Posts Tagged ‘Russo-Japanese War’

Gossip From 1905

Posted in General on January 12th, 2012 by Eugene Finerman – Be the first to comment

Did anyone miss me?  If you are feeling neglected, blame Tsar Nicholas II, the Mikado Meiji and the editor who wanted me to write about the Russo-Japanese War.  But even that war had its share of irony, and I would never begrudge you the gossip….

If the Russo-Japanese War had merely been a popularity contest, Japan still would have won.  The newspapers of Britain and America depicted the conflict in terms of David and Goliath.  It was earnest, energetic Japan against big, brutal Russia, and the stereotypes were actually correct.  So what if the Japanese had started the war–or that the fight was over the possession of a prostrate Korea?  If we had to pick a favorite vulture, it was definitely Japan.  (Of course, no one asked the Koreans.)

The war began in February, 1904 with Japan’s surprise attack on the Russian naval base at Port Arthur.  (Yes, the Japanese thought that the tactic would work a second time,  too.)  The Russians may have been surprised, but no one else was. In the preceding two months, American reporters were sent to Japan to cover the impending war.  Apparently, no one in Russia read the Hearst newspapers, but when William Randolph demanded a war, the Mikado wouldn’t have dared refuse.  However, the influx of American reporters caused a problem for the Japanese.  A free press, even an ostensibly pro-Japanese one,  could report casualties and setbacks.  So the Japanese attempted to confine the American journalists to hotel bars and press releases.  (That tactic has also been repeated.)  A few reporters managed to evade their handlers and get to the front.  Of course, the Japanese army was unhappy with the uncontrolled press.  No doubt a few officers were prepared to arrange accidents–but really–many American journalists would have had fatal shaving accidents with samurai swords?  The Japanese thought of a more adroit way to suppress the coverage.  Cameras would be arrested for criminal activity.  Reporters could write unfettered reports, but there would be no photographs for evidence—other than what the Japanese approved.

Russia’s humiliating defeat could be attributed to the imbecilic Tsar, his incompetent generals or his hapless admirals.  But the Russia’s official scapegoat was the Jews.  This seems surprising since very few of those generals and admirals were Jewish.  However, it could have been an honest mistake.  Mikado does sound vaguely Hebrew, one could easily confuse Rashomon with Rosh ha Shonah, and weren’t the Japanese always talking about their Sam and Murray Code?


But What If David Is Meaner Than Goliath?

Posted in General, On This Day on February 8th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

February 8, 1904:  Remember Port Arthur!

In Japan today, there probably are a half-dozen or so 125 year-olds celebrating this anniversary of the Russo-Japanese War. It is unlikely that there are similar commemorations in Russia. First, you don’t celebrate a defeat. More importantly, Russia had trouble keeping its troops alive in 1904; so the odds of anyone surviving another century of Tsarist incompetence, Soviet brutality, and the damn Russian climate would be very unlikely.

The Russo-Japanese War could be described as a fight between two vultures. The decaying corpse happened to be Korea. However, Japan was the more popular vulture. The American and British publics were rooting for it; my grandmother remembered pep songs for the Japanese. Japan’s imperialism was not necessarily more endearing than Russia’s, but the Little Bully seemed preferable to the Big Bully. For 90 years, ever since Waterloo finally pacified the French, the chief aim of British foreign policy was to contain Russian expansion.

The British and Russians were fighting proxy wars in Afghanistan, Persia, and the Balkans. They fought a real one in the Crimea. And to frustrate Russian expansion in the Pacific, Britain formed an alliance with that up-and-coming little power Japan. Of course, the British lent their unmatched expertise in training the Japanese navy. Furthermore, the British assistance was not merely academic. How do you think that the Japanese knew the exact movements of the Russian fleets?

On this day in 1904, Japan started the war with a surprise attack on the Russian base at Pearl…Port Arthur in Korea. The Japanese army soon overran all of Korea and then proceeded to bash the Russians in Manchuria. The war lasted 19 months; the Russians did not win a single battle. Worse, the disastrous incompetence of the Tsarist government led to rioting in Russian cities, mutinies in the armed forces and demands for reform that would drag Russia at least into the 18th century.

But even Japan was suffering from the cost of war–literally. For all its victories, it was on the verge of bankruptcy. Modern war is expensive, and British assistance had not included blank checks. So both countries were ready for peace: Russia was tired of losing, and Japan was just tired. Despite the fact that Teddy Roosevelt looked somewhat Japanese, he was the accepted mediator for the peace negotiations which occurred at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The ensuing treaty established Japan’s hegemony over Korea; no, the Koreans were not at the conference.

Russia was so thoroughly humiliated that Britain finally felt that it could stop worrying about the Tsarist Empire. Indeed, Whitehall was finally noticing just how obnoxious Kaiser Wilhelm was. For its part, Russia considered the need for long-overdue reforms but decided to blame the Jews instead. The same Tsarist incompetence would soon commit Russia to the defense of Serbia; but that eventually would cure Tsarist incompetence. As for Japan, it had Korea and a little bit of Manchuria. What more could it possibly want?

Splendid Little Wars

Posted in General, On This Day on February 15th, 2010 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

February 15, 1898:  Hot Time in Havana

American Eagle Bird BathOn this day in 1898, God did William Randolph Hearst a big favor and blew up the boiler of the battleship Maine. The battleship blew up with it. (They just don’t make boilers like that, anymore.) Of course, the Spanish looked guilty; that is the disadvantage of being brunet.

Now Hearst had an excuse to incite a war against Spain. Of course, he would have found some pretext, perhaps depicting Miguel Cervantes and Francisco Goya torturing “The Katzenjammer Kids” on the comic pages. But the mysterious sinking of the USS Maine was very convenient. When Hearst blew up, so did the Congress. (They still do make Congresses like that!) So off to war we went.

Spain was no match for the United States. We quickly “liberated” Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines. We could have taken Spain itself. This was–in words of our Secretary of State John Hay–“a splendid little war.”

Furthermore, we created a fashion. Everyone else wanted ‘a splendid little war’ too. In 1899, the British decided to annex the Boers’ Republics in Southern Africa–and any adjacent gold and diamond mines. However, “Marching to Pretoria” proved easier to sing than accomplish. The Boers resisted–and used their gold and diamonds to buy machine guns. That splendid little war took three years and 22,000 British lives.

In 1904, Russia was posturing in the Far East, threatening the “Monkey Men”, the Tsar’s somewhat insensitive term for the Japanese. It promised to be a splendid, little war–except that the Japanese won. The Monkey Men evidently were more highly evolved than the Russians.

And in 1914 Austria-Hungary decided to teach Serbia a lesson. That didn’t end up splendid or little, either.

Apparently, “splendid little wars” only occur with Spain or perhaps Grenada. Definitely not with Iraq or Afghanistan.