February 27, 2005

Japanese Culture

UPDATE: What is a Senpai?

There are interesting parallels between Japanese culture and the American culture of circa 21st century. If you go back even 50 years, the two cultures would be unrecognizable in any attempt to locate the similarities. In WWII, the kamikazes were seen by the Japanese as a Divine Wind that would sweep the American navy off the oceans. This line of belief was consistent with their other cultural belief that their Emperor was Divine. Given the desperation the Japanese Navy was under during the Pacific War, they had great need for a Divine Wind. Just as they had a great need for a Divine Wind, a tsunami, to wash over the invading forces from mainlaind China in Japan's distant past. (In which, originated the entire concept of the Divine Wind)

The Americans, on the other hand, saw those suicide attacks as acts of desperation. Things you would do only when you had no other choice available to you. Something you would do, if you ran out of weapons and was fatally wounded, with the carrier you are attacking right on the doorstep of your nation. Congressional Medals of Honor are given to people who have brushed this kind of desperation, saving as a consequence people who would otherwise have perished if not for their actions. But in all these cases, these brave men and women were given the Medal of Honor because they did not plan to die; what they planned to do was save other people's lives by risking their own. The Japanese kamikazes were feared by the American Navy because they assumed the Japanese had the same motivation as Americans would have, when sacrificing one's life for one's country. They assumed the Japanese were extremely determined, and had many pilots who were skilled aces willing to do what it took to damage US carriers. They were only right partially. When the shock value passed, when the Americans realized that these people were doing this out of an act of desperation, planning to die, they realized the true extent of the inefficiency of Japan's methods. And that is why, the Medal of Honor is awarded to those who didn't plan to die while saving others, the Medal of Honor is awarded for those who try their hardest to save as many lives as possible, including their own, and actually succede in saving the lives of others if not their own. Because desperation is one thing and hopelessness is another. Desperation can bring strength to the warrior, in dragging out deep rooted strengths that would otherwise have been hidden. Hopelessness is a condition those in desperate situations may fall prey to, and it is something that saps the strength of a warrior's heart.

The Kamikaze did not have much effect on the war, because the conditions that lead to it already spelled the doom of the Japanese Navy. By indoctrinating the most fanatically loyal of pilots to serve as kamikazes, the Japanese Navy was trying to get a quick fix. But they should have known, that in war, there were no quick fixes. These kamikaze pilots were the most fanatical, the most brainwashed that the Japanese culture could produce. And hence, they were only given a few hours of flight training. Most of those pilots couldn't even have landed the plane on a carrier deck, if they were given a chance to. This in effect, decreased the worth of the sacrifice through dilution. When an American sacrifices himself, he does so with the knowledge that he will lose more personally than he will gain. When a Japanese kamikaze sacrificed himself, he did so with the knowledge that he was expected to kill himself and others, knowing that failing to accomplish his mission will bring dishonor and shame upon his name and his family's name. Therefore he has more to lose by living than by dieing. Directly opposite that of an American, who will lose more than he gains.

This contrast, has some peculiar consequences. And those consequences are, that American sacrifices are inherently more potent given the personal nature of that sacrifice. When an American goes off on a "suicide mission", it is with the knowledge that his potential death and that of his friends, will save the lives of more Americans. The pilots aboard the US carriers that fought in Miday, had to fly a first wave attack against the Japanese carriers. By punching a way through their defenses and presenting a tactical threat, they paved the way for the bombers to strike directly at the Japanese Carriers with their fighters still being rearmed. Those fighters were either destroyed entirely as a force, or just about. But it was only through their sacrifice, that the Japanese was pushed back so severely at Midway. Pushed back to such an extent, that the next great battle would be the Marianas Turkey Shoot, when the US had rebuilt the Pacific Fleet.

You can see a definitive pattern here. The United States has its share of kamikazes, but our kamikazes do not do it for personal honor and glory. Our kamikazes are like the Divine Wind, with no individual strong point or weak point. We are a force of nature, that works in tandem with the environment of war. American teamwork creates this result. That the sum of that teamwork, creates a Divine Wind that is greater, far greater, than the sum of its "parts". The Japanese was content with believing that sacrificing young idiots, filled with foolhardy notions of honor and glory, equaled the killing power of a Divine Wind. The Americans brought to the table, the realization that individual glory must be subliminated to the interest of the greater group. That if one must sacrifice, he should sacrifice to save the lives of the members of his group, rather than for his own personal welfare. The Japanese culture dimly reflects this, as Japan is a nation centered around group psychology and "teamwork". Yet, Japan's warrior philosophy, the Bushido code, did not reflect Japan's industrial byproduct, teamwork. In the end, the conclusion is that the Americans, as backwards as they were in 1950, had successfully combined the traditions of American culture with American war making. The Japanese, with their unsuccessful attempts at creating a working warrior philosophy, failed. The consequences for their failure, were obvious. Although, by failing, Japan paved the way for a future in which they would relearn the ways of making war, from the opponent that beat her in the first place. It would be America who would teach the Japanese, how to make the best of their own in making and winning wars. As time immemorial in Japan's history, the student will learn from his master, eventually becoming the master himself.

The American occupation brought many cultural changes to Japan, social as well as legal. MacArthur instituted limits in the Japanese Constitution, to prevent Japan from reaching a level of power before Japan was ready to handle it. With the intent of course, that Japan would be so limited, that by the time Japan overcame those limits, the United States would have so much power that Japan would not be able to threaten us. Since it was a Constitution, Japan could ostensibly in the future, change that Constitution. Unlike France's way of dealing with Germany after World War I, which was to extort money from Germany to stop Germany from building itself up. MacArthur's changes to their Constitution would not expire before the US was well on its way to becoming a superpower. By limiting Japan's early access to a military, it was the same as if a sensei was limiting the things a student would learn when under the sensei's care. A sensei would not teach the various one hit deathblows and nerve centers to a student, untried and unwise. A sensei would first test that student's character, morality, duty, and judgement. In effect, the Americans became Japan's "senpai" during the Japanese occupation.

A senpai is an older classman that looks out for and protects a younger classman, in a Japanese school. It is a social responsibility and title. In the school of international politics and superpowers, Japan had much to learn.

Many decades after the start of Japan's education, they may finally be ready to graduate. The Japanese Navy is one of the most powerful in the Pacific. They are even looking to build a carrier to project power, not just to defend the homeland. This is surprising and stunning, considering their Constitution limits defense spending to ONE percent of their GDP. It would have been so easy and convenient to spend a token amount on the military, but in reality depending on the US military alone to patrol their waters and defend their land as the Germans did. But that was not the choice they made. Efforts are already beginning, to repeal the Constitutional ban on defense spending in Japan given the new threat from China and North Korea. Once they have achieved this, they will have literally, graduated from being a protected nation under the care of the US to a nation self-sufficient in being able to defend their citizens and government. Many children born from previous wars and circumstances never did grow up to leave the care of the United States of America. France and Germany are particular examples of this kind of infancy. While Israel is like the child who has grown up, but faces a lot of financial problems because of how near he lives to criminals, requiring constant influxes of financial aid from the parent, us. Israel keeps the war going by trying to negotiate, and pining for peace, when a hammer to the kneecaps would have probably ended the conflict early on. But children who grow up, have the right to decide how they will live their life, and we have to respect that. Even when we know we would have done differently.

If Japan seizes the title that is within their reach, becomes fully self-sufficient in their defense abilities, they will have come far on the road to freedom. One of the problems with democracy is that it produces a constituency that pines for peace and prosperity, and this defect allows such democracies to be taken over by more hostile, determined nations. Japan, like South Korea, obviously has these psychological problems in their constituency, but they also seem to have the antidote as well. They seem to have the will to stand up to threats as Britain did in World War II, the ones that threaten to marginalize Japanese interests in the Pacific. They are coming close to successfully integrating their previous way of the warrior, with all the things we have taught them. The Japanese have picked up more from American culture and philosophy, than many realize.

Their final graduation will be when they can win a war on their own terms, without sacrificing their way of government. The United States has passed through many such crises, without sacrificing permanently our civil rights. We have a system that was designed through trial and error, to restrict civil rights in war time, only to regain all of those civil rights and more when the war was won. When the Japanese win a war of aggression or a defensive war, and stay the way they are concerning individual liberty in the long run, they will have evolved into a possible successor to the United States of America. Their only rival would be Australia, a sort of cousin, but even then it would be a friendly rivalry. Certainly their brothers, France and Germany, have not the aptitude nor the will to challenge them. Their possible enemies of course, will always be China and North Korea.

It is inevitable all things must die, including all Good things, of which the United States of America epitomize. There may come a time when the word of America means nothing; there may indeed come a time when our courage shatters. But now is not that time, now is the time to grow and educate successors who might pick up the pieces should we fall in the line of battle, to preserve this world that is ours to do Good or Evil on.

If America is remembered for anything in a thousand years, it will be for what we did and who we were. We will either hear the praises of our children, for how glad they were to live in a time of American hegemony, or we will be cursed as a society of infidels who dared, DARED to say that a secular government against the will of (insert name of the symbol of tyranny), makes anyone "happy".


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