Annual Stanley Spector Memorial Lecture: Inglorious, Illegal Bastards: Japan’s Self-Defense Force During the Cold War

Aaron Skabelund, associate professor of history, Brigham Young University

In Inglorious, Illegal Bastards, Aaron Skabelund examines how the Self-Defense Force (SDF)—the post–World War II Japanese military—and specifically the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), struggled for legitimacy in a society at best indifferent to them and often hostile to their very existence.
From the early iterations of the GSDF as the Police Reserve Force and the National Safety Force, through its establishment as the largest and most visible branch of the armed forces, the GSDF deployed an array of public outreach and public service initiatives, including off-base and on-base events, civil engineering projects, and natural disaster relief operations. Internally, the GSDF focused on indoctrination of its personnel to fashion a reconfigured patriotism and esprit de corps. These efforts to gain legitimacy achieved some success and influenced the public over time, but they did not just change society. They also transformed the force itself, as it assumed new priorities and traditions and contributed to the making of a Cold War defense identity, which came to be shared by wider society in Japan. As Inglorious, Illegal Bastards demonstrates, this identity endures today, several decades after the end of the Cold War.

Reception to follow.

Aaron Skabelund is Associate Professor of History at Brigham Young University. He is the author of Empire of Dogs: Canines, Japan, and the Making of the Modern Imperial World (Cornell UP, 2011), and “‘Bite, Bite against the Iron Cage’: The Ambivalent Dreamscape of Zoos in Colonial Seoul and Taipei,” Journal of Asian Studies (May 2020), co-authored with Joseph Seeley of the University of Virginia.