Japan/Manchuria :: Russia/Ukraine

I was re-reading Barbara Tuchman’s 1981 book Practicing History and came across an article she wrote for Foreign Affairs, in 1936. It was entitled “Japan: A Clinical Note.” It smacks of today’s news.

Historical context

Japan invaded Manchuria on September 19, 1931. They established a puppet state, called Manchukuo, and occupied it until the end of World War II. 

Tuchman’s opening paragraph

“Ever since the Manchurian incident, Japanese foreign policy has been reaping the world’s condemnation. Unlike an individual, a nation cannot admit itself in error; so Japan’s only answer has been to tell herself that her judges are wrong and she is right. To strengthen this contention, she has built up the belief that she acts from the purest motives which her fellow nations willfully misunderstand. The more they disapprove, the more adamant grows Japan’s conviction that she is right.”

Do we ever learn from history?

Here’s Tuckman again, later in the book.

“If history were a science, we should be able to get a grip on her, learn her ways, establish her patterns, know what will happen tomorrow. Why is it that we cannot? The answer lies in what I call the Unknowable Variable – namely, man. Human beings are always and finally the subject of history. History is the record of human behavior, the most fascinating subject of all, but illogical and so crammed with an unlimited number of variables that it is not susceptible of the scientific method nor of systematizing.”

Prepare for the future?

Russia is not Japan. Today’s inflation is not 1970’s inflation. Today’s banking issues are not the Savings & Loan crisis of the past.

But …. Human nature is consistent. Become a “people person” to better understand the future.

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