A little over thirty years after Japan's fanatical generals led a blindly obedient nation into a disastrous war, echoes of that militarist thinking can still be heard.
LIEUT. ONODA RETURNS, CROWDS WELCOME HIM (TOKYO, 1974): EMPEROR HIROHITO REVIEWS IMPERIAL ARMY (1938): YASUKUNI SHRINE, LT. ONODA VISITS (1974): PROTESTERS HAND OUT LEAFLETS, COLLECT SIGNATURES: JAPANESE MILITARY PARADE, SELF-DEFENCE FORCE ON EXERCISES. (1971).
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Background: A little over thirty years after Japan's fanatical generals led a blindly obedient nation into a disastrous war, echoes of that militarist thinking can still be heard.
The return of Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, who went to the Philippines with the Japanese Imperial army in 1945 and arrived back only in March this year, struck chords of Sympathy in many Japanese.
For Lieut. Onoda had proved himself the epitome of disciplined military thinking which is still admired. Ordered to remain in the Philippine jungle on an intelligence mission, he stayed at his post for 29 years -- because the order was never countermanded.
To older Japanese, his devotion and endurance represented the spirit of the Samurai and rigid obedience to the Emperor. And it was precisely this thinking which lured Japan into a war of conquest which ended with the atom bomb and defeat.
Younger Japanese, however, are violently opposed to any return of this brand of military thinking. The strength of the opposition was revealed immediately after Lieut. Onoda's return, when two government proposals set off a chorus of protest.
The first attempted to give the national flag -- the Rising Sun - and the national anthem, which they do not enjoy at present. The second was a proposal to bring the Yasukuki shrine, famous rallying point for Japanese nationalism, under the control of the state again.
Pacifists, educationalists and intellectuals protested that to raise the status of the flag, the anthem and the shrine would encourage the re-emergence of militarism which is just below the surface among the large body of right-wing opinion still powerful in Japan. Indeed, some factions, who still cling to the old belief that the Emperor is divine, have been fighting to re-instate the Yaukuni shrine as a national institution.
The government argument was that the shrine is still the unofficial monument to Japan's war dead and, under pressure from millions of bereaved relatives, simply wished to change the law to allow the state to subsidies this function.
Lieut. Onoda's triumphant return merely sparked off an argument which has been simmering in Japan ever since the war. Since that time, the Japanese constitution, written by the Americans, has specifically barred the nation from any war-like undertaking. Japan's armed force, which number about a quarter of a million well-armed men, is called the Self-Defence Force in recognition of its limitations.
It is perhaps not surprising that many of the older generation yearn for the good old days of disciplined order and that see in Lieut. Onoda that the spirit of those days endures.
What worries the new generation is that the Lioutenant's example is proof of how well the system worked -- and that there is still a sufficient reservoir of sympathy for it that it could be made to work again.