The world’s history is closely intertwined with the history of war conflicts. In fact, I’m inclined to think that war and peace are two sides of the same coin because, it seems, one concept could not even exist without the other.
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Nowadays, we live in peace that has been successfully sustained for almost 70 years. Unfortunately, we do not often think about those who established it for future generations. With the course of time, the Second World War becomes more and more distant from us because many of those who took part in war actions or survived the wartime while working hard at factories and farms to produce supplies for the army has passed away. But any war always has two sides: winners and losers.
Concerning the winning party (the USA) the outcome of the war contributed greatly to its national history and pride: there were built many monuments, museums, and libraries dedicated to the war. As for Japanese people it was a disaster and ever since the period between 1931 and 1945 is literally scratched out of Japan’s history (e.g., the art and the literature was denied and denounced) (Cook, and Cook 10). Therefore, much is known about the winner and very few about the loser.
Nonetheless, there were people who one way or another were related to the war and had an urge to talk about it. Their accounts were compiled and presented to the public in the book Japan at War: an Oral history by Haruko and Theodore Cook.
Thus the main objective of this paper is to reveal how Japanese people perceived the war and how their perception changed during the war based on the aforementioned book.
Japan At War
On the 7th of July 1937, Japan launched an attack on China without declaring a war. Thus the wartime for Japan started off. Its actions were severely condemned by the Allies, but it was not until the year 1941 that the Allies declared war on Japan. Hence, Japan was forced to open the second front and with scarce resources supply both fronts. It resulted in a total defeat for Japan. On September 2, 1945, the country surrendered to the Allies.
An undeclared war (Nohara Teishin’s Story). This story tells us about a man who participated in the Japanese attack on China in 1937. During the interview, he kept saying that he did many different things because it was his duty. For example, many people were injured and left behind, but no one tried to help them in any way because the soldiers who passed by were supposed to carry out just their duties and not those of medical teams.
Sometimes his feelings were mixed in away. For instance, the narrator tells about “flowers of glory” that nominally were stolen from his regiment by another troop, but a few moments later he states that it was a shame that the city of Nanking, the then Chinese capital, was almost completely destroyed.
I had an impression that at that moment, people still had not realized that a greater war was imminent. But his story sounds rather neutral just as he claims “Nobody fights the war because they like it” (Cook and Cook 35), although at that point of time people were proud to serve their country.
Moreover, they thought their army was doing the right thing; they believed their soldiers fought for a greater East Asia. Their thoughts of righteousness were fueled up by the respect their families and countrymen had for them. When the soldiers get back home, they were adored by locals. Accordingly, their families were treated with esteem. When a soldier was killed, he was nearly worshiped by people.
At the same time, it seems, Japanese people could have never predicted that another war, much greater in scale, was imminent. Therefore, no thought of defeat was yet conceived.
Have “Faith in Victory” (Itabashi Kochu’s story). When America and Britain declared war on Japan, nobody could believe it. I am not quite sure whether it was entirely due to the pro-imperial propaganda or to people’s patriotism, but the whole nation was enraged by this event. Nevertheless, the Japanese felt no hatred towards America and Britain; they only considered them evil on account of their dictating tone prevailing in diplomacy.
Brits and Americans were perceived as a force that tried to bring Japan under their control with the help of political and economic measures. Japanese reckoned their opponents were weak in the military aspect. Therefore, people were certain that Japanese soldiers were fighting for their freedom, their nation, and also peace in East Asia. No one really considered the West could defeat Japan.
The frame of mind had changed. From that time on, they believed even more strongly in their nation, their victory and their justice. The direct confrontation with the USA and the UK, oddly enough, encouraged people even more and they demonstrated ardor in protecting their country, their nation from the foul influence from the West.
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Homeland (Tanaka Toki’s story). The war continued. Almost all men in the country who were able to hold a rifle were enlisted and sent to the front. Only women, old people, and children were left and were exposed to the hardships of all the kind of the wartime. The story of Tanaka Toki relates what was going on in Japan at that time and how she with her family strived to survive and bring up children.
The hard times had come in. In order to buy food, people were compelled to earn some extra money. Many of them were forced to work hard to eke out their existences.
Since there were no men around, women had to care about much more household stuff (e.g., to keep the roof in order) (Cook, and Cook 188). Most women were also engaged in some paramilitary activities, mainly in concerning comforting soldiers: for example, they sent recruits off and heartily welcomed them back, organized “comfort packages” and wrote them comforting letters.
She did as many thousands of women what she has to do. While I was reading the story, I felt the same neutrality in the text as when I read the very first story. It was as if the war turned into a normal household component. She didn’t complain about it, per se, the only sorrowful moment was when her brother was sent off whom she knew she would never see again.
But concern could be traced throughout the story. I suppose, at that time, Japanese women and old folks started to get worried about their soldiers and their future. They were not desperate, but greatly concerned. But still, not yet a sign of doubt.
Lost battles (Ogawa Matatsugu’s story). The Japanese commanders thought that New Guinea could be a turning point if they had won it. But it never happened. As the teller says the Japanese army had only infantry and fully relied upon it, they were first very surprised when Australians were routed in the very first combat. He told they took to their feet almost immediately.
But then they learned that the enemy forces were better equipped with machinery of all shapes and sizes. The only rescue for soldiers the bridge was blown up. Thousands were left behind and left to die and to rot. The narrator was one of the survivors who didn’t do it over the bridge. So he and his few companions were forced to look for another way out.
He confesses that he felt neither sad nor happy when the war was over. In fact, he was carrying out the orders to the end. Judging by this story, people stopped hoping for a victory. They did not fear, they struggled to survive, but there is a slight tint of disappointment and realization that that war could not end victoriously for Japan.
Also by that time, Americans and Australians were not taken as enemies. First, they shoot them because they simply “showed up” (Cook, and Cook 278), then sometimes, Japanese soldiers were even able to swap some food with Americans. The war turned into a routine. And at last, people started to understand that they want it over and they want just to get back home.
One hundred million dies together (Tomizawa Kimi’s and Kobayashi Hiroyasu’s story). In March 1945, the Japanese capital, Tokyo, was exposed to severe bombings every day. In spite of these workers, civilians per se were supposed to fulfill their duties, no matter what happened. Many innocent people were killed every day. Kobayashi makes the point at the end of their interview that killing civilians could not be justified, especially kids who had no guns and who even did not resist the enemy. She told she feels heartbroken about the war.
When the war was coming to an end, Japanese people perceived that the winners took their revenge for their comrades on those who were innocent and managed to survive. They were indifferent about who was going to win. They did not hate the enemy, though it was hard for them to kill armless civilians. It was hateful to most of them, though they realized that the victors could justify everything. Kobayashi also blames the Emperor and his Government for this. Even if they were enshrined, it would not mend the situation.
The unresolved war (Tanida Isamu’s story). The last days of the war for his army were relatively quiet. They were prepared for enemy attacks but never experienced them. It appears, he and his men did not think of the defeat they just tried to carry on training awaiting the enemy to come every second.
They did not intend to surrender even after they intercepted the enemy broadcast saying that the war was over. Only when General Imamoto himself proclaimed it. At that moment, many officers just wept, realizing that the war was over. Some of them felt relief; some of the shame that they lost this war. Their sadness became even bitterer when the Emperor announced he was not a god anymore.
Therefore, some people were relieved and were wondering how long it took to go home; some people were issuing lamentations and feeling a great resentment. At this point of time, people were fed up with monstrosities of the war.
First and foremost, I’ll indicate briefly the development of the Japanese perspective again. In the first place, military men in Japan were held in high regard over the whole conflict. The prevailing opinion among Japanese folk was that they would not be defeated at any rate. In the course of the conflict, the hope was failing, but people were never desperate and barely believed that Japan was defeated.
Even when it happened, and Americans were driving about Japanese streets on their jeeps, people were still a bit perplexed at their sight (Cook and Cook 469). Certainly, some of them were disappointed, thinking it was also partially their fault that the war was lost, but everyone felt some sort of relief.
It is remarkable that no one ever blamed anyone for this defeat. Of course, some people were pointing out shortcomings in war actions or in civil lives, but no one sincerely said that it was a shame that they did not come out victors. For example, it might be highlighted that Matatsugi said that by blowing the bridge up, the army lost thousands of men.
But he never said a word against the government. Kobayashi briefly criticized the Emperor, but it was by no means a heavy criticism. Maybe, they still believed in the divinity of the Emperor. So I draw the main conclusion people were happy to learn the war was over.
Cook, Haruka and Theodore Cook. Japan at War: Oral history. London: Phoenix Press, 2000. Print.