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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

André Hertrich

History, Japanese Studies
(PhD Students, September 1, 2004 - October 31, 2005)

Ph.D. project
Japanese Rearmament between Continuity and Discontinuity. The jieitai and the Imperial Army’s “heritage”

In this project I want to investigate continuities and discontinuities between the Imperial Army and the Self-Defense-Forces and focus on the limited number of former officers of the Imperial Army who could enter the SDF (besides the group of officers who did not serve as soldiers during the war). It is obvious that the group of former officers represent a continuity on the personnel level in the process of rearmament. Hence the main focus lies on the changed role and self-conception of the military and its members within the political and social alterations of post-war Japan. Compared with the pre-war civil–military relations the Japanese government stressed the political primate and enforced a strict civilian control. Additionally due to article 9 of the Japanese constitution the legal status of the armed forces was unclear. This meant the demands on the re-installed officer corps were different than they had been until 1945.
The group of former Imperial Army officers were formed by their experience in the military of an undemocratic and authoritarian state. Now they served as soldiers of a Western-style parliamentary democracy, which led – in the ideal case – to a changed soldierly self-conception. To examine the changed self-conception it is important to take the question of military traditions into consideration. Traditions as used in a military context are to a lesser extent ceremonials or conventions but stand for soldiers’ self-conception grown out of historical experience, which legitimates their use of violence as an armed institution of the state and gives meaning to the possibility of having to kill or being killed.
The capitulation 1945 led to a disruption of the continuity of the Japanese military system which had been uninterrupted since the 1870s. The tennô after having lost his divinity could not be used as a legitimating figure anymore. Nor could bushidô, kamikaze or the Japanese Army’s believe in the spiritual supremacy over technological warfare be a ideological basis for the jieitai. The former respected Imperial Army now was discredited in the public eyes, not because of the war crimes committed by soldiers, such as the Nanjing-massacre or forced prostitution, but because the army led Japan into an aggressive war and thus was made responsible for defeat and destruction.
As a result the jieitai and its leadership had to turn away from the traditions and ideological basis of the Imperial Army and Navy. At the same time they had to meet the role of an armed force of a democratic state in times of nuclear warfare and accept the primate of politics and civilian control. This also meant that enlisted soldiers were no subjects but “citizens in uniform” provided with legal rights, which required a new form of training, education and command. What is more, because of article 9, the jieitai officially wasn’t called an army but “self-defense”-forces.
But despite the efforts to create the rearmament in Japan as a military new beginning, the jieitai still was a military which was partially rooted in the Imperial Army and whose officers and soldiers were influenced by their experience during the war.
This leads to some questions: How did the jieitai handle the “heritage” of the Imperial Army and what were the views of the government and the defense administration on this topic? Which aspects of the soldierly image and the military values of the Imperial Army were – consciously or unconsciously – adopted and which have been rejected? How did the jieitai handle the remembrance of “war heroes”? Which fractions existed and which opinions did they represent? How distinctive was the former officers’ persistence faced with the civilian defense bureaucracy and officers who had not been soldiers during the war? To which extend did factionalism and competition between Army and Navy continue? To which extend did the American advisors influence the organization of the jieitai and what kinds of ideas did they try to introduce? How wide was the scope of influence of the jieitai-leaders under the civilian control at all?