There were only a few things wrong with the massive parade today in Beijing celebrating the 70th anniversary of V-J Day, Victory over Japan Day. The folks doing the celebrating only tangentially represent the Chinese who most actively resisted the Japanese invaders. And the celebration itself, meant to signify China's emerging superpower status, fell a little flat.
While most nations had representatives -- US representative Max Baucus was already there, on account of being US ambassador to China -- only a few major world leaders actually showed up to review the long procession of Chinese troops and armaments.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was there, intent on the quasi-alliance between the two nations, not to mention poking Washington in the eye. South Korean President Park Geun-hye was there, too, the longtime American ally intent on China's favor in helping to restrain North Korea.
China showed off its military might during a massive V-J Day parade through Beijing's Tianmen Square. President Xi Jinping announced during his speech that he would cut 300,000 troops from China's army, the world's largest. But he is accelerating expansion of naval and air forces, including missiles seen in footage above that have been deemed supposed Nimitz-killers and Guam-killers, the former for the Nimitz-class US aircraft carriers and the latter for the Pacific island that is a major US base.
The other most prominent heads of state that were in Beijing are from Cambodia, Egypt, South Africa, Pakistan, Myanmar, Vietnam (decidedly not a China ally), Venezuela, and the Central Asian states that join Russia and China in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Most of China's neighbors, angered by its extraordinary efforts to claim sovereignty over virtually all the South China Sea and to declare an air defense zone over the East China Sea, kept their heads of government at home.
The Chinese stock market crash, driven by economic problems we still don't fully understand thanks to the secrecy of the Chinese government, has affected the rest of the world in deleterious ways, with stock market gyrations only the most obvious and immediate. So the bloom coming off the rose of positive Chinese ascendancy in the economic sphere joined with a widespread desire not to reward China's geopolitical aggressiveness and stunning claims.
Perhaps it was fitting.
Though the weaponry on enthusiastic display is real enough, the parade through which it so portentously clanked was based on some very significant historical fakery.
For the Communist government which continues to rule in Beijing had little to do with any victory over Japan. The truth is, the Communists under Chairman Mao were much more interested in fighting the actual government of China, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, then the invading Japanese. In doing that, they actually indirectly aided the Japanese.
While the Nationalist Chinese troops fought the Japanese invaders, taking the lead in all two dozen major battles in the war in China, Communist forces largely stayed away. Nationalist Chinese forces caused the great bulk of Japanese casualties in the war. Not surprisingly, Nationalist Chinese forces suffered eight times as many casualties as Mao's troops.
Clearly, the stance of the forerunners of the current Chinese government was to hold back, hoping that the forces under Chiang -- aided of course by the US and by US forces taking on the Japanese across the vast Pacific theaters of war -- ultimately prevailed over the Japanese but were greatly depleted in the process. Then they would be easier pickings for the Communists in a later "people's war."
Thanks to decades of incessant propaganda and a hazy and credulous view of history among many on the left, the "people's war" after World War II is most often remembered and the rather jackal-like behavior which preceded it is conveniently forgotten.
What the rulers in Beijing either forget or don't understand is that it is probably only due to the premature death of President Franklin Roosevelt that their plan worked.
Atmospheric footage, probably the only taken in color, shot by a US Navy commander on Admiral Halsey's staff of the Japanese surrender ceremony aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. (The footage comes after a minute or so of family identifiers.) With millions of undefeated troops still in the field, Japan finally surrendered after not one but two American nuclear devastations of Japanese cities and a ferocious Russian invasion of Japanese-held Manchuria.
For Roosevelt, as part of his grand design of the post-war United Nations, intended that UN peacekeeping would be performed by what he called the "Four Policemen." That would be the forces of the US, Britain, the Soviet Union (which killed nine times as many German troops as American and British Empire forces combined), and China. FDR brought Chiang into summit meetings.
Much more to the point, in face to face meetings with Josef Stalin, he forged agreements for a direct alliance between the Soviet Union and the Nationalist Chinese. Among other things, the two huge neighbors would undertake joint infrastructure projects together, including massive railroads.
An alliance between Stalin and Chiang means no alliance between Stalin and Mao, depriving the Chinese Communists of critical support in their civil war.
Roosevelt's United Nations -- having named the future organization in January 1942, he died suddenly in April 1945 as he was preparing to travel to San Francisco for its founding conference -- lived on. But many of the critical nuances and deals, little known today, that FDR was bringing to bear in order to create a sustainable global security architecture imbued with more than a modicum of justice, did not live on.
He never had a proper successor and Harry Truman, who knew surprisingly little of what the president was doing, was intellectually in over his head. He did not grasp the overall, and actually repudiated some of his chief's deals, hurting his own position in the end.
In part because Truman, transfixed by the power of the atomic bomb, engaged in nuclear saber-rattling with the Soviets and moved swiftly to direct confrontation with the Soviets, the rise of the Communists in China was, ironically, actually assured.
The Chiang regime was beset by corruption, but seems no more corrupt than what we've been seeing more lately. Where the Communist regime did surpass the Nationalists was in mass murder. Mao is one of history's greatest mass murderers, responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of his own countrymen. (He actually called for the liquidation of 50 million peasants to further agrarian reforms.)
Like the true history of World War II and its predecessors' real role in it, this is history not recognized by the ruling elites of Beijing.
But that, as they say, is the past. In the real world of politics, as FDR knew, we have to work with what we have to shape the future.
Despite its threatening geopolitical claims -- which of course must continue to be countered -- and in spite of its newfound economic vulnerabilities, the US can work with China.
China is a nation-state, one with an ultimately great heritage and promise for the future. Its leaders are not religious zealots, they are rational and sophisticated people.
President Barack Obama's agreement with President Xi on beginning steps to combat climate change shows that progress on critical matters is possible.
The purpose of the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific Pivot is not just to counter China, it's to more fully engage the vast and rising Asia-Pacific of which China is a very important part. A relationship of creative tension is not merely about tension, it's about creativity, too.
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