Sacred Sailors

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The Chilean newspaper El Mercurio interviews me about the Japanese propaganda film Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors, about which I am indeed writing a book for publication in 2017. / El diario chileno El Mercurio me entrevistas sobre la propaganda de guerra japonesa y mi favorito de dibujos animados japoneses: Mar guerreros divinos de Momotaro.

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The Bear and the Maiden Fair

A new collection of essays on Finland in World War II.

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Finland fought three conflicts between 1939 and 1945. The first was the notorious Winter War (1939-40), in which the country stood alone against Soviet invasion. “Only Finland,” thundered Winston Churchill, “superb, nay, sublime in the jaws of peril – Finland shows what free men can do.” What Finland, under its famous leader Mannerheim, managed to do was put aside the festering civil strife of Red versus White, left over from the civil war of 1918, and unite against a common enemy, fighting the Russians to a standstill while the world looked the other way. In the process, the map of Finland, sometimes described as the “Maid” for its resemblance to a girl in a dress, lost an arm of territory to the Russian bear.

41wDEOVZcaL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The second was even more divisive. The Continuation War (1941-44) saw Finland joining forces with Nazi Germany in a renewed attack on Russia. As noted in Tiina Kinnunen and Ville Kivimäki’s insightful collection of academic essays Finland in World War II: History Memory, Interpretations, it was the Germans who swiftly announced this to be Waffenbrüderschaft – a “brotherhood in arms.” It was the Finns who pushily translated this into English as a “co-belligerency pact”, refusing to call themselves allies of Hitler, even as they overshot their original targets, clawing back the land lost to the Soviets and rolling onwards to the East, seizing the lands of Karelia, which had arguably never been Finnish before, creating an entire new industry in manufactured traditions and rescue ethnology, well covered in Kinnunen and Kivimäki’s book.

One might suggest that the third was even more controversial. Whereas the Continuation War was a shocking deal with the devil (a devil that, as noted here, more crucially sent the food supplies that saved the Finns from starvation), the Lapland War (1944-45) was its shocking turnabout, as the Finns turned on the Nazi troops on their territory, chasing them out of the country in a conflagration that saw almost all human habitation destroyed north of the Arctic Circle.

It never ceases to amaze me how historians can find new angles on the war, and Finland in World War II does not disappoint, with space devoted not only to geopolitics and treaties, army operations and tactics, but also to such oddities as the psychological effect of burying the fallen in their home towns (Finland today boasts 600 “heroes’ cemeteries”), the countrywide ban on dancing (an activity regarded by grim Lutherans of a betrayal of comrades’ sacrifices on the front line), and the DIY magicians’ kits sent to entertain troops in their trenches. Modern trends to conflate history with memory also lead to some interesting areas, such as accounts of the historiography of the war as told in movies and novels, as well as changing public perceptions of Finland’s attitude towards the Holocaust. The editors aim to both summarise and outline the most recent researches on the subject, with chapters firmly grounded in Finnish-language academia, and a bibliography of many obscure English-language academic papers on Finnish subjects.

Later essays include several welcome treatments of the role of Karelia in the conflict, not only as a land to be defended, but also as the new frontier of a Nazi-inspired expansion into conquered lebensraum, and a lost land ceded to Russia – source of thousands of refugees in the 1950s. One remarkable section even delves into Sain Karjalan takaisin (“I Got Karelia Back”), a 2003 account of a woman’s trips to the place of her birth, now a Russian republic where her childhood home is occupied by strangers, and where she is inspired by the landscape to stay and build a house.

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland, available now in print and on the Kindle (UK/US).

The Finland Station

polarbear-transpSo I have paid my membership for the Helsinki Worldcon next year. Yes, yes, there’s still a year to go, but there are Progress Reports to read, and hotel rooms to book, and plans to be made. Also, who knows how low the pound will sink in the meantime? And for those of you looking for a quick introduction to a nation with a British patron saint, a death metal band in Eurovision, a language that helped inspire Lord of the Rings and an annual wife-carrying contest, look no further than The Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland, available now from all good bookshops, and most of the bad ones.

The Elephant in the Room

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In The Politics of Innovation, American academic Mark Zachary Taylor grapples with the implications of Cardwell’s Law – which states scientific and technical innovation in any particular country to be a matter of a short, unsustainable burst of creativity. How can policy-makers grow a vibrant, productive science community, creating the patents, inventions and jobs that can drive a high-tech economy? Is it even possible to artificially generate a smart, inventive society? And why is it that some countries just seem to be better at innovation than others? Why is it, for example, in the post-war period, that Japan achieved such leaps and bounds? Why not France, which had better access to markets?

Taylor’s answer, easily stated but robustly defended in close and detailed arguments, is that nations are prepared to pay the price, deferring comforts and investing in research, if they are in a state of “creative insecurity”. This requires a country to perceive external threats as more pressing and important than the politics of internal tension.

1627883e69c49fe80cb06c01030dadc6Taylor argues that far too many policy-makers assume that innovation is a black box, into which a state pours money, waiting expectantly by the exit valve for patents and innovation to come tumbling out. As his title implies, politics is a vital consideration in the way that innovation is funded, assessed and implemented, with Taylor offering as one example the old proverb about the four blind men feeling an elephant. All of them are observing quantifiable elements of the animal, but in academic terms, none of them are citing each other. They are ignorant of the discoveries being made elsewhere – their own hang-ups and blind-spots are preventing them from getting to the task in hand, which is understanding the elephant in the room.

The topic, of course, is a minefield of potential triggers for racism, triumphalism, imperialism, and misguided cultural relativism – even the opening question, of why some states are better at innovation than others, is open to abuse by demagogues and bigots, leading Taylor to predict and pre-empt mis-uses of his conclusions. He is swift to point out the likely abuses of his data, starting with the suggestion that the best way to run a successful science and technology policy is to scare citizens into believing their country faces a threat from Evil Foreigners. In fact, argues Taylor with touching faith, people are not liable to be that stupid, at least not for long, and an informed population will soon see through a manufactured bogeyman. He points out, more hopefully, that there is no reason for the external threat to be human – a state is just as liable to make leaps in invention and innovation if it embraces the challenge of, say, coping with climate change.

He also has some compelling things to point out about the environment most likely to foster creativity. Taylor has no truck with the suggestion that some races are just dumber than others, discounting data from third-world countries that have more pressing subsistence priorities than, say, semiconductor research. His remaining data presents a persuasive picture of those countries that spend on scientific and technical development, and those countries that reap quantifiable rewards from doing so. The two data sets are not exact matches, and his argument focuses on possible reasons for this discrepancy.

Hollywood-style, nobody knows anything. Taylor considers the likely elements of randomness that turn some research exercises into “Easter egg hunts” with unclear objectives and unpredictable returns. But he also considers the likely effects of such strange attractors as military funding, a definite contribution to innovation in his native United States, but no longer in Russia, despite the latter country’s still-large arms budget.

Taylor’s conclusions are immediately applicable in the modern world. In fact, they are so applicable that he is prepared to conclude with predictions for the likely national success stories, disappointments and close calls on the international stage in the next two decades. He has good news for Finland and Japan… bad news for Russia and Saudi Arabia. With such careful argument and confident suggestions as can be found in his book, one suspects that he will not be in academia for long, as true politics is likely to come calling.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Modern China: All That Matters.

Warning! Chatterley

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Over at the All the Anime blog, I review Kirsten Cather’s Art of Censorship in Postwar Japan, which chronicles several landmark cases, including dodgy films, suspicious books, and tawdry manga.

“Cather’s book tracks censorship in Japan from the landmark Chatterley case, through several key cinema and literary rulings, all the way to the present day and the first manga to have its merits debated in court. Her wit and irreverence takes its cue from VS Naipaul, who quipped on the issuing of a fatwa against Salman Rushdie that the Ayatollah of Iran was offering a somewhat extreme form of literary criticism. She moves into film in the 1960s, revealing that Tetsuzo Watanabe, last seen in Anime: A History leading a group of tanks against striking special effects technicians at Toho, went on to find an even more bonkers job working for the censorship authority Eirin. Eirin saw themselves as defenders of public morals, surrounded by an ever-rising tide as erotica as Japanese cinemas increasingly chased the blue-movie market. The statistics do not lie; Cather uses big data to point to the transformation of Japanese cinema. ‘In 1963, only 37 of the 370 films checked by Eirin warranted adult ratings, whereas by 1965 the number had reached 233 of the total 503.'”

Animation in China

41haOrPwuXL._SX331_BO1204203200_Over on the All the Anime blog, I review Sean Macdonald’s excellent Animation in China: history, aesthetics, media and take the time out for a tangent about the politics of book pricing.

“Macdonald acknowledges the vital importance of Japanese animation for understanding the Chinese market, both in terms of early innovators such as Tadahito Mochinaga, who enjoyed a Chinese career under the name Fang Ming, and later helpers such as Tetsuya Endo, who did the real work on “Tsui Hark’s” animated Chinese Ghost Story. He discusses the famous Uproar in Heaven, the Monkey King from which remains the mascot of SAFS, not only in terms of its Chinese context, but of its parallels with Tezuka’s Alakazam the Great, which was released a year earlier. He even compares the working practices of the Wan brothers (with welcome translated quotes from one of their memoirs) with those of Osamu Tezuka in the age of “limited animation,” playfully comparing the car-crash scene in the first episode of Astro Boy to a famous sequence in Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin.”