Jun Okumura quickly provided some sort of answer: more than fifty SDF members submitted essays in the contest won by General Tamogami. Sankei reports that the number of ASDF members who submitted essays is actually seventy-eight by the ministry of defense’s reckoning. Asahi notes that this constitutes nearly one-third of the contest’s 235 entries. Asahi also breaks down the submissions by rank and finds that of those seventy-eight, none except General Tamogami were flag officers, ten were field officers, sixty-four were company-level officers, and four were cadets. Asahi also found that sixty-two had served under General Tamogami when he served as commander of Komatsu base, which Roy Berman of Mutantfrog found plays a central role in the story of the APA essay contest. (Berman did yeoman’s work teasing out the various links between the actors of this saga; it’s a must-read.) The contents of the Asahi article suggest that it’s possible that the ASDF officers who submitted did so after having been “encouraged” by their commander rather than out of conviction.
But that said, it’s possible that despite its efforts to project a warm and fuzzy image (cf. Prince Pickles), the JSDF attracts a disportionate number of people who look longingly to Japan’s past as a military power and subscribe to the conservative nationalist interpretation of Japan’s wartime past.
Does it matter what the members of Japan’s armed forces think about Japan’s wartime past? Does historical revisionism conflict with the SDF’s ethos of ensuring “the continued existence and security of a Japan that stands on the premise of democracy by protecting its peace and independence?” And if so, what can the government do about it?
I would argue that historical revisionism — as it exists in Japan — is incompatible with the SDF’s current mission and Japan’s security policy. Revisionism is not merely a matter of “historical understanding;” it is an ideology concerning Japan as it is today and how it should be. Go back and read General Tamogami’s essay. The problem for him isn’t just that the Japanese people don’t know the facts (revisionists love that word) of the war. They’ve been brainwashed for sixty years into believing that Japan’s wartime behavior was dishonorable, and this belief in turn has handcuffed the SDF and made Japan dependent on the US for its security. In short, General Tamogami and other revisionists are openly contempuous of Japanese democracy, because they view Japanese citizens as little better than sheep who have been systematically manipulated by Nikkyoso-dominated schools and the Japanese media. Does General Tamogami actually believe that he was serving Japanese democracy, whose institutions and officials have decided, with the support of the public, to constrain the SDF? Why does he think that the path to a more active security policy leads through greater appreciation of World War II? Arguably a stronger case for an active Japanese international security role would be premised on an appreciation of the folly of Japan’s war, of the criminality of Japan’s war, of a recognition that the acts committed during the war should never be allowed to happen again? This argument, grounded in the preamble of the constitution, has animated Ozawa Ichiro’s case for a “normal” Japanese security policy.
The key point here is, as William Faulkner wrote, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” It is not accidental that the historical revisionists are also the most enthusiastic supporters of various schemes for a more active Japanese security policy, why they are the most vocal defenders of the US-Japan alliance (even as they curse the US for abandoning Japan in favor of China) and the most vocal advocates for Japanese participation in all possible foreign deployments. Reclaiming the past is their means of reclaiming the present and future — and perhaps reclaiming the present by “normalizing” the SDF is their way of making the public more sympathetic to their view of the wartime past.
The problem is that their view of the world is not of the twenty-first century. The conservative-revisionist view of international politics derives much from nineteenth-century Social Darwinism, viewing the world as a brutal, relentless struggle among nations, for which nations must steel their spirits if they are to survive. It’s not enough for nations to be prosperous materially. They must be spiritually, morally, and culturally sound. Part of this spiritual soundness is appreciating the struggles of the nation’s heroes. While the revisionists claim to be striving for objective truth, the value of history for them is that it’s instructive, strengthening Japan for international competition. This view also leaves little room for meaningful cooperation with one’s rivals.
As I’ve argued before, this ideology is actually abnormal in the twenty-first century and no less dangerous than Social Darwinism was in the late nineteenth, as it risks leading Japan and Asia down a path of confrontation, strife, and war. I am not suggesting that revisionists are prepared to go down the path of imperial conquest again. But I am suggesting that the mindset that produced that Japanese empire is alive and well. And don’t think that China or South Korea won’t mention the general’s essay the next time the Japanese government talks tough on a regional dispute (a fight over a disputed island, for example).
Japan is not unique in having elites prone to this view of the world. What sets them apart is that historical revisionism is part and parcel of their case for a new Japan.
Which makes it difficult to imagine what the government can do to correct for the politically incorrect (in the sense that the Murayama statement defines what is correct) views of JSDF officers. The government can prohibit publication, of course, or implement a system of vetting the public statements of officers. Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu suggested that more education is needed for officers. But are education — or bottling up politically unacceptable opinions — satisfactory answers? Not for me. Revisionism exists because the history problem has effectively been swept under the rug since the war ended, left to metatastize into a worldview that seeks to redefine Japanese identity by dismissing the postwar period as aberrant and harkening back to an earlier, purer time.
The government can impose all the safeguards it wants, but there is no safeguard or sanction that can change an individual’s ideas. With luck General Tamogami will get the debate he wants. But in the end it will just be another battle in the culture war that has raged since the end of the war.