The Culture of Force and Farce: Fourteenth-Century Japanese Warfare

The Culture of Force and Farce: Fourteenth-Century Japanese Warfare

By Thomas Conlan

Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies: Occasional Papers in Japanese Studies, Number 2000-01 (2000)

Introduction: War. The word is familiar to each of us, and yet the action is anything but familiar. Who has ever experienced the novel subversion of the social order, where murder is praised and not punished; where the greatest crime becomes the greatest act of merit. The word denotes an event so liminal and extraordinary that nearly every history, chronicle, and many an epic prior to the twentieth century was devoted to expounding its constituent glories, treacheries, and tragedies. Nevertheless, after the trauma of the Great World Wars, attitudes regarding war underwent a fundamental shift, and instead of singing praises of the brave and recording their names and deeds for posterity, the ultimate glorification became reserved for the nameless — the Unknown Soldier.

The medieval Japanese warrior would be bewildered by the concept of the unknown soldier. For him, or her, the essence of warfare was recognition, for from it stemmed fame, honor, and rewards; without it there was little point of fighting at all. One said, “If I were to advance, alone, in the midst of the enemy, and die in a place where none could witness my deeds, then my death would be as pointless as a dog’s death.”

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