Patriotic few battle addiction to peace


Staff Writer

This is the third report in a four-part series looking at the past seven decades during which Japan maintained its national security while enjoying economic prosperity, and the ongoing social changes that could determine the country’s future course.

Ryota Toyomura, 18, a freshman at Waseda University in Tokyo, is adamant that he would enlist in the military and fight for Japan should the nation ever be attacked.

He also professes unwavering reverence to those he calls war heroes who died in the disastrous war Japan fought against the Allied powers seven decades ago.

Likewise, Mizuki Yamamoto, 19, another university student in Tokyo, vowed to do all she could to support the Self-Defense Forces in the event of war, because she believes that is a “natural obligation” as a citizen of Japan.

“Japan is a nation with a long history that must live on no matter what,” said Toyomura, who is majoring in politics. “And I want to protect it for future generations, like our ancestors did for us.”

In a nation that constitutionally rejects the option of going to war, with a society effectively allergic to the very notion, seemingly right-leaning students like Toyomura and Yamamoto are a rarity, and they readily acknowledge this.

As the 70th anniversary of Japan’s World War II defeat approaches this year, the majority of the nation’s youths, critics and students appear as disinterested as ever about looking back on their nation’s wartime past — let alone paying homage to the sacrifices made by their compatriots back then.

“War is definitely evil. It should never happen again,” said Yamamoto, a Keio University student, voicing worry that today’s young people won’t be inclined to fight for their country should it again find itself drawn into a war. “But they don’t even seem the slightest bit grateful to those people who died as soldiers.”

Yamamoto may not be wrong to have such premonitions.

Japanese ranked the lowest in their “willingness to fight for country” in a global poll released last year by the World Values Survey.

Asked if they would fight for their nation in the event of war, only 15.3 percent of Japanese said yes, compared with 57.7 percent of Americans and 74.2 percent of Chinese.

By age, 9.5 percent of Japanese under 30 said they would be willing to fight, as did 20.3 percent of pollees older than 50.

Not only are young Japanese apparently disinclined to fight for their nation, they are generally disinterested in the war or have little understanding of what happened.

On one December evening on a street in Shibuya, the Tokyo shopping district that serves as Japan’s mecca for youth culture and fashion, an 18-year-old high school boy named Sora seemed stunned to learn Japan and the U.S. once waged a brutal war against each other.

“Oh, did they?” he muttered, somewhat embarrassed.

“Now that you mention it, I guess I did learn that somewhere before,” Sora said, asking to only be identified by his first name.

Likewise, 19-year-old university students Mitsuhiro Kurokawa and Tsuyoshi Tanaka said in Shibuya they had no idea what significance Aug. 15 — the anniversary of Japan’s unconditional surrender in World War II — holds for their compatriots.

“To be perfectly honest, I’m not that interested in thinking about the war, although I do hope there won’t be another one,” Tanaka said.

Street interviews aired by NHK last Aug. 15 likewise showed 52 out of 100 young people approached didn’t know the significance of that date. Some nonchalantly said they had no idea Japan and the U.S. had even been enemies, before laughing at their own ignorance.

Critics and young people both blame this indifference in part on the short shrift given to the topic at school as teachers “run out of time” at the end of each semester.

Even the modicum of time spent on teaching modern Japanese history is consumed by rote learning, with an emphasis on memorizing even the minutest of details that could pop up on the vaunted university entrance exam, said Ryoichi Matsuno, a journalism and media studies professor at Chuo University in Tokyo.

He said it was “egregious” that modern history is being neglected by the school system.

“That’s the essential part of Japan’s history they need to know more about — those series of errors of judgment committed by the wartime government back then that caused such tremendous harm,” Matsuno said.

To rectify that problem, Matsuno advocates that schools introduce dedicated classes on modern history, rather than Japanese history as a whole, which tends to be lengthy.

The government of nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appears to be inching toward that goal — or around it. His team is thinking of making Japanese history, currently optional, compulsory at the high school level.

In January 2013, education minister Hakubun Shimomura told reporters he will actively consider making the switch to instill a stronger sense of “national identity” in students. In November, the Central Council for Education, which advises him, began reviewing the guidelines for school curricula with an eye toward an overhaul in the near future. Shimomura asked the panel to consider, among other things, whether to make Japanese history compulsory.

Matsuno said this approach misses the point.

Even if studying Japanese history is made compulsory, he said, students will remain as ignorant as ever about the war as long as schools continue to give modern Japanese history the brushoff.

The youths interviewed for this article also said their education on the war, if any, boiled down to simply underlining that it was brutal, with the result that many were left with an almost instinctive aversion to war.

They also seemed aware of a few specifics about the fighting Japan engaged in during the first half of the 20th century.

“It’s like how you flinch at cockroaches,” said a 26-year-old former SDF member who spoke on condition of anonymity. “To many Japanese, war is something so cruel and evil, and responsible for so many deaths, that they automatically turn away from it and don’t think about it.”

This mindset seemingly ran deep among his former comrades at an SDF training school who, despite their purported patriotism, often voiced a reluctance to fight.

“Some of them said they would run away if there was a war,” he said, disappointed.

Keio University student Yamamoto noted that all she was ever taught about the war was that it was brutal. But she believes, like the ex-SDF serviceman, that war is not that simple. It is much more multifaceted — and even necessary — from a political and diplomatic standpoint, she said.

Yamamoto said she doesn’t believe that today’s Japanese can think of war in diplomatic terms. Even in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the Japanese, unlike the Americans in September 2001, would probably not be able to justify going to war, she said.

The eloquent 19-year-old was emphatic that she has no intention of glorifying war and that she is absolutely opposed to its recurrence, from a human rights perspective. But she nonetheless stood by her position that there are circumstances under which the nation must overcome its anti-war mindset and embrace the strategic importance of war to protect its people.

“Should Japan be involved in a war, it means the well-being of its citizens will be significantly jeopardized. Our economy may collapse. Or countries like China — for example — may take control of our government (and) deprive us of free speech,” she said.

“I think, in the face of such threats to our human rights, what the government should do is not dwell on the notion that war is brutal, but instead stand up and fight to protect us,” she said.

Young people approached by The Japan Times on the streets of Shibuya sounded blissfully hopeful that Japan will never again experience war.

But Yamamoto and her lot urge them to drop their complacency and accept the likelihood that Japan will, someday, again be involved in war, even if not directly, however much they might hope to the contrary.

“Just because Japan hasn’t fought a war for the past 70 years doesn’t mean it never will again.

“As the American experience suggests, war is something that’s there all the time. It’s time for (the younger generation) to step out of their comfort zone and start being realistic about it,” said Waseda student Toyomura.

  • Firas Kraïem

    “Even in the aftermath of a terrorist attack, the Japanese, unlike the
    Americans in September 2001, would probably not be able to justify going
    to war, she said.”

    Well, that hasn’t worked too well for the Americans, has it?

  • KenjiAd

    In my experience, a person who talks about sacrifice is usually the first one who runs away when such sacrifice is needed. They keep shouting “go, go, go” from a safe distance away.

    • Ron NJ

      Reminds me of all of the “Ganbarou Nippon” flags up and down the country in the wake of the Tohoku disasters. A lot of flag waving but not a lot of action, all things considered.

  • KenjiAd

    What is so wrong about thinking of these “patriotic” young Japanese is that those Japanese soldiers who died during the war weren’t defending Japan at all.

    These soldiers, common people really, were forced to die for nothing. There is nothing to beautify their deaths.

    That’s how their sacrifice should be understood. They died for nothing.

    • Brian Stump

      They died defending their country and culture. They should be honored. We, the USA, placed restrictions on the nation of Nippon that made little sense.
      They were defending their interests. How they went about it. .. well. ..
      My uncles fought and I honor them. The ones that came back honor them, Japanese, also.

      • KietaZou

        No, they didn’t. You’re just incredibly ignorant. It terrifies (but doesn’t at all scare) me what your ideas about “race” and “culture” are.

      • JimmyJM

        The sanctions placed on Japan were in no way as debilitating as those that are placed on Russia and North Korea today. And they were placed on Japan only after the Japanese invaded Manchuria and China. Sanctions, as they are today, were an attempt to get Japan to withdraw its military without resorting to war. They obviously failed.

      • The so-called Manchuria was then in 1931 already a part of the Republic of China.

      • Barry Rosenfeld

        No it was not…read Beasley’s history.

      • I would like to recommend you learn some Chinese, and you would know the history better.

      • Barry Rosenfeld

        I know it far better than you and don’t need to learn Chinese thank you very much for I have a doctorate in Japanese History and am fluent in Japanese. To refresh your reprobate memory kindly recall my ignorant American friend that in 1911 the Manchu dynasty came to an end which quickly came under a Japanese protectorate under the puppet of the former and last Emperor Pu Yi. Only in 1937 did the last former Emperor of the Manchus have his own official state. That in turn became part of the ‘Peoples Republic of China’ in 1949 on the expulsion of the KMT to Taiwan. Sorry but your dear ‘People’s Republic’ did not exist until 1949 chum and next time, try to think before speaking, something you Americans have a remarkable talent of achieving which makes you look rather,or I should say, highly unintelligent. Good day to you my ‘Chinese’ expert.

      • Batters Box

        Some might call them economic and political sanctions or further indications of the American Oil and rubber industry tightning their grip and securing their interests in those markets share, distribution and control. Some similar situations with the USA EU and Russia today I think.

      • KenjiAd

        I totally disagree. Japan started the war, invaded her neighbors, and killed a whole bunch of innocent people, including Japanese people. It wasn’t that China/America invaded Japan, and Japan was defending it.

        As to your idea of defending the culture, that’s a disturbing idea. You go and kill people, if you felt that your culture is being invaded? I know that’s not what you meant, but your line of thinking is in fact disturbing.

        What Japanese people should learn, at least what I learned, from the war history of Japan is this.

        Never, ever trust the government blindly, when it advocates any military conflict with another country, when your own country isn’t being invaded by them. You would be very sorry if you did.

        So I’m very pleased by hearing that most of young Japanese people seem to have no interest in “fighting for the country.”

      • Christine

        brain-washed or you may call or??? Perhaps you may wish to read their text book today vs 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago… and compare it yourself…

      • Softclocks

        Their culture was in the danger in the same way India’s culture was in danger.

        You can surely blame Japan for invading China, but not for being hostile towards the West.

      • People should remember the saying of S.Johnson: Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. In this case, the Japanese Military was the scoundrel. People should know that the war between Japan and the US was a consequence of the war between Japan and China in 1937, and it happened 8 years long right in the Chinese territory! Would you call Bin Laden patrotic for “defending his coutry and culture” for all what happened in the Twin Towers?

    • Dipak Bose

      Your logic is also true about the British or American, Australian, Canadian soldiers as well. They fought either to colonize people of other countries to enrich the robber barons or to dominate and destroy other countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Libya, Yugoslavia, Syria, Iraq and now Ukraine.

    • Truth2Today

      Do not brainwash people with wrong form of patriotic. Not learning from past mistakes just being patriotic is very big mistake!!!!!!!!

    • David Rothauser

      KenjiAd, You have made the most profound statement written about soldiers and war. “They died for nothing.”

      • KenjiAd

        They (Japanese soldiers during WWII) died for nothing. I stand by that statement.

        Their meaningless death, dog’s death (犬死に), is the very reason why Japanese people should be angry at what happened, rather than honoring their so-called “sacrifice.”

        They didn’t die for the country. They didn’t even die to protect their families and friends.

        They were killed by their own government.

        My mother was practicing a bamboo spear in August 1945, in anticipation of the Allied invasion. Do you known how old she was? Eight. Thank God, the war ended before she would courageously go after Allied tanks.

        So please anyone explain to me – if she had died, why should we “honor” the death of an eight-yr old girl with bamboo spear? That’s a murder by her own government.

        A lot of soldiers died this way. Many were even amde to become serial murderers. Tragedy? May be. Honor? No. Dog’s death? Yes.

      • David Rothauser

        KenjiAd, Thank you for your heartfelt expression of the horrors of war. I understand your point-of-view. It is a reflection of my very own sentiments. In 2010 I produced a film about Hiroshima-Nagasaki survivors. It premiered at the UN. Now I’m working on a new film about bringing Article 9 (of Japanese constitution) as an amendment to the U.S. constitution. We need to stop making war. It has become an addiction here.

      • KenjiAd

        Incidentally, I was born and grew up in Hiroshima until I went to Osaka University in late 70’s.

        When I was in a middle school in Hiroshima, one of the summer-recess projects for students was that we needed to talk to A-bomb survives and write reports. Being in Hiroshima in 70’s, it really wasn’t difficult for me to find an A-bomb survivor – my grandfather.

        Actually I knew he was in the city when the bomb was dropped, he had never talked about it and, frankly, I wasn’t interested in what seemed to me a very distant past at that time.

        When I mentioned the school project to my grandfather, he initially declined to cooperate with me, saying that was a long time ago (29 years to be precise) and didn’t remember much. Although I didn’t realize it at that time, he was lying to me.

        Probably the next day, however, he took me to the rice field and started talking about it a little by little. Here’s a brief summary of what he told me.

        He was an electrical engineer of the Chuugoku Power Company in Hiroshima. He was too old (>40) to be a soldier, but was very enthusiastic about Japan’s war effort. He was listening to the official announcement from Daihonei (Imperial Military Headquarters) over radio everyday and, according to him, was clapping whenever they announced the victories after victories at least initially.

        When bombs started falling in other cities all over Japan, he said, he secretly hoped that the war would end soon, but never said it to anyone. I think his thinking was more or less the same as what everyone else in Japan was thinking without saying it.

        On August 6th, he was working in his office in his power company’s headquarter, located about 1-2 km away from the ground zero. All he remembered about the impact was a bright light and the next thing he knew was he was thrown to the opposite wall, buried under a pile of desks and chairs. Miraculously, he was not seriously injured.

        He didn’t know what happened, even after he went outside of his building. He told me that a lot of houses and buildings were burning. He also told me that he saw many, many bodies floating on the river.

        There was a woman asking for help, as she was trapped in one of the burning houses. He tried to help her, but the fire was approaching too quickly and he had to abandon her.

        When he was telling me this, he wept. Actually that was the first )and last) time I ever saw him weeping.

        He decided to go back to his hometown, about 50 km away. He was able to hitch a truck, but this truck, perhaps too many people sitting in the loading bed, flipped over on the way, again killing several people.

        After the accident, he just kept walking for one full day, eventually came back to his home town. My mother and two of her brothers were there.

        My grandfather told me that the war really is no good. Although his story didn’t quite sink in until I get older, it did leave an impression on me.

        Many years later, I ended up marrying a Chinese woman from whom I hear the stories of the other side.

        What is common, though, is that in Japan as well as in China, many, many innocent people lost their lives in that war which Japan started. It should never happen again.

      • David Rothauser

        Dear KenjiAd,
        Please exchange e-mails with me. I would like to communicate further with you. My web site is http://www.hibakusha-ourlifetolive.org. my email is drothauser@gmail.com.

    • Christine

      Japan is an island dependent on media information – unfortunately which is not what we foresee and understand. Is it back to Kamikaze? No clue, but it definitely is “education” – not knowing what really went on – how Japanese militant tried to invade other countries/islands and etc. History books have been re-written to subdue the matter… I cannot tell who is right or wrong, but… it is not what we like to see.

  • Rebane

    “Likewise, Mizuki Yamamoto, 19, another university student in Tokyo, vowed to do all she could to support the Self-Defense Forces in the event of war, because she believes that is a “natural obligation” as a citizen of Japan.”
    I wonder if in the U.S. “doing all you can do to support the U.S. Armed Forces in the event of war” is considered to be “a ‘natural obligation’ as a citizen of the United States.”

    • Truth2Today

      USA do not have money to support Japan. This is what it all boils down too.

  • JimmyJM

    “He also professes unwavering reverence to those he calls war heroes who
    died in the disastrous war Japan fought with the United States seven
    decades ago.”
    You would think a Waseda student would have enough knowledge of history to know that the war that ended seventy years ago was fought against almost all of Asia not just the United States. Nobody attacked Japan. Japan was the aggressor. This article is correct in noting the incredible lack of historical instruction in Japanese schools today. I hope Mr. Toyomura and the other students mentioned here will learn what really happened between 1933 and 1945 as the Emperor suggested in his speech.

    • Paul Johnny Lynn

      I once had a student, bright guy from a “big” university, tell me Japan went into WWII because Chinese soldiers killed Japanese soldiers, “Really?” I asked him, “Where? Here in Japan?” “No,” he replied, “in China.” “I see, and…why were the Japanese soldiers in China?” I asked. He opened his mouth to say something, but his brain started working first and he just said “Oh.” I recommended he did some history reading in English, not just Japanese.

    • Ron NJ

      They already did learn what happened between 1933 and 1945 … insofar as Japan can be painted as the victim. Nothing else matters because it doesn’t serve the purposes of the powers that be who continue to whitewash history and keep the population ignorant.

    • David Rothauser

      I grew up during WWII and in all my years of schooling in the US, we were never taught anything about WWII. Nothing about the Civil War (except that Lincoln freed the slaves), the Spanish American War or WWI. The only information we got was from Hollywood propaganda movies and highly controlled, censored radio broadcasts. Later television showed documentary films made from the victors point-of-view, so we at least got some information about the war. I am a veteran of the Korean War and while in the army learned what Koreans looked like, but nothing about their history, culture or reasons we were at war with them. Our goal was to kill as many “Gooks” as we could and win the war. Nothing else was important then. Much later I learned on my own that war, all modern wars are planned and organized by a very rich and powerful elite for reasons of empire building. There is nothing humanitarian about war. The elite never fight in a war. Instead they send very young people (usually un-educated) into battle to die for the greed and power of the elite. The soldiers who are sacrificed never benefit from the wars they fight. They return home broken, ignored, un-cared for, often physically and psychologically incapacitated. Soldiers, as KenjiAd says, “Die for nothing.”

      • KenjiAd

        My mother was only 8 when she was told that American evils were coming and she must “defend” her country. She told me that a scary-looking military guy was teaching her and other girls how to use a bamboo spear.

        Crazy. This is not “sacrifice” for the country. This is murder in the name of “sacrifice for the country.”

        How many young Japanese men were murdered this way by their own government? Two millions. And many of them ended up committing unspeakable crimes in China and elsewhere.

        Those politicians… with petty pride and personal ambition, sent those men to the battle field to kill and be killed.

        For what? Really.

      • J.P. Bunny

        “Those politicians… with petty pride and personal ambition, sent those men to the battle field to kill and be killed.” Of course, they didn’t have to go out and fight…..Too busy doing government things. Good bet their sons had an excuse to stay home as well. Those that scream loudest for war never really seem to want to participate in it themselves.

      • Batters Box

        I agree totally with you about soldiers dying for nothing what is even more appalling is civilians suffer more than soldiers if soldiers die for nothing civilians die for or count as less than nothing..

  • rossdorn

    Reading this make my hair stand on end…. what an absurd country, what a people…

    All that come to mind is the quote from Ambrose Bierce,
    author of The Devil’s Dictionary (1842-1913):

    ‘War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.’

  • Stephen Kent

    Quite a worrying article, I think. While there are some positives to be drawn from it, such as the apparent general aversion that most people in Japan have to getting involved in the brutalities of war, it seems to suggest that the wheels of history may have already passed through half a cycle and the inevitable march towards repetition has started with a large, passive majority and a small, highly ideological and militaristic minority coming to the fore.

    If history is not to be repeated then I think that education is indeed important, as Mr. Matsuno points out, but rather than just examining the facts of modern history young people should be encouraged to think critically and discuss the world around them with others. For example, by studying history and understanding that one of the main reasons the Japanese empire invaded Asia was to secure natural resources they might then make the connection with the fact that all most all of Japan’s energy resources still come from overseas and that any future war that Japan gets involved in might be over securing those resources and the sea lanes used to transport them. This would lead anyone with the ability to think logically to realise that being dependent on imported energy could potentially jeopardise the safety of citizens, and thus it would be prudent and patriotic to become as self sufficient as possible in terms of energy. The electricity generating monopolies who are refusing to invest in upgrading the electricity distribution grid to take advantage of the masses of unused renewable energy potential that Japan has might then come to be seen as failing to protect the Japanese people, and more action may be taken to pressure them into making a sacrifice (of profit) for the country instead of sending young men off to fight in a foreign land.

    This is just one example, but if people can start to think critically in this way, we might, hopefully, see a departure from the use of hollowed out language where “defence” means to fight over resources to maintain the status quo and “protect” means to build up a military with as much destructive power as possible instead of taking rational action to build better ties and avoid armed conflict with other nations. Then there might be genuine hope that Japan won’t become embroiled in anymore wars of aggression.

    • JimmyJM

      I agree with what you say but see a very close parallel with today’s China. China is out there securing sea lanes and resources for energy just as Japan once did. And of course, China places great emphasis on patriotism particularly in support of its military. Kind of worrying what this activity might lead to. With the exception of energy resources, Japan’s imports are not life and death things. They’re mostly luxury goods. If all the imports were suddenly cut off, Japan could restart its nuclear power grid and the farmers and fishermen could keep the people alive though not necessarily comfortable. Which brings us full circle back to the events of 75 years ago.

      • Stephen Kent

        Oh totally, fully agree, my comment is applicable to most countries I suppose. The economic systems that we live in are not ones of necessity, but ones that are designed to keep in place certain structures of power which in many cases necessitate external resources and an external enemy against which the population can be “protected”, which is a fairly common story the world over.

        In the event of a war the nuclear power plants would keep the country going for a while, as you say, but I think it tends to be forgotten that fission-based nuclear power is technically a non-renewable energy source and the fuel for Japan has to be imported from Australia (I think). With regards to food as well, as things currently stand it would definitely be a tough situation given the 40% self-sufficiency rate (again, I think), but with modern farming techniques that could be quite easily increased I guess.

    • KenjiAd

      I think there is one very important lesson that young Japanese people should learn when they study the modern history of Japan.

      That’s the lack of free press at that time (30’s-40’s), including self-censorship, and its disastrous consequence. Dissenting voices were suppressed and ALL the media supported the government propaganda. And we all know what happened after that.

      It does worry me when I see a word like “traitor (売国奴)” thrown around, not just by keyboard warriors in Internet forums, but also by print journals and TV programs in Japan. This never happened, say, 10 years ago.

      And the current attack on Asahi has an unmistakable undertone of ultra-nationalism and the current administration is on the attacker’s side. This is worrisome.

      What if something happened near the disputed island, and all the media, including Asahi, was pressured to support the hardline stance of the current administration? Scary thought… I live in China with my Chinese wife.

      • Stephen Kent

        That is a good observation about the word “traitor” being used more often. Now that you mention it I’ve also noticed a lot more 愛国 on magazine advertisements in trains, I saw a guy reading Mr. Hyakuta’s 愛国論 yesterday, and a couple of weeks ago I saw a guy with a t-shirt on that was criticizing the Asahi for being a traitor’s newspaper. So yes, I feel the aggressive nationalism is becoming more visible.

  • Truth2Today

    Japan brainwashing there youth is very different from being patriotic… Current Japan Abe government is no different from North Korea. Only difference is rich and poor.

  • Dipak Bose

    Japanese school education is really bad as they learn nothing about history. They have no idea about the history of Buddhism, their main religion. About the 20th century they know hardly anything. Japanese education system is Utilitarian; they learn mathematics, science and engineering, and nothing else. This is true about many European , British and American education system as well.

    • Truth2Today

      Japan ( Meiji Period- Present) Japan changed there history more than 200 times.

  • Ben

    what do you expect when you interview kids in shibuya? and interviewing them in front of their friends who they have to impress. this article overexaggerates, as does the NHK interview, what high school level students actually know about the war. i’m sure on a test the average student would be able to answer these questions. sensationalism at its best.

  • There are over 7000 museums in Japan, but none is dedicated to the foreign victims during the Japanese invasion on her neighbors. This is also a big problem. You can learn something from the history class, but a museum can get you think deeper by showing the real evidences. The Germans are experts in this field. There are museums everywhre in that country telling people what the their ancestors – Nazis, Wehrmacht and normal Germans – have done against humanity. The Germans nowadays know there can’t be a war again, because they were the bad guys. It’s definately good that mostJapanese now are against the war,too. But I doubt how long this would last: They only think they were victims of the two A-bombs. The antiwar mentality is based on a unstable ground.

  • A.J. Sutter

    I teach college students at a university in Tokyo. I wish I had more students like Yamamoto-san, who can see that war and self-defense have some subtleties. Instead, most of my students are either woefully ignorant like Sora-san, or overly simplistic like many of the commenters in this thread and, to some extent, the reportage in the story itself.

    First, there’s the question of “left” and “right”. In many countries, patriotism isn’t restricted to the right. I’m not speaking of countries like the PRC and Vietnam, where “left” today designates the conservative order fighting to maintain one-party rule. Rather, I’m thinking of countries like the US, Spain, France and Germany.

    For example: although right-wing icon Ronald Reagan served in the military during WWII, he spent the war entirely in the US, including in the Port and Transportation Office in San Francisco, in the Army Air Force (AAF) First Motion Picture Unit in Culver City CA, and in New York City to participate in a war loan drive. On the other hand, George McGovern, probably the most “left” of all major-party Presidential candidates in the past 70 years, volunteered for the AAF and piloted 35 bomber missions over Germany. Jimmy Carter was a navy officer qualified to command a nuclear submarine. In Germany, Helmut Schmidt was conscripted into the Nazi-run Wehrmacht and was even decorated, but served more than 8 years as Chancellor of West Germany from the left Social Democrats, and afterwards has remained a respected elder statesman of social democracy in Europe. Consider too the French Resistance, many of whose members constituted the French post-war left: were they unpatriotic? And the fighters on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War — they hated their country, I suppose?

    Many Japanese and many foreigners, apparently including the author of this piece, are too facile to label love of country and the willingness to take up arms in its defense as right-wing. The willingness to defend Japan against military threats doesn’t equate to a desire to subjugate neighboring countries or territories. Japan has a regrettable colonialist past, but so do many countries whose military forces today are regarded with tolerance both domestically and by their neighbors. Why does nobody freak out over the armed forces of Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Spain, France, Germany or Portugal, the way commenters reflexively do about Japan?

    Belgium, for example, was guilty of many horrendous atrocities in its African empire. And France, whose empire dwarfed Japan’s, possesses nuclear weapons and still projects military power globally (e.g. in Central African Republic and New Caledonia) — unlike Japan. Yet these countries, who lack anything like Article 9 in their constitutions, are given slack, while commenters are horrified that some young Japanese people might actually want to defend the country where they and their families (and, most likely, many of the horrified foreigners) live.

    A second confusion, especially in the comments, is about those who died fighting for Japan during WWII. Most were conscripts. Even those who voluntarily joined for the most part didn’t command. They didn’t determine political strategy of whom to invade or not, just as most US GIs didn’t, either. This isn’t to invoke the “only following orders” defense on behalf of those guilty of true war crimes, but I’ve never heard it plausibly charged that every single conscript was a war criminal, any more than every conscript into the Wehrmacht was, either. Reverence for their sacrifices isn’t per se right-wing: in many families, it may be a simple matter of filial piety.

    The dangerous aspect of this issue consists more in the mythologizing of the reasons for those soldiers’ deaths — such as illustrated by Toyomura-san’s blanket characterization of the dead as “war heroes.” Most of those who died were tragic victims of arrogant politicians and a police state (though that doesn’t rule out acts of heroism in particular cases, such as to save comrades or civilians). The blame for obscuring that historical fact should be shared between the LDP that’s run the country’s educational system for most of the past 60 years and the left-wing teacher’s union (Nikkyouso), who apparently bought into the same false notion that being left and loving one’s country are mutually exclusive. That some thoughtful, level-headed and gutsy students like Yamamoto-san have emerged from this system is a miracle that should be applauded — and repeated.

    • KenjiAd

      The blame for obscuring that historical fact should be shared between
      the LDP that’s run the country’s educational system for most of the past
      60 years and the left-wing teacher’s union (Nikkyouso), who apparently
      bought into the same false notion that being left and loving one’s
      country are mutually exclusive.

      You have a point. Historically, the Japanese “left” has a rather skeptical view on anything that smells like nationalism. Part of the reason is that Japanese nationalism has an unfortunate history of being used as a convenient tool for wrong war efforts.

      But in defense of “left” (myself being one), I do have a deep suspicion about their motive when some people in Japan invoke nationalistic sentiment in order to justify their political stance.

      A trivial example might be anti-antiwhaling movement. Don;t get me wrong. I am opposed to whaling. But when some people in Japan start talking BS like this being cultural invasion by “western imperialism,” sorry, but I cringe.

      Likewise, when a revisionist like Abe start talking about “pride of being a Japanese,” a notion which by itself is not wrong, I still cringe.

      • A.J. Sutter

        Thanks for your comment. I think an important key for the left in Japan should be not to allow the right to monopolize some of those symbols. E.g., if the people protesting the Designated Secrets Act had been singing the national anthem while they were marching, it would have been even more ridiculous for Ishiba to have compared them to “terrorists,” as he did a bit more than a year ago. I understand their hang-ups about the national anthem, but if they want to have more influence, they should grow up and let go of that baggage. Left movements in other countries are much more sophisticated about the use of symbols; but in contemporary Japan, they seem too willing to allow the right to dictate the ground rules of political discourse. I don’t think it was always that way here, but it looks like 60 years of brainwashing have been effective.

        Personally, I also think we need to de-couple foreign relations issues like self-defense from economic and social issues. There’s no reason why being willing to use arms to defend Japan should be tied to a neoliberal point of view about everything else. A left that’s realistic about defense issues but compassionate about social issues might strike a very resonant chord in the electorate overall. Japan’s election law places many obstacles in the way of this path, but those might be overcome eventually if we could first find some politicians with integrity to adopt such a view. Unfortunately, while the Japan Communist Party seems to have a lot of intelligent folks who are good on social issues, I don’t think they have the imagination to deal with foreign policy. (Evidence exhibit #1: if they did have it, they’d have changed the name long ago.)

  • Barry Rosenfeld

    This apathy is due to the post war pacifist education brought on at the behest of the American occupation during MacArthur’s governance. After 1952, the Ministry of Education kept up with this and hence as a result 60 years onwards, should anyone here who has lived in Japan for a meaningful amount of time and speaks the language fluently surprised?

  • I would call the Japan Times the conscience of Japan. You would not find such reports and analysis in other Japanese newspapers, even in the “liberal” Asahi.

  • Macky

    Apply for reserve candidates of JGSDF, then.

  • Ahojanen

    While I don’t oppose to the will of younger postwar generations (to which I still belong..) serving their country, they don’t necessarily have to “go military” to fulfill the cause. To grow up educated and professed with high skills, pay taxes/social security payments, stay healthy saving medical expenses, join social events or community development initiatives…. such “daily courses of action” can contribute enormously to the homeland security and welfare if not directly. We should never play down the impact of collective non-military acts.

  • andrew ferris

    I’m sorry… heroes?
    They were “heroically” invading Korea, forcing young women into prostitution, robbing the people there of their cultural heritage, even forcing them all to take Japanese names?
    Or how they heroically invaded China and upon falling onto the Chinese capital, rounded up all the men they could find, marched them out of the city and then shot them dead in mass. Then raped every young girl they could find, often gutting them like fish afterwards?
    Or how they “heroically” invaded the Pacific Islands and upon running out of meat rations, turned to cannibalism– eating “black pork” (local people) and “white pork” (American soldiers) and when that failed even killing and eating wounded members of their own squad, the last of which being the only one they felt any shame about.
    How they “heroically” tortured captured soldiers to death in the most horrific and creative manners for entertainment.
    How they “heroically” inspired the people of Okinawa to mass suicides by telling horror stories, lies that the Americans would treat citizens they captured as badly as the Japanese army treated the citizens it captured.
    How they heroically brainwashed young men into flying planes with the full intention of crashing them into ships, never once giving a damn about the lives of their own soldiers?

    Every one of those things has been proved as true and they were not the acts of one or two bad soldiers, they were general policies and behaviors of that military. So many were tried for war crimes for good reason, and many, many, many more should have been. I have not heard from a single Japanese war veteran who was part of a campaign in a foreign country who did not feel deep shame for what they had done. So many committed suicide, not out of shame for losing but the realization of what they had done. I have seen several documentaries where they were surviving veterans were interviewed.
    Where the heroism in this? Where exactly in this is “protecting national interests”?
    The Imperial Japanese army was the most barbaric and savage army in modern times. As bad as what the Germans and Russians did to one another, they did not hold a candle to what the Japanese army did to the citizens that were unfortunate enough to fall into its hands.
    Anyone who calls the Japanese army during World War II is either ignorant or also a complete monster.

    Forgetting those horrific monsters were part of their national history is young people doing them a damn favor. Canonizing them as something they weren’t is a slap in the face of all their victims. Many in Korea and China have never and will never forgive Japan for what it did, no matter how many times it apologizes. But if the young people in all three countries can just forget it all happened, maybe they can make a better future together.
    Granted, it might be best to at least remember the lesson. When young men are driven on by nationalism, dehumanize their opponents in their eyes and are encouraged by peer pressure to be ever more violent, brutal and nasty, there really is no limit to the depravity they can commit. And realizing once one is out of that environment how wrong one was does nothing to undo the crimes. There is a definite need for strict rules of engagement and soldiers must be constantly reminded that the nation they are fighting against are also human beings and should be treated with human dignity.