In a scene from the 1957 film “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” a haughty British Col. in a prisoner-of-war camp confronts the camp’s Japanese commandant. Citing the Geneva Convention as justification, he argues that his officers should not be forced into manual labor, which makes the commandant furious — he declares that he does not abide by Western laws; he adheres only to “Bushido,” the samurai code.
When Bushido first entered the world’s consciousness in 1900, with the publication of Nitobe Inazo’s “Bushido: The Soul of Japan,” it was viewed as an admirable code of chivalry. Its focus on a dedication to duty inspired people around the world, including Robert Baden-Powell’s Scout Movement. But by the 1940s, “Bushido” had become a byword for Japan’s suicidal tendencies and military cruelty.