Australian perceptions of Japan: The history of a racist phobia

by Phil Griffiths • Published 8 March 2020

The last two years have seen a rising tide of anti-Japanese racism in Australia. “The Japanese”, we’re told, “are taking over Australia”, and this argument has been buttressed with statistics about the rising level of Japanese investment, especially in real estate. Anti-Japanese campaigns are very popular. Bruce Whiteside has managed to build large meetings on the Gold Coast in protest against Japanese investment there. In Melbourne in March 1990, the Rainbow Alliance organised a public meeting of over 1,000 in the South Melbourne Town Hall to protest against the proposal to build the Multi-Function Polis in Port Melbourne. The poster for the meeting centred around a racist caricature of a Japanese face. Racists such as Australians Against Further Immigration were able to propagandise at the meeting with impunity and members of the audience boasted privately that they had come because the meeting was about “kicking the Japanese out”.[1] When a decision was made to build the MFP near the Gold Coast, a protest rally was quickly organised at which the dominant politics were anti-Japanese, with people wearing T-shirts saying “Slap a Jap”.[2]

Naturally enough, most of the far right actively supports this racist shift – people like Bruce Ruxton from the Victorian RSL have been “warning” us about Japan for decades, and organisations like the ultra-right League of Rights and the fascist National Action find themselves cutting with the grain of popular prejudice. Such was always to be expected from them. The tragedy and danger in the current situation is that so many on the left and in the environment movement have not only fallen in behind the anti-Japanese agitation, but are out in front leading it – promoting images of Australia being “taken over” by the Japanese through books like The Third Wave: Australia and Asian Capitalism and through the campaign against the Multi-Function Polis. People who demonstrated against apartheid and for Land Rights, people who were arrested and vilified for opposing the war in Vietnam, are now, however unintentionally, lining up with the extreme right – people who are for apartheid, who were for “nuking” Vietnam – in promoting anti-Japanese paranoia rather than fighting it and exposing its class collaborationist and imperialist logic.

After all, if we really are all “Australians”, and if “Australia” is threatened by “Japan”, then what’s the logical conclusion? We must all make sacrifices to strengthen “our” industries against Japanese competition (i.e. wage cuts, restructuring, working harder). If we all have to promote the strengthening of “our” industry to compete, then doesn’t that mean that environmental considerations have to take a lower priority? If Japan’s military expenditure continues to rise, it is only common sense that we should beef up “our” military too. In any brawl between Japanese and US capitalism, wouldn’t the argument against US bases in Australia be weakened? And as anti-Japanese feeling rises, does anyone seriously imagine that hundreds of thousands of people of Asian descent feel any safer from racist discrimination and abuse?

When they first presented their anti-Japanese message to Sydney’s leading left forum, Politics in the Pub, Ted Wheelwright and Abe David explicitly linked Asian immigration to the supposed “Japanese threat”, arguing that there was a danger that Asian immigrants would not be loyal to “Australia” but instead act as a “fifth column” to support Japanese attempts to dictate government policies. This article does not set out to reply to Wheelwright and David’s book in any detail, nor to rebut all aspects of the anti-Japanese argument. That has been and will continue to be done elsewhere.[3] My intention is to analyse the reasons for, and history of, anti-Japanese paranoia, rooting it in Australia’s position in the world system as a white colonial settler state in Asia, and of our ruling class as the junior partner of British, and subsequently American, imperialism in the region.

The roots of racism

Marxists have long identified the rise of racism in human society with the emergence of capitalism, and in particular the slave trade. As slavery was abolished and great, new empires constructed, the racist ideas promoted by the ruling class changed; there was a remoulding of the old idea of blacks as “sub-human”. A new “racism of empire” was constructed, typified by the paternalistic notions of Kipling’s White Man’s Burden.[4] As imperialist rivalries and imperialist conquest intensified towards the end of last century, racism was unleashed on a massive scale and buttressed with all kinds of scientific hokum, including the measuring of skulls. As capitalism developed – unevenly – the large-scale migration of labour became a feature of the system and racist ideas were adapted to divide the emerging working class within the imperialist powers. By 1870, Marx was arguing that “the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation”, lay in:

a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standards of life. In relation to the Irish worker he feels himself a member of the ruling nation and so turns himself into a tool of the aristocrats and capitalists of his own country against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself.[5]

This second aspect to the “racism of empire” – the racism of immigration – has become the dominant racism in the advanced countries. It was not simply a “ruling class plot” (though the ruling class did consciously promote it); racist ideas in the working class rest on the real material conditions of existence workers face, of being forced to compete with each other to sell their labour power to the capitalists.

There is, however, a further dimension to the “racism of empire” which I call the racism of imperial rivalry. Imperialism was never just a system of colonies, of the domination of the small, weaker countries by the great powers. For both Lenin and Bukharin, imperialism was the “highest stage of capitalism”. It was the system of rivalry between the great powers and the new element it introduced was the central role of the state machine – the armed forces and government – in capitalist competition. The rivalry shifted from being primarily economic to economic and military combined, and at times, the military element would be decisive. This analysis was developed in the heat of the First World War to explain why the great powers had dragged the world into such a barbaric catastrophe.

The development of productive forces moves within the narrow limits of state boundaries while it has already outgrown those limits. Under such conditions there inevitably arises a conflict, which, given the existence of capitalism, is settled through extending the state frontiers in bloody struggles…[6]

In such a situation, the victory of any power rests partly on its ability to “gain power not only over the legs of the soldiers, but also over their minds and hearts”, as one German imperialist put it. In this task, racism is of inestimable value. As Pete Alexander argues:

Race had one further advantage. Where religion tended towards universalism, racism…tended to the particular…it could be used to justify the domination of certain Christian Whites over other Christian Whites. Race could become nation, and nation could become race… [This] was a powerful means of mobilising the masses in times of war.[7]

The racism of imperial rivalry is what lies behind the British calling the Germans “Huns” and “Krauts” – witness the recent racist comments by British Tory Minister, Nicholas Ridley, about German unification (a “fourth Reich”, Kohl like Hitler). Likewise the nature of Australian fears of Japan – historically the fear of invasion; today the fear that Japan is “taking over”, trying to resurrect the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere of the early 1940s – are different from traditional working class fears of “cheap labour”. They are fears that reflect the reality of imperialist rivalry, fears that, in an era during which the interpenetration of capital has leapt forward, the independence of the Australian state machine has been compromised (it has) and that Australian nationalism, for so long the ideological cornerstone of the Australian left, is an increasingly meaningless quantity (it is). It is in that context that arguments about Japanese “culture” and “traditions” are made.

Apart from resting on absolute nonsense – at no point did the Japanese government ever have any plans to actually invade Australia – this paranoia also dodges the fact that long before most Japanese even knew where Australia was, Australian society was consumed with anti-Japanese scare campaigns and demands that the government prepare for war with them. Indeed, anti-Japanese paranoia has been a central feature of Australian politics nearly all this century. It first emerged as a substantial force in 1895. By 1908, we had the Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, inviting the “Great White Fleet” of the US Navy to visit Australia. The Fleet had been sent around the Pacific by President Roosevelt explicitly to intimidate the rising Japanese Navy. In Australia it was everywhere met by huge, adulatory crowds. Deakin explained the popularity of the visit as:

not so much because of our blood affection for the Americans…but because of the distrust of the Yellow Race in the Northern Pacific, and our recognition of the “entente cordiale” spreading among all white races who realize the Yellow Peril to Caucasian creeds and politics.

We should keep in mind that this is not 1939 – it is 1909. At the time, Japan had an economic and military alliance with Britain. Viewing the Australian response to their economic and military development, Japanese politicians would have been entirely justified in arguing that Australia was fundamentally hostile to Japanese interests, that its politicians were trying to draw Britain into conflict with it and that if this continued it would inevitably find itself at war with these white racist fanatics from the south, and that it should begin preparing for this contingency.

A colonial settler state in Asia

To explain this xenophobia, we need to understand the position of Australian capitalism in the world system. Britain “took possession” of Australia in order to expand the Empire, to provide a base in South East Asia – and to keep it from the rival French. In order to secure this new possession, it sent prisoners from its overcrowded jails to settle here. The rise of the wool industry, in tandem with Britain’s burgeoning textile manufacturing, provided the foundations for a dynamic, indigenous capitalist class, with its own distinct interests.

Australian capitalism faced two serious problems. On the one hand, Australia has an enormous coastline, and a few hundreds of thousands of people on its dispersed farms and in its widely spread coastal cities simply would have very few resources to challenge any well-armed invaders. On the other hand, its growth was continuously hampered by a shortage of labour (the Indigenous population having been rejected as unsuitable). For young Australia’s ambitious politicians, one part of the solution lay in extensive economic development which necessitated a forced march to boost the labour force. The strategy was summarised in the slogan “Populate or Perish”. The second part of the solution lay in making sure that British imperialism maintained the strongest possible military presence in the region. The nationalist myth has it that the British were always determined to force Australia to do their bidding. This undoubtedly happened, but the dynamic of the relationship was the other way around – it was the Australian ruling class that continuously attempted to force Britain to tie its imperial interests to Australia’s security.

So it was not enough to raise a labour force from anywhere in the world that people could be found to work. From the very beginning, urban capital in Australia insisted that migrants had to be British, and therefore (with the unavoidable exception of the Irish whom they would also have liked to keep out) loyal subjects of the Empire, who could be counted on to defend British interests and to whom the British would be forced to provide some security. While “White Australia” is usually taken to mean the Immigration Restriction Acts that prevented all non-“white” people migrating to Australia, the policy had an equally important component – the active promotion of British immigration to the colony. As William Morris Hughes was later to put it in his series of articles, The Case for Labor, written in 1909, “the national safety of Australia hangs on the complete and speedy absorption of large numbers of suitable immigrants”.[8]

Thus the White Australia policy did not grow (as is alleged by almost every historian) from the racist demands of the labour movement, but from the needs of Australian capitalism and British imperialism. Indeed, as early as the late 1820s, the squatters attempted to get approval to import Indian and Chinese labourers to mind their sheep. Their attempts were bitterly fought by both bosses and workers in the cities and vetoed by the Colonial Office, which was concerned to prevent the development of a low-paid Asian workforce that would discourage British settlement. The colonisation schemes of Edward Gibbon Wakefield were likewise proposals to extensively populate Australia with workers and displaced farmers from Britain to guarantee loyalty to the Empire. Although he didn’t use the slogan “White Australia”, this represented the first systematic exposition of one side of the policy.

The importance of Humphrey McQueen’s book, A New Britannia, was the recognition that Australian nationalism had always been racist, because in it, the racism of empire was intensified by Australia’s proximity to Asia. McQueen also argued that Australian nationalism had not been anti-imperialist, but a nationalism that complained that Britain was not imperialist enough.[9] Thus it was Australian bosses that demanded that Britain take control of Fiji. In 1884, the Queensland government declared British control over Papua in the hope that this would force London to take it into the Empire and forestall the advance of the rival Germans.

In Australia, a vast continent still insecurely held by the various independent colonies, the growing imperialist rivalries of the 1880s were keenly felt. There was outrage at the British when they “allowed” the French to seize New Caledonia. A series of rusting artillery installations around our capital cities stand as mute testimony to continual fears that the Russians were about to invade. The acceleration of imperialist rivalries also saw an entirely new series of campaigns against Asian immigration – campaigns which led to the complete banning of Chinese immigration under what became known as the “White Australia Policy”. “White Australia” racism thus represented a mixture of arguments, partly depending on which class it was aimed at. To the workers, the danger of “cheap coloured labour” was emphasised and the “need” to increase immigration from Britain (usually unpopular with the working class) was not. From the mid-1880s on, the press was continually in a frenzy about the supposed danger of an “invasion” by “the Chinese hordes”.

During the nineteenth century, the “baseness” and “degeneracy” of Chinese people was a staple argument. But as “White Australia” was institutionalised in the Immigration Restriction Acts, and as Japan grew in stature as a world power, the form of the racism shifted. Indeed, as the twentieth century developed, the emphasis from politicians has been more and more that Australians don’t see Asians as “inferior”, just different, and that their exclusion is the key to a “harmonious” society without racial conflict.

The revolutionary alternative

But while racism has real, material roots, there are material factors even more powerful that can form the basis to challenge it. For a start, the enormous national movements in Asia between the wars and especially afterwards, aroused considerable working class sympathy. The ruling class, desperate to contain “communism”, was also forced to take them seriously and it was this that drove them to gradually shift from the overt racism of “White Australia”. But the need to continually stimulate Australian nationalism, and the centrality of the Pacific War in that, make it impossible for them to seriously challenge racism. But most important of all, the conditions of existence of the working class include large-scale co-operative labour in the factories, mines and offices – conditions which underpin union organisation and ideas of class solidarity – and internationalism. Thus the dominant working class politics, reformism, is contradictory – both accepting the system and pointing beyond it. One result of the contradictory nature of working class consciousness is, as Alexander points out, that “it is possible to be a class fighter and a racist” – and neither consistently.[10] So it is true that most workers strongly supported “White Australia”, but were able to enforce the magnificent union bans against Dutch shipping from 1945 that played such an important role in the struggle for Indonesian independence. We see this phenomenon on the left all the time – people opposed to racism in general accepting, or even making, racist arguments about the Japanese.

The destruction of capitalism, and specifically of labour power as a commodity, are preconditions for the smashing of racism as an ideology. And within capitalism, the working class is the means by which this can happen. But the possibilities of workers’ revolution also hinge on the role played by socialists in the class struggle – and specifically in the struggle against racism and imperialism. Most Australian workers identify with the Australian nation state. That is a powerful weapon on the side of the ruling class – its value can be seen in the ease with which real wages have been cut in Australia through the economic boom of the late 1980s. But today workers are angry. They can lash out against immigrants, or Japanese, but also fight their real enemies, the bosses, and in doing so start to find a real path forward.

Identification with imperialism guaranteed working class support for the invasion of Korea, and support in the early years of Vietnam. In the Second World War, it guaranteed that Australian workers would willingly go out to kill Japanese workers in the interest of American and Australian control of the region. But all these wars also turned many workers in an anti-racist direction, when they saw that the people they were fighting were just ordinary, powerless cogs in the machine, just like them. The struggle against imperialism and racism is a struggle to convince workers to identify with the international working class, and to reject any identification whatsoever with their bosses. This is not simply a matter of being “non-racist”. It means active support for positive discrimination in favour of the oppressed; it means opposition to all immigration controls; it means wishing for the defeat of your own ruling class in any attempt to suppress the national rights of weaker countries, and preferring the defeat of your own side, rather than any co-operation with it, in any inter-imperialist war such as World War II.

In Australia, the questions of Japan, and of Asian immigration, have always been the touchstone of genuine socialist politics. The tragedy of the left is that for most of its history it has been mired in a swamp of Australian nationalism and anti-Asian and anti-Japanese racism.

The emergence of Japanese imperialism

A crucial element in the racist mythology is the way the rise of Japanese imperialism is seen as something different and threatening. In their book, The Third Wave, Wheelwright and David find it ominous that this

is the first time in 500 years of capitalism that the dominant forces are not of European or Anglo-Saxon origin…the political, social and moral traditions of the investing countries are different, and the language and cultural barriers are more difficult to surmount.[11]

This is racist nonsense. In the middle of last century, Japan was still an essentially feudal society. The mass of the population were farmers and the ruling class rested upon its control of the land. Moreover it was a relatively peaceful feudalism; the Tokugawa shogunate had brought the samurai caste, the only caste allowed to bear arms, under central control and turned them into bureaucrats for the central state. While Bushido presented itself as the philosophy of warriors, it was dominated by ideas of self-sacrifice and public service – defined, of course, with the interests of the ruling class. However, within a few decades, everything had changed. By the end of last century, imperialist Japan was very definitely in the making. It had defeated China to gain control of Taiwan and economic and political rights in Korea. Japanese feudalism had been smashed and the economy was rapidly being restructured around modern industry and capitalist relations of production, with a large arms sector leading the way. Japan had had its own bourgeois revolution, but it had been a revolution from above.

The key to this transformation was the expansion and plunder of British and American capitalism. The crisis inside Japan that led to the Meiji restoration of 1868 began in 1854 when the American Commander Perry sailed his fleet into Tokyo and forced the Emperor at gunpoint to allow unrestricted access for American exports. It immediately became clear to the ruling class that it did not have the military strength to prevent the imperialist powers gaining a hold over Japan. What that held in store could be seen by the brutal subjugation of both India and China. It is often forgotten that when Europeans first traded with India, they did not find a backwater, but a country “not inferior to that of the more advanced European nations”. As Peter Fryer put it:

India was not only a great agricultural country but also a great manufacturing country. It had a prosperous textile industry, whose cotton, silk and woollen products were marketed in Europe… It had remarkable and remarkably ancient, skills in iron-working. It had its own shipbuilding industry…and in 1802 skilled Indian workers were building British warships at the Bombay shipyard of Bomenjee and Manseckjee.[12]

The victory of Robert Clive in 1757 began a plunder unprecedented in human history. It is estimated that between 1757 and 1815, Britain’s loot amounted to between 500 million and 1 billion pounds – not in today’s values, but at a time when wages were a few shillings a week. By forcing India to buy British goods, and by using tariffs to keep Indian goods out of the British market, British industry leapt forward and India was de-industrialised, transformed into a state of abject misery. The result was that famines, which had previously been relatively infrequent and localised, became so general that the result was starvation on a mass scale. According to official statistics, 28,825,000 Indians starved to death between 1854 and 1900. One can understand the frenzied concern of the Japanese ruling class to renegotiate the unequal treaties forced on it by the Americans and avoid the fate of India.

But it was the subjugation of neighbouring China that had the greatest impact on the Japanese. One of the most brutal and decisive episodes in China’s defeat was the Opium War of 1839-42. British merchants made enormous profits by exporting opium and all its attendant misery to China. Attempts by the Chinese to ban the trade failed, and when they burned 20,000 chests of opium, it gave the British an excuse to invade. Further invasions by British, French and American forces followed which led to more humiliation for the Chinese. The Treaty of Tientsin, to which Russia, France, the US and Britain were parties, finally legalised the opium trade. This was the “civilisation” that the West brought to China and it was the fate that beckoned Japan when Commodore Perry arrived in 1854. Here is how one samurai reacted to what he saw in Shanghai a few years later in 1862:

Here most of the Chinese have become the servants of foreigners. When English and French people come walking, the Chinese give way to them stealthily. Although the main power here is Chinese, it really is nothing but a colony of England and France… [We] have been forewarned – who can be sure the same fate will not visit our country in the future?[13]

There are many reasons why the Japanese ruling class was almost alone in proving able to rapidly transform their country into a modern, advanced industrial and military power. But the fact is they did not do it of their own choosing. The barbarity, especially of British rule in India and China, gave them a very stark choice – forced industrialisation and militarisation, or abject surrender. The rise of Japanese imperialism gave socialists no cause for joy, but we have to be clear where the blame for it lies. It was precisely the emergence of great powers carving up the world that meant that in weaker states with more backward economies, the only prospect of national defence and economic survival was if the state, and especially the military, played a central role in transforming the economy. Thus the emergence of state capitalism in countries like Germany and Japan (and indeed Australia in a slightly different way) was intimately bound up with the rise of imperialism, and most especially the imperialisms to which Australia has historically been allied – British, and later American. In Japanese politics from that time on, the rise and fall of various political factions within the bureaucracy and the military would be influenced as much by the pressure on Japan from the major imperialist powers as by any internal issue.

Australian reactions to the rise of Japan

Before 1895 Japan had virtually no impact on politics in Australia. To the extent that there were fears of an invasion, they centred on attempts by the major European powers, especially Russia, to expand their empires, and the “Chinese hordes” over-running the country in a desperate desire to relieve the pressures of population. The only time Japanese people were an issue was when small numbers migrated to work, for instance in the pearl-shelling industry. In 1894, Japan went to war with China to consolidate its authority in Korea, which both countries jointly dominated. Japan’s victory brought it to the attention of the world as a rising power, and this was especially true in Australia. Writing on the eve of the Second World War, as tensions in the Far East escalated, the American scholar Jack Shepherd argued:

The outbreak of war in the East in 1894 brought Japan very much into the public eye in Australia, and wrought a complete change in the Australian attitude toward the Japanese people. Hitherto regarded as a completely harmless and rather curious nation…Japan was rapidly elevated…to the rank of a “menace”.[14]

In 1895, colonial military exercises involved repelling an imaginary Japanese naval attack on Sydney Harbour.[15] The “White Australia” legislation that existed in most of the colonies, and which focused on preventing Chinese immigration, was quickly widened to include all Asians. The Sydney Morning Herald spoke of

the presence in the Pacific of a warlike and resourceful Power whose existence is as important to us as though an ambitious European nation had established herself as our near neighbour.[16]

In excluding all Asians, the Australian colonies immediately came up against the wishes of the British government which had signed a Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with Japan in 1894 and which wanted the colonies to join. Since the treaty conferred reciprocal rights of residence, trade and acquisition of land, all the colonies apart from Queensland refused to join – despite the favourable tariff treatment that Australian exports would also enjoy. Indeed, it was the dispute over the treaty that led to the rush to exclude all Asian immigrants, and this, along with the racist terms in which the colonies discussed Japan, created diplomatic problems for the British. Australian foreign policy began with a racist hostile attitude towards Japan. In what is probably the most important and thorough survey of Australian attitudes to Japan between 1894 and 1923, David Sissons warned against exaggerating the degree of hostility towards Japan, or the homogeneity of it. In surveying press opinion, he pointed to “papers which either were unconcerned or vigorously rejected any suggestions that Japan was to be feared”.[17] He also showed that many of the papers that were concerned about Japan admired Japan’s rise, supported its side in the war, and saw it as a buffer against the Russians and a vehicle for opening up the Chinese market. In addition, they did not necessarily draw the conclusion that the colonies needed to boost their military spending. To this effect he quotes The Bulletin, at the time a rampantly populist paper, nationalist in the extreme, with an extensive working class readership – and subsequently to become the leading organ of anti-Japanese hysteria:

The Chinese bogey died about two months ago, and before it was decently interred the Japanese bogey arose in its stead…

Japan is no more dangerous to us than she was a year ago or several years ago. She is little more dangerous than Chili [sic)… Japan is a peaceful and long-suffering state, and about the least likely of all States to go pervading the earth in search of remote and needless enemies. She has no quarrel with Australia and Australia has none with her.[18]

The essential fact remains that in 1895 Japan went from being irrelevant in Australian politics to suddenly become a military-strategic factor. That, as we have seen, doesn’t mean that everyone was suddenly hostile to Japan or immediately thought of war, but it does mean that the ruling class suddenly realised that Australian capitalism now had a powerful potential rival in the region – a region distant from the heartlands of Britain’s military might.

Hysteria becomes the norm

By 1907 hysterical fear of Japan had become hegemonic in Australian politics – dominant both in the ruling class and the wider population. The hysteria was prompted by Japan’s victory over Russia in the war of 1904-5, but bore absolutely no relation to any rational appraisal of the possibility of either a Japanese invasion or Japanese military hostilities directed at Australia. The effect of the hysteria on government strategy was profound. It was largely responsible for the establishment of a separate Australian navy, breaking a long history of purely relying on financial support for the British naval presence in Asia. It swung ruling class support behind those who were arguing for compulsory military training for all young people.

If Japan had designs on Australia, it had a strange way of satisfying them. In 1902, it strengthened its relations with Britain by entering a formal alliance. The treaty was limited to the Far East and reflected the mutual interest of both Britain and Japan in containing Russian expansion in China and Korea by providing Japan with guaranteed great power support in the 1904-5 war. As well as committing Japan to support British plunder in China, the Alliance also required Japan to support Britain if its control over India was threatened by another power.[19]

The perspective of Australia’s ruling class was sharply at variance with that of its British mentors. Some even argued that the Japanese were using the Alliance to lure the Royal Navy out of the Pacific. The truth was the opposite – with Japan seeking from Britain an undertaking that it would maintain a fleet in the Far East superior to that of any other power. Many of those supportive of the treaty still saw it in terms hostile to Japan – that the treaty was the best way to restrain Japanese ambitions. The history of Russian invasion scares meant that when the 1904 war broke out, there was widespread support for a Japanese victory. Despite the concern that had emerged about Japan, it was still seen as a second-rank power and if it weakened the Russian threat, then that was all to the good. The Japanese victory unleashed the opposite dynamic. The leadership of the anti-Japanese push belonged to the racists and ultra-nationalists leading the Labor Party, which began agitating against Japan from early on in the war. According to Sissons,

the Labor weekly, the Tocsin, greeted the outbreak of hostilities with the comment that a Japanese victory would produce in Japan the demand for imperialist expansion of which Australia would be the most likely victim…[and] also make stronger demands for the modification of the White Australia policy.[20]

The Labor poet Henry Lawson’s reaction was to appeal to the tsar’s army – the army of semi-feudal reaction, of anti-Jewish pogroms, the army of the Bloody Sunday massacre of January 1905 – to stand firm:

Tis the first round of the struggle of

the East against the West,

Of the fearful war of races – for the

White Man could not rest

Hold them, IVAN! staggering bravely

underneath your gloomy sky;

Hold them, IVAN! we shall want

you pretty badly by and by.[21]

At the start of hostilities, the Liberal-Protectionist Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, ridiculed the idea that a victory by Japan would encourage expansion towards Australia. But three weeks after the battle of Tsushima, in May 1905, which saw Japan virtually destroy the Russian fleet, Deakin made his first serious statement on defence since Federation; it was also the first by the leader of a non-Labor party in which Japan enjoyed a prominent place as a defence threat. Due, he argued, to the growth of the navies of the US, Germany and Japan, Australia was now within striking distance of sixteen foreign naval stations, the strongest of which was Yokohama. “Japan at her headquarters is, so to speak, next door while the Mother Country is many streets away.” His response was to propose increasing the annual expenditure on local marine defences from £44,000 to £350,000.[22] According to Sissons, the war also made a profound impact on the top echelons of the military, and especially Sir Edward Hutton, the highest ranking soldier in Australia – General Officer Commanding the Military Forces.

It is impossible to view the military situation in Australia…without grave misgiving. The victories of the Japanese arms within the last four months have astounded the whole civilised world.[23]

Indeed, it led him to embrace, for the first time, the possibility that Australia could at some point be invaded, an idea that the military chiefs had historically rejected as alarmist. Specifically, Hutton raised the possibility that British naval supremacy could be lost – not to the Japanese alone, but in the context of a combination of great powers hostile to British interests. This would open the door to Japan gaining control of the Pacific. Later that year he warned that “the people of China and Japan were casting longing eyes on the rich Northern Territory”.[24]

In the press and society generally, fear of Japan appears to have still been the view of only a minority, albeit a substantial minority, during the war and shortly afterwards. Nevertheless, the armed forces chiefs and certain key politicians had taken the issue up and within little more than a year, they had won the argument. 1907 marks, as Sissons puts it,

the period in which fears of Japan became acute and widespread finding expression in great increases in naval and military expenditure, in apprehensive ministerial statements, in numerous allegations of Japanese espionage, and in invasion as a popular theme in imaginative literature.[25]

We can trace the rising fear of Japan in the debates around the principle of compulsory military training. The idea was traditionally associated with the Labor Party and specifically with the future prime minister, William Morris Hughes, who moved for it in private members’ bills in both 1901 and 1903. At neither time did he gain much support, even from his own party; nor did another attempt in 1903 by a Protectionist senator to introduce cadet training. A new attempt in 1906 had the support of the leadership of the Protectionist party and a minority within Labor, but the Free-Traders were still strongly opposed and it was defeated. By 1907, most of Parliament had swung around to support Hughes, and Hughes himself had shifted his argument. Whereas in 1901 and 1903 he had talked of threats in general from Europe and Asia, he now focused primarily on Japan and the “White Australia” policy, arguing, “Nothing but the fact that America possesses a population of 80 millions…does, I believe, cause Japan to hesitate to declare war”.[26]

He was supported by the Minister for Defence, Ewing, who had previously condemned Hughes’ proposals as extravagant. Now:

Every sane man in Australia knows that, if this country is to remain the hope of the white man, it must be held, not only by the power of Australia alone, but by the might of the white man in all parts of the world.[27]

Likewise, in the Senate, George Pearce, who would soon become Defence Minister in the Fisher Labor government, documented his own conversion:

There was a time when I deprecated any attempt by Australia to take any part in militarism. It is only the developments in Asia…that have converted me… I have never feared, nor do I now fear, the invasion of Australia by any European nation… But I do recognise that in the East there are peoples alien to us in race, religion and ideas, industrial and social, and that if we believe in our ideals, if we want to establish the industrial Commonwealth which we hope to establish here, we must shut our doors against races so foreign to us as the Asiatic races are. The only doctrine that these races respect is the doctrine of force. Our White Australian legislation is so much waste paper unless we have rifles to back it up…[28]

Legislation passed in 1909 and 1910 made compulsory military training law. Likewise, the debates that had continued over a decade about whether or not there should be a separate Australian navy were now resolved firmly in the affirmative.

The victory of protectionism

The hegemony of paranoia about Japan also resolved, for decades to come, one of the great, historic debates that had divided the ruling class – free trade vs. protection. In the 1880s, there had been an international tendency towards protectionism – with tariffs imposed in Germany in 1879, Russia 1881, France and Austria 1882 and the McKinley tariff in the US in 1890.[29] This was in part a response to economic crisis – the so-called “Great Depression” of the l870s and 1880s – and the tendency for profit rates to fall (which Marx had predicted). There were actually two responses to this crisis – one, as Chris Harman put it, “using the forces of the national state to carve out areas of economic and political privilege for themselves overseas”. This was the “imperialist” option that the British took because they were best able to benefit from it.[30] This led to all kinds of moves to tighten up the empire and stress its racial basis, and provided the foundations for “White Australia”. The other response involved the rapid centralisation of capital into giant monopolies and trusts – the German approach. Bukharin saw in this a tendency towards “state capitalism”.[31]

What characterised both approaches was the central involvement of the state in guaranteeing the conditions for continued capital accumulation. And as the benefits of empire and centralisation diminished, each side turned to the strategy of the other – the Germans and Americans to imperial expansion and the British to monopoly and state intervention in the economy. In both strategies, tariffs became important as a way of protecting the national industrial base that was an essential provider for the military. In Australia, state capitalism had been central for decades. Assisted immigration, a central feature since the 1830s, was a large-scale state project. By the 1880s, upwards of 50 percent of fixed capital expenditure was state directed – and this in a raging boom! As imperialist rivalries accelerated, the colonial ruling classes sought to tighten their links with British imperialism from which came their ultimate guarantee of capital, markets and military protection.

But the colonies had been divided over protectionism. In NSW the “free trade” wing was stronger, but in Victoria, with its greater manufacturing base, protectionism was hegemonic. It is highly significant that the successful push for Federation was initiated in 1889 by the “free trade” premier of NSW, Henry Parkes, who was sufficiently concerned about the “defence” situation to entertain a compromise on protection. The extraordinary and prolonged economic crisis of the 1890s savagely weakened pastoral capital (the cornerstone of free trade) and strengthened the “protectionist” current. Nevertheless, in the early federal parliament, there were broadly three parties: Labor, Protectionist and Free Trade, with Labor itself split on the question.

The rise of Japan unleashed an inexorable dynamic towards protectionism. The military question emphasised the importance of manufacturing industry, and of both population (which in turn also emphasised the importance of industries in which to employ people) and “closer settlement” of the land. In 1909, with the anti-Japanese paranoia at its height, the Free Traders entered a coalition with their supposedly greatest enemies, the Protectionists. Partly this was a reaction to the rise of Labor, a development which pushed the ruling class parties closer together; but partly it was because the Free Trade position, in its economic and military components, had almost completely lost ground. A similar development occurred within the Labor Party, which had also traditionally had a minority Free Trade wing, led by people like Chris Watson and William Morris Hughes. The rising paranoia towards Japan strengthened the Protectionist/militarist/populate-or-perish wing. At the 1905 interstate conference, the party leader Watson reflected:

It had been brought home to him very strongly during the last year or so that there was a great necessity for them to take some step in this regard (i.e. adopting Protection). They had a great need to do something in view of the developments of the North – colloquially known as the Far East – to ensure a greater population for Australia. It was a great menace to have so much unpeopled territory when there were nations now slowly unfolding themselves as great powers and who would exercise in the Pacific an almost dominating influence on the destinies of Australia…[32]

Hughes, who more than any other individual came to be identified with Australian hostility to Japan, followed a similar evolution. According to his biographer, L.F. Fitzhardinge,

So far as the “White Australia” policy was economic, they [the Labor free traders] came to see that tariff protection…was its necessary complement.[33]

This period, in which anti-Japanese paranoia became hegemonic, was the context in which the American “Great White Fleet” visited Australia. In the words of the West Australian newspaper,

To Australia, the lone guardian of white civilization in the Pacific, the message that comes cannon-tongued by the swift and stalwart messengers of the deep has but one import – an assurance of amity charged with power.

Or the Advertiser,

Our White Australia policy rests upon well founded grounds, partly racial, partly economic, which imply no disrespect for the many virtues of the Japanese; and if we fear that at some time in the future we may have to fight for our right to hold the great island continent, it is because we attach due importance to the tremendous pressure of population in determining future Asiatic movements… We believe that we see more clearly than the British people do, the real nature and extent of the Oriental menace.

Finally, an indication of the degree of paranoia in the population at large can be gained by looking at the popularity of the invasion literature that erupted between 1908-11. It needs to be emphasised that such themes, which are inherently pretty gruesome, cannot be commercially successful unless they reflect widespread concerns. The magazine that published most of them, the Lone Hand, was a widely read monthly published by The Bulletin. Most of the writers were, like Lawson, not from the extreme right, but firmly within the Labor tradition. The most substantial work was The Australian Crisis, a novel by C.H. Kirkness, serialised in the Lone Hand, which also published “First Blood” by Boyd Cable and “The Deliverer” by Aldridge Evelyn, described by Sissons as typical:

Britain, at war with Germany, withdraws her warships from Australia to Hong Kong where they are bottled up by Japan. A Japanese battle fleet, despite the gallant resistance of [Prime Minister] Fisher’s four destroyers, arrives off Sydney and demands “a treaty which will allow every Chink and Jap under the sun to land in Australia and become a citizen”. Just as the government are about to follow Britain’s advice and surrender, a patriotic squatter comes forward with a submarine which he had the forethought to import and assemble secretly. The hero [is] a naval officer…[who] destroys the enemy fleet. His inspiration in this crisis is…his daughter–“Good Lord, man! Her Australia shall be a white one!”[34]

The First World War

In August 1914, the growing tensions between the great powers erupted into world war. Most histories of Australia’s involvement cover the fighting in France and the Middle East, the enormous casualties suffered (some 60,000 dead and 150,000 wounded out of a population of 5 million) and the huge struggles that erupted when the Hughes government tried to introduce conscription in 1916 and again in 1917. This rendering of history is at best one-sided, and at worst, dishonest. Although the war was formally against Germany and its allies, Australia’s political leaders were as much concerned about the expansion of their ally, Japan – indeed the “threat of Japan” underpinned their willingness to fight Germany.

The rising tide of anti-Japanese paranoia that erupted between 1905 and 1910 had been partially stilled by the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese alliance in 1911. Many Australian politicians had opposed the alliance, but some of the most anti-Japanese supported it, seeing in it a brake on Japan’s supposed ambitions. With the eruption of the First World War, all these contradictions intensified. The war brought into the minds of Australia’s politicians the chilling possibility that a war against Britain involving a combination of powers could see much of the British fleet in the Pacific withdrawn and Australia left vulnerable to Japan’s supposedly predatory designs. Indeed, an instructor at Duntroon, who approached the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, for assistance in getting a release to serve with the British army in France, was told that “the war would be over before I could reach home and that my duty was to remain in Australia to train the young officers for the inevitable war of the future with Japan”.[35]

For their part, five days after it started, the Japanese entered the war on the side of the British. The Japanese navy helped escort Australian troop ships to Gallipoli and the Mediterranean and Japanese ships patrolled Australian coastal waters, releasing Australian warships to hunt down their German rivals. This co-operation was only agreed by Australia with great reluctance and news of it was suppressed.[36] Also suppressed was some anti-Japanese agitation. The Labor government, led firstly by Andrew Fisher and from 1915 by William Morris Hughes, lived in permanent fear that Japan would abandon its alliance with Britain and go over to the German side. Every expression of pro-German feeling in Japan (and there was a strong pro-German wing in ruling class circles) intensified this.

Far from leading to a smoother relationship, their war-time “cooperation” brought Australia and Japan rapidly into conflict. Right at the beginning, both Australia and Japan responded to British requests to seize German-controlled islands in the Pacific, in order to make German naval operations more difficult. Australian forces seized New Guinea (the northern half of what is now the mainland of PNG), Bougainville, the German New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), and when they seized Rabaul, the German administration formally surrendered a series of islands north of the equator which had been administered from Rabaul – the Marshalls, Carolines, Mariannes and Palau.

Because Australia lacked the forces to spare to physically grab these, the Japanese navy did instead – partly to close down German communications, partly to set up their own radio network, and partly to stake their own claim to control after the war. This drove the Australian government into a frenzy, and it began discussing the costs and benefits of insisting on Australia having long-term control of these islands – all of them thousands of kilometres from the tip of Cape York. It was not that the islands possessed much commercial value; it was a question of keeping the Japanese out. Britain’s refusal to insist on a Japanese handover of the islands (it, too, was concerned to keep the Japanese government on side) added to Australian government concerns.

This was compounded in early 1915 by a Japanese request, backed up by Britain, that Australia adhere to the Anglo-Japanese Commercial Treaty of 1911. The Japanese wanted to consolidate the expansion of trade the war had brought for them, and to improve their fairly dismal relations with the Australian government. Ratification would give Japan “most favoured nation” status in trade and allow the free right of entry and residence for the citizens of each country in the land of the other. The Japanese government made it clear it was prepared to respect the horrific racism of the “White Australia” policy. The Australian government was firmly opposed to such a proposal. There was no way they were going to allow Japanese goods to compete on the same basis as British – indeed, some Labor members wanted the tariff against Japanese goods increased, not cut – and there would be absolutely no way they were going to compromise the idea of the “White Australia” policy, even if the effect in terms of Japanese migration was minimal.

To Hughes and the Australian government, these two Japanese initiatives confirmed “all our fears – – or conjectures – that Japan was and is most keenly interested in Australia”. According to Fitzhardinge, “One of Hughes’ main reasons for going to London (in 1916) had been his concern about Japan’s activities in the Pacific and her post-war position there in relation to Australia”.[37] “Australia greatly dreads Japan’s future aims,” Hughes told one confidant during his trip over.[38]

In London itself, the Japanese ambassador arranged to meet Hughes to try and allay his fears; pointing out that Japan’s main aim was “to remove the irksome restrictions on carrying on business, entry and residence imposed on the Japanese in Australia”. Rather than allay any fears, Fitzhardinge writes that Hughes “found his suspicions of Japan’s real intentions confirmed…fear of Japan had become an urgent apprehension amounting almost to an obsession, the more powerful because it could not be publicly expressed”. In Adelaide, on his way back from London, the prime minister made an emotional speech on the danger to “White Australia”:

We have lifted up on our topmost minaret the badge of a white Australia, but we are, as it were, a drop in a coloured ocean ringed around with a thousand million of the coloured races. How are we to be saved? What arrogance and what futility it would be to emblazon White Australia on our banners if we are not prepared to fight for it, and how are five to fight a thousand, valiant though they may be? Does not the spectacle of the British Empire today fighting in a common cause drive home…the great lesson that we stand with our feet firmly fixed on the temple of liberty only so long as we are part of the British Empire.[39]

This was the beginning of Hughes’ campaign to introduce conscription. On 31 August, 1916, he called a secret session of both houses of Parliament to report on his trip and whip up support, among politicians, for his paranoid views on Japan. Major E.L. Piesse, who was Director of Intelligence in the Prime Minister’s Department at the time, later wrote:

The proceedings were not published, but it was…widely believed that an authoritative statement had been made to the meeting that Japan would challenge the White Australia policy after the war, that Australia would need the help of the rest of the Empire, and that if she wished to be sure of getting it she must now throw her full strength into the war in Europe.[40]

So conscription was proposed – and 60,000 young Australian men and women died – not out of colonial servility towards Britain, but to defend the empire on which Australian capitalists depended for military defence, and specifically to strengthen the position of Australia’s imperialists in their rivalry with Japan, a rivalry that was largely one way and largely aimed at making sure that no potential challenger emerged to British/Australian/American domination of the region.

The attempt to introduce conscription led to the sharpest political struggles in Australian history. The working class radicalisation of the period 1916-1920 was the greatest we have so far seen, with a significant minority seeking some kind of revolutionary challenge to the system. A measure of this was that Hughes, the prime minister, was expelled from the Labor Party over conscription – an incredible act for such an electorally oriented organisation. This was the environment in which the revolutionary syndicalists of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) flourished. Unlike virtually the entire history of the Australian left to that point, the IWW was anti-racist. But the anti-conscription campaign involved far wider forces than the IWW. The Labor Party continually attempted to link its opposition to conscription to its anti-Japanese racism. So the Labor Call, in an article “Ten Reasons for Voting No”, listed the first as:

I will vote “No” because I believe in keeping Australia a white man’s country. “Yes” would commit Australia to sending 16,500 men away monthly for an indefinite time. Soon…the country would have to resort to importing labour.[41]

Among Labor MPs one of the most common arguments was that Australians were fighting the wrong war. This argument was the staple offering of leading Labor anti-conscriptionist, J.H. Catts, who got himself summonsed at least seven times for “statements likely to prejudice…relations…with a foreign power” by making comments such as:

The Pacific Ocean was assuredly going to be the scene of the next great war, in which the struggle would be between the white and yellow races. Yet today there was the sorry spectacle of the great white races battering each other to pieces… He could not sufficiently emphasize Australia’s deadly peril from the Japanese menace.

It is worth looking, then, at the political dynamic of the war in Australia. The imperialist carve-up of the world meant that the emergence of any new power would challenge the position of the old powers, since it could not win markets and colonies without threatening the markets and possessions of the existing powers. As the advance base of British imperialism in the region, Australian bosses and their ideologues, including the Labor Party, viewed Japanese successes with far greater alarm. It was irrelevant that Japan expressed absolutely no hostility towards Australia, irrelevant that its territorial ambitions were directed towards Korea, Mongolia, and the seas in its immediate vicinity. The sheer existence of a rival power in the region was alone cause for alarm. And not just alarm.

Rising fears of Japan drove Australian nationalism more explicitly behind the British shield – hence the huge commitment of troops to Europe and the phenomenal attempts to force conscription through – and deepened Australian racism. But these fears also led to the intensification of specifically Australian imperialism. As we have seen, Australian politicians had always insisted that Britain should seize as much territory in the Pacific as possible. Rising fears of Japan now led Australian governments to demand an extensive area of territorial control for themselves. At the Versailles “Peace” Conference in 1919, Prime Minister Hughes, now leading an anti-Labor government, demanded the right to annexe all the South Pacific territories seized from Germany – New Guinea, Bougainville, Rabaul.

Hughes had been appalled to find out that in 1917, desperate to keep Japan as part of its imperialist bloc, the British had guaranteed to support Japanese claims to control the islands it had seized in the North Pacific. “British party politics”, he complained, “ignore Imperial interests. There is no Imperial Government in this great crisis… I am trying to do what I can…to prevent any peace that does not…safeguard our interests in the Pacific”.[42]

Against the background of revolution in Russia, revolutionary upheaval right across Europe, and rising nationalist agitation in the colonial world, the most intelligent imperialist politicians, led by US President Woodrow Wilson, established the new League of Nations. Their aim was at least partly to dampen down the widespread perception that the war had not been for “civilization” but markets and colonies. Wilson proposed a new system of “mandates” which would place the colonies seized from Germany under the formal control of the League, which would hand over their administration to one of the victorious powers. Despite the transparency of a system of “mandates” run by the existing colonial powers, Hughes fought tooth and nail against applying them to New Guinea. He fought for full annexation of these territories.

Strategically the Pacific Islands encompassed Australia like a fortress. New Guinea was…only 82 miles from the mainland. South East of it was a string of islands suitable for coaling and submarine bases from which Australia could be attacked…

Furthermore, under the proposed mandate system, Australia would be forced to apply the principle of the “open door” and allow Japanese and other peoples to visit and live there, in which case the territory would, he argued, become “a Japanese or Japanese and German country” within ten years.[43] It is ironic that under German control, with no restrictive legislation, New Guinea failed to attract vast numbers of either Japanese or Chinese – merely 103 and 1,377 respectively in 1913.

Wilson was forced to respond that if annexation was allowed, the League of Nations would be discredited from the start. The result of Hughes’ efforts was the creation of a special class of mandate to apply to South West Africa (Namibia) and certain Pacific islands which, “owing to the sparseness of their population or their small size, or their remoteness from the centres of civilization, or their geographical contiguity to the mandatory State” would be best administered “under the laws of the mandatory State as integral portions thereof”[44] –in other words, effective annexation. For Billy Hughes, the importance of the wording of the C–class mandate was that it meant the “White Australia” immigration restrictions would apply to its territories. They had the right now, in international law, to keep the Japanese out. Indeed, after the mandate was issued, the first legislative act of the Commonwealth with respect to the territory was to apply the Immigration Restriction Act. Thus Australia’s anti-Japanese paranoia provided the cover under which South Africa got complete control over Namibia. In the German territory of New Guinea, too, the transfer from German to Australian control was a massive step backwards. Whereas the Germans had, against the protests of German settlers, allowed New Guineans to engage in cash cropping, the new Australian administration moved to either restrict or ban it.

Whereas Germany, with its strong industrial economy, wanted to develop New Guinea’s raw material exports, Australia, as a raw material exporter itself, discouraged any production that could compete with Australia’s. And the maximum flogging allowed for breaches of labour discipline on the plantations was promptly doubled – from ten to twenty strokes. Unlike Germany, Australia’s economy was industrially backward. Every penny spent in the colony was resented. The first government school on Bougainville was only opened in 1961. Australia’s interest in New Guinea was almost entirely military. Thus, as a result of its hostility towards Japan, it insisted on control of PNG and then kept it in the most terrible poverty and backwardness. Every Australian government since – including the Hawke government today – has regarded PNG as a fundamental military asset and has used both money and armed force to maintain its dependence on Australia.

Finally, in response to the incredibly racist treatment their citizens met in the West, the Japanese delegation at Versailles proposed that the Covenant of the League of Nations uphold the principle of racial equality. Baron Makino moved:

The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord, as soon as possible to all alien nationals of States members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect, making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race and nationality.[45]

It is so completely symbolic that it was this declaration against racism that brought Australia and Japan into open and direct conflict for the first time – with Australia’s prime minister defending the right to racism because of paranoia about Japan. Of course the Japanese ruling class itself was racist – most especially towards Koreans. And it made it clear that the declaration was not to be a lever by which the League could interfere with the internal affairs of any nation. But had it been passed, even by the scoundrels who formed the League of Nations, it could have been a useful propaganda weapon against precisely those same scoundrels. It is significant that it was only Australia’s trenchant opposition that scuttled it. Hughes recognised that any statement against racism would be a weapon against immigration controls, especially Australia’s, the most openly and deliberately racist in the world.

The Japanese delegation proposed amendments that were acceptable to all the great powers – and even to the South African Prime Minister, Smuts. Hughes held out. And to put pressure on Wilson, he set out to inflame anti-Asian feeling on the American West Coast. In the end he succeeded. But this “victory” was not without its costs. The successful Australian agitation against the anti-racism clause was widely reported in Japan and, justifiably, aroused great anger. This was on top of anger at a number of comments and speeches by Australian politicians, in particular one by Hughes in 1918 in which he declared Australia’s “Monroe Doctrine” – named after the famous imperial declaration of US President Monroe which asserted the primacy of US interests in Latin America – a speech aimed directly and accusingly at Japan:

Hands off the Pacific! is the doctrine to which by inexorable circumstances we are committed. We rejoice that France has interests in the Pacific, and that Holland…is our neighbour in Java and New Guinea.

In the wake of all this, Major Piesse, the Intelligence expert, drew a gloomy assessment from Versailles, deploring “the barren victory over racial discrimination” and observing:

We have been perhaps the chief factor in consolidating the whole Japanese nation behind the imperialists.[46]

The Second World War

Today’s anti-Japanese agitation draws very heavily on the imagery and tradition of the Second World War, which is widely seen to have been a struggle by “civilisation” and “democracy” against Japanese treachery, militarism and barbarity. No-one beats the drum of that war more conscientiously than that supposed peace-monger, Helen Caldicott.

It is not racist for me to ask why we fought World War II against the Japanese, 45 years later, we seem ready to allow annexation of our land by that very nation for which our fathers died trying to prevent from commandeering our natural resources.[47]

She has repeatedly made similar comments – including to a rally of 7,000 in Hobart in March last year protesting against the plan to build the Wesley Vale pulp mill.

When the Melbourne Herald asked its readers to phone in their opinions of the proposed Multi-Function Polis, it received “hundreds of calls”. In the end, they printed a sample of thirteen responses – three were for the MFP and ten against. Eight of the ten explicitly mentioned Japanese involvement as a major reason for opposition and the other two attacked the involvement of “foreigners” – a code word for the Japanese. Of the eight whose short responses mentioned Japan, three specifically referred to the war. Pat Glassner of West Brunswick was quoted as saying, “let’s never forget the Japanese were the aggressors in the 1941-45 Pacific war and many Australians still bear the scars” and John Robinson of Toorak attacked “the businessmen who support this… [They] are un-Australian and have no respect for the sacrifices and the ill-treatment that our servicemen took from the Japanese in World War 2”.[48]

Every time the question of “Japan” has been raised at Sydney’s “Politics in the Pub”, someone has raised “the rape of Nanking”, or told those of us “too young to remember” how they saw “Japanese soldiers skinning people alive”. Somehow they always manage to avoid mentioning how people’s bodies were melted when the Allies dropped the bomb on Hiroshima – in other circumstances a favourite left talking point. When Abe David, co-author of The Third Wave, was interviewed by Sydney’s most notorious racist, Ron Casey, he too drew on history:

The Japanese have got a new long-term plan for Australia. It’s not new. In the Second World War…they looked to Australia as being – along with Manchuria and China – the key part of Asia that could supply them with most of their resources…[49]

In other words, the Japanese have always had ambitions to take over Australia; today they’re doing it through buying up the country. Our freedom and independence are threatened; we have to rally to the defence of the nation and stop them. This argument is a mixture of racism, paranoia and falsehoods. First, the major falsehood – that Japan wanted to take over Australia during the war. It was a key plank of government propaganda at the time and is still widely believed. Yet it was nonsense at the time and has since been decisively refuted by examination of captured Japanese records. David Sissons expressed the historical consensus already achieved by the mid-1950s when he wrote:

At no time – either before the Second World War or during it does Australia appear to have figured in Japanese plans for occupation or exploitation.

The plan as put into operation in December 1941 was to seize and establish a defensive [!] perimeter for the rich “Southern Resources Area” along the line – the Kuriles, Marshalls, Bismarcks, Timor, Java, Sumatra, Malaya, and Burma. Australia was outside this region. The invasion force which was turned back in the Coral Sea was not bound for Australia but for Port Moresby which the Japanese, surprised by the ease of their initial successes, had hastily decided to take in order to provide additional defence for their main base at Rabaul. The advance to Kokoda had the same limited objective.[50]

But to sustain racist myths is more important than the truth. So Wheelwright and David tell of an individual called Ken Sato, who

had been chosen as the Chief Civil Administrator for Japanese-occupied Australia…after the war he told Australian correspondent Denis Warner that the invasion of Australia was scheduled for the autumn of 1942…[51]

What is their source for this story? Was Ken Sato talking about serious plans or was it wishful boasting? Wheelwright and David get the story straight out of War on the Waterfront by that well-known Japan hater, Rupert Lockwood. What they neglect to acknowledge is Lockwood’s admission that:

In the decisive talks in Tokio the Japanese Army pointed out that Australia was twice the size of occupied China. Conquest would demand diversion of the main naval forces at Japan’s disposal; the US Navy had shown it was far from finished and could block supply lines and the Army could not provide twelve infantry divisions felt necessary, nor were the required 1,500,000 tons…of shipping available.[52]

In their desperation to concoct anti-Japanese propaganda, even Rupert Lockwood has to be edited! But in the main, the anti-Japanese argument rests on half-truths rather than outright lies. We are told the Japanese were brutal and barbaric; we are not told that the Allies were sometimes worse. We are told of brutal treatment in Japanese prisoner of war camps; we are not told that the Allies preferred not to take prisoners. We are told the Japanese were aggressive and treacherous imperialists; we are not told that Asia was already dominated by brutal and powerful imperialists, that Japan did not want war with America.

Most importantly, the established mythology lets the real villains off the hook. The war was not a product of Japanese “aggression”, but imperialist rivalry, of which Japanese aggression was but one significant component. Blaming the Japanese legitimised the expansion of American and Australian military power throughout South-East Asia – in other words, strengthened the imperialist system, the cause of the war. The racist attitudes aroused by blaming the Japanese helped tie Australian workers to their exploiters. They conditioned Australian workers to accept massively raised levels of exploitation during the war, to accept huge wartime casualties, and finally to positively welcome the use of the atomic bomb, the ANZUS treaty, the Korean War and the invasion of Vietnam.

The road to Pearl Harbour

On the evening of 7 December 1941, Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbour in the American colony of Hawaii, thus beginning the Pacific War. Immediately the Western propaganda machine leapt into action. Japan’s action was “treacherous”, “a day that will live in infamy”, and worse. This myth of Japanese “treachery” is enormously potent still today. However, it is exactly that – a myth. The truth is that it was the American administration that decided on war. On 25 November 1941, the US Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson, wrote in his diary with regard to Japan:

…the question is how we should manoeuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.[53]

Indeed, the administration had been warned three days in advance, by Australia, that a Japanese fleet was headed towards Pearl Harbour. Instead of issuing the fastest possible warning, they conspired to delay the message to their fleet there and sent it by slow, commercial channels rather than through military communications.

By late 1941, the US had agreed to enter the war on the side of the British after forcing Churchill to accept that the post-war world would see the British Empire dismantled and American interests dominant. The problem facing Roosevelt was that the American population was largely hostile to US involvement in the European war. Indeed, Roosevelt had been forced to pledge himself to no involvement during the presidential election of late 1940. Stimson revealed the motives of the administration at the Congressional committee investigating Pearl Harbour in 1946:

In spite of the risk involved, however, in letting the Japanese fire the first shot, we realized that in order to have the full support of the American people it was desirable to make sure that the Japanese be the ones to do this…[54]

Beard argues, then, that the tactic of the US administration was to use war in the Pacific as the means of involving itself in the world war more generally – without which it could not dominate the post-war world. Of course, it would not have been interested in war in the Pacific had it not been seriously concerned with the rapid growth of Japanese imperialism: its conquest of whole sections of China, its seizure of French Indo-China and its obvious preparation to use the European war to expand its empire. Again, the US was not the slightest bit concerned for “democracy” or the national rights of the countries seized by Japan – its own empire (as well as those of its allies) were testimony to that. Its central concern was to prevent the expansion of a powerful rival.

In August 1941, the US publicly warned Japan against taking “any further steps in pursuance of a policy or program of military domination by force”. According to Charles Beard:

The Premier of Japan, on September 6, 1941, informed the American Ambassador in Tokyo that he subscribed fully to the four great principles of American policy laid down in Washington. Then President Roosevelt and Secretary Hull declared that this was not enough…[55]

Realising the imminent danger of war inherent in the US declaration, the government of Prince Konoye repeatedly sued for a peaceful settlement. The US ambassador in Tokyo, who had been in the post for a decade, laid great stress on the willingness of the Japanese government to negotiate peace. Furthermore, he warned that the delaying tactics and the insistence by Washington that line by line negotiations take place before any meeting would discredit the Konoye cabinet. He warned Roosevelt:

The logical outcome of this will be the downfall of the Konoye cabinet and the formation of a military dictatorship which will lack either the disposition or the temperament to avoid colliding head-on with the United States.[56]

Was Japan’s peace initiative just a manoeuvre? The US had by now broken the Japanese communications code and intercepted messages that showed that even the new Tojo government was anxious to settle with the US, and indeed, for a few weeks, the US toyed with negotiations. Then, around 25 November, they settled decisively on war. We don’t exactly know why; what the balance of argument was. We do know that the British government, having secured a promise from Roosevelt that he join them in the war against Germany, was also pressing the US to take action against Japan in the East. Japan’s expansion was threatening Britain’s vast empire, and it no longer had the forces to maintain its interests. The next day, 26 November, Secretary of State Hull handed the Japanese a humiliating ultimatum which insisted:

The Government of Japan will withdraw all military, naval, air and police forces from China and from Indo-China…[and support no] government or regime in China other than the National Government [of Chiang Kai-Shek]…[57]

Now socialists, of course, were strongly against Japanese imperialism and militarism. But we were (and are) also against British, American and Australian imperialism. And we are against any attempt by any of the great powers to transform their rivalry into war. It would have been just as outrageous for the Japanese imperialists to insist that the US government withdraw from the Philippines and Hawaii, the British from India, Hong Kong, Malaya, Singapore, etc. as the price for avoiding war. It has to be emphasised that the humiliating ultimatum that led to war came from our side, that Pearl Harbour was the result of American, not Japanese treachery. The Japanese government felt they had been left only two stark options: to retreat and subordinate themselves to the Americans, or to take the risk that war involved. In its weekly intelligence report of 12 December 1942, the British Admiralty wrote:

had she not gone to war now, Japan would have seen such a deterioration of her economic situation as to render her ultimately unable to wage war, and to reduce her to the status of a second-rate Power.[58]

Being by far the weaker power, it made sense for Japan to strike first and strike hard in the hope that the gains made would give them some chance of coming out of the catastrophe no worse off. When Stimson, the Secretary for War, asked Hull on 27 November about the negotiations with Japan, the response was, “I have washed my hands of it and it is now in the hands of you and Knox – the Army and the Navy”.[59] This was a full ten days before Pearl Harbour.

However, in seeking an explanation for the causes of a war, it is completely fatuous to argue over “who fired the first shot”. War is an extension of politics, and a war as profound as the Second World War only grows out of profound and otherwise irresolvable rivalries. The common explanation for the war is that Japanese expansionism made war inevitable. You only had to look at the seizure of Manchuria in 1931, the contrived and brutal war with China from 1937, the Axis Alliance with Germany and Italy and the thrust southward which began in Indo-China in 1940. Pearl Harbour was just part of a pattern. And of course, this is, in a sense, true – but dishonest at the same time. The reason that Japanese expansion led to war is that it ran slap bang into the interests of the existing great powers. It would be just as honest to say (as the Japanese did) that the war was caused by the refusal of the declining imperialists, such as Britain and France, to give up some of their colonies – in which their rule was as brutal as anything dished out by Japan – to the virile, new powers in the world. Building a Japanese empire wasn’t simply an act of greed, it was a response to the world situation Japan’s rulers found themselves in – a world of great powers, bolstered economically and militarily by their colonial possessions. Commenting on Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, James Crowley wrote:

It seems manifest, in retrospect, that the absorption of the Hermit Kingdom [Korea] was practically dictated by the nature of European rivalries, especially the advance of Czarist Russia into South Manchuria and the projected construction of the trans-Siberian railway.[60]

In other words, the pressures for empire within Japan were partly created by Britain, the US, Russia and so on. Marlene Mayo, in reviewing the career of Yamagata Aritomo – he was war minister, chief of the general staff, home minister, prime minister, president of the Privy Council and genro [elder statesman] in early imperialist Japan – showed that there was no “master plan” to Japan’s expansion. Instead, the pressures of European rivalry and the need for markets and raw materials continually pushed Japan outwards and its successes created the “need” for ever further extending its influence. This was exactly the imperialist dynamic theorised by Lenin and Bukharin.

Yamagata thus did not plot to create an empire; nor did he urge Japan to stir up trouble or stage incidents…[61]

Yamagata had begun talking about security…[but] Empire, even a limited empire, had become a corollary of the quest for security.[62]

Is this so very different from the behaviour of Australia’s Hughes who demanded control of New Guinea and related islands because, “To allow another nation to control them would be to allow it to control Australia”? Australia, he assured his hearers, did not desire empire but only security.[63] When Yamagata argued that “to become the leader of East Asia it will be absolutely necessary to extend the line of advantage”[64] it was merely the parallel of Hughes who would later argue that “We are as it were the advance guard of the white population of the world”.[65]

Japan had already been taught that “a strong navy is the midwife of commerce”. However its own rapid naval expansion inevitably brought it into conflict with the United States. The end of the war saw this naval rivalry intensify to the point where in August 1919, half the entire US navy was despatched from its Atlantic bases to service in the Pacific. By 1920 there was open speculation about the possibility of war. This costly and threatening arms race was ended, and a disarmament conference called in Washington, where Japan made the major concessions. Agreement was reached to scrap certain ships so that Britain, America and Japan would keep their navies in a certain proportion – with Britain and America combined having around three times the forces of Japan in the Pacific.

So by 1941, America and Japan had been “colliding” in the Pacific for nearly four decades. What elevated their rivalry into war was the desperation that the Great Depression created in ruling classes everywhere. The Depression led to economic collapse, mass unemployment, “overproduction” and hence to trade wars as governments moved to defend their “national” industries against “outside competition”. This worldwide trend to autarky impacted particularly heavily on countries dependent on exports, like Japan. Miriam S. Farley has documented the extraordinary array of restrictions Japanese exporters came to face in the years after 1931. The French imposed quotas in 1932; the Ottawa agreements of 1932 involved British dominions giving each other (but mainly Britain) preference, which hit Japan hard; the Chinese import tariff of 1933 was aimed at Japan.[66] Farley points to two periods in which Japanese exports doubled. The first, from 1923-29 caused no great fuss, but:

During the second period, which was one of severe depression in world economy [sic], the growth of Japanese exports produced an acute disturbance of world markets and serious friction between Japan and other countries.[67]

In…especially the imperial possessions of the great powers, she has encountered a formidable counter-attack in the form of trade restrictions calculated to preserve the colonial markets of the metropolitan exporters.[68]

With world markets profoundly depressed, Japanese state capitalism also turned to colonial expansion as a strategy for growth. Japan’s annexation of Manchuria allowed it to pour large scale investment in to raise the production of all kinds of raw materials, as well as manufactured goods. As a result, Japan emerged from the crisis two years ahead of the rest of the world. While US production didn’t reach the 1929 level until 1937, Japan’s production in 1938 was 73 percent ahead of the 1929 level.[69] The economic success of Japan’s colonial strategy, combined with the tendency to freeze her out of markets, led to the fateful decision to try and conquer China in 1937, which led her into sharp collision with British and American interests. Indeed, for Paul Schroeder, “There is no longer any real doubt that the [Pacific] war came about over China”.[70]

The third effect of the Depression years was to create an environment of generalised conflict, a series of invasions, aggressions and political upheavals. The onset of war in Europe in 1939 meant that the balance of forces in the world was starting to change sharply. The Japanese government saw the possibility of strengthening its position by preparing to take over the possessions of those countries defeated in war – French Indo-China, the Dutch East Indies, British Malaya and Burma, and so on. To move to seize these colonies would risk serious conflict with America. At every step, the Japanese government sought to avoid war with the US – to the extent of making a partial retreat from its gains in China. But for Japan to fail to grab what it could would be to accept a subordinate position to America in a dangerous and unstable world. This is not to justify their imperialism – merely to point out that its logic flowed not from anything specifically Japanese, but from the brutal and competitive system in which its rulers operated and of which they themselves formed a major pillar.

Indeed, far from the confident, aggressive power they are made out to be, the Japanese ruling class was riven with differences and doubts. There were numerous, violent changes of government and Prince Konoye, twice prime minister, was noted for his vacillation and irresolution when faced with internal discontent, pressure for conquest, and threats from outside. In the end, war came because the American government wanted war – it wanted to be involved in Europe so it could dictate as much of the post-war world as possible, and it wanted to roll back the upstart Japanese in the Pacific. Forcing them to fire the first shot was a politically effective way of drawing the population behind the administration’s aims.

Australia’s road to war

As a junior partner to British imperialism, the Australian state was inevitably going to be drawn into conflict with Japan, a conflict that would be made all the more certain and bitter given the fears of Japan and intensity of anti-Japanese racism over a long period. What is interesting is the way a Japanese-Australian economic relationship emerged which led a section of the ruling class to oppose conflict with Japan, a relationship that created all kinds of contradictory pressures on the Australian government.

Japanese purchases of Australian wool rose from £108 million or 12.7 percent of total wool exports in 1928 to £226 million representing 21.3 percent in 1933. The increase in wheat exports was even more spectacular, rising from 1.7 million centals in 1929-30 to 10.8 million the following year. By 1933-4, Japan took 11.2 percent of total exports, making it Australia’s second largest market and one which was giving the national economy a surplus of £9 million by 1935-6.[71] It is important to emphasise that this happened at a time when sharply falling prices plus significantly lower demand for Australian exports in their traditional markets had so affected revenues that there were doubts about the country’s solvency and the government’s ability to pay back its loans.

But at the same time as the two economies were becoming more and more interdependent, Japan’s annexation of Manchuria in 1931, the 1932 naval attack on Shanghai, and its repudiation of the Washington naval treaties in 1933 all strengthened the virulent anti-Japanese current here.

William Morris Hughes attempted to launch a “Defence of Australia League” in 1933 with Alan Watt and Sir Thomas Blamey but it fell flat. Somewhat more successfully, he wrote The Price of Peace in 1934 and Australia and War Today; the price of peace in 1935 as part of the campaign for higher defence spending. George Marks’ book, Pacific Peril, a well-produced book of simplistic journalism, gives you some of the flavour of anti-Japanese paranoia around in 1933. His argument is that Japan needs space, we won’t give it, sooner or later our insults will force Japan to attack and we’ll see “the hurricane wings of race war in the Pacific”.

The world’s biggest guns…defend the Singapore base. It is the white man’s reminder to the East that the Pacific must be white… Australia must never forego the national ideal – White Australia. To recede from that ideal is an invitation to Asia to come south.[72]

This campaign had a champion in the Sydney Daily Telegraph which in November 1933 ran a major article headlined, “War with Japan is inevitable”.[73] Thus the idea that Japan had long held plans to conquer Australia was an inversion of the truth: that it was in Australia, and not Japan, that a future war was expected and planned for, and a strategy to gain popular support for it was continually sought by politicians and journalists at the highest level.

Faced with these contradictory pressures from the ruling class, the government’s response was itself contradictory. In its enthusiasm to cement its ties with the important and dynamic Japanese market, the government sent the Attorney-General on a “goodwill mission” through the Far East in 1934, and Japan reciprocated with a Ministerial visit in 1935. At the same time, in the 1933-34 Budget, it began to raise military spending, gradually at first, and more rapidly as crises mounted. Concern for the military implications of Japanese expansion intersected with hostility to the rapid growth of Japanese industrial exports to Australia among certain sections of the ruling class traditionally associated with the urban, manufacturing, protectionist element. So from 1933, the Melbourne Age conducted an unrelenting campaign against so-called Japanese “dumping”. It must be emphasised that this was, for many years, a minority view inside the ruling class. Only small sections of urban capital, primarily in textiles, were directly threatened by Japanese competition; the rest benefited from the general economic recovery Japanese trade allowed, while wheat farmers and graziers benefited very strongly from both the export markets and the falling price of manufactured imports. Yet in 1936, the anti-Japan lobby won a significant victory. On 22 May 1936, without any warning, the Australian government announced a “trade diversion policy” which immediately led to a disastrous trade war with Japan. The Trade Diversion Dispute cost millions in lost exports, forced the Australian government into a humiliating backdown, and left a residue of bitterness and hostility on both sides.

The policy was aimed at both the US and Japan, and involved a system of “licences” and an increase in the tariff applied to non-British imports – to the point where duties were six times the levels applied to British imports. The Japanese response was swift, with the complete prohibition of Australian wool, wheat and flour except under licence (virtually none were actually issued), and increased import duties on a range of other products. Australian exports to Japan fell from £17.7 million in 1935-6 to £9.7 million the next year, far exceeding the decline in imports from Japan which only fell from £6.3 million to £5 million, thus massively cutting Australia’s trade surplus. The dispute gave a tremendous boost to Japan’s artificial fibre industry, permanently lessening its dependence on wool.[74] Why did they do it? The most immediate reason is that lower prices, born of capital intensive manufacturing (and low wages, though these were secondary) were giving Japanese textiles the upper hand in Australia, pushing British products out of their second biggest market. For the Australian government, the “executive arm of the whole ruling class”, it posed very sharply the question of Australia’s relationship with Britain. Shepherd quotes one British observer commenting:

What seems to have lain behind the trade diversion policy was the numb fear in official quarters in Australia that if they allowed Japan to rout Lancashire in the sale of textiles, then they would be subjected by the Government of the United Kingdom to a further substantial contraction of the British market for all types of agricultural produce.[75]

And the British market remained fundamental to the health of Australian capitalism. But the issue went beyond mere economic calculation. In backing the government, as virtually every daily paper did, the Melbourne Herald “acclaimed the tariff as extending two long-established principles of Australian national policy – protection for home industries and imperial preference”.[76] As the world became more dangerous, the British Empire and Britain’s military shield became more central to the ruling class – even if a certain economic cost was involved. As I have already argued, the promotion of local manufacturing, despite its small scale and relative uncompetitiveness, and the related promotion of white, British immigration, were fundamental to ruling class strategy, for both economic and defence reasons, for 150 years.

The importance of their mutual trade was too important for this trade war to continue. The fact that it could happen at all showed the decisive position of urban capital, and especially manufacturing, in the local ruling class. Nevertheless, although subordinate, Australian farmers and pastoralists campaigned vigorously to get “their” government (it was a conservative coalition) to back down. A compromise with Japan was soon worked out, but it was one that saw Australian profits permanently cut. Partly as a legacy of the radicalisation of war years and after, the labour press, by and large, also attacked the paranoia towards Japan. The American academic Jack Shepherd concluded his 1940 (pre-Pearl Harbour) survey of Australia’s Interests and Policies in the Far East:

Australia also helped confirm Japan in her conviction that her dependence upon foreign sources of essential supplies constituted a weakness in her economy and in her national armour which must at all cost be remedied. To this extent the Australian government…strengthened the hand of those groups in Japan which argued that she must seek sources of supply nearer home and under her own direct or indirect control.[77]

It may therefore not be entirely unrelated that in July 1937, Japan launched a new attempt to subjugate China and strengthen its own empire. This, in turn, hardened anti-Japanese feeling within the Australian ruling class and population generally. Along with the rapid escalation of German expansion, it precipitated a sharp rise in Australian military spending; from £7 million a year in 1934-7 to £11.5 million in 1937-8, to £43 million over three years in March 1938, which became £63 million in December and £70 million the following February, seven months before war broke out in Europe. This dreadful rearmament gives the lie to the nonsense peddled by Wheelwright and David, and Rupert Lockwood before them, that the government was riddled with “appeasers” – as if it would have been preferable for the war to have started earlier. What is true is that despite everything, the government’s policy remained enormously contradictory. At the same time as frenzied rearmament, the ruling class was unwilling, right to the very end, to break what had become a major trading relationship. In 1940, with tensions at a high level, the Menzies government appointed the country’s first ever ambassadors outside the framework of imperial diplomacy, including Sir John Latham going to Tokyo. It was in the context of rapidly escalating military tensions and an international arms free-for-all, that the famous “pig-iron” dispute broke out in Port Kembla.

The 1938 “pig-iron” dispute[78]

On 18 November 1938, all but seven members of the Port Kembla branch of the Waterside Workers’ Federation voted to refuse to load 7000 tons of pig-iron bound for Japan onto the cargo vessel, the Dalfram. On the same day, a mass meeting of Port Kembla ironworkers called on the local secretary of the Federated Ironworkers’ Association to refuse to supply labour to break the strike. Indian foremen aboard the ship also voted to support the ban.[79] The dispute which arose from these decisions was to win support from a wide cross-section of Australian society – not only workers and the left, but racists, militarists and sections of the ruling class including the former governor-general, Sir Isaac Isaacs. It also inspired one of Australia’s most enduring nicknames as the future prime minister Menzies was anointed “Pig-iron Bob”. It was to involve the use of some of the federal government’s most draconian anti-union legislation and to clearly reaffirm the capacity of trade unionists to mobilise around political issues.

The dispute itself was underpinned by a federal government decision to embargo all future iron ore exports “pending a report on future supplies”.[80] This led to an immediate conflict over the proposed Yampi development in Western Australia on which substantial Japanese industrial planning was relying and for which a 1935 agreement allowed “shipments on a full scale…to commence in 1938, beginning with 500,000 tons annually and rising to 1,000,000 thereafter”.[81] The high demand for iron ore and scrap in Japan was the subject of considerable press coverage in the late 1930s. The Sydney Morning Herald described this scrap shortage as a “famine” and reported calls by the Japanese emperor for a special conference on the matter:

The owners of a big half-built, twelve floor building in Tokyo considered and then declined a proposal to re-sell the iron framework at a huge profit… The construction of government buildings is ceasing. Osaka manufacturers, with chagrin, declined a 10,000,000 yen (£75,000) order for railway equipment… Every scrap of metal here now has a value, even razor blades and sardine tins.[82]

Within Australia, the metal industry unions and the small metal manufacturers were the most vocal in demanding a pig-iron embargo. The Victorian Trades Hall Secretary, Albert Monk, declared:

Every shipment of iron to Japan is to the detriment of Australian manufacturers of steel… The effect is that Australian manufacturers using scrap iron will be seriously handicapped, and Australian workmen may consequently be displaced from employment.[83]

This sentiment was echoed in August by representatives of the smaller iron foundries. However, the general attitude of BHP seems to have been that, despite rising prices, all orders were being met and there was no particular shortage.[84] There were significant profits to be made from the Sino-Japanese war!

In a generalised environment of fear about Japan, the response of the unions was primarily nationalist. Any radical element within their ideas was couched in terms of confronting Japanese “fascism”, particularly after the invasion of China. In October 1937, the Fremantle Lumpers’ Union took the first direct action by refusing to load coal onto the Japanese whaler, Tonan Maru. Waterside Workers’ Federation members in Geelong also blacked the ship. Between July 1937 and February 1939, all major ports except Brisbane imposed bans on the loading of pig-iron, often independently of the union’s federal officials. When Menzies visited Port Kembla in January 1939, he was met by 3,000 protesters. Workers Weekly reported:

The feeling in Wollongong was at fever pitch all day. Printed posters calling for support for the watersiders could be seen all over the town. Calico signs bearing the slogans of the watersiders had been placed in prominent positions all along the main South Coast Road from Sydney. At meetings all along the coast, the locked out steel workers have unhesitatingly declared their support for the wharfies.[85]

When Menzies promised to meet a union delegation to discuss their boycott proposal – talks which predictably came to nothing – the officials finally had the carrot they needed to get the workers to go back. The subsequent war with Japan has given the Port Kembla wharfies a heroic status in Australian labour mythology. They are justifiably credited with establishing the tradition of trade union action in support of national liberation struggles. The dispute undoubtedly strengthened working class resolve to support later victims of imperialism, such as the Indonesians fighting for independence from the Dutch after the war, and the Vietnamese resisting French and later American imperialism. But as Rupert Lockwood’s book War on the Waterfront reveals, there was another side to the dispute.[86] For while many workers saw the struggle at least partly in terms of defending the national rights of the Chinese, the conclusion drawn by Workers Weekly, that “the struggle showed the pseudo-patriotic Lyons government in its true light, grovelling before the foreign fascists, ready to go to any extreme to protect the war profits of the BHP”[87] was not only disgustingly nationalist (and even war-mongering), but it doesn’t really stand up given that the government was at the same time embargoing the export of iron to Japan. Indeed, we can only conclude that it was their class hostility towards workers demanding a say in the country’s foreign policy, and not any lack of “patriotism”, that led them to resist the wharfies so determinedly.

So despite expressing at some level a desire to defend Chinese national rights, the struggle fed into and reinforced the rising anti–Japanese phobia of the time, fears which led precisely in an imperialist and militarist direction. Lockwood cites the support given to the struggle by the viciously racist RSL and quotes a statement from the Queensland Secretary which undoubtedly summed up the views of many of the workers themselves:

We are assisting a country…which is definitely hostile to the British nations to manufacture munitions which may be delivered to us, at a later day…[88]

By further stimulating fears of a Japanese invasion, the Communist Party leaders of the dispute in part strengthened the position of the Lyons government, which had committed itself to a huge military build-up, and which had postponed a promised national insurance scheme to pay for the armaments. Indeed, the Australian nationalism which the Communist Party had by then so thoroughly embraced, would, in the context of war, lead them right into the miserable slime of an anti-Japanese racism that became part of their tradition, a tradition which their political heirs continue to this day.

The War

The Second World War is, without a doubt, the most barbaric event in human history. It ought to be a symbol of the extreme savagery to which our rulers can descend when their vital interests are threatened. Wars – brutal, savage conflicts over plunder, territory and global power – are fundamental to capitalism. Yet there are many things that make the Second World War particularly dreadful. There is the scale of the killing (50 million dead), torture and suffering. There is the way human ingenuity, skill and loyalty was mobilised against humanity – the ultimate in capitalist alienation – and the way resources that did not exist to feed, clothe and shelter people could suddenly be found for concentration camps, for the bombing of innocent civilians, for the development of nuclear weapons. But the worst thing about the war was the degree to which this savagery was, and still is, accepted. Unlike Vietnam or the First World War, there was no anti-war movement to challenge the aims of the ruling class on either side.[89] Unlike other wars, the Second World War is still seen by most Australian workers as a heroic struggle for civilisation and the protection of “our” country. So unlike other wars, the atrocities committed by “our” side are largely buried and “forgotten” and those of the Japanese endlessly repeated.

Linked to the idea that the war was being fought against fascism and for democracy was a bitter and virulent anti-Japanese racism. The extent of this racism created a level of hate that made the Pacific conflict one of the most brutal parts of the whole war. Brutality by the West encouraged and legitimated brutality on the Japanese side; brutality from the Japanese combined with anti-Japanese racism to make the most extreme savagery by “our side” seem “necessary”. As the war progressed, so did the level of gratuitous violence on both sides. It may be thought that the climax, the end of this paroxysm of violence came with the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But this is not so; five days after the Nagasaki bomb, and four days after the Japanese government made it clear it intended to surrender, General Henry H. Arnold, one of the major planners of the US bombing strategy, was attempting to arrange “as big a finale as possible” to end the war. “It was his dream”, writes John Dower, “to hit Tokyo with a final 1,000-plane air raid”.[90] What such a raid would mean had been already illustrated. From March 1945 the US had abandoned “precision bombing” of military targets and sent 334 aircraft to conduct low altitude bombing of 40 square kilometres of Tokyo.

Between eighty thousand and one hundred thousand civilians died in the Tokyo raid – “scorched and boiled and baked to death” was how the mastermind of the new strategy, Major Curtis LeMay, later phrased it. The heat from the conflagration was so intense that in some places canals boiled, metal melted and buildings and human beings burst spontaneously into flames… One of Douglas MacArthur’s key aides, Brigadier General Bonner Fellers, frankly described the U.S. air raids against Japan as “one of the most ruthless and barbaric killings of non-combatants in all history”.[91]

General Arnold’s “big finale” involved 828 bombers and 186 fighter escorts. They bombed an already devastated Tokyo yet again without suffering a single loss. US President Truman had already announced Japan’s unconditional surrender before all the planes had returned to base.[92]

In 1937, Roosevelt had condemned the bombing of Chinese cities by Japanese forces, the most notorious example being the “rape of Nanking”, saying “any general bombing of an extensive area wherein there resides a large population engaged in peaceful pursuits is unwarranted and contrary to principles of law and humanity”. Within eight years America was to embrace these same “barbarous methods” (Britain having already made a start in the firebombing of German cities). But the only thing new in America’s “barbarity” was the scale of it. In 1920, British planes had bombed civilians in Iraq and, in 1927-32, US Marines had bombed the civilian population of Nicaragua in an attempt to put down Sandino’s nationalist movement. The Japanese imperialists were not original – they had merely learned well from those more experienced in the business.

Decades of racism, unchallenged during the war by the left (with the exception of small groups of Trotskyists), led to the rapid growth of genocidal attitudes. In America, public opinion polls showed that 10-13 percent consistently supported the “annihilation” or “extermination” of the Japanese as a people. A US Army poll taken in 1943 showed that half of all GIs thought that it would be necessary to kill all Japanese before there would be peace.[93] The President’s son (and confidant), Elliott Roosevelt, told a friend that the US should bomb Japan “until we have destroyed about half the Japanese civilian population”, while Paul V. McNutt, chairman of the US War Manpower Commission told an audience in 1945 that he favoured “the extermination of the Japanese in toto”. Vice-Admiral Arthur Radford was quoted as saying, “Japan will eventually be a nation without cities – a nomadic people”.[94]

The clarion call for Japan’s “thoroughgoing defeat” in turn reinforced the Japanese militarists as they struggled to rally the Japanese people to die en masse for their country. As one of the major Japanese newspapers put it, “Enemy plans to wipe Japan and the Japanese people off the face of the earth are no propaganda manifestations”.[95]

Japanese war crimes are well known. Less well known are the war crimes committed by “our” side – and those, like Hiroshima, that are known about, are not seen as part of a consistent pattern of behaviour. Indeed, I would argue that the very existence (and promotion) of war crimes tribunals after the war was precisely to legitimise the barbaric behaviour of “our” side. The savagery was not confined to the remote act of bombing. Edgar L. Jones, an American war correspondent, stated:

We shot prisoners in cold blood, wiped out hospitals, strafed lifeboats, killed or mistreated enemy civilians, finished off the enemy wounded, tossed the dying into a hole with the dead, and in the Pacific boiled the flesh of enemy skulls to make table ornaments for sweethearts, or carved their bones into letter openers.[96]

One of the arguments most commonly used to prove that the Japanese were “different”, was their willingness to engage in suicide missions, what was seen as a bizarre and inhuman cult of preferring death (including suicide) to surrender. It might have been bizarre, but was it so different from the West? “You have learnt that it is the highest and sweetest achievement of us all that we should die for our country.” The words are those of General Sir Thomas Blamey, head of the Australian armed forces.[97] Why was it more bizarre to die for the Emperor of Japan than to die for the King of England or the President of the United States? Both Churchill and MacArthur ordered their commanders never to surrender.[98] And the famous kamikazes weren’t so unusual either. The number of British airmen who gave their lives in the war was ten times greater than the number of Japanese who died as kamikaze pilots.

There is, however, another dimension to the unwillingness of the Japanese to surrender. As the right wing war correspondents Denis and Peggy Warner put it in their book, Kamikaze, “The Japanese did not want to surrender; they received little encouragement to do so”. Warner tells of an incident on Bougainville in which an officer – it is not clear whether he was American or Australian – ordered the shooting of soldiers in the act of surrender.

“But, Sir, they are wounded and want to surrender,” a colonel protested to Major General Robert S. Beightler after an unsuccessful Japanese attack.

“You heard me, Colonel,” replied Beightler, who was only yards away from upstretched Japanese hands. “I want no prisoners. Shoot them all.”

Dower commented:

…thousands of Japanese perished because they saw no alternative. In a report dated June 1945, the U.S. Office of War information noted that 84 per cent of one group of interrogated Japanese prisoners…stated that they had expected to be killed or tortured by the Allies if taken prisoner.[99]

As the American analysts themselves acknowledged, these Japanese fears were not irrational… An article published by a U.S. Army captain shortly after the war, for example, carried the proud title “The 41st Didn’t Take Prisoners”… The reputation of not taking prisoners also became associated with Australian troops in general. In many instances, moreover, Japanese who did become prisoners were killed on the spot or en route to the prisoner compounds.[100]

A major source of information on the conduct of the Pacific war is the diary kept by the aviator Charles Lindbergh, who spent four months as a civilian observer with the US forces in New Guinea. On 18 May 1944, two weeks after linking up with a marine unit, Lindbergh recorded that the camps were full of reports of Japanese torture and beheading of captured pilots. A month later he heard from an American general how an unsuspecting Japanese prisoner was given a cigarette and then seized from behind and his throat cut – as a demonstration of how to kill Japanese. His entry for 26 June tells of a massacre of Japanese prisoners and airmen being shot in their parachutes. Of several thousand prisoners, “only a hundred or two were turned in”. On the 28th he records the kicking in of the teeth of Japanese, sometimes before and sometimes after executing them. On 13 July, he wrote:

It was freely admitted that some of our soldiers tortured Jap prisoners and were as cruel and barbaric at times as the Japs themselves. Our men think nothing of shooting a Japanese prisoner…these acts are condoned by almost everyone.[101]

In August he wrote that when the word went out to take Japanese prisoners, and offered material rewards, prisoners were brought in in great numbers. He wrote of the killing of all patients in a Japanese hospital and mentioned that Australians often threw Japanese out of airplanes and then reported that they had committed hara-kiri. Allied racism led to some quite disgusting practices. Dower writes of the widespread

practice of collecting grisly battlefield trophies from the Japanese dead or near dead, in the form of gold teeth, ears, bones, scalps and skulls…[102]

In the diary of a seaman, published after the war, we find tucked away in an entry in July 1944 the casual mention of a Marine who had already collected seventeen gold teeth, the last from a Japanese soldier on Saipan who was wounded and still moving his hands. Sledge, in his memoir of Peleliu and Okinawa, records an even more excruciating scene of a wounded Japanese thrashing on the ground as a Marine slit his cheeks open and carved his gold-crowned teeth out with a kabar.[103]

The practices of using the skulls of dead Japanese as ornaments on military vehicles, of collecting the bones of dead Japanese soldiers, and of carving them into objects such as letter-openers, were all sufficiently common that when he finally left the war zone and passed through customs in Hawaii, Lindbergh was asked if he had any bones in his luggage. It was, he was told, a routine question.[104]

So far as I know, there has never been major research into Australian war crimes in the Pacific war. Yet there is plenty of evidence that they did happen. It is significant that when it passed its controversial War Crimes legislation in 1987, the Hawke government took special care to exclude war crimes perpetrated by Australians in the Pacific. One doesn’t take such care to exclude such events unless one knows they exist, and exist to an extent liable to create serious embarrassment. Indeed, one example raised at the time the legislation was being debated was the incident, after the battle of the Bismarck Sea in March 1943, when Australian aircraft systematically searched the sea for Japanese survivors and strafed them, in straight out defiance of the Geneva convention by which Australia supposedly set so much store. No-one was ever disciplined for this cold-blooded murder.

Australia during the War

Such barbarism could not have been sustained without the active promotion of racist attitudes among both soldiers and the population “back home”. The “racism of imperialist rivalry” that I discussed earlier is not an unfortunate blemish in our political culture, but a life and death necessity for the ruling class in a time of war. To millions of Australians, this was the “race war” they had been expecting for a century, and the war, in turn, provided the basis for strengthening racist ideas in society. This was not lost on the new Labor Prime Minister John Curtin, who immediately moved to pose Australia’s involvement in racist terms. A week after Pearl Harbour, he assured parliament of his government’s

determination that this country shall remain forever the home of descendants of those people who came here in peace [!] in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British races. Our laws have proclaimed the principle of White Australia… We intend to maintain that principle.[105]

With the fall of Singapore in February 1942, the government moved to radically step up its racist propaganda. In March it launched its infamous “Hate” campaign – two weeks of newspaper advertisements and radio broadcasts aimed at arousing racial hatred of the Japanese. The second broadcast began:

The Japs have been educated to hate you from infancy. They have been preparing for a war like this since they were old enough to understand… Even when they smiled on us and treated us ever so politely they hated us in their souls… Young Japan learnt to hate while you were playing with marbles and enjoying the freedom and benefits of your democracy…

So the elementary schoolboy of 10 or 12 went out to bayonet practice with a heart filled with hate. Before lunging at the hanging bag, he would stick a few straws on top for hair and dab on a pair of blue eyes. As the steel went into the bag of straw, he hoped that some day it would be a real foreigner, not just an effigy.

As Japan has sowed, so shall she reap, and her harvest shall be a harvest of hate. For we, prepared from birth in the ways of peace [no kidding!!] have been aroused to a cold fury…[106]

All this in a country in which racial hatred had been fundamental since 1788, which had constantly terrified people with talk of the “Yellow Peril”, the “Japanese menace”, with warnings that “Australia will have to fight Japan” to “save the Pacific for the white race” (not to mention of course the genocide of the Aboriginal people). The press ads summed up the government’s appeal without the slightest hint of embarrassment, ending with “We’ve always despised them, NOW WE MUST SMASH THEM” – in display type.

Listeners to the ABC were told that “we are fighting an efficient and clever race which has religious beliefs just as primitive as those of the peoples of the dim past”, that Shintoism is “used to prepare the Jap soldier for war”, that “every time a Japanese makes a point he does it by trickery and deceit”, that “the worker in Japan is a slave” and that the big companies even “police his mind in the divine name of the Emperor”! In a subsequent broadcast they were told that:

This Christian nation, which, so recently at the call of His Majesty the King, and the leaders of all Churches, re-dedicated itself to God and the Principles of our Christian civilisation, realises that if it is to survive as a Christian Nation the Japanese forces of evil must be crushed.

That, of course, is so different from the religious illusions of the Japanese! And the broadcast continued:

In Japan, the Gestapo can gaol a worker on the fantastic charge that he is harbouring dangerous thoughts.

This from the party that suppressed the IWW in 1916 and which had refused to lift the ban on the pro-war Communist Party! It would be comical if it hadn’t actually been effective. A subsequent program went on about the Japanese thought police.

When the Japanese agents raid a house, for instance, they don’t bother to knock twice. If there isn’t an immediate response they smash in the door. And they prefer to pounce upon a victim at two or three in the morning.

This could never happen in NSW!! After describing a series of possible interrogation techniques (fairly standard practice in many Western countries):

But he may be somebody they’re not quite sure about… It may be as well not to mark him too much, just in case.

So they use itch powder. Sounds funny, doesn’t it. An old professor in Osaka was treated in this way. Two years after his examination, he was still smiling the happy smile of a mad man…

This nonsense is merely the prelude to the real message:

That’s the race we’re up against today: A race ruled by terror; a race of regimented minds, made easily receptive of all the fantastic propaganda [!] that has sent them mad with lust for conquest and power…[107]

The racist drivel spewed out by the government actually aroused some “middle class” protest in the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald from people who thought it too crude (and too similar, perhaps, to the Japan being portrayed?). The response from the Minister in Charge, Senator Ashley, was that “the Department of Information is doing a real service in these broadcasts by depicting the Japanese as cruel and vile”.[108]

The response of the left

Rather than stand up against this bloodlust, the dominant left organisation of the period, the Communist Party, went along with it. Following Stalin’s orders, the party had become more and more nationalist in the years since 1935, seeking an anti-German alliance between Western imperialism and the USSR. The years of the Stalin-Hitler Pact, 1939-41, saw it do an about face, condemning the European war as “imperialist”, but the Nazi invasion of Russia turned it back on the path it had been following – super patriotic and super militarist. Well before war in the Pacific had broken out, the party was beating the war drums. In a pamphlet for the CP front, the Movement Against War and Fascism, Len Fox regurgitates the opinions of the Australian adviser to Chiang Kai-shek, that “Japan’s objective is Australia”,[109] and retails most of the invasion fantasies that had previously gripped the country. He attacks the supposed inactivity of the British government, “a policy so clearly opposed to the interests of peace, and of the people of the British Empire”, and calls for “collective security” – a Western imperialist alliance with Russia – against the fascist powers. Anticipating the rather obvious question, “Are we a ‘Movement for War Against Fascism’?” Fox replies,

We are not advocating a pro-War alliance. We are advocating an alliance, based on the principle that an attack on one is an attack on all, but open to any Power that wishes to join.[110]

It was left to the Trotskyist paper of the time, The Militant, to point out that “These stout defenders of Australian capitalism are trying to frighten the local bosses into action against Japan”, and to condemn “the even more vicious chauvinism implied in the pictorial representation of the Japanese as leering orientals in the Stalinist posters”.[111] The trajectory, from nationalism through to racism and pro-imperialism, was to be traversed many times by party writers during the war. In March, 1942, Tribune (which was illegal) welcomed the arrival of American armed forces in Australia.[112] Blood-curdling stories nonchalantly told how Australian troops were using flame-throwing tanks so effectively “there was hardly a live Jap to oppose them”.[113] American military successes were praised as victories for democracy and American political leaders boosted. One article on the new President Truman, published four months before he dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, complained that:

Many biographies of President Truman have not done him justice. They have emphasised his long-past association with corrupt politicians – a charge that could be laid fairly generally in any capitalist country – and have not given due prominence to his many progressive achievements.[114]

A caption boosted the supposed “democratic” mission of the West:

New Guinea natives ushered in the New Year with a 24-hour dance in honour of the liberation of their villages by Australian Servicemen.[115]

No hint or warning of the hypocritical betrayal the people of PNG would face when the Labor government refused to fulfil its promises of post-war independence. There was a reasonable measure of racism to stir all this along – articles headed, “Why are the Japanese so backward?”[116] and racist cartoons, such as one showing Japanese being blown up with the caption “There’s a Nip in the air”. There was not, however, as much racism as there might have been. I believe this was due to the party’s campaign for a second front in Europe. Going on about Japanese atrocities would have weakened this campaign by strengthening the sentiment for maximum war resources to be channelled into the Pacific.

Comprising as it did many of the best and most class conscious working class militants, the Communist Party was not an out and out racist organisation. Towards the end of the war it began campaigning against Labor’s attachment to the White Australia policy. This did not make its position consistently anti-racist; it still advocated immigration controls against Asians. There was a war to fight for US, Russian and Australian imperialism, and occasionally the party provided some absolutely dreadful racism to push things along. A party pamphlet, Smash Japan, described a Japanese officer:

His physique was in tune with his dwarfed, twisted soul… Ridiculously small, bow-legged, repulsive to look at, his teeth stuck out at an angle of 45 degrees through thick lips which he never stopped licking.[117]

Tribune welcomed the dropping of the atomic bomb with a despicable cartoon showing a stereotypical Japanese man lying on the ground, a rising sun across his belly, smoke coming out of its mouth and bombs raining down on it, with the caption, “Jappy Ending”.

From Tribune, 16 August 1945, a week after the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

But perhaps the worst example was Rupert Lockwood’s 1943 pamphlet, Japan’s Heart of Wood. The title refers to the fact that Japan’s industrial cities were “still built mostly of wood and oiled paper”. Lockwood was calling on the Allies to launch a program of “sustained bombing of Japanese industrial cities” – to use incendiary bombs against the residential areas. So here we have a supposed “Communist” calling for the incendiary bombing of the homes of ordinary Japanese workers! –victims of the imperialist war, but also the force inside Japan that had the power to stop it.

In total war, the building that houses an armament worker has almost the same significance as the foliage-camouflaged dugout that hides a sniper in New Guinea… A grim fate awaits the civil populations of the Axis nations…[118]

He points to the destructive potential by recalling the experience of the 1923 earthquake (and subsequent fire) which took over 200,000 lives.

There is no doubt that fires starting in limited areas on the ground, as in 1923, would not take such a terrible toll, but the incendiary bomber does not halt at parks, broad avenues and fireproof zones. It skips over them all and rains down its deadly shower.[119]

We know now that this strategy was used by the US to such devastating effect that even sections of the US military were appalled. Lockwood’s message for the men, women and children whose bodies would spontaneously ignite and whose skin would melt – people who had no control over government policy? “Very soon, the people who dwell in wooden houses may be learning just how little it pays to throw bombs”. It takes a special kind of racism to so viciously celebrate the suffering of another nation’s people. The tradition of anti-Japanese racism, forged in the years from 1937 onwards, characterised the Communist Party from then on, providing the tradition and ultimately the cadres for today’s xenophobic campaigns.

The struggle for the post-war world

While in public all the talk was about democracy and freedom (and even socialism!), behind the scenes there was a struggle between the Allies over who would control what once the Axis powers were beaten. By 1943, when the tide had turned in the Pacific war, the Labor government began to make its post-war demands. At the same time as accepting American domination in the Northern Pacific, the Foreign Minister, Dr H.V. Evatt, attempted to ensure Australian domination of the South-West Pacific. According to the Americans, Evatt suggested in late 1943:

the two nations should divide control of the Pacific between them along a “natural line of defence” stretching from Timor, through Dutch and Australian New Guinea, New Britain, New Ireland, the Solomons, the New Hebrides, New Caledonia and New Zealand.[120]

In January 1944, Nelson Johnson, US Minister in Canberra, wrote to Washington that,

We are told by another [Australian] Cabinet member that Evatt has definitely in mind Australian sovereignty over all Solomons, Hebrides, and Fiji groups…

and a few days later, that,

Dr Evatt freely admits that the United States should have such territories as the Marshalls and Carolines but he would not admit this openly as he wanted to bargain for Australian ownership or domination up to the equator.[121]

One American official described this, pretty accurately, as an attempted “co-prosperity sphere” in the South Pacific. At the same time as he was attempting to take control of a vast area of the world, Evatt was also trying to both limit American domination and draw the Americans into a three-way “defence” agreement with New Zealand. From the standpoint of the Australian state, Evatt’s policy was entirely rational. As a major player in the region, Australia has the ability to project its military and economic power and dominate the small islands of the Pacific. As part of a ferociously competitive imperialist system, it has always looked to building a protective military shield around itself. Moreover, he made repeated statements that Australia did not seek to prejudice the colonial possessions of France, Holland or Portugal in the Pacific. And he strove to maintain British imperial power in the Far East. According to Roger Bell, “Evatt stressed that the ANZAC powers were acting as ‘trustees of British interests in the Pacific’”, while John Curtin championed concerted Empire collaboration “which might help Australia to obtain goals it could not reach without full Empire support”.[122]

Thus Australian nationalism, which sets out to express the interests of the Australian state, cannot be anything else but an imperialist and racist doctrine. Evatt’s foreign policy – demanding control of the islands and promoting the interests of European imperialists – was extraordinarily similar to Hughes’, 25-30 years earlier. And as long as Japan was seen as the primary military threat, Australian nationalism was necessarily rooted in profoundly racist attitudes towards Japan, with the White Australia policy as their cornerstone. However, the post-war world was not to turn out the way any of the ruling classes wanted. Far from ending war, it left two superpowers confronting each other – in Europe and Asia. And on the Western side, there was upheaval and revolt as the peoples of Asia fought to throw off the colonial yoke. One of the greatest impetuses to this nationalist rebellion – a rebellion every decent socialist welcomed – came from…Japan’s victories over the European powers in the early days of the Pacific war! In his book, The Issue of War, Christopher Thorne documents how:

when the Japanese had first arrived in Western colonial territories they had been met by acquiescence or outright enthusiasm and collaboration on the part of a significant proportion of the native populaces.

Large numbers of Malays welcomed the Japanese, while in Burma there were “open demonstrations of excitement when it became clear that the Japanese were winning”.[123]

Jose Laurel and Jorge Vargas in the Philippines lauded the Japanese victories as “vindicating the prestige of all Asiatic nations” in the face of “Anglo-Saxon imperialism”. Chou Fo-hai and Miao Pin in China, Ba Maw and Aung Sang in Burma, Soekarno in Indonesia and above all Bose from India – all welcomed and collaborated with the forces that had smashed the old colonialists. Many, including Soekarno (independent Indonesia’s first president), retained their loyalty to Japan’s war, even when the Allies gained the upper hand. Why? Because of Tokyo’s blanket promise of independence. General Yamashita Tomoyuki, after the surrender of Singapore, told the people:

We hope that we sweep away the arrogance and uprighteous British elements and share pain and rejoicing with all coloured peoples in a spirit of “give and take”, and also hope to promote…social development…[124]

Of course, this was simply rhetoric – very much like the cynical promises of independence Australia made to the people of PNG during the war in order to get their co-operation. The aim of the Japanese empire was to service the expansion of Japanese industry and Japanese capital. And the reality of Japanese racism soon became apparent as the colonial populations found themselves expected to work for a new set of foreign masters – a labour made all the more intense by Japan’s relative weakness and the demands of a failing war effort. Nevertheless, Japanese victories made a lasting impact throughout the region. The “Quit India” independence campaign of 1942 met savage British repression. According to official figures, over a thousand were killed, over 3,000 seriously injured and over 60,000 arrested. The Australian Minister to China concluded, “The British Empire in the Far East depended on prestige. This prestige has been completely shattered”.[125] In the Philippines, collaboration with the Japanese during the war was generally not seen as betrayal by people who watched in disgust as MacArthur supported his wealthy fascist friends. And in India, Thorne tells about the time

a young (and Christian) Indian stepped forward at a meeting called in Bihar Province at the end of 1941 in order to boost the war effort, and declared that military training was to be welcomed, not in relation to the Western-Japanese conflict, but for its value in terms of the inevitable further confrontation between whites and non-whites…[126]

The most important of the national movements in the post-war period was in China. Mao’s victory in 1949, while not introducing any form of socialism[127] did represent a gigantic defeat for US imperialism. The US response to a strengthened Russian bloc was McCarthyism at home, and a stepped up military presence in South East Asia. They invaded Korea, replaced the French when they were defeated in Indo-China, and entrenched a range of right wing dictatorships. This created two major dilemmas for the ruling class in Australia. The first concerned the treatment of Japan. Australian politicians had taken a very hard line, demanding the prosecution of Emperor Hirohito as a war criminal, and demanding a greater role in the occupation to make sure Japan was given no opportunity to revive as a power. However, by 1951, things had changed. As Norman Harper wrote:

The increasing tension with Russia and the slowly changing political balance in China produced a conviction that…a powerful, conservative Japan could act as an American bastion against Soviet imperialism in Asia, could be converted into “the workshop of East Asia”.[128]

Under the impact of the Korean war, the US moved to conclude a Peace Treaty with Japan in 1951, one that allowed the possibility of a modest level of Japanese rearmament. Australian politicians were hysterical. To accommodate Australian military concerns about Japan, the US revived the idea of the three-sided defence pact originally proposed by Evatt. Thus, as Foreign Minister Casey put it, ANZUS – which the left so rightly hates – “arose as a child of the Japanese Peace Treaty”. Or as Menzies himself wrote, “It would be idle to deny that the acceptance of a ‘soft’ treaty of peace with Japan gave impetus to the negotiating of ANZUS”.[129] Thus anti-Japanese racism in Australia caused the mass of workers and the Labor Party to welcome the imperialist ANZUS alliance, rather than oppose it. Needless to say, the Communist Party, which had so assiduously promoted nationalist fears of Japan, was less than pleased with its handiwork – especially given that both ANZUS and the Peace Treaty were specifically aimed at Russia. In a party pamphlet, No Arms for Japan, Duncan Clarke repeated a series of standard racist myths concerning Japanese militarism, and then went on to express his concern at the threat to

Australia’s traditional economic link…with Britain… In the Pacific the American Marshall pattern is for Australian integration with the dollar colony of Japan, and for the smashing of the traditional link with Britain… Americans in Japan have already proposed Japanese migration to Australia.

Mao’s China rapidly assumed the position of chief devil for the Australian ruling class. Thus the “domino theory” was born; arguing that to allow a “communist” victory anywhere in South-East Asia would be to invite further “aggression” closer and closer to Australia. Right wing politicians, especially the fanatics of the DLP, used to bolster their arguments with maps of the region showing arrows pointing from China through Malaya and Indonesia to Australia. All the “yellow peril” fears of a century, the hatred and fear felt towards Japan, were transferred to Mao’s China. And a decade and a half during which the Communist Party had led in stirring up fears of Japan made whole sections of the working class receptive to the argument. Anti-Japanese racism and paranoia underpinned acceptance of Menzies’ imperialist foreign policy – the invasion of Korea, the creation of military bases in Malaysia, and later, the invasion of Vietnam. And the historic fear of invasion from an Asian giant would be subsequently transferred again, to focus on Indonesia.

Nevertheless, there were contradictions in the imperialist response to Asian nationalism. Indeed, after the war the great powers allowed a certain measure of decolonisation – sometimes forced (Indonesia, Vietnam), sometimes “voluntary” (Malaya, Singapore, India). This did not, however, extend to Timor, Papua-New Guinea, nor Hong Kong. Moreover, the new pro-Western regimes were often weak and under pressure from nationalist guerrillas trying to emulate Mao’s victory. There were the Huks in the Philippines, the “Malaysian emergency”, and struggles in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Strengthening these regimes was a major plank of Australian foreign policy, and there were dollars to be made from successful trading. Yet throughout Asia, Australia’s immigration laws were widely known and bitterly resented as the most offensively racist in the world, reflecting colonial attitudes of domination. The problems associated with “White Australia” led Foreign Affairs officials, businesspeople and academics to begin to challenge it, through organisations such as the Immigration Reform Group. In their book, Immigration: Control or Colour Bar?, an anonymous Australian tourist, back from an extensive tour of Asia, is quoted to highlight the depth of Asian hostility:

[He had] a chance meeting with two Pakistanis, young businessmen from Lahore. The first two minutes produced the question, almost abruptly:

“When is Australia going to change its ‘White’ policy? What does Australia mean in its interpretation of the ‘Commonwealth’ if it excludes a free interchange of people within this group?”

In the train, third-class, from Allahabad to Calcutta, it was a group of four Indian engineers who raised the question… And so it was in a hundred places.[130]

The book went on to draw the consequences of this for the ruling class. “The Soviet Union, needless to add, has sought to cash in on the ill repute that Australia has acquired.” During the Cold War, this was a serious issue. In addition, Australian exporters and investors were competing with others for markets and investment opportunities. Then a revived Japanese economy began to buy larger and larger quantities of Australian raw material exports – wool, coal, and iron ore – becoming a major factor in capital accumulation by the Australian ruling class. This ruling class concern intersected with a range of anti-racist struggles “from below” demanding full rights and compensation for Aboriginal people, against discrimination towards migrants in Australia, against apartheid in South Africa, and of course against the war in Vietnam. Under these pressures, the horrible, right wing racists at the top of Australian industry, commerce and government, began to realise the importance of retreating from “White Australia” – at least on paper, and at least as far as Asian business people and political leaders were concerned.

Australian attitudes to Japan today

The retreat from explicit “official racism” took decades. The first moves were made in the late 1950s, but it was not until the Whitlam government that a policy based on “the avoidance of discrimination on any grounds of colour of skin or nationality” was introduced. And racism remains fundamental even today in the way immigration requirements deliberately discriminate in practice against Asian people, and in the attitudes of government officials, as they set out to appease racist sentiments about “boat people” and Asian immigration generally. It is essential, therefore, to see both the enormous retreat from “White Australia”, and the continuity of anti-Asian attitudes at both an official and social level; the development of a widespread rejection of racism in general in society at the same time as many specific racist attitudes (especially towards Asian people) persisted.

There has, of course, been a massive change in Australian attitudes to Japan since the war. While Japanese tourists still face racist insults, one shudders to think what reception they would have got in the 1940s. But the change in attitudes should not blind us to the resilience of extreme anti-Japanese racism among large numbers of ordinary people. The last few years have seen a rise in both pro-Japanese and anti-Japanese attitudes. A survey conducted in 1988 by ANOP illustrates these points.

There has been a significant increase in the positive perceptions of Japan [since the previous survey in 1985] i.e. “Main trading partner” (up from 52% to 61%) “the country most important to the Australian economy” (up from 39% to 51%).[131]

On the other hand, there was also an astonishing increase in those who “can’t forget the war”, up from 30 percent to 39 percent in just three years. This, remember, is over 40 years since the war ended – so very few of those who “can’t forget” would actually have been old enough to remember it! Given the sharp increase in anti-Japanese agitation and references to the war, this proportion has no doubt increased still further since then. Thirty percent thought the war was “of no importance today”, down 12 percent.

We can see the same contradictory pattern in other parts of the survey. Fifty-four percent thought Australia’s attitude to Japan should be “friendly”, but this was again 10 percent down on three years earlier. Seventeen percent thought Japanese immigration should be increased (down 6 percent), whilst 49 percent wanted it either reduced, or frozen – the highest level recorded by any of the surveys conducted since 1973 – and remarkable considering how few Japanese actually live here. Yet, again reflecting these contradictory attitudes, 60 percent thought Japanese people “generally fit into Australian society and become good neighbours and friends” and 70 percent wanted more Japanese tourists, though this was before the agitation against Japanese tourism began. In general, people responded to both the negative and positive views of Japan; endorsing both the idea that Australian prosperity was linked to trade with Japan and Japanese tourism, as well as the idea that Japan was, potentially, some kind of menace; 48 percent believe Japan has nuclear weapons, an astonishing manifestation of irrational paranoia given the longstanding, and widely-known Japanese horror of nuclear weapons.[132]

In any discussion of Australian views of Japan, most writers point to the way a major trading relationship has been the vehicle for changing attitudes. That of course is true. But what is most remarkable is the opposite fact – that one of the greatest bilateral trading relationships in the post-war world has taken so long to change attitudes so little. You only have to compare attitudes towards Japan with attitudes towards China, which have changed much more rapidly – from generalised fear and loathing in the 1950s and 1960s, to widespread sympathy in the wake of Australian recognition in 1972, which has recently given way to hostility towards the regime (and intensified sympathy towards the people) over the Tiananmen Square massacre. And China has never had a fraction of the economic importance to the Australian ruling class that Japan has.

The reasons for this difference are instructive for the left. At all times during the West’s confrontation with China, from Mao’s victory in 1949 through to 1972, there was a substantial core of pro-Chinese opinion that consciously stood against the stream. Even more importantly, that cadre was organised in and around the Communist Party when it was still an organisation with considerable roots in the working class, meaning that opposition to the ruling class in general intersected with opposition to its hatred for the Chinese regime. When China realigned itself with the West, when the interests of US and Australian imperialism lay in promoting relations with China, there was already a major body of popular support for this policy, people who had been campaigning for it for years, so it was immediately and widely accepted and friendly attitudes towards China and the Chinese people blossomed. Indeed, even before Mao’s victory, there had been a long tradition of left wing support for China in its struggle against Japanese imperialism, which significantly undercut racist attitudes towards Chinese people.

By contrast, with the exception of a small group of Trotskyists, there had never been any left wing current in the working class that opposed anti-Japanese racism; indeed, the Communist Party thoroughly immersed itself in it, promoting the fanatical and paranoid writings of people like Rupert Lockwood. Precisely because it was the ruling class that led the change in attitudes towards Japan, they were resisted, and treated suspiciously by the left. To ordinary workers, there was no reason to change their long-held hatred towards the Japanese – indeed, ruling class exhortations merely deepened the suspicions of many. Today, some of the leading elements of the anti-Japanese push come from this tradition – Abe David and Ted Wheelwright, the Maoist paper Vanguard, people like Rupert Lockwood and to a considerably lesser extent, Tom Uren, all have their roots in the Stalinist tradition.

Finally, the ruling class itself has never campaigned to rid Australia of anti-Japanese racism. All the cross-cultural exchanges, the expressions of good-will are nothing besides the role of the media in entrenching stereotypes. The reason for this failure is that the ruling class has extremely contradictory interests in terms of popular attitudes towards Japan. The primary reason for inaction lies in the centrality of Australian nationalism to our ruling class, and the centrality of the myths surrounding the Pacific war to Australian nationalism. Nationalist ideas set out to undercut and defeat class consciousness, getting workers to identify with “Australia” and “the Australian economy”, rather than with other workers, here or overseas. This nationalist identification has been fundamental to the ability of the Hawke government to sell the Accord and its wage cuts, its slashing of welfare and government spending, its industry restructuring and the massive profits it has unleashed for the ruling class – a result far better than in the rest of the advanced West, where real wages have, overall , risen since the early 1980s. And the nationalism of the Whitlam government was a vital component in stemming the tide of radicalism that grew throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, culminating first in the gigantic anti-war movement and then in the massive strike wave which peaked in 1974.

Nationalism has always been critical in generating support for Australia’s imperialist adventures. It was the key element behind support for Menzies’ involvement in Vietnam in the 1960s – the argument being that “we” and “the Australian way of life” were threatened by the march of “communism”. Most of the soldiers who went to fight saw themselves as carrying on the “glorious ANZAC tradition”, which underlines the importance of that tradition to a ruling class which ultimately depends on its ability to mobilise armed force to press its interests.[133] The myths associated with the Pacific war are a crucial component of Australian nationalism, as the “only time Australia was threatened with invasion”, and as the war which “everyone” supported. Invoking Vietnam brings derision; invoking the war against Japan brings together virtually the entire left as well as the right. As a result, Australians are educated about the “significance” of the Pacific war from school onwards. Every ANZAC Day serves to rekindle the myths that Australia fought a “just” war against a “barbaric” enemy.

The RSL, which brings together hundreds of thousands of people who fought in the war, and which enjoys widespread respect for its welfare role, institutionalises the war’s tradition, both by simply existing, and by the repeated, hysterical anti-Japanese and anti-Asian sentiments it promotes. The RSL has traditionally been a major prop of support every time the government has looked like going to war. In return, every government has paid it lavish attention, and the attacks by the Hawke government on Bruce Ruxton (whom the RSL continues to elect to leading positions) merely reflect the fact that his extreme racism is seen as threatening by many bosses. The ruling class cannot attack any of these ideas or institutions without threatening the major ideological prop of its rule and a key element to its ability to compete in the world system. It can never even begin to rid our society of anti-Japanese racism.

But there is a second, important factor to ruling class impotence. Marx described capitalists as “a band of hostile brothers”. That is true of Australian and Japanese bosses. There is a well-publicised mutual economic dependence. But there is also a serious component of rivalry. Every dollar that Japanese industries pay for their raw materials is a dollar less profit for them. So at the same time as there is close cooperation over developing iron, coal, aluminium and other projects, there is also rivalry over the terms under which they are sold – the guarantees to buy certain volumes, the price arrangements, guarantees of uninterrupted supply, and so on. The sheer profitability of Japanese industry and the efficiency of Australian raw material extraction have meant that these issues have generally been settled amicably. But not always. Indeed, there have been a number of trade conflicts, and every time this has revived and kept alive mutual suspicions and even hatreds. The mid-1960s saw considerable agitation from Australian car manufacturers over Japanese imports.

But the turning point in a sense was the collapse of the post-war boom in the mid-1970s. Japanese steel mills and industry pressed for reductions in the price and quantity of raw material imports – in turn threatening the economic position of their Australian suppliers and the economy more generally. At the same time, Australia insisted on maintaining its tariff walls against Japanese car exports at a time the Japanese were desperate to keep them up. Concern that they were over-dependent on Australia for supplies of coal, iron and other materials led Japan to seek alternative sources. They actively encouraged the development of mines in Brazil, South Africa and Canada, no doubt with the aim of playing off the various suppliers against each other. The result was that despite Japan’s continuing dynamism, the real value of Australian exports to Japan did not rise, and the proportion of total exports declined into the mid-1980s. Only tourism has reversed this decline. The result was a decade of tensions, which again culminated in a period of hostilities in 1983. It is significant that it was at the depth of the recession, in June 1983, that there was talk of a “trade war” with Japan that “Australia” was losing. The collapse of the 1980s boom into a new world recession has already led to speculation of trade conflicts between Japan and Australia.

Of course, the ruling class did see the need to challenge aspects of anti-Japanese racism, to the extent that they represented a short-term problem. But the best it could do was repeated arguments that trade was good for the economy, an argument that finally took hold after decades of actual proof. Apart from that it did very, very little. It was not until the early 1970s that the government set up any official machinery to monitor and smooth the functioning of its most critical trade relationship – more than 15 years after its critical importance was recognised. It was not until the 1970s that business conferences on Japan got around to discussing the need for bosses to understand Japanese culture – and then the solution posed by people like Hugh Morgan was to read the racist Ruth Benedict tract, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. Repeated government inquiries have attacked its own tardiness and apparent disinterest in actively promoting better relations.[134]

The result is that after 35 years of high-level mutual trade, the best the ruling class could achieve was to convince the population that Japan was economically important. The hostilities of the war, the racism they embody, has only to be mollified, not challenged. As a result, attitudes have changed only modestly. In 1974, the Broadcasting Control Board had to intervene to censor a TV ad that used wartime newsreels to arouse prejudice against Japanese cars. In late 1975, a new play about the reminiscences of a survivor of the Burma Railroad attacked as immoral the 350,000 Australians driving Toyota cars because of what the Japanese did in the war.[135] And on 29 November 1980, the Iwasaki tourist development near Rockhampton, was bombed. This clear attempt at terrorism did not, unlike the fraudulent Hilton case three years earlier, lead to new “anti-terrorist” squads being formed, or even being sent there. An anonymous poem circulated around Yepoon prior to the bombing read:

I am Iwasaki with no green or khaki

but I took a slice of Queensland in my stride

Uncle Tojo met with failure

When he tried to take Australia

but he didn’t have Bjelke on his side.[136]

The task facing the left today

The tradition and depth of anti-Japanese racism in Australia is an enormous asset for the ruling class. Despite the problems that some racist behaviour causes to the Japanese tourist trade, it remains the most potent, right wing element to Australian nationalism. There is little doubt that, faced with any serious working class mobilisation, the bosses would seek to hide behind a populist movement promoting anti-Japanese racism. We have already seen the way that racist attitudes could be transferred – from Japan to China and Indonesia; and the way they lent themselves to gathering support behind US imperialism.

The reason anti-Japanese racism is so hegemonic is that the two main left wing traditions in Australia – those associated with the old mass Communist Party, and with the Labor left – have not fought it, but actively promoted it. The left’s acceptance of anti-Asian racism meant that many socialists actively condemned the “boat people”. (After all, who but fascists, landlords and bosses would want to leave “socialist” Vietnam?). Only a small minority on the left actively defended their right to live here; missing a tremendous opportunity to begin to break down anti-Asian racism in Australia as well as some of the anti-socialist hostilities of the refugees. When the building workers at Sydney’s billion-dollar World Square project were sacked by the developer, the demonstration they organised was dominated by anti-Japanese slogans. This let both the building company and the Australian management company associated with the project off the hook. It was no accident that in the months prior to the sackings, Abe David had done a string of meetings on the site promoting his racist book.

Serious socialists have no choice but to begin to assiduously take these ideas on – and that means especially taking them on within the left. This is made all the more difficult by the hegemony of Australian nationalism on the left. Understanding the deep historical roots of anti-Japanese racism, and the imperialist dynamic behind it – the aim of this article – is just one part of the political armoury we need to fight this current. But general arguments against racism are not enough. We need to intervene in real struggles to challenge it; and in the case of the Multi-Function Polis campaign, we need to argue against the very existence of the campaign. Whatever the concerns of leading elements in the campaign (such as Rainbow Alliance, who are in general committed anti-racists), the popular objection to the proposal is that it is Japanese, and any campaign against it cannot avoid mobilising around that sentiment, given the political and cultural context of Australian society. In any case Rainbow Alliance are guilty of having flirted with a racist audience. When normally would a “left” grouping advertise a public meeting (in their case against the MFP) in the notoriously right wing Toorak Times? They were clearly appealing to a racist audience.

Cartoon from a cover of Rainbow Alliance pamphlet A Tale of New Cities, Japan’s plans for Australia.

This does not imply taking a moralistic or fanatical approach to the problem. Anti-Japanese sentiments arise in many struggles – in the South-East Forests campaign for instance and many industrial disputes. The difference with these other campaigns is that anti-Japanese racism is peripheral to them; the logic of the struggle points towards a fight against the ruling class for its environmental vandalism and its exploitation. In struggles such as those, socialists need to patiently explain the damage that racism does (by strengthening militarism, dividing us from our allies, etc.). Winning individuals to a class-based understanding of society is an important component of winning them away from racism. Past victories by the left – over Vietnam, South African sporting tours, Aboriginal land and other rights – have created a large layer of serious anti-racists, especially within the working class, people whose attitudes towards Japanese people contradict their general anti-racism. This provides a basis to begin to change the politics of the left; and ultimately to deny the ruling class one of their most potent weapons. We will pay dearly, as we have in the past, for any failure to do this.

[1] Report in The Socialist, 235, April 1990.

[2] Financial Review, 18 June 1990.

[3] See for instance, “Anti-Japanese racism must be fought”, The Socialist, 235, April 1990; “The Multifunction Polis; the ‘Yellow Peril’ revived”, The Socialist, 236, May 1990; “The Third Wave: Racist to the core” and “Will greens line up with racists”, The Socialist, 237, June 1990; “Racist fear campaign”, The Socialist, 238, July 1990.

[4] The best short analysis of racism is in Peter Alexander, Racism, resistance and revolution, London 1987.

[5] Quoted in Alexander, Racism, resistance and revolution, p20.

[6] N.I. Bukharin, Imperialism and World Economy, Merlin, 1972, p106.

[7] Alexander, Racism, resistance and revolution, p15.

[8] Quoted in L.F. Fitzhardinge, That Fiery Particle 1862-1914, Sydney 1964, p212.

[9] Humphrey McQueen, A New Britannia, Melbourne, 1970.

[10] Alexander, Racism, resistance and revolution, p137.

[11] Ted Wheelwright and Abe David, The Third Wave: Australia and Asian Capitalism, Sydney, 1989, back cover.

[12] Peter Fryer, Black People in the British Empire: An Introduction, London, 1988, p21.

[13] Takasugi Shinsaku, quoted in Jon Livingston, Joe Moore and Felicia Oldfather, The Japan Reader, Vol. 1: Imperial Japan: 1800-1945, Penguin, p84. [Henceforth, The Japan Reader.]

[14] Jack Shepherd, Australia’s Interests and Policies in the Far East, New York, 1940, pp7-8.

[15] Ernest F. Steffan, Australia and Japan : A history of relations…, B.Litt. Thesis, University of New England, 1975, p26.

[16] Sydney Morning Herald, 14 May 1895, quoted in D.C. Sissons, Attitudes to Japan and defence 1890-1923, MA Thesis, Melbourne, 1956, p3.

[17] Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, p5.

[18] ibid., p6.

[19] Gooch and Temperly, British Documents on the Origins of the War 1898-1914, quoted in Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, p20f.

[20] ibid., p26.

[21] The Bulletin, 15 June 1905, quoted in Steffan, Australia and Japan, p34.

[22] Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, pp27-28.

[23] Commonwealth of Australia, Parliamentary Papers 1904, “Military Forces of the Commonwealth, Second Annual Report”, ii, p277, quoted in Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, p82.

[24] Quoted in Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, p33.

[25] ibid., p48.

[26] Quoted in ibid., p52.

[27] Quoted in ibid., p52.

[28] Quoted in ibid., p53.

[29] E. Grierson, The Imperial Dream, London, 1972, p106.

[30] C. Harman, Explaining the Crisis, London, 1984, p53.

[31] Bukharin, Imperialism and World Economy, especially pp157-160.

[32] Official Report, Third Commonwealth Political Labor Conference, July 1905, pp15-16, quoted in Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, Vol. 2 (footnotes), p10.

[33] L.F. Fitzhardinge, That Fiery Particle, p174.

[34] Quoted in Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, p70.

[35] Quoted in Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, Vol. 2 (footnotes), p32.

[36] A.T. Yarwood, Attitudes to Non-European Immigration, Sydney 1968, p109.

[37] Fitzhardinge, That Fiery Particle, p147.

[38] ibid., p163.

[39] ibid., p167.

[40] Yarwood, Attitudes to Non-European Immigration, pp108-9.

[41] Labor Call, 26 October 1916, quoted in Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, Vol. 2 (footnotes), p35.

[42] Quoted in Fitzhardinge, That Fiery Particle, p346.

[43] Fitzhardinge, That Fiery Particle, p390.

[44] ibid., p301.

[45] Quoted in Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, p92.

[46] ibid., p124.

[47] The Bulletin, 1 May 1990.

[48] The Herald, 23 March 1990.

[49] Quoted in Direct Action, 29 March 1990.

[50] Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, pp134-5.

[51] ibid., p27.

[52] Rupert Lockwood, War on the Waterfront: Menzies, Japan and the Pig-iron Dispute, Sydney, 1987, pp244-5.

[53] Charles Tansill, Back Door to War, Chicago, 1952, page viii.

[54] Charles A. Beard, President Roosevelt and the Coming of War 1941: A Study in Appearances and Realities, New Haven, 1948, p519.

[55] ibid., p497.

[56] Quoted in ibid., p500.

[57] ibid., p.559.

[58] Quoted in David Day, The Great Betrayal: Britain, Australia and the Onset of the Pacific War, 1939-1942, Sydney, 1988, p209.

[59] Beard, President Roosevelt and the Coming of War, p516.

[60] “Creation of an Empire, 1896-1910”, in The Japan Reader, Vol. 1.

[61] Marlene Mayo, “Attitudes Toward Asia and the Beginnings of Japanese Empire”, in The Japan Reader, Vol. 1, p216.

[62] ibid., p217.

[63] L.F. Fitzhardinge, William Morris Hughes: The Little Digger, 1914-1952, pp315-6.

[64] Quoted by Mayo, “Attitudes Toward Asia and the Beginnings of Japanese Empire”, p217.

[65] Quoted in Sissons, Attitudes to Japan, p111.

[66] Miriam Farley, The Problem of Japanese Trade Expansion in the Post War Situation, New York, 1940, p40.

[67] ibid., p43.

[68] ibid., pp52-3.

[69] Harman, Explaining the Crisis, pp65, 68.

[70] Paul A. Schroeder, “American Foreign Relations 1920-42”, in Barton J. Bernstein (ed.), Towards a New Past: Dissenting Essays in American History, New York, 1968, p200.

[71] Shepherd, Australia’s Interests and Policies in the Far East, p26.

[72] George Marks, Pacific Peril, Melbourne, 1933, p106.

[73] Cited in A.G. Pearson, “Australian Press and Japan”, in W. Macmahon Ball (ed.), Press, Radio and World Affairs, Melbourne 1938, p48.

[74] This account is largely taken from Shepherd, Australia’s Interests and Policies in the Far East, pp39-71.

[75] N.F. Hall, quoted in Shepherd, Australia’s Interests and Policies in the Far East, p48–49.

[76] Summary from Pearson, “Australian Press and Japan”, p40.

[77] Shepherd, Australia’s Interests and Policies in the Far East, p191.

[78] The first part of this account is adapted from an unpublished essay by Mike Grewcock.

[79] Workers Weekly, 16 December 1938.

[80] Sydney Morning Herald, 24 March 1938.

[81] Brian Murphy, Australia-Japan Relations, 1931-1941, PhD Thesis, UNSW, 1975, p312.

[82] Sydney Morning Herald, 23 April 1937.

[83] Sydney Morning Herald, 10 April 1937.

[84] Sydney Morning Herald, 21 August 1937.

[85] This account is largely taken from Workers Weekly, 13 January 1939.

[86] Lockwood, War on the Waterfront.

[87] Workers Weekly, 24 January 1939.

[88] Lockwood, War on the Waterfront, p191.

[89] This does not mean there was no struggle against the various ruling classes involved in the war – far from it. There was extensive strike action in Australia at times. Nor does it mean that most workers identified with the ruling class – by and large they hated them and saw them as “appeasers” of fascism. However, neither of these points led to a challenging of the war’s aims, and indeed, the second tended to reinforce working class illusions in the purpose of the war.

[90] John Dower, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War, London, 1986, pp300-1.

[91] ibid., pp40-41.

[92] ibid., p301.

[93] Cited in ibid., p53.

[94] AII quotes cited in ibid., p55.

[95] ibid., p57.

[96] Quoted in ibid., p64.

[97] Quoted in ibid., p72.

[98] ibid., p12.

[99] ibid., p68.

[100] ibid., pp68-9.

[101] ibid., pp69-70.

[102] ibid., p664.

[103] ibid., p65.

[104] ibid., p71.

[105] Quoted in F.K. Crowley, Modern Australia in Documents, 1939-1970, Melbourne, 1973, p4.

[106] Australian Archives (NSW), ABC Programme Division, SP300/1 , Box 7, talk scripts, “The Jap as he really is”, talk no. 2, broadcast Wednesday 26 March 1942.

[107] ABC, “The Jap as he really is”, broadcast Monday 30 March 1942.

[108] Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April 1942.

[109] L. Fox, Stop War Against China, 1937, p5. The value of this opinion can be gauged by the fact that Chiang was desperately trying to get Western aid for his war against both Japan and Mao.

[110] ibid., p30.

[111] The Militant, Sydney, 7 February 1938.

[112] Tribune, 25 March 1942.

[113] Tribune, 12 July 1945.

[114] Tribune, 24 April 1945.

[115] Tribune, 18 January 1945.

[116] Tribune, 12 April 1945.

[117] Stop Japan, (No author, Melbourne ?1943), p8.

[118] R. Lockwood, Japan’s Heart of Wood, Sydney 1943, p4.

[119] ibid., p12.

[120] Roger Bell, “Australian-American Discord: Negotiations for Bases 1944-46”, in Australian Outlook, Vol. 27, No 1, April 1973, p15.

[121] ibid., pp19-20.

[122] ibid., p24.

[123] Christopher Thorne, The Issue of War: States, Societies and the Far Eastern Conflict of 1941-1945, London 1985, p154.

[124] Quoted in ibid., p144.

[125] Quoted in ibid., pp161-2.

[126] Quoted in ibid., p171.

[127] This point is developed elsewhere, for instance Charlie Hore, China, Whose Revolution?, Bookmarks, London, 1987 and in frequent issues of The Socialist, especially during the upheaval of 1989.

[128] N.D. Harper, “Australia, Japan, and Korea”, in Far Eastern Survey, 18 April 1951, p69.

[129] Steffan, Australia and Japan, pp232-3.

[130] Immigration Reform Group, Control or Colour Bar?, quoted in W. Macmahon Ball, Australia and Japan, Melbourne, 1969, p162.

[131] Survey of Australian Attitudes towards Japan, Embassy of Japan, 1988.

[132] ibid.

[133] On soldiers’ attitudes, see Stuart Rintoul, Ashes of Vietnam.

[134] Neville Meaney, Trevor Matthews and Sol Encel, The Japanese Connection, Melbourne, 1988, pp18-30.

[135] Steffan, Australia and Japan, pp246, 247.

[136] Quoted in Phillip Knightley, “They’re getting rather nervous in Nirvana”, Weekend Australian, 12-13 September 1981.

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