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26 February Incident and National Tell A Fairy Tale Day

This is the end of February, when the last snowstorms leave their wet, heavy loads in the Great Lakes…with luck, the last of the winter. Or not.

But 28 February tells us much about the state of the world today. Valentinian I, the last to rule a united Roman Empire, was born on this day in 364. The Inquisition in Rome delivered Galileo Galilei their demand he recant his announced heliocentric beliefs on 26 February 1616. Napoleon escaped from Elba on this day in 1815, starting the Hundred Days that would end in Belgium. Levi Strauss, developer of the popular denim trousers in the US, was born on 26 February 1829 in Germany. Husband E. Kimmel, hapless commander of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941, was born on this day in Kentucky in 1882. Richard J Gatling, inventor of the first successful automatic weapon, died in New York on 26 February 1902. Also on this day in 1935, the German Luftwaffe was formed in Germany and radar was first demonstrated in England: how’s that for irony. Today is also National Pistachio Day for whatever reason. But today we’re talking about a coup in Japan, and about fairy tales.

Though the national armed forces took on the duties of the old domains, the role of the old warrior traditions and its complex-but-unstated bushido code was, with the advent of parliamentary government, becoming more subordinate to non-royal masters. 

It’s impossible to talk about the 26 February Incident in 1936 without first talking about what had happened in Japan for the previous three generations: if I did, it would make no sense. Ever since the first Westerners began to compel Japan to open their ports and markets (first the Americans, then the Russians, followed by the British, and finally the French) in the mid-19th century, there had been a steady tension among the warrior caste, called samurai. Though the Meiji Emperor supposedly abolished the samurai traditions in Japan in the 1870s, it was impossible to just wipe out centuries of tradition, attitudes and class division with a single stroke, or even with a war (in this case there were two wars or major revolts). Though the national armed forces took on the duties of the old domains, the role of the old warrior traditions and its complex-but-unstated bushido code was, with the advent of parliamentary government, becoming more subordinate to non-royal masters.

…the IJA was relatively resource-poor compared to the IJN, which created even more resentment.

By the early 20th century, with the creation of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria, hotheads in the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) had begun to prosetlyze among the junior officers the idea of an imperial “restoration,” where the emperor would eliminate the parliamentary government and restore the samurai to their rightful place in Japan, and imposing “morality”–theirs–on Japan for its own good. These hotheads got promoted, of course, and scattered throughout the IJA. The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN), however, was not quite as radical about their view of Japan, mostly because they worked closely with the government to get the material they wanted, which the IJA never did. As a result, the IJA was relatively resource-poor compared to the IJN, which created even more resentment.

The Imperial Way was led by an IJA general named Sadao Araki; Control by a former Kwantung Army officer named Tojo Heideki. 

Starting in 1928, a number of violent “incidents” from knife attacks to shootings were perpetrated by the myriad factions and groups within the IJA against other factions and groups or just people who disagreed with or criticized them in public. Many of the incidents were passed of without too much notice, the perpetrators receiving light punishment if they got any at all. By 1936, two factions emerged. The first called itself the Imperial Way, that advocated the abolition of the Diet and all political parties, repudiation of all international treaties, an end to compulsory education and the banishment of “western” learning, complete annexation of Manchuria, prohibition of Christianity, and the immediate seizure of the entirety of China. The other, much looser faction called itself Control, that supported some of the Imperial Way’s ideals but not how to get them. The Imperial Way was led by an IJA general named Sadao Araki; Control by a former Kwantung Army officer named Tojo Heideki.

The conspirators would murder their worst enemies in lightning moves across the Tokyo prefecture on 16 February, and invite the Showa Emperor Hirohito to take charge of Japan, just as they imagined his grandfather, the Meiji Emperor, had in 1867 (he really didn’t).

By early 1936, it was plain that the rule of law was–at least for the moment–suspended in Japan when it came to what the neo-samurai did to each other and their opponents. An order moving the IJA’s 1st Infantry Division out of Japan and to Manchuria in early February 1936 would have displaced and dispersed too many Imperial Way adherents away from the levers of power and influence, so a coup was planned. The conspirators would murder their worst enemies in lightning moves across the Tokyo prefecture on 16 February, and invite the Showa Emperor Hirohito to take charge of Japan, just as they imagined his grandfather, the Meiji Emperor, had in 1867 (he really didn’t).

They missed several other of their enemies, but also managed to disrupt the Asahi Shimbun, a liberal newspaper that the Righteous Army considered un-Japanese, and failed in their attempt to seize the Imperial Palace.

The coup started in the predawn hours of 26 February 1936 in Tokyo by an ad hoc group styling itself the Righteous Army, with part of the 1st Infantry Division taking part by capturing the Ministry of War and the Tokyo Police Department headquarters. In the meantime, the conspirators attempted to kill the Prime Minister, Okada Keisuke, but mistook him for his brother-in-law, who was shot to death. They also killed Takahashi Korekiyo, Finance Minister at the time who had been a Prime Minister, and Watanabe Jōtarō, the Inspector General of Military Education who had been a War Minister. They missed several other of their enemies, but also managed to disrupt the Asahi Shimbun, a liberal newspaper that the Righteous Army considered un-Japanese, and failed in their attempt to seize the Imperial Palace.

…in 1941 the Righteous Army finally got one of its demands granted: all political parties in Japan were merged into one IJA-controlled organization–the Imperial Rule Assistance Association–by Tojo Heideki, one of the leaders of Control.

The Showa Emperor was told of the violence early in the morning, and was never sympathetic to the Righteous Army’s goals as stated in the numerous pamphlets scattered around Tokyo. But there were factions in both the IJA and the IJN that both supported and opposed the uprising, though few others openly participated. Without additional support the coup was at a stalemate by dark on 26 February. It would be resolved on 28 February by a personal command from the Emperor. A bulk of the conspiracy’s leaders were arrested and tried for everything from murder to noblesse oblige, resulting in the execution of nineteen officers, prison terms and fines for scores of others. Several others not directly involved, including Sadao, were compelled to either resign or retire. This was the last of hundreds of incidents, and the end of the Imperial Way. Control, which no longer had a need to exist, also broke up. However, in 1941 the Righteous Army finally got one of its demands granted: all political parties in Japan were merged into one IJA-controlled organization–the Imperial Rule Assistance Association–by Tojo Heideki, one of the leaders of Control.


And then there’s National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, and that falls on 26 February every year. No one seems quite sure why it’s today, but there it is. Fairy tales, as we all know, were not originally intended to be for children, as most of them were quite dark. The Brothers Grimm, who collected a number of them for the first published book of fairy tales first published in 1812, referred to them as Children’s and Household Tales that included textual analysis and known origins. The first volume contained 86 of them; the second volume of 1815 contained 70. Eventually there would be 170 collected stories in there volumes, most originating in German folklore but, in the nature of storytelling, these easily crossed borders and paths.

But, then, that picture of Richard Nixon on the top of the page. Yeah, apparently he told some real whoppers during his time at the White House, and a few others besides. Those were real adult fairy tales. But a bigger tale is told by his critics about the “damage” he did to the presidency and the country. Whatever damage was done then was certainly minor compared to the “ambush” and “gotcha” journalism that followed, where purported journalists are more intent in making headlines and creating enduring scandals than they are in simply reporting facts. Some of those fairy stories have done some real damage all over the political spectrum by frightening those who can actually do something into inactivity.  Everyone with a microphone and a camera simply prompts anyone with influence or position for sound bites that can be manipulated and misused by the eye-rolling network blowhards inspired by the team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who covered the Watergate/Nixon story for the New York Times.

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