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Sensōron (On War)
by Yoshinori Kobayashi
Gentōsha, 1998, 384 pages

Yoshinori Kobayashi, one of Japan's most famous manga (comic) artists, argues strongly in his books for right-wing nationalist causes. His large manga books are not light entertainment, but rather they present serious arguments for controversial ultranationalist positions. For example, Kobayashi tries to present Japan as a liberator of other Asian countries rather than an oppressor, and he dismisses some of Japan's wartime atrocities such as the military's coercion of comfort women. After the publication of the first volume of Sensōron (On War) in 1998, Kobayashi has written parts 2 and 3 under the same title. This critical review covers the first volume of Sensōron with a focus on the chapters about Japan's tokkōtai (special attack corps) that carried out suicide attacks during World War II. This first volume became a bestseller with sales of over 600,000 copies (Pons 2001).

Kobayashi's manga stories employ a consistent technique. The main character appears to be Kobayashi based on his looks and views, and sometimes this character appears as a child. In each chapter he examines a particular issue related to war by first considering one side of a position. The main character then points out a few weaknesses and logical inconsistencies with this side of the issue, so he gets angry and concludes that the other side is correct after mentioning a few more pieces of evidence. This method of reasoning can easily lead to incorrect conclusions. For example, Kobayashi provides very convincing support in Chapter 11 of the forgery or misattribution of fifteen specific photos related to Japan's wartime atrocities and the Nanking massacre. Based on this persuasive but very limited evidence, he denies the historical accuracy of the 1937 Nanking massacre without addressing other overwhelming evidence related to the incident.

Regardless of the issue being addressed, Kobayashi reiterates several consistent themes throughout the book. During the war Japan was a proud nation with strong moral values, but the American occupation destroyed these virtues. Present-day Japanese society suffers from individualism and materialism, and very few young people possess the spirit of wartime youth who willingly gave their lives to defend their homeland. Kobayashi also espouses the nationalists' agenda of revising Japan's constitution to allow war, rearming Japan to protect itself without dependence on its Allies, and rewriting history to show Japan as the liberator of other Asian nations from Western imperialism.

Sendoff to kamikaze pilots (p. 83)

Sensōron (On War) has three chapters that cover tokkōtai, Chapters 3 - Tokkō seishin (Special Attack Corps spirit), 17 - Kuni o mamoru tame no monogatari (Story about protecting the country), and 21 - Ko o koeru yūki to hokori (Courage and pride that surpass individuals). Kobayashi explains that the six thousand tokkōtai members who died included not only kamikaze pilots but also men who died in attacks using other types of weapons such as ohka (piloted rocket-powered gliders), kaiten (manned torpedoes), and explosive motorboats.

Chapter 7 gives the most information about the history of Japan's tokkōtai (special attack corps) and opinions about their suicide attacks. During the war, Americans had several misconceptions about the motivation of kamikaze pilots (p. 80). Some thought pilots had been chained to their seats, and others believed they drank and injected themselves with drugs before their suicide missions in order to have their senses numbed prior to departure. Many Americans during the war believed the pilots were fanatical nationalists. Kobayashi says that the leftists incorrectly portray that tokkōtai members were victims who died in vain. To counter the leftist view, he quotes three writings of kamikaze pilots published by the Yasukuni Jinja (1995, 1-2, 5-6; 1997, 77-78) in order to show that they died voluntarily for their country, homeland, families, and emperor. He includes the touching letter written by Masahisa Uemura to his young daughter Motoko.

Chapter 17 starts with a visit by the main character to the Etajima Museum of Naval History, where he views photos and last letters of kamikaze pilots. He thinks back to the war when Japanese people honored these young men as heroes who fought on behalf of their country. Many Japanese today want to live long lives for themselves, but few have the spirit of kamikaze pilots who become heroes during the war by protecting Japan with their lives.

Chapter 21 condemns the individualism rampant in modern Japanese society, which causes many societal problems such as domestic violence and excessive greed. In contrast, the kamikaze pilots and other tokkōtai members willingly gave their lives in defense of their country. Kobayashi quotes on page 352 a diary excerpt from Lieutenant Junior Grade Toshimasa Hayashi, a member of the kamikaze special attack corps who died at sea east of Honshū on August 9, 1945 (Kōsaka 2001, 146):

I can die to protect my homeland. For me my homeland is the land and people I love. Leaving behind my homeland, now I will be able to look down at my homeland from afar. In the near future I will gaze at Japan with a broad view. Since I will leave Japan, at that time I will recognize Japan as my country and my homeland in the true sense. I can die to protect that purity, dignity, preciousness, and beauty.

Kobayashi laments that modern Japanese no longer have Hayashi's kind of commitment. In Chapter 21, Kobayashi also contrasts Japan's tokkōtai with Islamic radical fundamentalists who commit terrorist acts against civilians (p. 356). He concludes that the two are fundamentally different since a suicide attack by tokkōtai was a battle tactic during a time of war against enemy warships. The tokkōtai members only made suicide attacks "in order to protect their country where their loved ones lived."

Although many individual facts and arguments presented by Kobayashi seem reasonable and well-supported, his ultimate conclusions often are at odds with historical evidence and general public opinion. He portrays tokkōtai as heroes ready to give their lives for their homeland and families. Many young men during the war definitely had such an attitude, but Kobayashi seems to only present arguments to support his ultranationalist views. He remains silent on certain subjects, such as government and military coercion and propaganda, tokkōtai members who wrote against the military, and the failure of Japanese leaders to surrender even when Japan had no chance to escape defeat.

Sources Cited

Kōsaka, Jirō. 2001. Tokkōtaiin no inochi no koe ga kikoeru (Hearing the voices of lives of special attack corps members). Originally published in 1995. Tōkyō: PHP Kenkyūsho.

Pons, Philippe. 2001. A cartoonist rewrites Japanese history. Le Monde diplomatique. October. <http://mondediplo.com/2001/10/09manifesto> (October 15, 2004).

Yasukuni Jinja, ed. 1995. Eirei no koto no ha (Words of the spirits of war heroes), Volume 1. Tokyo: Yasukuni Jinja Shamusho.

Yasukuni Jinja, ed. 1997. Eirei no koto no ha (Words of the spirits of war heroes), Volume 3. Tokyo: Yasukuni Jinja Shamusho.