Friday, 19 August 2016

Kamikaze Confirmation

Kamikaze (divine wind), Issho Yada
How a typhoon sank Kublai Khan | Science | The Guardian:

Why do so many Americans believe in the Judeo-Christian god compared to most Western European countries?

Although religious affiliation and belief in any god are both falling in the USA according to recent research, America still lags about a generation behind Western Europe in its rejection of religion. Percentage figures of 80% plus for belief in god and in the upper 60s for the importance of religion in their lives are typically returned for US surveys while the equivalent in UK, France, Holland and even formerly staunchly Catholic Ireland and Spain are typically under 50% and 30% respectively.

The cause of this difference is almost certainly to be found in the respective histories of the USA and Western European countries. In Europe, religion has typically been oppressive and a source of conflict, with God normally being conspicuous by his absence in times of need and invariably on both sides during every conflict, though neither side with very much to show for it.

By contrast, the USA, with rose-tinted spectacles maybe, but certainly with the hindsight of orthodox history, much of which is apocryphal or actually mythological, can always find evidence of God's intervention and guiding hand. Was it not the love of God which inspired the 'Pilgrim Fathers' to found the early colonies? Was it not God who ensured their survival and eventual supremacy over the pagan native Americans? Was it not God who favoured and blessed America, ensured the success of American industry and who made America the 'Greatest Nation on Earth?' Very clearly, the former European god went with the colonists to the New World and took out American citizenship!

And isn't the Judeo-Christian god invariably the default god which sits in every gap and who is the answer to all unanswered questions?

Of course, the fact that it was actually the Native Americans, not God, who helped the early colonists; the fact that it was the colonists germs, guns and iron which gave them supremacy over the stone-age hunter-gatherers and the fact that it was cheap, under-populated land, continental resources and an limitless supply of cheap immigrant labour to work in the new factories, had nothing to do with it. And anyway, God had arranged it that way because God has chosen and blessed America and Americans. Which god? Well, the Judeo-Christian god, of course. Who else?

How can it be otherwise?

Well, it can be otherwise, as we can see from another nation which believes (or believed until very recently) that it had a special god-given status and was uniquely loved and blessed by gods. And that brings me to the point of this essay.

Japan too can look to its history and find 'proof' of Japan's gods' blessing and special regard for the Japanese and the Japanese way of life. The Japanese can point to the intervention of god to save and preserve Japan from foreign invasion and to preserve the purity of Japan and Japanese culture, even racial purity. And this intervention is as central to the Japanese sense of national identity as the defeat of the Spanish Armada is to the English or the survival of the early colonies and their subsequent success is to the USA.

In the 13th-century in the space of just seven years, Japan was saved from invasion from China and Korea by the weather. Not by military power or superior forces but by the weather! And the weather is controlled by the gods!

Japan has always been torn between two competing forces in its cultural and historical development. On the one hand, it is far enough from Korea and China to maintain it's own culture, its own language and writing and its own forms of religion and yet, when China or Korea have been strong enough, Japan comes within their sphere of influence, and particularly within the sphere of influence of China. Japan sits on the edge of this sphere of influence, never entirely apart from it and yet never entirely a part of it. From a Japanese point of view this justifies national self-determination and a distinct national identity; to China, at times, this has appeared like a truculent, upstart border state with an emperor who needs to be put in his place.

Kublai Khan
And this was exacerbated when China succumbed to the Mongol invasion and Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, invaded China, annexed Korea and established himself as the Emperor of an expanded China. The Yuan Dynasty he founded was to be the centre of a would-be world-wide empire - the Mongol god having specially favoured them, obviously. Messages were dispatched to the Japanese emperor 'inviting' him to submit to the supremacy of Kublai Khan and allow Japan to be incorporated into this new world order - just as Kublai's god wanted.

However, and unbeknown to Kublai, nothing ever got to the Japanese Emperor without being vetted first by his shoguns, who were never going to let an ultimatum like that get through. So Kublai never got a reply and became enraged at the effrontery of this upstart on his borders. In 1274 he launched an invasion from Korea with a fleet of 500-900 ships and 40,000 troops. This force landed in Hakata Bay, Kyushu and easily defeated a Japanese force which then retreated. But, fearing a renewed attack the Chinese force re-embarked and put to sea for safety to wait on events.

During the night they were hit by a sudden typhoon, leaving thousands of the would-be invaders drown and all but a handful of ships destroyed.

Undeterred, Kubai prepared a much larger invasion fleet, this time consisting of some 4,400 ships and 140,000 soldiers - the largest flotilla of ships ever assembled. This set sail in 1281 from China and Korea. This time however, Japan had prepared for the attack by building two-metre high walls around likely landing beaches. The invasion fleet, unable to find a good invasion point sailed up and down the coast for several months depleting their supplies until they found somewhere defended only by a small Japanese force and prepared to attack - only to be hit by an even bigger typhoon and utterly devastated. Most of those who managed to get ashore were slaughtered by samurai, the rest drowning. Eighty percent of the soldiers were killed and ninety percent of the ships were lost.

And so Japan survived the biggest invasion ever to be mounted at that time.

Now, as with just about everywhere else at that time, these things didn't happen by chance. Something had saved Japan and sent the kami (divine) kaze (wind) not just once but twice within a few years and at exactly the right place and time. Wasn't this obvious?

And who or what could this be? Why obviously it had been the Shinto god, Raijin, god of lightning, thunder, and storms. He did this to protect Japan against the Mongols because the Japanese were a special people, specially chosen, and Japanese culture was approved by these gods (Raijin was but one of them). So the Japanese sense of national identity and superiority over the Chinese and Koreans; of the importance of Japanese culture; of the Shinto religion; of the divine status of the Emperor was confirmed. The god-given right of Japan to invade Manchuria, to intervene in the Pacific, and of Japanese racial purity and supremacy, guaranteed and preserved by the Shinto gods, was proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Gods bless Japan!

In fact, although this history is central to the Japanese story, there was actually considerable doubt about the accuracy of it, and in particular the severity of the kamikaze in view of the fact that typhoons are rare in the Kyushu area. How much of it was genuine and how much was exaggeration as the historical facts morphed into legend? Maybe it was poorly constructed, hurriedly built ships that were the problem. Now however, as the linked article above shows, there is actual evidence of a severe inundation in Kyushu at the right time in the form of lake-bed sediments. So, even if poor shipbuilding was a factor, it was almost certainly an unusually severe typhoon that did for them.

So, the question is, why would almost no-one in America or Western Europe regard these seemingly magical and convincing events in 13th-century Japan and China as evidence of Raijin's existence and guardianship of Japanese cultural supremacy? And why would virtually no-one in Japan regard the survival of the Virginia and Massachusetts Bay colonists and their eventual supremacy in America as proof of the Judeo-Christian god's existence and the god-given cultural supremacy of the USA?

The answer is very simple: neither of these events are actual proof of anything. They are merely used to confirm pre-existing cultural biases with the benefit of hindsight and seen through the distorting lenses of cultural bias. Had the weather conditions favoured the Chinese invasion the Chinese would have seen this as confirmation of their existing bias and had the Native Americans witness the failure of the European invasion, this would be confirmation of their cultural supremacy and the existence of the protective Great Spirit and of his favouring of them.

Just as charlatan Pastors like Tony Perkins and unscrupulous politicians like Ted Cruz are good at selecting data and declaring it to be evidence of God's pleasure or God's wrath according to whatever agenda suits them at the time, so people are susceptible to these frauds. With no actual evidence for their cherished beliefs and their sense of self-importance, they are eager for confirmation of their biases, no matter how unlikely or untenable they are or how ridiculous they appear to others.

In fact, designating gods as the cause of things then citing those things as evidence for those gods is nothing more than the fallacy of circular reasoning and a great deal of cultural chauvinism and jingoistic nationalism is based on nothing more than this especially childish form of thinking and a desperate need of people to feel more important than they really are.

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3 comments :

  1. Very nice parallel you draw here. Even with a degree in Asian Studies I never quite saw the connection with the Virginia colonies so clearly.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. I imagine there are many more examples to be found in folklore and cultural history.

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  2. I think another reason is that most European states had a state religion and there was a hierarchy between god to the head of state continuing down through other layers to the common people. So any excesses of the state would be tied to the local religion and God. On the other hand the US forbids a state religion, so no matter how bad the government gets it isn't god's fault. Also Americans see their relationship with God as a personal one who coincidentally shares all their morals and prejudices.

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