had already died of tuberculosis in 1937 when he was only 27 years old, processed the distortions, contradictions and breaks of his time in a literary way. Self-image is one of his poems, which the Korean Marion Eggert has translated:

Here is the death mask of some country. There is also the rumor that the death mask was stolen. This beard, a non-mature grassland of the Arctic, is aware of his despair and does not reproduce. In a pitfall where the sky has been trapped for eons, are legacy words like gravestones, secretly sunk. Then unfamiliar hand signals, foot signals pass by Your Side, safe and reserved. Then the once sublime content begins to crease in one way or another.

The impossibility of uniting subjectivity and decent existence in the colonial Situation was Yi Sang’s dominant theme and at the same time the Dilemma of his homeland. Marion Eggert: “here we are talking about the death mask of a country. This is Korea, of course. Obviously, the country is dead. Even the mask, the Image of the country, is stolen. There, the past is stolen; in addition, the poem sees a renunciation of the future. The beard, a symbol of masculinity, has not come into maturity, does not reproduce. It has lost its potency, its potential. Then there is a Testament of this Dead Nation, kept in a pitfall; I read the pitfall as an image of memory. This is both storage and prison. So I think Yi Sang’s judgment about his cultural Tradition. Unconnected, in addition to this very double-edged memory memory, are the unfamiliar sign systems of the present, these hand signals, these foot signals, which I think also allude a little to the new physical culture that had to be learned in Korea in the colonial period. So things like mass sports, gymnastics, these Gymnastics, which had to be done in factories, in schools, before the beginning of the working day, or marches, parades. All these things belong to colonial modernity. I think “hand signals, foot signals” also refer to something like this, which stand unconnected as a sign of modernity alongside Tradition, which sits in its own pitfall.”

Student soldiers as cannon fodder

In order to nourish the power of the Empire and increase Japan’s prosperity, more and more Koreans were forcibly recruited as part of the general mobilization for the war in the Pacific and against the countries of Southeast Asia. This affected a total of over four and a half million people who were mobilized in the country itself or deployed on war fronts without further ado. Among them was Chung Ki-Young. He worked in the small Seoul office of a South Korean non-governmental organization that has been researching the fates of Korean victims during World War II for years. Mr. Chung, who was over 80 years old and still very brisk with white hair, always wore an elegant brand suit with tie when I first met him a decade and a half ago. He spoke slowly, his eyes and smile radiating warmth.

Chung Ki-Young was born near the South Korean port city of Pusan, where he grew up. In 1942 he began to study east Asian history at the then Reich University in Tokyo. In early 1944, he returned to Korea to continue his studies at Seoul National University and to prepare his thesis there. However, he did not get his diploma. Chung Ki-Young’s life changed abruptly when Japanese military forces forcibly drafted him into the army on January 20, 1944. Overnight, the student had become a soldier. A fate he had to share with many other fellow students:

“We were suddenly made soldiers of the Imperial Japanese army, “he explained to me during our first conversation,” in the first week we had to undergo several vaccinations. Then we were transported south of Seoul to the city of Taegu. There was stationed “unit 80”, a Regiment to which we belonged from now on. A little later we were put on the train. The drive went north. After a few days, I saw parts of the Great Wall – we had actually arrived in China! It was only later that I learned that we had crossed Nanking before we were integrated into the 60th Division near Shanghai. As far as I could see, there were about 300 Korean student soldiers inside. Some, including myself, received six months of Officer Training.”

As a platoon leader and Officer, Chung Ki-Young was transferred to the 13th headquarters of the Japanese troops in Shanghai in June 1945. During an exit, he accidentally learned of the death of his friend Han Seong-Ju, who had sacrificed his life as a Partisan and resistance fighter against the Japanese. This, according to Mr. Chung, had deeply shocked him and made him think about his escape for the first time. His war memories did not let Chung Ki-Young rest. Even as a pensioner, he fought together with like-minded people to ensure that the former fellow sufferers were thought worthy and memorials were erected in their honour:

“Out of at least 1.6 million Korean forced laborers, the Japanese had forced 360,000 men into their Army, “Mr. Chung remarked in one of our conversations. “to my knowledge, there were about 7,000 student soldiers among these soldiers. Some time ago, even the Japanese state broadcaster NHK reported that such a fate had befallen 4,485 Koreans.“The death of his friend Han Seong-Ju depressed Chung Ki-Young to the end of his life. Every time he thought about how many of his countrymen had been executed by the Japanese and then buried like bulky garbage, he felt sad. “Their souls,” he told me during our last interview, “must finally come to rest.”

By a bright flash of light that divided the sky and a thunderbolt that shook the foundations of the Earth, Hiroshima was razed to the ground in a single instant. Where an entire city had once stood, a huge pillar of fire rose straight up to the sky. Beneath it, the Earth sank into deep darkness. Soon there was a single huge conflagration, which became more violent from moment to moment. As there was a strong storm, semi-naked and naked bodies began to move, darkly spotted and covered in blood. Formed into groups, they staggered away, like the spirits of the deceased. Apocalyptic scenes recorded in a research report on the consequences of the atomic bombings over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“This rain of destruction from the air”, as US President Harry S. Truman had called the operations of his Air Force on 6 and 9 August 1945, overnight destroyed the great power craze of the Japanese Empire and just as abruptly ended its colonial rule over numerous countries of East and Southeast Asia as well as the Pacific.