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Death for the Emperor

Phoebe Ndoro
12:28 PM ET (US)
The Kamikazie fighters were to me, an extension of the Samurai fighters. Both their lifestyles and goals revolved around the same thing - death and honor.
The Kamikazie fighters were the first of their kind to be ever used in war, therefore there was a need to justify and venerate their suicide missions in order to motivate soldiers to volunteer.
Therefore the main attraction to Japanese soldiers of the suicide missions was that they would become Gods,"after the crash they will become gods (kami)". Immortality is often perceived as the greatest goals that any mortal man can accomplish, as every culture, tradition or relgion has matyrs of some sort.This assured chance at immortality and venration from family,the army and the nation provided the strongest impetus and psychological justification for a Japanese soldier to enter a plane and blast himself into a war ship.
Kelley Cunningham
02:16 PM ET (US)
The Kamikazie reading was interesting. And I think that Mandy brings up an interesting point about the difference between the uses of the word 'defeat' and 'surmount.' I think that the samurai use the word defeat because they saw death as requiring a surrender, to orders or death itself. While the kamikazies believe that one has to get over oneself to die. There is a strong parallel between the two words and statements though. Someone else bought up the point that the kmaikaze were informed a day before the mission and that overthinking and talking about the mission was frowned upon also the ceremony surrounding the kamikaze mission. I think that this is an interesting point reminding us of the conviction that it takes to be a martyr and the difficulty there is in maintaining that conviction. Something that someone pointed out about Japanese sacrifice for country AND family struck me as different from Christian martyrs. The Christian martyrs are often disowned by their families and go against their families wishes. Many times they strive to get their families to convert. The Japanese seem to be dying according to their families wishes. One of the questions I wanted to bring up is concerning Chrys. and the Sword, Hagakure, and Silence. These books all seem to portray martyrdom as something that is innate within Japanese culture and the Japanese people. That they are willing to fight to the death for Emperor and Japanese soil. This is troublesome because it becomes one of the US reasons and justifications for dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. That the war would go on for many more years because all of the Japanese would fight to the death for their Emperor. I believe that the woman who wrote Chrys. and the Sword worked for the Turman Administration and the book has come under heavy charges of Orientalism. Finally,
Karen brought up somethng that I thought was very interesting, " Their sacrifice has a strong psychological and spiritual impact, causing those of us who reflect on what they've done to think carefully about their actions and why they did it. Whether we agree with their cause, express disgust or admiration for their actions, or decide whether their sacrifice accomplished anything or not, martyrs succeed in getting their message to us, and as long as we think about them they continue to bear witness." This got me thinking about 9/11 and while I obviously would not term the actors of 9/11 martyrs. Their message has definitely left its mark. It caused the world and the United States in particular thinking. And there are people in the world who would name the actors of 9/11 as martyrs and these are the people that 9/11 was specifically trying to get target. And to think carefully and get a message across one that hopefully causes others to move and act for change within their own countries and within the world at large. I think Karen's statement brings up an excellent point or connection between martyrdom and terrorism that is relevant to the present day.
laura sutherland
01:54 PM ET (US)
"Is it true that self-sacrifice is the only thing that gives meaning to death? To this question the warrior is obliged to reply 'yes,' while knowing full well that his suicide mission has no meaning." Page 312, Morris

This particular quote from a kamikaze's letter caught my eye in particular because it answers just a question I have had for some time. Do those commiting suicide actually believe that any real good will come from their death? While I am sure that many martyrs feel their deaths will result in repercussions which they approve of, it seems that some kamikaze's might have recognized the futility in their suicide missions. This letter suggests that while their death will fulfill the issue of 'on', it will in essence not have any meaningful impact on the war or on the desecration of Japanese soil. This comes round to our earlier discussions of honor, and how martyrdom is so much more 'spiritual' (thats not the right word)...I dont know how to describe it- it somehow fills your being with honor, or virtue, or the goodness of fulfilling ones 'on', and that, in fact, is the purpose of the suicide death. The Kamikaze's may not have died with the intent to exact revenge but they died to fill themselves (and in a way others) with something 'greater' than real consequences. This is the true essence of a martyr.
Karen JohannsPerson was signed in when posted
10:49 AM ET (US)
This reading on the kamizaze fighters was extremely interesting. I found a number of parallels to the Hagakure, especially Morris' observations on the necessity of purity of heart and sincere intention on the part of the warrior. Another major theme, and the one that interested me the most, is the idea that victory is secondary to intention with which the warrior enters battle. This ideal is even more radically spelled out in Morris' article than in the Hagakure, when he notes on p. 311 that "material victory in the war, far from being the primary goal, may even act as as impediment to spiritual regeneration." This sentence spun off a couple of different ideas for me, some of them merely speculative:

1. I got the impression from reading the Hagakure that while intention was more important than the outcome, a victorious outcome was preferable to a defeat. Why then the shift to preferring defeat? Morris quotes a Japanese soldier as saying that it would be better for the nation if they are tempered by real ordeals (p. 311). Did Japan enter the war knowing that they would probably be defeated, or did this attitude evolve after it became clear that they would lose the war? If the former, then on the surface it would appear that the nation on the whole was bent on self-destruction. If the latter is true, then it seems like a more "natural" reaction to impending defeat.

2. Is the idea that Japan must be "tempered by ordeals" a commentary on the state of Japanese society? If so, then why? Is the Japanese military reacting to a belief that their nation had gone somehow soft and drifted from its values, and that collective suffering would somehow redeem them? Was their entry into World War II somehow an attempt to restore spiritual integrity that traditionalists may have felt was lost in an increasingly modern society? If the idea that the ordeal of war strengthens a society, does this idea translate into what is going now with our own possible incursion into Iraq? Are the traditionalists in the United States attempting to purify our nation through collective sacrifice?

3. The kamikaze pilots who flew their missions with full knowledge that the war was lost remind me of the early Christians who actively sought martyrdom. Their deaths, which on the surface might seem wasted, have an impact on those who witness them and those who read their stories. Their sacrifice has a strong psychological and spiritual impact, causing those of us who reflect on what they've done to think carefully about their actions and why they did it. Whether we agree with their cause, express disgust or admiration for their actions, or decide whether their sacrifice accomplished anything or not, martyrs succeed in getting their message to us, and as long as we think about them they continue to bear witness.
Evie Thibault
07:59 AM ET (US)
I think Hannah did a pretty good job of addressing the significance of the title "Silence." Nowhere in the novel does God act to alleviate the pain of the peasants or end the persecutions. Rodrigues plaintively asks God, "Can you give even more trials to people already crushed with the burdens of taxation, officialdom and cruelty?" (84) God does not answer him, and does give the little group of Christians more trials. Yet Christ speaks to Rodrigues throughout the book, or at least the image of Christ's face speaks. When he is confined in the dark little cell, Christ tells him, "When you suffer, I suffer with you. To the end I am close to you." (161) Just as Felicity had another suffering with her, Christ suffers with Rodrigues. Still, Rodrigues begs God seven pages later, "Prove that you are justice, that you are goodness, that you are love. You must say something to show the world that you are the august one." (168) The silence of God is not more in this novel than in many other accounts, it is that Rodrigues does not recognize the signs he receives as God speaking. Rodrigues is not satisfied with Christ speaking to him personally; he wants some kind of grand intervention in the lives of the Christians. The private nature of faith, and the private signs of the existence of God, are not enough for Rodrigues. In other accounts, martyrs are happy to have the opportunity to suffer in the name of Christ and die as witnesses to God's glory. Maybe the difference is in the motivation of the priests.

Ferreira and Rodrigues interpret their mission as men of God a little differently than some of the other Christians we've read about. For them, Christianity's essense is love, but not just love of Christ for mankind. Their job is to behave like Christ, and to love all Christians as Christ's representatives. Ferreira tells Rodrigues, "You are preoccupied with your own salvation," and then asks "is your way of acting love?"(169) The elder apostate's reasoning is that if a priest can alleviate the suffering of other Christians, no matter what the cost, he should do it. Ferreira even goes so far as to say, "Certainly Christ would have apostatized for them."(169) If Christ would have surrendered his faith, at least in word, to end the suffering of men, Rodrigues must do the same as his representative. But Christ didn't die to end men's suffering on earth; he died to end their eternal suffering.

The afterlife seems to be mostly absent in this novel, at least for the Western priests. The Japanese peasants, with their hymn of "We're going to the temple," seem to have a firmer grasp on the rewards awaiting them in Heaven than do the priests. Monica explains why the little group of Christians are not afraid of death, telling Rodrigues, "...when we go to Heaven we will find there everlasting peace and happiness. There we will not have to pay taxes every year, nor worry about hunger and illness. There will be no hard labor there. We have nothing but troubles in this world, so we have to work hard. Father, isn't it true that there is no such thing as anguish in Heaven?"(82) Her willingness to die to escape life seems more like the despising death attitude we've seen, but I suppose that, technically, a martyr should not wish to die simply to escape suffering. This idea has always bothered me. If Heaven is such a great place, why should any Christian fear death?

Why does Rodrigues want to shout, "Heaven is not the sort of place you think it is?"(82) What kind of place is Heaven, if not the end of suffering and the reward for a good life and death? I see less change in the ideas of Western martyrdom in the behavior of the Japanese martyrs than in the behavior of the failed Western martyrs. In the swamps of Japan, Ferreira and Rodrigues apostatize to save peasants from mortal suffering, regardless of what the Church would say it does to their souls. To betray Christ publicly is not to act in the best interest of anyone's immortal souls.

Sorry this is so lengthy. I too am trying to work it all out, as we near the end of the semester:)
Hannah Fisher
01:05 AM ET (US)
I'm not totally sure what we're posting on so I think I'll say a little bit about Silence. What I enjoyed most about the book, and I think Endo would feel happy that I got what was probably the central part of the book, was the question of what are we dying for? Throughout the readings, we've seen people die for an invisible god, to uphold the law, to allow men to go to battle...but what if the things they die for either don't exist or aren't worth dying for? What if there is no god? What if Socrates was upholding the corrupt law of Athens (I think you could argue that he was)? What if the battle wasn't important, or as Cacoyannis suggested, Iphegenia didn't need to die? Those are quite a few questions. For someone who believes in god, but still questions the existence and desires of god, I feel exasperated at some of the martyrs, especially the Christian ones. All throughout the book, god is silent. Despite this, the priest knows what his action must be- he must support the Japanese peasants as they are being martyred. He must discourage the trampling of the fumie, he himself must die bravely. He is a man trained in Christianity to be anexample, he therefore knows what is expected of him, but once he is put in a different situation, he starts to see differently. Our Christian martyrs were seeing visions and hearing voices- they knew what was coming and how to approach it. The priest theoretically knows all of this, but he's waiting for a sign. When the sign arrives and Christ begs him to trample his image, the sign is not the one we imagined. The meeting with the other priest, Ferreira, also casts doubt on what is the obvious choice for a Christian priest. He dares voice the fear the priest has had all along, "Why must they suffer like this? And while this goes on, you do nothing for them. And God- he does nothing either" (168)."Don't disguise your own weakness with those beautiful words...You make yourself more important than them. You are preoccupied with your own salvation...It's because you dread to betray the church."(169) I don't think I've said anything outstanding, I'm just trying to think this through. After a semester, I think that I would make a crummy martyr. I don't know how these people can convince themselves that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what they are dying for is right or even exists. In a sense, maybe it doesn't matter whether there is really a heaven. The martyrs set an example and everyone thinks they're great and strong- they get their message across. I still wonder if this would negate the act of martyrdom. Sorry this is so garbled...
Mandy Cass
11:48 PM ET (US)
Welcome back all! I don't know how you felt, but I really enjoyed the reading on the kamikazes (though it felt a little redundant at the end...). I think reading both Silence and the Hagakure really added to the experience. It's so easy to just assume that the kamikazes were desperate and insane, but after knowing where they're coming from, it's much easier to see the motivation (this coming from me who generally finds all motivations we've read thus far unconvincing). As I was reading Morris' chapter I kept seeing things that meshed with the other things we've been reading, but there are also some things that didn't seem quite right.
The biggest thing was motivation. Today if someone is willing to die fighting someone, it seems that their motivation comes from hate. Neither the samurai nor the kamikaze hated their enemies. This struck me as very unique. Both were not dying because they had a personal investment in the cause, but rather because they owed an infinite debt of gratitude to someone greater (i.e. Master, Emperor, family) and they were obliged to sacrifice anything for them. Also, in both cases, it is not simply that figure, but it is also a fight for LAND. The samurai were fighting to protect their master's fiefs, where the kamikaze were fighting to "protect Japan's sacred soil" (309).
The emphasis on the transformation of the kamikaze from mortals to Gods was really striking and I don't really see a parallel in the Hagakure. Though both emphasize the renunciation of earthly things ("Gods without desires" (290)). Despite this renunciation, both also show very strong ties and obligations to their families. This is so different from the stoic philosophies (which some of the philosophy is very similar to) that it seems worth noting. Another strong parallel is the idea that the self must be overcome in order to live this way. There is a slight difference in terminology, which may just be the different translations, but if it really is a different word it might be an interesting difference. Where the kamikazes are said to "surmount the self" (315) the samurai "defeat the self" (99). Maybe it's nothing...
Another point is the short amount of time given for contemplation. The Hagakure explicitly states that over thinking things is bad, because one ends up second guessing. The kamikaze's being informed the day before their mission seems to follow this train of thought. This also goes with the idea that talking things out is not the way to solve problems. The samurai were instructed to act first, ask questions later (this also applies to the people instituting the suicide warfare programs-- it amazes me that they decided on them so quickly, cultural precedent or no). It is said of Onishi that ". . .he stressed the importance of resolute action as opposed to talk, and spirit over systems." (282)
The kamikaze story is missing an element which has been present in most of the recent martyr stories: SUFFERING. We've said in the past that in order to be a martyr suffering is necessary. Where the kamikazes might not have died a "clean" death, it was almost certainly painless. The Hagakure states that "If one were to say what it is to do good, in a single word it would be to endure suffering." (59) Though there's no evidence that the kamikazes feared suffering, the criteria for their martyrdom does not necessarily entail it. How do they prove that they're martyrs if not by suffering?
Finally, many of the deaths depicted in the Hagakure were ordered. No kamikaze was ever ordered. Can the two kinds of death be compared? Or can kamikaze death only be analogous to samurai death in battle, even though many of the same principles were at stake?
Carolina CamargoPerson was signed in when posted
08:32 PM ET (US)

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