Friday, April 12, 2019

Guilty?

(Source (l), Source (r))
Two Japanese generals, both executed for war crimes, both because of events which occurred in the Philippines during World War II. Gen Yamashita, also known as the "Tiger of Malaya," was executed by hanging. Lt Gen Honma*, also known as "The Beast of Bataan," was executed by firing squad. In both cases, an argument can be made that they were prosecuted for defeating Allied generals, not for war crimes.

There are many things which happen in war which can have the appearance, to someone unfamiliar with war, of a crime. Let's say for instance that a machine gun crew has kept an enemy platoon pinned down for what may seem like hours, but in reality may only be minutes. While keeping that enemy unit in place the machine gun crew has inflicted a number of casualties, both killed and wounded, upon that unit.

The machine gun crew notices that they are running low on ammunition, they also know that they have nowhere to run. So when the ammunition is gone, they surrender. Rather I should say that they attempt to surrender. Tentatively they stand up at their position, hands in the air. The enemy unit, frustrated, tired, and understandably angry, open fire on the machine gun crew, killing them all.**

War crime?

The commander of a large unit cannot know every single detail of what the units under his command are doing. If the unit is well-trained and well-led, there is still a remote possibility of those troops committing war crimes. But what is a war crime?

One of the better definitions I've seen is:
A war crime is a violation of the laws of war. The legal understanding of war crimes has been codified in several multilateral treaties, most notably the Geneva Conventions. More recently, the most comprehensive legal statement on war crimes was the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. (Source)
A commander is, by law and by practice, responsible for the conduct and actions of the forces under his/her command. But how high does that responsibility go? Who gets to decide what is criminal and what is not?

Of the many war crimes committed by the Germans in the European Theater of Operations, many Germans were tried, convicted, executed or imprisoned. Many were not. Albert Speer lived to write his memoirs, Werner von Braun lived to assist the United States in putting men on the moon. Josef "Sepp" Dietrich, commander of the Sixth Panzer Army in the Ardennes, a number of units of which committed atrocities against American POWs and Belgian civilians, did do time in prison. Joachim Peiper, commander of a Kampfgruppe in the Sixth Panzer Army, whose unit perpetrated the Malmedy Massacre, also did time in prison.

Some were executed for their crimes, some were not.

Units under the command of Generals Yamashita and Honma did indeed commit appalling crimes against Allied POWs and Filipino civilians. Both men were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. Why them and not certain Nazi officers?

Why was Surgeon General Ishii Shirō, a Japanese army medical officer, microbiologist and director of Unit 731, a biological warfare unit of the Imperial Japanese Army involved in forced and frequently lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War not prosecuted and executed?
Arrested by the US occupation authorities at the end of World War II, Ishii and other Unit 731 leaders were to be thoroughly interrogated by the Soviet authorities. Instead, Ishii and his team managed to negotiate and receive immunity in 1946 from war-crimes prosecution before the Tokyo tribunal in exchange for their full disclosure of germ warfare data based on human experimentation. Although the Soviet authorities wished the prosecutions to take place, the United States objected after the reports of the investigating US microbiologists. Among these was Dr. Edwin Hill (Chief of Fort Detrick), whose report stated that the information was "absolutely invaluable", it "could never have been obtained in the United States because of scruples attached to experiments on humans", and "the information was obtained fairly cheaply". On 6 May 1947, Douglas MacArthur wrote to Washington that "additional data, possibly some statements from Ishii probably can be obtained by informing Japanese involved that information will be retained in intelligence channels and will not be employed as 'War Crimes' evidence." The deal was concluded in 1948. In this way Ishii was never prosecuted for any war crimes. (Source)
A war crime is a crime, regardless of the war criminal's usefulness to the victors. Otherwise, prosecution for war crimes is simply a vindictive exercise by the victorious power meant to punish the defeated. Consistency is important, otherwise the wrong message is sent.
Tomoyuki Yamashita (sic) was a Japanese general of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Yamashita led Japanese forces during the invasion of Malaya and Battle of Singapore, with his accomplishment of conquering Malaya and Singapore in 70 days earning him the sobriquet The Tiger of Malaya and led to the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, calling the ignominious fall of Singapore to Japan the "worst disaster" and "largest capitulation" in British military history. Yamashita was assigned to defend the Philippines from the advancing Allied forces later in the war, and while unable to stop the Allied advance, he was able to hold on to part of Luzon until after the formal Surrender of Japan in August 1945.

After the war, Yamashita was tried for war crimes committed by troops under his command during the Japanese defense of the occupied Philippines in 1944. In a controversial trial, Yamashita was found guilty of his troops' atrocities even though there was no evidence that he approved or even knew of them, and indeed many of the atrocities were committed by troops not actually under his command. Yamashita was sentenced to death and executed by hanging in 1946. The ruling against Yamashita – holding the commander responsible for subordinates' war crimes as long as the commander did not attempt to discover and stop them from occurring – came to be known as the Yamashita standard. (Source)

Masaharu Homma (sic) was a lieutenant general in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Homma commanded the Japanese 14th Army, which invaded the Philippines and perpetrated the Bataan Death March. After the war, Homma was convicted of war crimes relating to the actions of troops under his direct command and executed by firing squad on April 3, 1946.

...

Historian Kevin C Murphy argues that while it is not clear whether Homma ordered the atrocities that occurred during the march, Homma's lack of administrative expertise and his inability to adequately delegate authority and control his men helped to enable the atrocities. After American–Filipino forces surrendered the Bataan Peninsula, Homma turned the logistics of handling the estimated 25,000 prisoners to Major-General Yoshitake Kawane (sic). Homma publicly stated that the POWs would be treated fairly. A plan was formulated, approved by Homma, to transport and march the prisoners to Camp O'Donnell. However, the plan was severely flawed, as the American and Filipino POWs were starving, were weak with malaria, and numbered not 25,000 but 76,000 men, far more than any Japanese plan had anticipated. (Source)

What say you?




Sources:
  1. https://www.americanheritage.com/trial-general-homma
  2. http://japanesemonarchist.blogspot.com/2013/12/general-homma-masaharu.html
  3. http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/H/o/Homma_Masaharu.htm
  4. http://japanesemonarchist.blogspot.com/2013/08/general-yamashita-tomoyuki.html
  5. http://pwencycl.kgbudge.com/Y/a/Yamashita_Tomoyuki.htm
  6. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/war_crime
  7. https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a209673.pdf

* The general's name, 本間, has typically been transliterated in history as "Homma." The name is also transliterated as "Honma." As pronounced in Japanese it sounds closer to the latter. So I use that form here.
** A story related to me by my uncle, who served in World War II in the infantry, in the ETO.

64 comments:

  1. They were certainly guilty of the worst crime they were accused of, beating MacArthur. That was enough for Doug.

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    1. Definitely the primary cause IMO. My understanding is that MacArthur insisted upon the prosecutions over the objections of JAG types.

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    2. That was my reading of the situation as well, Cap'n.

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    3. Yep. Dougie should have been wandering around like Lady MacBeth, but his ego wouldn't let him.

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  2. Don't know how I'd react to the story your uncle told if that were me in that situation, especially if I lost buddies....once your blood is up then...well... when you're fighting total war eggs get broke. As a number of previous Chanters have stated, winners write history. For a Friday morning before breakfast my head hurts.....

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    1. All true. Sorry for making your head hurt, this post took a few days of on and off work. I'd hit a point where it was just too much.

      The cruelties we inflict on one another...

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  3. Don't read about Unit 731 unless you want to be grossed out. And have your heart hurt. That was some awful stuff. I'd have to read more, to have a valid opinion about those two generals, tho.

    I remember reading that Mac knew the asian mindset pretty well... I wonder if he embraced the idea of saving face... When people are killing each other in wholesale lots, ethics gets awfully messy. And with an enemy that is so different than we were.... I wonder how it could have been different...

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    1. Yes, the militarists had bastardized the concept of bushido to the point that it made as much sense as the Nazis' theories on race.

      Unit 731 was disgusting, how we let them slide is disgusting.

      I'm not sure how well MacArthur understood "Asians." (In quotes because they vary enough where the term almost loses any meaning.) Hew knew upper class Filipinos, not sure if they qualifies him to know the average Japanese soldier (who was pretty primitive by our standards).

      A nasty theater, a battle between two very different cultures. Lots of racism involved, on both sides.

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    2. Re: Unit 731 (and by no means an attempt to excuse). Maybe the Allied leadership realized that the existential threat now was the Soviet Union. They were also aware of the Soviet approach to land warfare, e.g. marching battalion after battalion through minefields to clear them. They were also aware that the Soviets had some of Unit 731 people. Gaining defensive (and offensive) knowledge of biological warfare might be needed.

      Much as we'd like it to be, in warfare right/wrong is not black and white, it's not even shades of gray. It's all the colors in the visible and invisible spectrum.

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    3. I get that, but why ax Yamashita and Honma?

      Can't have it both ways.

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    4. "...why ax Yamashita and Honma?" Because they lost and we won. It was unfortunate for those two men, but the Japanese people, as a whole, got off pretty lightly.

      Paul

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    5. Then we are no better than our enemy.

      Precisely the reason the Japanese executed prisoners.

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    6. Maybe Yamashita and Homma got axed because they had dirt on MacArthur. Wouldn't be the first time nor the last time someone got offed to protect someone's reputation.

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    7. Interesting theory but they could have spilled that at any time during their trials. Then again...

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    8. No, I think the reason was not why they got axed instead it is why the others got spared. Those two had nothing to offer and much to atone for. Unit 731 leadership (as distasteful and morally wrong as it was) had knowledge that could have been valuable.

      My opinion, only.

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    9. "Then we are no better than our enemy."

      I don't think that we are/were better than our enemy/ies, just different. If we sometimes don't live up to the standards we profess to believe in, well, it shows that we are still imperfect human beings.

      Paul

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    10. juvat - I think you're asking the right question, still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

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    11. Paul - I get that, I was just making the point of how I see things, while there are gray areas in war, there are some moral absolutes.

      And yes, we are imperfect as we are indeed human.

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    12. Also a correction is in order in my comment @ 5:16 AM - second sentence in the third paragraph should start "He knew upper class Filipinos, not sure if that qualifies him to know the average Japanese soldier (who was pretty primitive by our standards)."

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    13. I don't even know who this "Hew" person is.

      (Thanks Paul.)

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    14. There were Hmong fighting in the Philippines?

      As to the moral dilemma, well, we, as a nation, strived to do the right thing and to fight for the right reason. Didn't mean we didn't commit some serious crimes, or looted, or took advantage of shocked civilians, but, overall, we WERE the white knight in the room.

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  4. The number of Japanese military commanders, at all levels, who should have been held accountable for war crimes against Allied POWs is huge. The number who were actually held accountable was minuscule in comparison. Why the difference? The most obvious seems to be that if your conduct consisted of embarrassing Douglas MacArthur by out generaling him you were dead meat. As to the literally thousands of other war criminals there seems to be a strongly political motive to not further alienating the Japanese and thereby gaining Japan as an effective future counter weight against Russian influence in the Far East. It sounds Machiavellian, but I can't think of any other rational explanation for having failed to have held legions of Japanese commanders accountable for the horrors they perpetrated against POWs and civilians.

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    1. And that goes right on up to the Emperor and his role in decision-making, such as with what the aftermath of the taking of Nanjing should be. And Japanese media coverage of the "event". But a complaint Emperor had a lot more to offer to offer than two lower generals did. So generals expendable unless they really had something to offer.

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    2. Seems to be the truth of it right there.

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  5. Once again the Pacific was the Forgotten War. So easy to cover up and ignore what went on. Stupidity, arrogance, sheer laziness of thought and will. All could be covered up. Got a bad commander? Send him to the Pacific and let him rot on some 'foreign' post (that thought prevailed before, during and after the war, by the way.)

    So it is unsurprising that Japan as a whole got off pretty scot-free on moral ambiguity. The power play by the Soviets in the last month of the war, land grabbing some Japanese territory, surely helped us ignore what happened. That, and the Japanese mindset after the war, which was "We lost, your foot on our neck, okay. You win." Which was quite opposite of what our 'allies' in France and Russia were showing us, especially Russia.

    As to German War Criminals, we may have gone too far. Doenitz got tried because he pissed off the Soviets, not because of anything he actually did. So did many others, who 'committed crimes' on the field. Now, those wily camp guards, well, they got what they deserved.

    As usual, it matters who you know, your usefulness and whom you've pissed off. Doenitz pissed off Russia, Yamashita and Homma pissed off Doug.

    Sucks to be the loser. Losing has consequences, whether it is a battle or a war. And the fickle finger of fate sucks.

    And now, great, going into the weekend under a severe navel-gazing funk. Nice. What next, cat juggling?

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    1. Now there's a thought, doubt the feline staff would approve...

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    2. The only more cynical people than our top .gov was the Soviet .gov. Thank God that Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened when they did -- a few weeks later and the Soviets would've been established on Hokkaido and just possibly have made landings on northern Honshu. That would quite possibly have made US intervention in Korea problematic. But Yamashita got a real raw deal. Homma, less so, but under a fair court, he might've got off like Speer.

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    3. Ah, the Soviets, right bastards they were.

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  6. During 1944 when it became apparent that the Allies were going to win there was much discussion taking place as to what criminal charges should be framed against those found guilty of war crimes. It was during one of these discussions amongst the eminent legal minds of the day that it was decided that the defence that `We were only obeying orders` should not be available. This was all well and good until it was pointed out that one of the Acts of Parliament covering UK military law stated something along the lines that a subordinate should not be held liable for carrying out orders given by a senior officer even if they were unlawful. The relevant acts were quickly re-drafted. I don't have an exact citation but it was in a book written by Gordon Corrigan.
    Anyhow, the winners write the rules (and the subsequent histories).
    Retired

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    1. Ah yes, the old double standard.

      Yes, the winners get to write the rules, they should remember that when they lose. It happens.

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  7. "A war crime is a crime, regardless of the war criminal's usefulness to the victors. Otherwise, prosecution for war crimes is simply a vindictive exercise by the victorious power meant to punish the defeated."

    Well, yes. Lose a war and get it in the neck, that's what humans do.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. And there it is, just don't coat it in terms of justice.

      Thanks Paul.

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    2. " Justice " is a very slippery concept. It usually ( in my experience ) means what someone or some group who hold power want it to mean. To my mind, that means that the word is meaningless.

      Paul

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    3. Don't think justice as defined by lawyers, there is a higher standard.

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    4. Justice as defined by lawyers only means that laws as written as some men have been applied by other men, providing that attorneys smarter than any of those men haven't figured out loopholes or excluded critical evidence. Better than nothing, perhaps, assuming a random distribution of smart lawyers and judges, but that amounts to hoping for miracles...

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  8. As to your machine gun nest analogy. An Air Force Manual used to say "It is ill-advised to bail out over a target you just bombed."

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    1. Victor Davis Hanson has some pretty interesting things to say about the Japanese Army vis a vis their Air Force and Navy as well as the Armies of the other Axis Armies as well as the Allied Armies (Lumping the Marines in as an "army" aka Land fighting force).

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  9. I'll go ahead and write the thoughts of one who has given this a great deal of thought.

    One of the reasons we did not go after the Japanese 'war criminals' in depth was simply due to our own war guilt. By August of '45 we kind of got an idea that fire bombing innocent and utterly defenseless women and children and civilians was a serious crime. You can vouch for the truth of this simple statement by our behavior today and our revulsion for those who indiscriminately kill women and children in their 'making' of war. The Fire Raids and the Atomic Bombings were a milestone of man's inhumanity to man. I could search my computer for a couple of hours for the words of one of the atomic bombers. Nothing a single Jap did equaled Bock's Car or Enola Gay and we didn't send anybody in front of some jackass tribunal for that.
    This country used to wage WARRE but we haven't since 1945. There's a reason for that.

    We may again but I don't think it will happen again in my lifetime.

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    1. It was, "war makes monsters of us all."

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    2. Cap'n the 1st - The strategic bombings of both Germany and Japan were on my mind when I wrote this post.

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    3. Cap'n the 2nd - It's the very nature of the thing, it is monstrous, so it makes us monstrous.

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    4. Please don't get me wrong on this. What the nazis did along with their henchmen in both Germany and the occupied lands was evil and it was so with the Japanese who were unspeakably evil. I think Nuremberg and that niggling fact that there were 12 million starving to death germans in Germany in 1945 shifted our focus and we left behind the Wilsonian Doctrine of making sure the guilty losers got punished. As the Bahrain Defense Force general told me once about a couple of our sailors who were stupid enough to jump out of the BDF police jeep and broke many bones, "I think they have suffered enough." The Master Chief and I got them back from the BDF and then promptly shipped them off to Rota.

      I am very familiar with what happened in that time and read all about 731 and the thousands of other atrocities. If you want to see what WARRE does you don't have to look much further than current day Japan. We excised it from them like nothing seen since the first few khans. That our air campaign planners tried to keep untouched a few cities in order to show off the extraordinary effects of a bomb too secret to tell them about speaks volumes.

      That there are still men and women working in holes in the ground with Armegeddon at their fingertips and likewise men and women putting out to sea every day in submarines armed with similar wholesale destruction, is lost on most people. They think that all that went away with the USSR. It's interesting. You take some of the most moral people with the greatest integrity and send them to guard your flanks by remaining poised to unleash hell.

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    5. Well put, Sir. You make some excellent points.

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    6. @HMS Defiant: At least those sailors were smarter than the two airmen who threw empty San Miguel beer bottles and insults at the 3rd SP Wings shift change formation as they sped off in a Filipino-made Jeep in 1989. They led the SPs on a high-speed chase with 'live' bottles of beer thrown at them until close to Mabalacat Gate when they were finally stopped. What a waste! Of good airmen slots and of good beer (for certain low values of good).

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    7. Alcohol and airmen, never a good mix. DAMHIK

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  10. We should apply the Yamashita standard to politicians....

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  11. If it had not been for the fire bombings and the atomic bombs, the allies ( read mostly U.S. troops ) would have had to invade the home islands. If you have read anything about the Japanese mentality and what they ( military and civilian, [ down to young children ] were planning to do to resist the invasion of their homeland, you know that the American G. I.s would have had to kill an huge proportion of the Japanese population. It is entirely possible that there would not have been enough Japanese people left on the home islands to maintain a viable population. Another factor to consider is that the USSR was jumping in to help the U.S. invade Japan and they were not shy about killing their enemies. It is my firm belief that the Japanese should be thankful that these horrible weapons caused the emperor to tell the military to surrender. Other people are free to have different beliefs, but this is what I have believed for many years and continue to believe.

    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. The atomic bombings were absolutely necessary.

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    2. But, after the war, what we had to do, once it got to the general civilian population, disgusted our nation. As it rightly should. Civilized man always should feel queasy when having to act in an uncivilized manner. It is one of the big distinctions between us, the US, the civilized folk and them, the NAZIs and the Soviets and the Japanese, where acting uncivilized towards others was part of their civilization.

      Not saying we were saints, not considering the amount of aviation fuel used to destroy bunkers and emplacements via direct application during the Pacific War.

      But we were more saintly. We were shocked and horrified after doing uncivilized things. But the war required the application of uncivilization in order to win. Sucks.

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    3. Andrew: I strongly disagree with you. I respect your beliefs, but I think you are wrong.

      Paul

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    4. I agree with Beans that a lot of the nation was shocked, those parts who'd never had any experience with fighting, let alone those who had no experience with fighting with that simply would not surrender. Those who had a lack of experience and especially of imagination. They were a vocal minority when it came to, "Better Red than Dead", and we still face their descendants.

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    5. The appeasement crowd lives on...

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  12. There is a near infinite room to be wrong. Any moral philospher today would tear off his own head.

    I have to admit, as a philosopher king, that Miles Standish would be dead by my hand when he attacked Merrymount if I lived there.

    Just sayin.

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    1. I had forgotten all about Merrymount. Leave England due to religious intolerance, then arrive in the New World and practice...

      Intolerance.

      Sounds very modern.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)