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Ending Slavery Through War


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Initial post: Jun 25, 2010 12:54:49 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 22, 2014 3:44:52 PM PST
Doing some research on the history of slavery led me to ponder the following question. I've given the question to my uni students here in Tokyo with assurances that I, for one, certainly do not know the right answer.

Can ending slavery be an after-the-fact justification for war and conquest?

The obvious first example that comes to the mind of most Americans would be the Union's conquest of the Confederacy. If ending slavery can be used to justify the Civil War, can it be used to justify the following invasions?

Japan outlawed slavery in Taiwan, Manchuria, and Korea (where, according to one source, it approached 30% of the population) after its conquest of those countries. After conquering Tibet, China ended slavery there. According to Chinese sources, well over 50% of the country were slaves.

Can the justification be made?
Did, in fact, slavery exist in Taiwan, China, and Tibet before outside invasions?
Any other similar situations come to mind, where a conqueror does "good" things like ending slavery?

Mark Ledbetter

Posted on Jun 25, 2010 2:38:33 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 25, 2010 2:48:49 AM PDT
Interesting topic, but I do not think it is accurate to say that "the Union conquered the Confederacy".. This was a civil war, not a war of conquest.
Neither was slavery the only cause for it

I also think one has to be careful with the concept of "noble war".. Conquering nations try and justify their actions by the supposed "good" they brought to the conquered.
However conquest was probably not a necessary condition of "bringing this good".
I think the Chinese and Koreans are not very happy with the supposed "good" that the Japanese brought and neither are the Tibetans overly excited about the Chinese
I have yet in fact to meet a conquered people that would agree the conquerors did them "good"... The closest I came to this is when a Kazakh (if you watched the movie Borat you know that Kazakhstan is in central Asia) suprised me by telling me that the russians/soviets had actually saved the Kazakhs (who then were nomads) from near extinction by forcing them to settle down

Slavery in and of itself is a complex topic. There are different degrees of slavery and slavery is unfortunately still practiced today with several million people (at least) affected by it. If your definition of slavery is that the slave is personal property which can be bought or sold I doubt it was as extensive in the countries you name. If the definition is broadened to include any form of forced labor (hell I have to get to work every week day at 9 a.m so maybe I qualify as a slave) then several hundred million of people worldwide can potentially qualify as "slaves".

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 25, 2010 2:55:13 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Jun 25, 2010 8:21:46 AM PDT]

Posted on Jun 25, 2010 5:17:51 AM PDT
Interesting post, Major, and I quite agree with your point, although I'm sure a good historian could find other examples of conquering armies being welcomed. The Byzantine peasants welcomed their Ottoman conquerors because (get ready for it) their new rulers cut their taxes.

China, of all countries, should never lecture anyone about slavery. Not with an extensive system of labor camps.

Fry: You know what the worst thing about being a slave is? You have to do hard work, you can't quit, and nobody pays you!

Leela: Fry, that's the **only** thing about being a slave.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 25, 2010 5:34:51 AM PDT
R. Largess says:
It seems to me that the question boils down to the issue of hypocrisy - is the motive for going to war to help the oppressed among its population genuine? Obviously motives are always mixed and self-interest is always present, but the degrees of idealism vs. self-interest are very wide and significant.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 25, 2010 7:12:38 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 25, 2010 7:14:15 AM PDT
A good post, Major Chuck, but one modification is necessary (as I can see on a quick reading).

The British were also ready to turn around and help the defeated Germans and Japanese after WWII - help as much as they could. Following that war, Britain as a nation couldn't even feed itself, so they found it exceedingly difficult to supply the Germans in their occupation zone with sufficient foodstuffs. However, they compensated for this by largely turning a blind eye to black marketeering practices aimed at giving the occupied Germans enough to eat and smoke. (The world had a different attitude to smoking tobacco in those benighted times.)

Many of the Germans I knew who had lived through the British postwar occupation or who were sent to Britain to work (as quasi-indentured servants) have spoken warmly of how they were treated by most British soldiers and/or civilians.

Posted on Jun 25, 2010 7:49:33 AM PDT
N. Perz says:
Why is finding a "justification" so important? What is the value of interjecting subjective moral judgments into the teaching of history?

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 25, 2010 8:11:12 AM PDT
John M. Lane says:
Slavery was a worldwide institution a century or two ago. It's still practiced in some parts of Islam. Of course the Prophet himself (PBUH) once operated a caravan business which traded in slaves and he owned a number of them.

As a US citizen, I think the case can be made that slavery was one of the major causes of the our bloody Civil War. The Union victory not only preserved the United States, but it ended the institution of slavery within the US.

The underlying tragedy is that, in my opinion, slavery was already in decline and would have ended due to the mechanization of agriculture. During the early 19th century, for example, "manumission" societies sprung up across the South to voluntarily free slaves. Southerners might have tolerated the institution because they needed labor, but the cotton gin and other examples of mechanization were clearly superceding slavery. My impression from studying and meeting Southerners is that most of them didn't like the institution of slavery either. They think it would have died out on its own if the Abolitionists hadn't polarized the issue making into a "cause."

Posted on Jun 25, 2010 9:50:41 AM PDT
Mr. Barton makes a good point, that there may be other examples of welcomed conquerors. I certainly stand corrected as to my omission of the British after WW2, thanks to Richard Lord.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 25, 2010 11:06:47 AM PDT
Mark bennett says:
"Can ending slavery be an after-the-fact justification for war and conquest?"

It could be a justificiation for war, but not a justification for conquest.

Most of the time, wars against slavery were little more than excuses for the annexation of territory.

And the definition of slavery was usually rather fluid. The French colonial administration in Senegal could arbirarily round up people and put them to work for an indefiniate period of time. They could not leave and they were not paid. Is that slavery? People would disagree.

Posted on Jun 26, 2010 1:39:47 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 22, 2014 3:43:49 PM PST
T.R.: I do not think it is accurate to say that "the Union conquered the Confederacy".. This was a civil war, not a war of conquest.

MARK: You can certainly make that case. But to me, that sounds a bit more like a semantic distinction than a reflection of the reality experienced by the "conquered." I am always leery of humanity's genius for justification (which, come to think of it, is kind of the point of this thread). When someone develops an argument that makes it ok for your own country to do something, but not for another country, it begins to smell of justification, of acrobatic logic (when it's well done) or simple prejudice (when done poorly). I'm certainly not accusing you of that, T.R.! I just get this feeling that your argument could be moving that direction. Thus my pre-emptive strike.

T.R.: Neither was slavery the only cause of it.

MARK L: Absolutely. Thus my phrasing: "after-the-fact justification." Ending slavery is certainly the most or second most common after-the-fact justification for the Civil War.

T.R.: I also think one has to be careful with the concept of "noble war"..

MARK L: Amen.

T.R.: Slavery in and of itself is a complex topic. There are different degrees of slavery...

MARK L: We can't forget that.

T.R.: ...and slavery is unfortunately still practiced today with several million people (at least) affected by it.

MARK L: From what I've read, the number of slaves (REAL slaves) in the world now is the highest in history, about 20 million. But it's also the lowest percentage in history. Amazingly, several African countries only outlawed slavery in the 21st century. If you want to buy a slave, prices vary. I've read you can get a field hand in Mali for $40 but an HIV-free sex slave from Thailand will set you back $1,000. Which is still a lot cheaper than they were in America.

J.L.: The underlying tragedy is that, in my opinion, slavery was already in decline and would have ended due to the mechanization of agriculture.

MARK L: ...and due to the collapse of the effectiveness of the Fugitive Slave Laws. Juries in the North were proving the worth of the English Jury System by freeing people who were obviously guilty under the new draconian laws. This sent the gulf states into a frothing fury. They knew slavery was history without effective fugitive slave laws.

(Jury nullification: juries can actually judge the law rather than the defendant. The legal profession doesn't like it, but it has a long noble history in England and America. "Nullifying" the Fugitive Slave Laws was a high point of jury nullification.)

M.B.: It could be a justification for war, but not a justification for conquest.

MARK L: Interesting idea. I doubt its workability for the reasons that can be derived from R.L.'s post on hypocrisy and mixed motives. Or from T.M.'s comment on the "noble war." Or from your own comment: "Most of the time, wars against slavery were little more than excuses for the annexation of territory."

Anyway, thanks for the comments all! I'm still hoping to get some info from someone who knows about the actual extent of slavery in China-Taiwan-Korea before the Japanese invasions.

Oh, and, what the heck did the Major say that was so terrible Amazon had to delete it???

Mark L

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 26, 2010 4:34:48 AM PDT
JML: slavery was already in decline and would have ended due to the mechanization of agriculture. During the early 19th century, for example, "manumission" societies sprung up across the South to voluntarily free slaves. Southerners might have tolerated the institution because they needed labor, but the cotton gin and other examples of mechanization were clearly superceding slavery. My impression from studying and meeting Southerners is that most of them didn't like the institution of slavery either. They think it would have died out on its own if the Abolitionists hadn't polarized the issue making into a "cause."

BPL: Thanks for the neo-Confederate propaganda.

The cotton gin was invented in 1793. It made slavery more, not less, profitable.

The south did not allow slaves to be freed. It was a system of mass exploitation, rape, torture, mutilation, and murder on a grand scale. The slaves weren't permitted to learn to read. After Denmark Vesey, they couldn't gather publicly in groups of more than three. People who objected to slavery in the south could be and were pulled off the street, or off trains, and publicly whipped--women and children as well as men.

Southern slavery was a stinking affront to God. The slaves in their misery cried out to their creator and God sent the Union army.

That's my view of the situation.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 26, 2010 4:53:46 AM PDT
R. Largess says:
It seems to me that it is well worth comparing the end of slavery in the US - through the Civil War - with the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies starting in 1833. Britain had a broadly similar abolitionist movement which obtained a majority backing in the country and ended slavery through a majority vote in Parliament - not war. The bill provided for about a ten-year transition period and monetary compensation to slaveowners. It was in fact very similar to the plan Russia followed for the abolition of serfdom some decades later. It went off without upheaval in spite of bitter opposition from slaveowners. It was a major event in the world and I remain suprised that it seems to have been totally ignored by both sides in the American struggle over slavery.

Posted on Jun 26, 2010 6:22:55 AM PDT
RL -- Lincoln actually proposed a similar plan -- the slaves would be freed over the 40-year period 1860-1900, and the slave-owners compensated. This was seen as so radical in the south that South Carolina seceded, and eventually, all the slaves were freed without compensation 1863-1866.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 26, 2010 12:54:54 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 26, 2010 12:58:26 PM PDT
R. Largess says:
BPL - Yes, Lincoln also met with Alexander Stephens and other southern leaders at Ft. Monroe in 1965 and again offered them compensation for the slaves. They refused. I wonder if it is the American mind that cannot accept compromise, and turns all issues into moral absolutes. The Austrian Empire also compensated landowners when they abolished the peasant labor obligation about 1850. The infusion of cash and free labor into the economy stimulated industrialization.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 26, 2010 1:20:37 PM PDT
JR Fleming says:
RL,
Rather a strange statement, that the American mind cannot accept compromise when that is the basis of our history. Just look at the Constitutional convention for example.

Posted on Jun 26, 2010 3:24:03 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Sep 7, 2011 11:16:15 AM PDT]

Posted on Jun 26, 2010 6:36:57 PM PDT
R. Largess says:
JRL - It always amazes me how different the American and English minds - and legal traditions - are, though it is hard to put your finger on exactly what it consists of. I would say that Americans, with our written constitution and Bill of Rights, tend to think of rights as absolute, and in terms one person's rights in conflict with another person's. (For example the slave's right to liberty vs. the slaveowner's right to property.) English political thought talks constantly about their constitution, but since it's not written, no one is absolutely sure what it is, so it's in a constant state of evolution. But English law and government tends to balance one person's rights against another's, instead of seeing them as mutually exclusive. So there's no black and white - just shades of gray. We Americans tend to view each issue as black and white, right or wrong. We fight it out through elections, in the courts, or occasionally civil war. One side wins, the other loses, and that's it - until the next round.

Posted on Jun 26, 2010 7:24:55 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 22, 2014 3:42:28 PM PST
Whoa, J.L., slow down! Thanks for returning the thread to the original question, but concerning your comment...

I got the slavery info from sites dealing with slavery (which is what I was researching at the time), not sites dealing with Japan.

I've lived in Japan for 30 years and never have I heard anyone use Japan's outlawing of slavery as justification for anything. Or even mention it. I'd guess there is virtually no one in the post-war generation who has ever heard it. Certainly none of my students have. Post-war Japanese (and foreigners like myself) hear only about the terrible things Japan did to its colonies. Foreigners like myself (but not most Japanese) hear about the wartime slavery within Japan using imported labor, and the horrendous Japanese treatment of POWs. But nobody hears or talks about Japan doing much of anything good as an imperial power. When Japan wants to get into self-justification, it veers towards using a victimization tact (Atomic bombings), a natural tact for losers. Just like American/Brits tend towards a look-at-all-the-good-we-did tact, a natural tact for winners.

As I think I mentioned in the first post, I asked my students (A scattering of kids from other countries but mostly Japanese who have mostly lived abroad) about whether ending slavery can be an after-the-fact justification for war or invasion. Last week we had a discussion, which included a couple of eye-openers for me as well as the others.

The guy from Taiwan, from the interior, where there are more Taiwanese than Chinese, offered this point of view. He said Japan is well-loved there, even by the older generation. His grandparents often talk about all the good things Japan did for them. Then a Japanese girl who went to elementary school in Bali added that Balinese feel the same. She can't speak for other Indonesians, but she said the people on Bali look back on the Japanese occupation as a good time and still use the roads and facilities built by Japanese. I assure you, I had never heard any of this "pro" Japanese point of view until last week, despite my many years here. It's not something Japanese talk about (after all, it is a shameful epic in their history) nor is it something presented in the press.

Over on the Atomic Bombing thread, one American (?) contributed some info I've never heard. Despite all the brutality and killing, which is the common defining impression that we all (including myself) have of the Japanese occupations of China/Korea etc, he explained that the population in Japanese-occupied areas of China actually increased due to improved sanitation and food distribution. Is that not worth an occasional mention?

Anyone who has been reading carefully will know that I am not in the business of justification. Just the opposite. Anyone who has been reading carefully could deduce (correctly) that I do NOT consider good results justification for either war or colonialism. But, precisely because I am not in the justification game, I'm willing to look at ALL facts, and have skepticism for points of view driven by ideology and the natural human need to justify.

If the British Empire has accomplished good here and there, then it is quite possible that the Japanese Empire has also. That's no justification of empire - which, as a confirmed anti-imperialist I would never do! - just an honest look at history.

Mark L

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 26, 2010 7:53:07 PM PDT
Mark bennett says:
"Despite all the brutality and killing, which is the common defining impression that we all (including myself) have of the Japanese occupations of China/Korea etc, he explained that the population in Japanese-occupied areas of China actually increased due to improved sanitation and food distribution. Is that not worth an occasional mention?"

Its not worth a mention because quite frankly that is nonsense. There are no accurate measures of population in Japanese-occupied China and no good statistics of the pre-Japanese period to make any kind of rational comparison.

You can certainly find people in places where the Japanese administration lasted a long time (Korea, Formosa) that have non-negative views of their rule. Attitudes in Formosa were somewhat shaped by the KMT administration after the war which in many ways was colonial rule. But its tough to find anyone in China who remembers the Japanese war and occupation fondly.

It may be possible to rehabilitate the views on older portions of the Japanese empire. But attempting to rehabilitate the wartime Japanese empire of 1942-1945 is very problematic. Three years of military rule is a isn't an easy thing to draw broad conclusions from.

Posted on Jun 26, 2010 8:23:19 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 26, 2010 8:26:14 PM PDT
Mark B: But its tough to find anyone in China who remembers the Japanese war and occupation fondly.

Mark L: Or Korea.

Mark B: But attempting to rehabilitate the wartime Japanese empire of 1942-1945 is very problematic.

Mark L: Just "problamatic"? You are too polite!

Posted on Jun 26, 2010 9:07:58 PM PDT
J. Croll says:
Perhaps the very first war to free slaves was in 371 BC. Thebes and Sparta fought the battle of Leuctra, and the Spartans were decisively defeated. As a condition of peace, the Spartans were forced to relinquish their slave population (the helots) and surrender the vast territory of Messenia, the helot's traditional homeland. This proved disastrous to the Spartans, as Messenia was the Spartan breadbasket. These losses forever reduced Sparta to a third rate power that never again threatened its neighbors.

Posted on Jun 26, 2010 9:19:15 PM PDT
J. Croll says:
In regards to the issue of whether or not there was some "good" to Japan's imperial proclivities, I'd have to say no. The Japanese may have ended European colonialism, but they replaced it with their own - which was on the Nazi scale of brutality. People can marvel at the infrastructure the Japanese built (all with slave labor) or the health and sanitation programs they implemented, but this does not distract from their historical depradations. Japan refuses to acknowledge their actions during the war; preferring to play victim instead. While there were Japanese officials (both civilian and military) who acted true to the code of bushido, the vast majority were identical to the Nazis in their treatement of conquered nations. As regards the former, a Japanese diplomat in the Baltic states used his position to send thousands of Jews to safety in Sweden - by certifying that they were Japanese nationals. During the Shanghai campaign, Japan's commanding general refused to either massacre the Jewish community there, or to send them to Japan. But these are exceptions, not the rule. Japan used an undeterminate number of Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese, etc. as slave laborers and in medical experiments. In one horrifying example, a Japanese doctor had a the legs of a Chinese woman boud together as she was about to give birth - this was to test a person's strength under 'adverse' conditions. Yet only the top Japanese brass went to the gallows. Why? Because the Cold War was getting hotter, and we needed Japan, just as we needed Germany. So justice took a back seat to realpolitik.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 27, 2010 3:21:36 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Apr 28, 2011 7:52:46 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 27, 2010 3:50:48 AM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Apr 28, 2011 7:52:46 AM PDT]
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Discussion in:  History forum
Participants:  40
Total posts:  354
Initial post:  Jun 25, 2010
Latest post:  2 minutes ago

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