Why Japan Quickly Adopted, then Abandoned Guns for 200 Years

While reading Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond I came across an interesting few paragraphs on guns. Actually, the theme was not even about guns so much as the diffusion of inventions geographically and across societies. Diamond argues that geography can have a great effect on how readily a society adopts new technologies, and even sometimes lead to the abandonment of those powerful new technologies. He says that since today societies are so connected, even if a fad made one society turn against a useful technology, the people would still see that technology used by a neighboring society, leading them to eventually re-adopt it, or risk being conquered or outcompeted. But certain factors have in the past made entire countries reject an initially revered new technology.

A famous example involves Japan’s abandonment of guns. Firearms reached Japan in A.D. 1543, when two Portuguese adventurers armed with harquebuses (primitive guns) arrived on a Chinese cargo ship. The Japanese were so impressed by the new weapon, that they commenced indigenous gun production, greatly improved gun technology, and by A.D. 1600 owned more and better guns than any other country in the world.

But there were also factors working against the acceptance of firearms in Japan. The country had a numerous warrior class, the samurai, for whom swords rated as class symbols and works of art (and as a means for subjugating the lower classes). Japanese warfare had previously involved single combats between samurai swordsmen, who stood in the open, made ritual speeches, and then took pride in fighting gracefully. Such behavior became lethal in the presence of peasant soldiers ungracefully blasting away with guns. In addition, guns were a foreign invention and grew to be despised, as did other things foreign in Japan after 1600. The samurai controlled government began by restricting gun production to a few cities, then introduced a requirement of a government license for producing a gun, then issued licenses only for guns produced for the government, and finally reduced government orders for guns, until Japan was almost without functional guns again.

Contemporary European rulers also included some who despised guns and tried to restrict their availability. But such measures never got far in Europe, where any country that temporarily swore off firearms would be promptly overrun by gun-toting neighboring countries. Only because Japan was a populous, isolated island could it get away with its rejection of the powerful new military technology. Its safety in isolation came to an end in 1853, when the visit of Commodore Perry’s U.S. fleet bristling with cannons convinced Japan of its need to resume gun manufacture. (Diamond, 257-258)

So the Japanese saw an obvious advantage to military technology in guns, and quickly adopted them. But then the government, controlled by samurai warriors saw that the guns posed a threat to their power in the hands of the lower classes. Peasants could not compete with a sword wielding, highly trained warrior in one on one combat, but they could shoot at that highly trained swordsman from a safe distance. Tradition and the desire for glory in graceful combat, coupled with the desire to continue to subjugate the peasants made the samurai government reject guns, and move to suppress their manufacture.

Because Japan was an island, this tactic worked in maintaining government power over the peasants without putting the nation’s security at risk for hundreds of years. But as Diamond points out, this tactic of suppressing gun manufacture and diffusion did not work as well for Europeans, who would quickly be conquered by those with guns if they rejected the new technology, since they generally did not enjoy the relative geographic safety an island gave Japan.

The lessons still apply: rejecting powerful military technology will not lead to peace when your neighbors still have that equipment, whether we are talking about countries or individuals. Governments will still use the same tactics to subjugate peasants when technology threatens their power, whether it be guns or the internet. And the diffusion of inventions over easily traversed land mass cannot be stopped. Today we figuratively have no islands. Once something is invented, it cannot be uninvented. Even if a society were to temporally eradicate firearms, they would quickly be reintroduced as the fad wears off and neighbors are observed benefitting from the technology, if that society is not first “overrun by gun-toting neighbor[s]”.

A Little Perspective on Russia and Putin

putinYesterday I decided to watch a documentary about Joseph Stalin, probably influenced by all the news surrounding Russia over the past weeks. Later I watched a documentary about the history of the secret police in Russia since WWII. I came to realize that what is happening in Russia currently, with the invasion of Crimea, is nothing new, and in fact it would be stranger, historically speaking, if Russia didn’t bully its neighbors.

I am not saying it is okay, and I certainly feel bad for the individuals who will suffer because of Putin, and the tens of millions that died because of Stalin, but these actions are deeply historically rooted. Frankly, Russia doesn’t care if the U.S. doesn’t approve of their actions, and they may even be trying to provoke the U.S., as Stalin did in hopes of starting a nuclear war. So will America fall into this same old song and dance routine, or can we finally just step back and say, good luck, its not our problem. We’ll be preparing defenses and planning strategic fortifications, but this just is not our problem.

I learned from the documentary “Declassified: Joseph Stalin” that long before Stalin, the Russian population had been halved twice by internal purges carried out by the leader of the country; first by Ivan the Terrible, then by Peter the Great. I learned that Stalin ordered the deaths of the most Jews in the history of the world, and that he previously held faith that Israel would become a socialist ally to the USSR. I learned from “Cold War: Inside the KGB” that Russian intelligence built possibly the farthest reaching and most effective spying ring the world has ever seen, stealing the secrets of how to make the nuclear bomb, and assassinating political dissidents far and wide.

And reading up on Vladimir Putin, I found that he was a KGB officer promoted to Prime Minister by President Boris Yeltsin, and became President later that year. He “won” a second term in 2004, was restricted by term limits from running again in 2008, but was graciously named Prime Minister again by President Medvedev, before Putin again “won” the Presidency in 2012, and appointed Medvedev his Prime Minister.

Putin was a KGB intelligence officer in East Germany from 1975-1989, and retired as a Colonel when the Soviet Union fell in 1991. After working in politics for a few years, in 1998 “Putin was appointed head of the Federal Security, an arm of the former KGB, as well as head of Yeltsin’s Security Council.”

So to read between the lines, Putin had followed in the footsteps of many past Russian leaders who climb to and maintain power while giving off a semi-legitimate appearance of working within some sort of legal guidlines. But for our intents and purposes, there is no reason to think that Putin, in power for the last 15 years, will give up that power anytime soon. Presidential terms (the term limits of which apparently only restrict successive terms, or were simply ignored) were increased to 6 years, meaning even if Putin left the Presidency after another 2 terms, he would be at the head of the Russia state until 2024.

Cracking down on protesters, Putin seems to be using what he learned as a KGB officer in the Soviet Union. His Cold War job may also be influencing where he thinks the boundaries of the Russian empire should again be erected. And people seem to be surprised by Putin’s invasion of Crimea? With his resume, we can bet that that will not be the last invasion by Putin. All signs hint to the desire to revive the old Soviet Union, complete with the power, the boundaries, and the American adversary.

But America doesn’t have to play the part, we could bow out, focus on our own issues at home, while maintaining vigilance in the East to deflect possible attacks. America did not exist when Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great left their marks on Russia. America helped Stalin commit his atrocities by allying with Russia in WWII and sending countless supplies, food, and other resources, while Stalin starved and massacred his own people. To think that America would act in a way that would have a positive effect on the people of Eastern Europe is to look at the situation through the narrowest and most naive of lenses. The best thing for America to do is focus on true defense, not offense, and get our own affairs in order before we try to act like we know what is best for the world.

Learn from Genocide, or be Doomed to Repeat it

crimsSoviet Russia, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, Communist North Korea, Communist China, Hutu Rwanda, Young Turks Ottoman Empire; this only begins the list of genocide and oppression by government entities which occurred in the last 100 years. Do you scoff and roll your eyes as you see where I am going with this? Why do people think that it could not happen here?

Cliche I suppose will be the accusation, as if the argument needs to be changed to remain relevant. But this argument that we cannot and should not trust our government is more relevant than ever. What exactly makes America different than any of those other countries? Sure, it is a different time (in only some cases, and only by a few years) with (mostly) different people, but are we that confident that humanity has matured to such a degree that atrocities would not be carried out on a large scale again? Currently in many parts of the world genocide and mass murder of political dissidents occur daily: in North Korea, many parts of Africa, and many countries in the middle east. Those are the easy ones to recognize. Still Russia oppresses their people, as well as China, Cuba, and some South American countries.

What makes America so different? Are we so full of ourselves to think that we are more mature, more caring, more humane than the rest of the world? Do we seriously believe that given the circumstances, people in power here would not act the same as those in power elsewhere? Given the chance would the sociopaths we regularly elect to government not behave the same as the despots and tyrants throughout the world and throughout history?

Do you know what the difference is? The great equalizer; the tool that has allowed an unprecedented amount of equality between the peasants and the rulers: the firearm. I hear the response: “You could never match the power of our military with the puny guns you have, you would be massacred even if you tried to resist a tyrannical government. They could obliterate you now if they wanted to, so accept the probability that they will not, and give up your gun, so that we will be safer as a society”.

Well in that case we should have been able to own military grade weapons all along—in fact private citizens provided much of the artillery when America fought for freedom against an oppressive monarchy in England. Oh and the whole thing about giving up our guns to make everyone more safe? Never has an argument been so thoroughly debunked. I won’t go into it now (See the CDC study on guns used in self defense, or the Harvard study on the ineffectiveness of gun control), but here is a must watch short video about the recent gun confiscation and subsequent crime wave in Australia.

When Great Britain faced the threat of invasion from Germany during WWII, America asked for a collection of private firearms to send to the people of England (who had already been mostly disarmed by their government) so that in the event of a full scale German invasion, there would be resistance around every corner, in every nook and cranny of the island.

How has the extreme superiority of weaponry worked out so far for the American military in Afghanistan? A new book by Steven Halbrook is being released about the confiscation of Jews’ guns in Nazi Germany—I know, so cliche, but stay with me. He says that the main parallel between pre-WWII Germany and the U.S. now in terms of gun laws, are the widespread registration of those with guns. He argues that the failure to prevent that list from falling into the Nazi’s hands is what allowed them to disarm Jews before rounding them up to be sent to concentration camps. (See the New York newspaper that published a list of firearm owners addresses).

“By contrast, numerous histories of resistance movements in the occupied countries reflect the desperate need for arms. First-hand accounts of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising are an inspiring tribute of how armed Jewish resisters fought the Nazis.”

Pressed on whether allowing Jews to keep firearms would have made much of a difference in the end, given how well-armed the Nazi regime was, Halbrook said it may have made a difference in individual cases.

“Had the Jews not been disarmed, they would have had a better chance to resist and survive, even if only in individual cases or in groups,” he argued. “The broader question is whether anything would have been different if Germany had constitutional traditions similar to the American Bill of Rights and the engagement of the population in exercising these rights, such as a free press and having arms. Even aside from the initial disarming of democratic elements before the general disarming of the Jews, the fanatical disarming of the Jews alone demonstrated that the Nazi regime considered them a threat. Armed Jews and political opponents may have been able to resist arrest and deportation in some cases.”

“…Of course, history can repeat itself, and while it does not always do so, the public needs to be aware of the worst case scenarios.”

And worst case scenarios are exactly what I am talking about. To individuals, having  a gun can be the difference between life or death, whether protecting against a home invasion, or defending against a genocidal government. And consider what these individual cases could have collectively meant in reducing the casualties of WWII, and the Holocaust. It’s silly not to plan for the worst case scenario, especially when it takes little effort, and has no detrimental effects, but  indeed a positive effect in reducing crime.

If you can think of a legitimate, substantial reason why America is different from other arenas of genocide, other than widespread firearm ownership, please let me know. But as far as I can tell, we need to drop the whole gun control push which makes us defenseless against criminals, and opens the door for radical elements of the government to oppress, and—in the most extreme cases—carry out a genocide. It has happened before, and it could happen again; don’t be one of the sheep who naively believe that our current or future government could never behave as so many other governments have behaved before.

The Whiskey Rebellion: First Major Constitutional Violation

One of the first major violations of our Constitution by the federal government came not long after it was signed. The Whiskey Rebellion saw farmers stand up to an unfair tax handed down by the federal government, and the government responded with the force of a monarchy. It may have all sprung from Alexander Hamilton’s desire for glory, or Hamilton, the first Secretary of Treasury, may have had other motives for setting a precedent of force by the government which still lives on today.

It all started after the Revolution, in 1791, when the federal government was in debt, and had no official money. The notes they paid to soldiers were worth fractions of what was promised, but many had no choice but to accept the funds and go home in order to try to survive. But the soldiers were not the only ones who needed to be paid after the war. There were a number of rich investors and bankers who had provided the capital needed to win the Revolution, and were awaiting repayment. Alexander Hamilton had a better relationship with these financiers than with the soldiers; Hamilton was one of the leading banking figures of the time. He proposed a tax which would have two purposes. The tax would raise revenue necessary to pay back the wealthy financiers of the Revolution, and the tax would bring under the jurisdiction of the federal government a group of pioneers living in rural western Pennsylvania. The tax was to be levied on the production of whiskey, and not just at a commercial level. Everyone who made whiskey owed the tax. This would be the first federal tax on domestic goods.

This was a problem for the people of western Pennsylvania. Most people in this area used whiskey as a currency. Whatever surplus grain a family had would be converted into whiskey in order to preserve it. Whiskey would still have the calories of grain, making it a supplement to these people’s diets, was drank by almost everyone, and had other uses. Since whiskey does not spoil, it was a good currency because everyone accepted it, seeing as nearly everyone used it. No need for banks, no need for paper money the worth of which can be manipulated; these people had tangible goods which held value absent of government structure or societal acceptance alone. But Alexander Hamilton and the federal government insisted that the tax on whiskey be paid in coin.

Not only would a portion of what these western Pennsylvanians produce go to the government (essentially the first income tax), but now they had to find a way to convert their whiskey into coin, requiring more time and effort. A choice was also given to the producers of whiskey: they could pay a flat tax–far too expensive for any individual–or pay a per gallon price. For commercial whiskey brewers the flat rate was cheaper than the per gallon rate, but for individuals the per gallon rate was cheaper. This was a political reward that Hamilton gave to commercial whiskey brewers in the area who would now have the cheapest whiskey available, since it was not being taxed per gallon. Hamilton did this to gain a foot hold of support in the area (his enforcer was a large scale distiller), and to convert the economy of western Pennsylvania away from whiskey based currency. The sooner everyone was brought under the jurisdiction of the federal government, the sooner the government could raise money to pay for spending.

The people of this area, many of whom moved out west to avoid the intricacies of society and government, would not accept this tax. They were outraged that this tax would be levied against them while the Northwest Indian War was going badly for the U.S. making the area unsafe. Seeing the tax as an advantage to grain growers (who owed no tax) and big distillers in the east (who owed a flat rate) also fueled western Pennsylvanians anti-federal sentiment. They decided that if this was the way the new country was to treat its people, they wanted no part in it. They refused to pay the tax and served vigilante justice to tax collectors and other sympathizers of the federal government. By 1794 the climax of the situation unfolded as a U.S. Marshall was sent to the area and a showdown ensued. Some rebels were shot in a skirmish and their leader, a veteran of the Revolution, was killed. The tax collector and U.S. Marshall were captured only to later escape, and the fury of western Pennsylvanians peaked.

There was talk among the rebels that they should secede from the United States and form their own country. The plan that emerged was a watered down version of protest in which the rebels would march through Pittsburgh nonviolently, meant to send a message that they would not back down against what they saw as Hamilton’s attempts to pay back the wealthy by taxing the ordinary citizen. President George Washington decided it was time to send in the army when a commission he sent to western Pennsylvania returned and recommended using the military to enforce the tax laws–and other such laws since the rebels had violently suppressed support of the tax.

By October 1794 Washington was seeing troops off, and heading back east, much to the disdain of some moderate locals including Congressman William Findley, who saw Washington as a fair president who just wanted to do what was right. Alexander Hamilton was the real force behind the army heading west, according to Findley, who was included on Hamilton’s list of possible rebels to be arrested. Hamilton went with the army of nearly 20,000 as a civilian adviser. He was instructed by Washington to maintain the utmost discipline among the troops as they advanced toward their target in western Pennsylvania, and prevent any breach of law by the troops, such as pillaging the countryside. Officers harshly punished any soldier caught stealing, but the soldiers were doing so because of the lack of rations and clothing. Hamilton decided to solve this by making the theft of these goods “legal”. According to William Hogeland in his book “The Whiskey Rebellion”:

The quartermaster corps, [Hamilton] announced, would impress civilian property along the way. Now families watched helplessly as bayonet-wielding soldiers–no longer freelancing thieves but officials, authorized by the president–commandeered hard-won winter supplies of grain, meat, firewood, and blankets on behalf of the government of the United States. A steady, freezing rain meant the arrival of winter. Families whose sustenance was carted away faced grim months ahead (218).

Once the army and Hamilton finally arrived at the target county in western Pennsylvania, they did not care much to follow the due process laid out in the new Constitution, despite Hamilton’s assurances to the President. Many residents had signed oaths of support for the government, risking local vigilante justice, with the promise that they would be pardoned as punishment was served to the region for failing to pay the new tax, and leading an insurrection against officials of the federal government. These oaths were ignored and many who had signed them were arrested by Hamilton and the army anyway. A month earlier the first arrests of a few rebels had been made, prompting the most guilty among the rebels to flee. Anyone left in western Pennsylvania had minimal roles in the insurrection, and had certainly not led it. The most violent rebels, who had committed the worst acts against government officials, had already fled.

In the middle of the night on November 13, what would be referred to as the Dreadful Night began. Hamilton had created 3 lists of people, those who were not to be arrested, those who were to be arrested, and those who were to be brought in as witnesses for questioning. The first list was not provided to the generals, and Hamilton gave them the authority to arrest anyone they suspected of having participated in the rebellion, aided the rebels, raised liberty poles, robbed the mail, or local officials who failed to suppress the insurrection. The officers and soldiers who were passed these orders were delighted to finally have some excitement and authority on this trip west.

One particularly unstable officer named White was put in control of  the 40 prisoners which Hamilton thought would give the most valuable intelligence on the whole situation. These prisoners “were brought to a dark log structure” where they were tied up and seated on the muddy floor, and guarded by soldiers instructed to keep the prisoners away from the warmth of the fire. The tavern keeper was told he would be killed if any prisoners received food, and thus for more than 2 days the unstable officer in charge:

…starved and dehydrated his shivering, exhausted captives, steadily cursing and castigating them, glorying in their helplessness and describing their imminent hanging. Even White’s troops became concerned about the captives who seemed barely alive (222).

The prisoners were then marched 12 miles in bad weather to be held in another jail, still without being charged, and following interrogation most of them were eventually released without any criminal proceedings; this was unsurprising since most of those arrested were indeed innocent. These arrests and brutality went on for several days throughout western Pennsylvania, which served as a reminder to all residents not to speak out against the federal government. Hamilton made it clear to the presiding judge that regardless of innocence, a good number of detainees would need to be marched back to Philadelphia in order to give the impression that the federal government had accomplished its goal, and put down a violent, unjustified rebellion. The judge held a number of rebels for trial even with what he considered lack of evidence, fearing that the army would revolt if too many prisoners were let loose.

The prisoners that remained in custody were marched back to Philadelphia with great show in order to create the illusion of glory. It was essentially a photo op for Hamilton and Washington, who could now say, see, look what we did, look at the problems we solved. The prisoners were paraded on Christmas day 1794 before 20,000 Philadelphians–it was a disappointment to the spectators who knowing that thousands of rebels had marched against the government, were surprised to see only 20 prisoners. 12 cases went to trial, and 2 rebels were convicted. It took the rest up until 1796 to be released, when they could then find their way home, if they could afford it. The whiskey tax remained hard to collect until it was repealed in 1801 by President Thomas Jefferson.

From the beginning of this country the federal government has not been very good at abiding by the Constitution. Clearly the fourth amendment due process rights of most of the “rebels” arrested were violated, as well as the people whose food and property was confiscated along the way in order to supply the army. Cruel and unusual punishment was also used on the prisoners, and prior to even being charged. In the 18th century it was hard for the residents of western Pennsylvania to get their voices heard, and grievances addressed, but in modern times with knowledge at our fingertips and the internet available to disseminate information, it should be easy to address federal abuses of power and violations of the Bill of Rights. The internet is our tool which we must use as vigilant citizens to make sure the Alexander Hamilton’s of the world do not oppress one group to enrich another. With Hamilton’s broad presence in the foundation of the country’s banking and finances, is it any wonder that his vision has led us today to a government on a fiscal cliff, but powerful enough to take our rights? We must not allow the government to come after the little guy by taxing production, in order to funnel money to the friends of the government in bed with the politicians.

I would recommend reading “The Whiskey Rebellion” by William Hogeland. He gives immense background to the situation, and examines motives of those involved. His analysis of each side is balanced and insightful; it is a very interesting read.

Did the Soviet Union Win the Culture War?


A new book by Diana West called “American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on our Nation’s Character” is shining new light on the activities of Soviet spies in America before and after WWII. West argues that through a network of well placed spies, the Soviet Union was able to influence American politics and American sentiment to hand victory in WWII to Soviet Russia, which added half of Europe to its empire under Stalin. She claims, as I have suggested in the past, that Joseph McCarthy was the victim of a vicious smear campaign (probably initiated by the CIA under Project Mockingbird) to discredit the theory that Russian spies had infiltrated the CIA, Hollywood, Congress and numerous mainstream media outlets. West, after pouring over “countless footnotes, memoirs, State Department records, out-of-print books, letters and revelations in files from the Venona archive and the Mitrokhin archives that became available after the dissolution of the Soviet Union” began to see a picture emerging of how the Cold War started before WWII, and how the Soviet Union, in many regards, was able to win it.

West says that though the United States helped defeat Hitler’s Germany, Joseph Stalin used the war to enlarge the boundaries of his Soviet empire by taking half of Europe.

“You replace Hitler, one monster of totalitarianism, with an even larger totalitarian monster, who killed even more millions of people,” West said.

West says that a critical day in 1933 saw President FDR reverse the decisions of 4 previous presidents and administrations by recognizing the Soviet Union as legitimate, just months after the winding down of the Soviet orchestrated Ukrainian famine through which 6 million people were killed. She brings up a good point when asking, why has Naziism rightfully been placed in the trash bin of history, while Socialism has survived and thrived as an ideology, even having allowed tens of millions more deaths under its system of government? The answer is, that the Soviet Union was extremely successful in penetrating, and influencing American media, and culture.

Right down to using “fuzzy” language in media, and being promoted, West argues that political correctness is still being used as a tool to limit speech, and make certain subjects hard to talk about. Certainly there is a widely negative view of the world capitalism, and I find myself searching for other words to use in arguments, just so that the other person won’t stop listening. I think this is part of what West is talking about, that if it becomes impossible to talk about a subject, and have an intelligent conversation about something, than propaganda will overwhelm the truth. Totalitarian governments like the Soviet Union, being masters of propaganda, seem to have had success in tearing down the open channels of discussion in America, so that some subjects are poison to talk about. Remember the old saying, never talk about politics or religion? Suppressing discussion, and turning peers into thought police (or politically correct police) can have quite the impact on people’s willingness to “put themselves out there” and share their beliefs.

The book description on Amazon describes West’s new book.

American Betrayal is America’s lost history, a chronicle that pits Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight David Eisenhower, and other American icons who shielded overlapping Communist conspiracies against the investigators, politicians, defectors, and others (including Senator Joseph McCarthy) who tried to tell the American people the truth.

American Betrayal shatters the approved histories of an era that begins with FDR’s first inauguration, when “happy days” are supposed to be here again, and ends when we “win” the Cold War. It is here, amid the rubble, where Diana West focuses on the World War II–Cold War deal with the devil in which America surrendered her principles in exchange for a series of Big Lies whose preservation soon became the basis of our leaders’ own self-preservation. It was this moral surrender to deception and self-deception, West argues, that sent us down the long road to moral relativism, “political correctness,” and other cultural ills that have left us unable to ask the hard questions: Does our silence on the crimes of Communism explain our silence on the totalitarianism of Islam? Is Uncle Sam once again betraying America?

Through undermining moral absolutes, West says that American culture has become “beyond Orwellian” and is really a testament to the power of extreme left wing propaganda, and Socialism’s greatest achievement. Instead of going into Islamic countries and trying to wage an uphill battle, “I think we need to protect liberty where it exists” West concludes, and not allow our culture to be dominated and changed by those who oppose individual freedom, and support one form of totalitarianism or another. America is an endangered species in terms of the type of government we have, and the respect our Constitution has for the individuals is unique in this day and age. By holding onto our culture as personally responsible pioneers who can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, we can reject what the Soviet Union injected into our national conversation, and avoid the destructive forces of totalitarianism that ravaged Europe during the 20th century.