Hearing the Echoes of the 2/26 Incident of 1936 in the Age of Trump
By Avi Landau
Whenever I look up at my wall-calendar and notice that it happens to say 2/26, I am reminded of The February 26th Incident of 1936, an attempted coup d`etat that took place in Japan, referred to here as the NI-NI-ROKU JIKEN (the Two-two-six Incident). A few years ago I even to Tokyo on that day and tried to conjure up in my mind`s eyes the events that took place in 1936 at the places they actually occurred (though back then,before global warming, Tokyo was blanketed in snow on that February day and now it almost never snows at all on the Kanto Plain). My imagination is helped by the fact that I have read extensively on the subject – and have seen two films about the incident – the 1989 Hideo Gosha film 226 ( NI-NI-ROKU, Four Days of Blood and Snow, in English) and the more impressive 1973 work by Kiju Yoshida, KAIGENREI （戒厳令) – Martial Law (though an alternate title is Coup D`Etat), which is a psychological study of the man who inspired the coup, ultra-nationalist philosopher and right-wing agitator, Kita Ikki. Watch “Martial Law” by Yoshida Kiju for free on utube – with English sub-titles.
What made me want to write about the the February 26th Incident today, on February 26, 2017 (sand repost in 2018), is how much Japan of the 1930`s reminds me of the United States of the late 2010s – and how the radical mentor of the rebellious officers, right-wing thinker Kita Ikki, makes me think of Steve Bannon, former White house chief strategist for Donald Trump and former driving force behind the “Alt-Right” Breitbart News Service. The similarity between the two men is most obvious when looking at whom they both identify as “the enemy” – the establishment, liberals, and a “corrupt elite”, who are seen by both men as leading their respective countries, races and civilizations, down the road to collapse.
Kita Ikki expounded his ideas in two major works: KOKUTAI RON OYOBI JUNSEI SHAKAI SHUGI ( National Polity and Pure Socialism, 1903) and NIHON KAIZO- HO-AN TAIKO- ( An Outline Plan for the Reorganization of Japan, 1923). In them, he promotes an “Asian Nationalism” (as Breitbart News promotes White Nationalism) in which Japan shall be the leader of a united front of Asian peoples. In order for Japan to take on that role, however, Kita Ikki believed that Japan would have to free itself of the control of corrupt political, business and media elites. If Japan were not able to free itself from what he deemed to be weak, ineffective, liberal rule, it would never be able to fulfill it`s national mission or achieve it`s national destiny (leadership of Asia) and would fall under complete domination of the “Western Powers” (Just as Bannon`s Breitbart News suggests that Western Civilization is doomed to be defeated by radical Islam while corrupt elites and liberals – usually referred to as Libtards, by those who leave comments on their site – rule. They are apparently calling for a coalition of white Christians, i.e. Russia and the United States, etc. to fight off what they call Islamic Fascism.
Kita Ikki wanted to make Japan great again (sound familiar?) – reclaim the energy and glory of the late 19th and early 20th century Japan in which the country had great military successes against both China and Russia and made tremendous progress in science, technology and nation-building in general. He saw the liberal years of Taisho Democracy (1912-1926) as a weak and muddled period (just as Bannon see the Obama Years (2008-2017), with corrupt, effete and incompetent men in charge – and a media (especially the Asahi Shimbun, Japan`s equivalent of the New York Times) as the enemy of the people. (sound familiar, again)?
Kita called for a coup d`etat so that the army could declare martial law and free Japan from the tentacles of this “evil” establishment and make possible a direct link between the Emperor and the People (long before Twitter let Trump “speak directly to Americans”).
Under Kita`s inspiration, 1,400 hundred soldiers took control of central Tokyo on February 26, 1936. They then set out to assassinate certain establishment figures who were on their “hit-list”. They succeeded in killing the Finance Minister Takahashi, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Makoto Saito and the Inspector General of Military Education. Others on the list, including Prime Minister Okada and Grand Chamberlain Suzuki Kantaro, survived their injuries or escaped unharmed. After the first phase of their plan had been carried out, the men leading the coup (all of them either junior officers or discharged junior officers) called for a new cabinet to be formed – one that would carry out the reforms they sought.
Certain officers in the upper-echelons of the Imperial Army sympathized with the coup and recommended that the demands be met, while others,were hesitant to supress the rebels by using military force in central Tokyo and thus start a mini civil war. This gave the rebels a misleading sense of confidence in the success of their plan – and in the fact that power would soon be restored to the Emperor and the People.(as Bannon believed that Trumps stunning electoral college victory would give him the chance to create chaos (perhaps even martial law) and go ahead with “deconstructing the administrative state”.
When Army Minister Yoshiyuki Kawashima released a statement supporting them and then the Tokyo garrison expressed their support as well, the coup leaders must have thought that they had won ( as those who tried to meddle in the US election by spreading false information or releasing damaging material they had hacked believed their victory was complete at the moment the election was over). Things were far from over, though. Despite the enthusiastic support they had from certain quarters, at the highest levels of military leadership there was strong opposition to what was going on (think of Generals Mattis and McMaster`s attitudes towards many of Trump and Bannon`s ideas on Nato, relations with Russia, etc.).
Importantly, Emperor Hirohito, deeply disturbed by the murder of his closest advisers (carried out in his name, by those who supposedly revered him), broke from his traditional role of political neutrality and insisted that the rebel`s demands be rejected. (which reminds me of how Pope Francis – and is not the 2,000 year old Papacy the nearest equivalent there is to Japan`s 2,000 year old imperial-line – has been an active opponent of many of Mr, Bannon`s ideas.)
Hirohito refused to have any direct communication with the rebels and ignored their call for him to demand their ritual suicide. Martial law was declared on February 27th, The next day,after reinforcements had been brought in, the emperor gave the order to have the rebels removed. Tanks rolled down the streets of central Tokyo and thousands of crack troops took up position. The Army was still reluctant to turn the capital into a battleground and force was considered a last resort – to be used only if negotiations failed. In an attempt to get the rebels to surrender a campaign of intensive psychological warfare was waged. Radio broadcasts, leaflets dropped from planes – even advertising balloons, were used to try and convince the rank and file soldiers involved in the coup, to give up the cause and return to their barracks. They were offered a pardon if they did so. And guess what? That did the trick. At around noon on February 29th, most of the men surrendered – after their commanding officers had done nothing to stop them.
To be continued….