At the beginning of the first chapter, Ooka’s main protagonist Private Tamura calls his forceful departure from his unit a “fatal sentence” (3). The author makes it clear to the reader that morality and perceptions of war are very different to those of civilian society: A man who had spent many days being a soldier does not think of his everyday life as a fatal sentence where he could die at any minute. Tamura’s fatal sentence is becoming sick, weak, and useless as a soldier in an area stricken with a severe shortage of food. Thus, the protagonist is facing the unknown in total solitude because the society around him is in survival mode, at the point of desperation, making each individual and group extremely pragmatic: All stop caring about the wellbeing of others, viewing the weak as a waste of resources.
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Moreover, Tamura notices the inadequacy in the exchange that he and his country are making; he thinks, “Six small potatoes—to this extent and no further was my country prepared to guarantee my survival: this country of mine to which I was offering my life” (Ooka 7). This illustrates the way that pragmatic morality is not only a characteristic of desperate people exhausted by the war, but also by the entire country of Japan, shocked by the devastating impacts this global armed conflict had produced.
The longer Tamura spends alone, isolated from other people, in an alien country, unable to find help or any way to survive, the more he loses his connection with reality and the world around him. As a result, the habitual moral norms that are enforced and stimulated only within social groups gradually start to fade away as Tamura continues to exist torn away from society and its rules. Thus, the main protagonist soon begins to live according to the rules of his environment, where the only task he has is to survive at any cost. Remembering the hierarchy of needs introduced by Abraham Maslow, it is possible to notice that Tamura is driven to the very base of this hierarchy, where his most essential physiological needs are not satisfied (namely, that for food). One may point out that the common norms of morality exist in the layers of the hierarchy that are located above the basic ones required for survival; that is why, driven to care only about satisfying these needs, the soldier is forced to disregard everything else.
Ooka, Shohei. Fires on the Plain. North Clarendon, Vermont: Tuttle Publishing, 2001. Print.