Bodies at War
The body has long been associated not only with its vital powers but with the inevitability of its death. For all the efforts to preserve and protect it, to educate, train, and perfect it, the living body inexorably moves toward the moment of death which may be violent and unnatural. Seminar Two will consider the way in which bodies have been the subject of violence in Japanese history. Of particular interest will be the way war amplifies the gendering of ideologies about the body. We consider the way in which such notions have placed the body in service to the state in the form of nationalistic wars and institutionalized sexual violence. We begin with the samurai and the bushidô-centered conception of honorable death, which belied the realities of wartime death in the premodern eras. How were the myths and ideologies underpinning noble death in battle transformed in the modern era? Japan’s first modern wars—with China and Russia—engendered a new conception of the ‘post-samurai’ fighting man and new technologies of warfare and destruction. With the Meiji era, scopic inventions, such as the camera together with photojournalism and the expanding mass media, contributed to the rise of new kinds of literary and artistic representations of these wars and culminated in the aggressive propaganda campaigns of the Pacific War. During the Pacific War the myths of the samurai were deployed in the production of “human bullets”—the iconic kamikaze. But men were not the only “bodies” sent to war. How did war affect the female body? Women were encouraged to become “birthing soldiers.” Government policies were so adamant in encouraging the “production” of citizens, that infertility was virtually deemed a crime. The female body was marshaled to the aid of the nation in other ways as well. Long accustomed to a culture of forced prostitution, the government provided soldiers with “comfort women.” A noble body, given in service to a cause, demands its opposite, the ignoble. One’s enemy consisted of bodies that epitomized all that was dreaded and despised, bodies worth destroying. How did the racial categorization of bodies that began in the Meiji period lead to the atrocities of the Pacific War? As William LaFleur discusses in Dark Medicine: Rationalizing Unethical Medical Research, the exigencies of war gave rise to the atrocities of Japan’s Unit 731, which systematically turned human bodies into guinea pigs. Conversely, how did American concepts of race help rationalize the use of atomic bombs? How have the Japanese absorbed the history of the atomic bomb into their own “national body?” The memories of war are often borne out in ways that defy logic. The outrage that survivors feel finds powerful expression in art—literary and visual.