dissabte, 18 de juliol del 2015

Lighter than the feather

The Japanese military tradition has a distinctive, almost unique element. Whereas German soldiers were told to kill, Japanese soldiers were told to die. The cruel character of the Japanese military is evident from the beginning of its modernization at the end of the 19th century. In the military code for the imperial navy and army (Kirikigun Keiritsu), issued in 1872, surrender, escape, and all other actions by which soldiers might save their lives in situations of unavoidable defeat were punishable by death. The system made no allowance for conscientious objectors. Any soldier who would not obey military rules and his commander's orders was shot on the spot, without a charge against the one who shot him. Furthermore, people feared that such an offense by a soldier would lead to the punishment of his immediate and extended family members, just as during the Edo period the government warned that "crime extends to five generations and punishment to five affinal relationships.

[...] The first lesson a student soldier like him was taught was to use his own rifle to kill himself rather than be captured alive. Each new conscript was trained to use his toe to pull the trigger while pointing the gun precisely at a certain point under his chin so that the bullet would kill him instantly. He was supposed to use this technique if he was trapped in a cave or in a trench sorrounded by the enemy. If he did not kill himself but tried to escape, he might be shot from behind, because his superiors and some comrades believed in the state dictum that one must never be captured by the enemy.

[...] The Imperial Rescript to Soldiers included a now-infamous passage: "Do not be beguilded by popular opinions, do not get involved in political activities, but singularly devoted to your most important obligation of loyalty to the emperor, and realize that the obligation is heavier than the mountains but death is lighter than the feather".

[...] Student soliders rationalized their predicament by means of historical determinism -not the Marxist or the Hegelian one- and envisioned themselves as caught in the grand flow of world history leading them to their deaths. Alternatively, they reclaimed a sense of individual agency by assigning to themselves the role of destroying the old Japan -Meiji Japan, imperial Japan, feudal Japan, capitalist Japan- in order to protect their beloved ancestral land, to bring about a utopia, or even to create a new world. They sought phsycological refuge in the aesthetic of nihilism, as expressed in various literary works of the Romanticism. Or they consoled themselves with the aesthetic of the words and melodies of hymns, which they used as dirges, without having a vision of resurrection, redemption, or any form of afterworld.

[...] Aesthetic value is assigned to the symbols that stand for the most cherished values of the people: their land (space), their history (line), their idealism, ahd their moral codes of purity and sacrifice. People respond powerfully and deeply to aesthetic values, interpreting them in terms of their own idealism and experience of sublimity, while the state can use the same aesthetic and symbolism to coopt people.

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries.