Stay sleeping, gentle giants

Today we are hearing reports that Japan will withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 2019 and resume commercial whaling. These reports are being greeted with some dismay but I wonder if they actually herald the beginning of the end of Japanese whaling.

The reports suggest that the Japanese whaling fleet will stop hunting in the Southern Ocean and restrict their whaling activities to Japan’s territorial waters. On its face this suggests that the fleet will be able to easily and comfortably catch as many whales as it wants, but there’s a problem with this: Japanese people don’t like whale meat, and whaling is only profitable if it is heavily government subsidized. But when the whaling fleet switches from a dodgy “research” program to a commercial whaling program, will the government still subsidize it? I wouldn’t be surprised if the subsidy gets withdrawn and whale suddenly has to compete on price and quality with beef and fish. I suspect then that commercial whaling will become unsustainable very quickly. Furthermore, many areas where whaling could be conducted will put it in direct competition with whale watching tourism (for example in Kochi, Okinawa and some areas around Hokkaido). This political battle played out for years in Iceland, and although the whale watchers finally lost it took a lot of work by the whaling organization to make that happen.

In the past a large part of the reason whaling was supported by the government was its political appeal in a few important rural electorates, but over the past 10 years there have been repeated efforts to reduce the political power of rural electorates, with electorates merging and being rebalanced so their effective vote is closer to parity with urban areas. This means that the government is under less and less pressure to support rural money-sink projects like whaling, and in an era of straitened finances where the boutique demands of a couple of rural electorates conflict with the growing and critical problem of aging in rural areas, I suspect the government will very quickly find it convenient to slash that subsidy (or not transfer it) and leave the whaling towns to sink or swim on their own. It’s worth remembering that one un-subsidized similar operation, the annual dolphin hunt, is not financially successful on the basis of the meat consumed – the main profits from that hunt arise from selling captured dolphins to aquariums (many of them international). With no such secret market to support it the whale hunt may well not be profitable, unless the operators can somehow convince Chinese people to eat whale meat.

This decision also removes much of the international embarrassment that Japan faced from whaling. Until last year, when the Sea Shepherds admitted defeat in their conflict with the whaling fleet, Japan endured an annual parade of shame on the global stage as its tiny pointless whaling fleet hunted endangered animals in international waters while being chased by an aggressive foreign fleet that sometimes had surprising victories. It was defeated in the international courts and forced to change its plans, and it only defeated the Sea Shepherds after militarizing its whaling fleet. In contrast, moving to commercial whaling in Japan’s territorial waters and leaving the IWC incurs a one-time PR hit, because the Sea Shepherds won’t be able to operate in Japanese territory, and so there won’t be annual vision of this conflict. It also removes all political disputes with Australia, which despite its small size remains an important trading partner for Japan and a good international friend, and with whom they disagreed on pretty much only this issue. It also strips the whaling program of all its nationalist political baggage, since it will be removed from the public eye, and potentially opens it to political conflicts within Japan over less politically-charged and more prosaic issues of budgeting and industrial strategy.

This decision also makes me wonder if prime minister Shinzo Abe has not been playing his nationalist base very well. Since he came into office he has implemented new programs to encourage women in work, increased annual migration numbers and relaxed rules on who can come here, made better friends with China, and now he’s stripping the whale hunt of all its nationalist overtones. His apology on the 70th anniversary of the war was actually an expansive improvement on previous apologies, and although there have been some restrictions on international aid Shinzo Abe has adopted a fairly radical global health program that puts the end of war, and international engagement, at the centre of Japan’s development programs. His introduction of this global health policy linked it to Japan’s violence towards women in the second world war, with an implicit rebuke of people who denied the comfort woman issue (which he also almost settled with the Koreans). So I wonder what his nationalist base have actually got out of him? Sure there have been some mild changes to the constitution to enable group self defense, but the most likely short term result of them will be that Japan ends up fighting in a war as an ally of South Korea (should that horrific scenario come to pass). Besides this mild concession, I cannot see that the nationalist wing of Japanese politics have gained a single thing from Abe. He doesn’t even visit Yasukuni Shrine anymore! I think Abe may have presented the world with a text book example of how to play to a nationalist base while implementing policies they don’t want, and stealing them of all their thunder.

So let’s hope that this decision causes the whaling issue to slide out of view, and then bankrupts the whaling fleet and forces them to be converted into expensive, high-class whale-watching ships. There’s a precedent for this: the first Sea Shepherd ship was a converted Japanese whaler. I hope that in the years to come the Sea Shepherds will be able to say that the Japanese fleet’s victory in the battle for the Southern Ocean was pyrrhic, and that the Sea Shepherds won the war.

Having learnt all they can from la Belle Dame sans Merci about the sinister plans of the various factions involved in the New World – and perhaps learnt of a few new factions besides – our heroes find themselves on the horns of a familiar dilemma: who should they slaughter next?

Knowing as they did that there was much evidence to implicate Washington and his ilk in schemes most sinister, some of the group were all for a return to Albany, thereupon to raid the offices of the Northwest Frontier Company and, hopefully, uncover evidence of everyone’s treachery. Others were in favour of capturing the ship which had been sent to rescue la Belle Dame sans Merci, for surely therein would be found yet more incriminating evidence linking the French to Washington and Madame Custis. After debate had ranged far and wide over many topics, and no decisions had been made, our heroes settled on their usual solution to all such quandaries – they decided to head for the closest enemies, and kill them all.

Thus they found themselves on a windswept beach, where la Belle Dame sans Merci had been intended to be collected by her French saviours. They could see the ship approaching, its glittering lights sweeping in fast over the dark waters. With barely a moments’ indecision they came to a rapid decision to gain access to the ship by subterfuge rather than violence. Rendering la Belle Dame sans Merci unconscious with a swift spell, they garbed themselves in the clothes of her now dead guards, and Anna Labrousse disguised herself as their leader. They waited for la Belle Dame’s rescuers, ready to bluff their way onto the ship.

The ship swept to a halt some hundred yards out from shore, and soon 2 rowing boats swept in on the breakers. As they neared shore a single massive armoured form leapt down from each longboat and hauled it through the surf to the shore. Barely used to Myrmidons, the characters were shocked to discover that their French adversaries also possessed a kind of hugely infernally enhanced body armour, like a carapace, which could move through water with the facility of a crab, and which could haul massive weights. Within that Myrmidon-like shell a French elite commando waited to tear them limb from limb. And from each boat emerged 8 more men, carrying rifles and lightly armoured in the fashion of French marines. Had our heroes prepared a frontal assault they would by now be just wasted flesh and bloody spindrift.

Fortunately, however, the characters were in disguise. There on the windswept and desolate beach they soon talked their way aboard ship, claiming to be la Belle Dame sans Merci’s protectors, and no way were they going to leave their injured charge now, dammit! And so they found themselves taken as passengers to their target, the ship Unfortunate Lapse of Discipline, which was aptly named indeed considering their means of egress.

An Unfortunate Lapse Indeed...

An Unfortunate Lapse Indeed...

Once aboard, the characters waited for their hosts to shuck their host armour and head below, secured la Belle Dame sans Merci’s inert body, and then set about another fine round of slaughter. Waiting until the majority of the soldiers were below, they sealed the entrance to the hold and cast a spell to paralyse the soldiers on deck. Their followed a vicious battle, in which the characters had to force their way below decks against the mass gunfire of the marines, take on the Captain, and were ultimately charged from behind by a group of enterprising marines who had used grappling hooks to escape the slaughter belowdecks. Dave Black was nearly killed in this last rousing charge, but the characters prevailed and at the end of a good couple of minutes’ hard work stood atop the blood-slicked decks of their new possession, the light Corvette Unfortunate Lapse of Discipline, her dead complement of marines, her two cannon, her (living, and cowed) crew, and all the secret plots which she contained.

All that remained was a decision on what to do with her…