Wordcatcher Tales: ai no muchi, bentatsu, tekken seisai

From Target: Rabaul: The Allied Siege of Japan’s Most Infamous Stronghold, March 1943–August 1945, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2013) Kindle Loc. 5242-5252:

From the beginning of the Meiji period in the late 1800s, the military achieved unswerving discipline through a culture of physical abuse. As Japanese historian Yuki Tanaka would later explain: “Discipline was conducted through bentatsu [鞭撻 ‘whip-strike’] (the routine striking of soldiers), which was presented as an ‘act of love’ by the officers for the soldiers. Even the Japanese Navy—which was far more Westernized in conduct than the Army—adopted a practice of harsh discipline known as tekken seisai (the iron fist) [鉄拳制裁 ‘ironfist punishment’] in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War. It was often called the ai-no-muchi, or ‘whip of love’ [愛の鞭 ‘love’s whip’].”

Tanaka, one of the first Japanese scholars to objectively study his country’s war crimes—and then publish them for a Western audience—attributes the military’s behavior to a steady corruption of Bushido. By the time of the Asia-Pacific war, General Yamada’s original notion of death with honor had been warped into an ideology known as gyokusai: literally, “glorious self-annihilation.”

[There are two serious errors in the previous paragraph. First, Gamble means to refer to the “father of Japanese militarism” he has earlier mentioned, Gen. Yamagata Aritomo (1838–1922), not a Gen. Yamada referenced nowhere else in the book. Second, although it is true that the real-world result of gyokusai ideology was often “glorious self-annihilation,” the term itself is highly figurative; its literal components are 玉砕 ‘jade/jewel-shatter’, i.e., ‘shattering of jewels’ —J.]

Curious why so many of his countrymen had committed heinous acts during World War II, Tanaka evaluated numerous aspects of the system. “Japanese military forces,” he concluded, “tended to undervalue the strategic importance of minimizing casualties. This tendency increased as the emperor ideology gained hold over the minds of the Japanese people and reached its peak during World War II, when the gyokusai ideology emerged. Gyokusai held that a soldier was expected to fight to the end for the emperor. Even when the situation was becoming hopeless … the Japanese military command, instead of trying to minimize casualties, forced gyokusai on its soldiers … further diminishing its manpower.”

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Filed under Japan, language, military, war

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