Friday, May 8, 2015

The Night Sumo Saved Charlie Chaplin's Life

The 1920's and 1930's were an unstable time for Japan and the precursor to the catastrophe to come. Expansionist policies had already led to the annexation of Korea in 1910 and the subsequent increase in power of the military was nothing but accelerated by the woeful response to the devastation of Tokyo in September 1923 when an earthquake and fire razed the city. By 1931, flexing its muscles, the Imperial Army unilaterally manufactured an incident in Manchuria, northern China, launching an all out invasion without the courtesy of asking the civilian government in advance.

Japan was already smarting from the a naval treaty of 1922 which had limited its ability to develop a modern navy and by 1931 the rule of law was beginning to look in question with both the Imperial Army and Navy showing signs of unrest. The pot boiled over in October 1931 with the first of a string of failed coup d'etat. The second, in March 1932, aimed to assassinate business and political leaders and usher in a new era of nationalism under military rule. Despite the failure to eliminate no more than an ex-Minister and the Director General of Mitsui, emotions were running high. And then on 15 May 1932, young extremists from the Navy with the support the shadowy League of Blood, succeeded in assassinating the Prime Minister, Inukai Tsuyoshi. 

The coup, led by eleven officers in their early twenties, went little further but the conspirators had another sinister objective. To provoke America into a Pacific War. To achieve this they planned to assassinate the much loved movie star, Charlie Chaplin, who had arrived in Tokyo the evening before and was supposed to be at a reception with the Prime Minister. Fortunately events were not to be for the would-be radicals and Chaplin was watching a sumo tournament elsewhere in the city at the time. His death could never have realistically provoked such a response but think what we would have lost if he hadn't changed his plans that night; Lime Light, Modern Times, The Great Dictator and the eternal classic, Smile. All were in the years to come....

Light up your face with gladness

Hide every trace of sadness

Although a tear may be ever so near

That's the time you must keep on trying

Smile, what's the use of crying

You'll find that life's still worthwhile

If you just smile

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