On more than one occasion, NEO has highlighted one of the most remarkable contemporary trends in the “Great Global Game (politics)”, the gradual comeback Japan and Germany, the biggest losers in World War Two, have been making to return to the inner circle of the game’s top players.
There are plenty of different signs that prove this trend exists. Just to note a few points about how these countries are doing today, they have the world’s third and fourth largest economies, they lead regional economic associations (the Trans-Pacific partnership and the European Union), and are two of the top contenders for permanent membership in the UN Security Council. It is worth adding that it would be practical if some headway was made in the long-term talks about the need to reform this important international body, whose current outlook no longer reflects the fundamental changes that have taken place over the 73 years since it was formed.
There is another noticeable trend: both countries are taking an increasingly autonomous stance on the world stage in relation to one of their key allies, the United States. Especially when it comes to the issues and problems of paramount importance which concern Japanese and German national interests. One example would be the prospects of establishing friendlier political relations with other countries, primarily with China (for Japan) and Russia (for Germany). This does not disrupt the course that the current US Administration is taking to significantly reduce its obligations on the world stage, as well as America’s intention to stop getting involved in every kind of conflict constantly breaking out around the world. To this aim, President Donald Trump has called for allies to look more after their own security needs.
Against this international political backdrop, Japan and Germany may be tempted to give their “National political and economic power” a military boost to “be more like everyone else”, that is like the world’s other great powers, the permanent members of the UN Security Council. They have experienced a certain “rehabilitation” on the world stage since the 1930s, and everyone knows how that situation ended for both of these countries.
Two brothers are warning Japan not to succumb to this temptation, who were in one of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s kamikaze groups during the final stage of the war on Pacific, but the war ended before they had the chance to fulfil their sacrificial military duty. Both elderly veterans (97 and 99 years old) felt they needed to tell students and teachers at Waseda University — one of Japan’s most prestigious institutions — “what [to] do to ensure that we don’t repeat an event like the war.”
They asked students to consider their speech and answers to questions as their “last message” to the youth of today in Japan. They did not choose these words at random. Kamikaze soldiers would write a “last message” to their closest relatives before flying or sailing out on a mission which they would obviously not return from (these brothers were suicide vessel pilots, so they did not fly).
The kamikaze tactic is a centuries-old, very specifically Japanese cultural and military phenomenon. When other cultures try to copy the Japanese it turns into a parody or a meaningless act of gang violence. One of these parodies was an attempt made by the German Luftwaffe to do “something similar” to the Japanese kamikaze soldiers in the last days of the Second World War.
Then there are today’s Islamist terrorists (pumped up with drugs) who do not value their own lives or anyone else’s, and their acts have nothing in common with this concept.
Kamikaze volunteers were mainly undergraduates, which is reflected in the content and style of their “last messages”. The two brothers who gave their lecture at Waseda University were both students when they voluntarily joined the Imperial Japanese Navy’s kamikaze unit. This is probably one reason why they chose to address students with the “last message” they have now written.
Of course, we must take into account that the young sailors from 75 years ago and the elderly people who speak today are ultimately different people. Japan has experienced a lot since the war ended, as has the world in general, and the two brothers. All this experience has undoubtedly affected how the former kamikaze soldiers think about what happened “then” and what their “last message” should be, which they have now passed on. Apart from that, they will leave this world in a very different way than the kamikaze soldiers did 75 years ago.
The first thing the audience at Waseda University were interested in hearing about were the “last messages” written by kamikaze fighters, which make for extremely moving reading, even to this day. They were not dictated what to write, but the authors knew that their letters would be read by “the relevant authorities.” This is, by the way, what happens to messages sent by servicemen from all different countries during times of war.
According to one of the brothers, not one of the kamikaze soldiers he knew really wanted to die, and even then it was clear that the war was meaninglessness: “Do not follow my example,” said the author in his message after 75 years had passed. “That’s what I want to leave with the young people today.”
In this author’s opinion, the main sentiment in the “last message” given by the two former kamikaze fighters, namely that “war is hell”, has a great measure of “the wisdom of hindsight.” That does not take away from this wisdom whatsoever, it is not something to be consigned to the history books in today’s Japan. It is very relevant considering the persistent attempts the country’s leadership has been making to “revise” Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution outlawing war, which would go directly against the prevailing sentiment in Japanese society.
Japan and its former Axis ally Germany have managed to climb to the top of the world’s political and economic hierarchy without firing a single shot and without any bloodshed. Without harming any enemies or allies. In today’s rapidly changing world, Japan and Germany will only strengthen their positions on the world stage if they can resist temptation and do not get trapped in the same vicious circle they got caught up in a century ago.
Moreover, it would be a perfect time for them to reignite and lead the (mistakenly forgotten) “world peace movement”. It could not be more relevant in the current critical stage of the “Grand Global Game”.
Something similar seems to have been implied in the “last message” passed on by the two former kamikaze soldiers.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.