Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Imperial Army Officers Also Have Their Two Sides to the War Narrative

(Too busy today to do a translation. Please remind me.)

I am talking to a former officer in the Imperial Army. Actually, he was only a cadet, and he had not expected to be an officer until he would strap a land mine to his body and fling himself under an enemy tank, thus earning a double promotion.

Under the old Japanese school system, the lucky few went to high schools, which covered what are now the senior high school year and the freshman and sophomore college years. This virtually guaranteed that you would be accepted at one of the seven imperial universities, Todai being foremost among them. The top graduates of the imperial universities, Todai in particular, would serve in the imperial civil service. The former cadet went to Todai after the war, but things had changed by then, and he went willingly into the private sector. But I am getting ahead of my story.

There was a parallel school system for the Imperial Army and Navy. There was middle school, high school and university for each of the two military services. In normal times, military officers would be drawn exclusively from these ranks. The people who sought military careers tended to come from military families, and the not-so-well-off, who could barely spare a son from going to work as soon as he had finished the five years of compulsory education. You see, the great charm of the military middle school was that you would get room and board, and you paid no tuition. (This class issue had significance that affected the military's reaction to the harsh, interbelli years. But that's another story.)

But when the war escalated, the military needed more officers than the military school system could produce. So the civilian school system was pressed into service. The middle schools and high schools began producing officer candidates, to be pressed into action after a year or so of training.

For able-bodied high school graduates, it was not a matter of choice. You either went to cadet school, or you were conscripted to serve as a common foot soldier, together with all those rice mill workers and carpenter apprentices, who would mercilessly persecute you as a wimpy bookworm who was too good to speak the language of the common man.

Time whad become even more dire in the days of the former cadet; they were graduated after two years, instead of the normal three, when they had conveniently reached twenty, the age of adulthood, when they would be eligible for the draft.

The officer-training program for high school graduates had also been truncated, from the original one year to a breathtaking six months. This was not as reckless as it soundsthough; at least not with regard to the former cadet. For when he was assigned to a Kyushu base after graduation and went into real combat training, he learned that his main role was to wait for the enemy to land in a final assault on the island of Kyushu, when he would strap a land mine … but I told you this already.

He fully expected to die before he could go home and make it into one of the imperial universities. The only cause for optimism was that the enemy might arrive before the land mines arrived. You see, the Japanese military-industrial complex could no longer produce enough land mines to equip its soldiers. He and his cohorts all trained using weighted, wooden replicas. (It was at this point that a slightly older man chimed in with the observation that approximately half the men in the battalion that he had served with in China had to carry wooden replicas in lieu of real rifles because there were not enough weapons to go around. He himself had left college to go to cadet school, then marched around in China for a year before the war ended and was detained for a year in Manchuria before he made it back to Japan.)

The real mines never came, and the Allied Forces only arrived after the surrender. He went to Tokyo to enter Todai, then go to work for a mining company. (The older man also returned to his old university, then went on to work for a trading company.)

Fast forward to the present. The former cadet, having risen through the ranks to become the CEO of his company, has passed through the usual course of chairmanship to special advisor to final retirement or death, whichever comes first.

In the Japanese corporate system, such men in his days were lifers. The corporations were also linked together in the zaibatsus, much praised and feared by American business executives and management professors (who, as ever, wound up fighting the last management war). Thus, the top executives in these zaibatsus would get together every month or so, and have lunch, say, and talk about things of mutual concern. This personal connection would last into the corporate afterlife, and the chairmen (always men) and special advisors of that aibastu would continue to get together regularly, to talk about them old times and drink themselves some sake.

It was on one of these occasions that one particularly forceful ex-CEO, whose name old foreign correspondents would instantly recognize, piped up and claimed that the Great East Asia War was fought to liberate Asia from the West. But another ex-CEO answered, somewhat meekly, that he didn't think so, that he thought it had been a war of invasion. What the former cadet calls a vigorous exchange of views ensued between the two, leaving the rest of the venerable group stunned.

The key to understanding this heated dispute is that the ex-CEO who championed the jihad version had been educated in the military school system to become an officer, only to go back home to the civilian school when the war ended, while the other ex-CEO had gone through the same process as the former cadet. The military school system, the Army's in particular, had indoctrinated its cadre with the dogma that imperial Japan was fighting a holy war, a war of liberation, and the education had taken, to linger on after all these years. The ex-high school and ex-college students who had been virtually conscripted into officer schools never believed in the mantra, or quickly were disillusioned when the war ended. Needless to say, the sympathies of the former cadet were totally with the latter ex-CEO.

The good news is, neither side now believes there is an Asia to liberate anymore. Mr. Abe knows that. Mr. Hu knows that. I wish Mr. Hu could let his people know it, too.

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