Missing Axioms IX – Devotional Space

December 14, 2020

A question that any human being has been confronted with, whether or not it has been thought about in an explicitly formalised manner, is the question of implicit and explicit space afforded to them. To give an approximate notion of what I call implicit and explicit space it would be most similar to the way we might colloquially describe the concept of freedom. Although, implicit space would be more formally defined as the range of expression available to us through implicit action and explicit space defined as the range of expression available in explicit statements. This is not to ask any analytic or metaphysical questions regarding the exhausted topic of ‘free will’ which has continually castrated philosophy in regards to questions regarding our embodied context. So as to avoid the monotony that would be invoked through logical apriori categorisations of implicit and explicit space I will attempt to approach the concept in regards to the embodied dilemmas the Japanese student soldiers and tokkōtai found themselves in.

When the tokkōtai operations where first instituted none of the professional soldiers who had graduated from naval and army academies volunteered1. This is probably indicative of the perceived futility in regards to the tokkōtai strategy and a reluctance to participate in suicidal missions. This suggests individual deviation from the ideological euphoria possessing the collective. Following this, particular officers where “asked” directly to become tokkōtai, Seki Yukio was one such case. Onoda Masashi, a reporter for the Imperial Navy, recounts his response:

“There is no more hope for Japan, if it has to kill such a skillful pilot like myself. I can hit an aircraft carrier with a 1,102 lb. bomb and return alive […] If it is an order, I will go. But I am not going to die for the emperor or for Imperial Japan. I am going for my beloved wife. If Japan loses, she might be raped my Americans. I am dying for someone I love most, to protect her […]”2

Naturally this statement was never approved for wartime publication. Seki lead the tokkōtai attack on Leyte on October 25th 1944, he was 23 years old. His statements, although expressing frustration with the ideology of Imperial Japan, can seem pointless in the actuality of his final implicit action. Contained within the historical messiness of Seki is a deontological duty akin to the final behaviours of Socrates who saw his death as a duty to the laws of the city in which he had lived. Seki, possibly seeing no space in what he could implicitly perform, chose explicitly to dedicate his death not to the ideological nation (his ‘city’) but to deontological love, a different kind of ‘city’. This is an rebellion on explicit terms in a situation where no feasible implicit alternative is available.

Although they espouse various forms of patriotism in their dairies many of the tokkōtai where devoted to country but not emperor. Among their ranks where numerous students and, like many during the period, there was distinct trend toward Socialist and Communist alignments. Hayashi Tadao, drafted as a student soldier becoming a scout pilot, managed to procure a copy of Lenin’s State and Revolution before leaving for the base. He would read each page individually in the toilet secretly either tearing it to pieces and throwing it in or eating it3. In terms of the implicit space he was given, despite his duties, he was able to create a routine of private implicit rebellion. Knowing the existential injustice of his position as a draftee in Imperial Japan, in his diary he puts forward the idea that the military necessarily stifles his ideal of individual self-hood:

“I do not avoid sacrifice. I do not refuse sacrifice of my self. However I cannot tolerate the reduction of the self to nothingness in the process. I cannot approve it.”4

In the categorical sense what makes a good solder is the same deonotological devotion that makes a ‘good’ worker, friend, sibling, parent etc. However, Hayashi recognises a deep personal cost, in terms of implicit space, when adopting the ideological variant of devotion:

“Martyrdom or sacrifice must be done at the climax [of self-realization]. Sacrifice at the end of self-annihilation has no meaning whatsoever.”5

Hayashi Tadao was shot down in his aircraft and died on 28th July 19456, less than a month before the surrender of Japan.

Across all tokkōtai operations only 11.6% of tokkōtai actually managed to hit anything7. The entire tokkōtai operation was ultimately a futile convulsion of the buckling Japanese state expressed through a constructed ideology originating in the Meiji restoration. This ideology resulted in a collective explicit euphoria which might have determined final implicit action but never left behind a completely empty implicit space of action or explicit space of devotion.

  1. Ohnuki-Tierney, E., 2010. Kamikaze, cherry blossoms, and nationalisms: The militarization of aesthetics in Japanese history. University of Chicago Press, p.166
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid. p.213
  4. Ibid. p.215
  5. Ibid. p.216
  6. Ibid. p.211
  7. Ibid. p.161
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