Friday, November 18, 2022

The (Rail)road to Hell

Taketa's single-page letter to Fanny BartlettSometimes the road to Hell isn't paved with good intentions but propaganda and deceit. In 1937, Fanny Bartlett of Norwich, Vermont, wrote a sympathetic letter to Taneo Taketa, the manager of the South Manchuria Railway Company's New York branch. Fanny was the wife of Samuel Concord Bartlett, Jr., salutatorian of Dartmouth's class of 1887 and son of Dartmouth's eighth President. Before the Bartletts had retired to Norwich the previous year, they had been missionaries in Japan for a total of thirty-two years. Bartlett Jr. had been a lecturer and chaplain at Doshisha University in Kyoto, and had been awarded emeritus status by the university upon his retirement. During his chaplaincy, Fanny had served as the dean of women for Doshisha's associated women's school. Sadly, not soon after their return to Vermont, Bartlett died in February of 1937.

Eight months or so later, Fanny penned her letter to Taketa. At that particular moment, the Japanese Empire was in the midst of the Battle of Shanghai, which lasted from August 13 until November 26 and was one of the bloodiest battles of the entire Second Sino-Japanese War. Unfortunately, we don't have a copy of Fanny's letter, but we do have Taketa's response. He says that he is "deeply moved" by Bartlett's "very kind letter" and praises her "understanding and faith in Japan." He stresses that "not a single Japanese has wished to kill a Chinese, nor break up the Chinese Government" but that Japan was compelled to take action because of implied Chinese aggression.

The fact that Taketa worked for the South Manchuria Railway Company, or Mantetsu, is a very important detail. Mantetsu was the backbone of Japan's extractive colonialist agenda in China during this period. Its freight fees provided 25% of Japan's tax revenues in the 1920s alone. A supposed attempt to detonate Mantetsu railway tracks in 1932 was actually a false flag event initiated by Japan that provided the pretext for their immediate invasion of northeastern China. The rail company then served as Japan's unofficial governing body within the puppet state of Manchuria.

It is difficult, therefore, to believe Taketa's protestations of Japan's desire for peace and goodwill with China. He ends his letter to Mrs. Bartlett by urging her to tell all her friends about the "real spirit of Japan" and says that he has added her to the South Manchurian Railway Company's mailing list so that the literature he sends her might help her to convince her friends of Japan's "true intentions." Less than two months later, the Japanese army would begin a six-week massacre of the Chinese inhabitants of Nanjing, estimated to have resulted in approximately 200,000 civilian murders and 20,000 instances of rape, as well as widespread arson and looting.

To read this letter, and to look through other correspondence that Fanny Bartlett received, come to Special Collections and ask to see Box 8 of the Fanny and Samuel C. Bartlett, Jr., Papers (ML-75).