December 13, 2007

The Men on the Wall

Hatched by Sachi

I recently had a conversation with a Japanese-American who calls himself "Asean-Peace." He is a regional director of an NGO on an island in the South Pacific, and I know him through online correspondence. We argued about maritime safety in Japanese waters and the dangers that face Japanese merchant and naval vessels in international waters. When I complained that the United States Navy often has to protect the Japanese because the Japanese ships cannot defend themselves (not even from pirates in Somalian waters), he said something profoundly disturbing.

But before I get to that, let me detour to a great work of literature; don't worry, it will all make sense in the end. Trust me.

One of my favorite novels is J.R.R. Tolkin's the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Overall, I was extremely pleased with Peter Jackson's movie adaptation. However, he disappointed me when he decided to cut a critically important chapter near the end of the trilogy: "The scouring of the Shire." A subsequent interview with Jackson, in which he referred to this chapter as an "anticlimax," led me to believe that Jackson never fully appreciated the importance of the return to the Shire and the final war. In fact, this chapter, not the destruction of the ring and the war against Sauron, is the true climax of the entire story.

The Lord of the Rings begins and ends in a land called the Shire ("shire" is a British word similar to county or parish); the Shire is where live the main characters of the novel, the "hobbits."

The Shire has been a peaceful place for generations. It is said that there once was a great war in which many hobbits fought and died; but that was so long ago that even ancient memories had long since forgotten it.

Except for a few hobbits who live in a city called Bree, hobbits don't venture out of the Shire. Occasionally, the Shire hobbits hear rumors of approaching war; but war always means "bad things happening in faraway places" to them... nothing to do with the Shire! The Shire is peaceful, and that is all that matters.

But what the hobbits don't realize is that their beloved Shire has been protected night and day by a group of raggedly dressed but impeccaby captained warriors called the Rangers. The Rangers -- led, in the story's era, by Strider, also called Aragorn -- have fought many, many battles over centuries to prevent evil forces from advancing into the Shire.

Hobbits occasionally see Rangers, but they think of them only as dangerous and unseemly folk to be avoided. The Rangers' bravery and blood are not only not appreciated, they are not even noticed.

Bear all that in mind; let's return to my online acquaintance from Japan.

Asean said that Japan is paying "a lot of money" to the U.S. for protection. What he meant was that Japan allows the United States to maintain military bases in Japan, mostly free of charge; and that Japan even pays some of the operating costs and the expenses of moving to new locations... for example, when we had to relocate our base from Okinawa to Guam because of protests by Japanese leftists.

Also, the Japanese government buys a lot of U.S. savings bonds, which (insisted Asean) keeps the American economy afloat. I was told by a number of Japanese that if Japanese taxpayers stopped supporting our economy, it would collapse. Frankly, I think that is a bloody bunch of... but I digress.

Since the US military is the only entity capable of policing the world, why shouldn't Japan totally rely upon them? That is how my online correspondent sees the situation: Japan pays enough to buy its protection, so what are Americans complaining about?

I told Asean that paying others to protect your own country is a sure way to lose face. He shrugged; most Japanese think merely losing respect is a cheap price to pay for never having to fight. Japan suffered so much from the last war -- in which Japan was the imperialist aggressor -- that many Japanese simply refuse to fight again, ever... no matter what the provocation. They won't to fight even to protect their own interests, land, or culture; they are content to outsource national defense in a way that Americans cannot even imagine.

Is this a position worthy of a once-proud nation of Samurai warriors? How can they face their ancestors, who would have fought bravely and died rather than surrender?

Aside from the craven and disgusting nature of this attitude, their strategy of self defense by proxy is doomed to fail. It has several problems:

  • Refusing to fight does not let you avoid war; rather, it invites war.

    Why did radical Iranian students keep American hostages for 444 days, rather than the three or four days which they initially planned? Because then-President Jimmy Carter made it very clear that he would not initiate any military action against Iran to get the hostages back.

    Why did Sadam Hussein openly defy UN resolution after UN resolution following the Gulf war? Because then-president Bill Clinton was utterly unwilling to fight an open war with Hussein.

    And why did al-Qaeda launch the 9-11 attacks? Because Osama bin Laden passionately -- and wrongly -- believed that Americans would not fight. America is weak and corrupt, he said, and they will run if we are bold. The perception of weakness invites attack; the perception of strength deters attack.

  • Mercenaries are not loyal to you; they always have their own agenda.

    Americans will protect Japan only when it is necessary for American defense. But if we have to choose between Japan and our own interests, the choice is clear.

  • Americans cannot be everywhere; we're not omnipotent: It's impossible for the United States to fully protect Japan even if we wanted.
  • Finally, the most likely reason outsourcing national defense will fail is the "men on the wall" syndrome: Just like the hobbits of the Shire, the Japanese have not fought a war for a long, long time. They have forgotten how to fight, and even that there is any need to fight.

Because Japan has let someone else do the fighting for them, they have forgotten that the war currently raging between Western civilization and radical Islam involves Japan, as well. They have forgotten the need for the men on the wall, as Col. Nathan R. Jessep (Jack Nicholson) puts it in the 1992 movie a Few Good Men. I think this is a good time to revisit that speech, the only honest scene in Rob Reiner's movie:

We live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Whose gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg?

I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: That Santiago's death, while tragic, probably saved lives.

And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don't want the truth because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall.

We use words like honor, code, loyalty; we use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said "thank you," and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post.

Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are "entitled" to.

Since Tom Cruise -- and Rob Reiner -- are unable to answer Nicholson's point, they find a way to destroy him using a stupid pet trick. But the points still stands, right up there on the wall with the Marines; Reiner cannot cannot answer because there is no answer.

The reason Japanese are now bitterly complaining about American bases being in Japan, about having to pay the cost of relocation -- a relocation Japan itself demanded -- is that they have forgotten why Americans are there in the first place.

Who are these people spending our tax money and staying on our land for free? they demand to know. Well, it isn't "free": Americans are there to protect Japan, and the risk we incur is the price we pay for having our own bases in Asia. A fair deal, position for protection... remember? People who once thought the price was well worth it now decide they're paying too much.

This is only natural, because two whole generations of Japanese have never seen war. It doesn't exist to them, and they don't remember why those men were on top of that silly wall in the first place. (There's an old American expression: Never tear down a fence until you know why someone put it up.)

And that is the reason Peter Jackson is dead wrong, and "the scouring of the Shire" is so important: war finally comes to the Shire itself. The Rangers are long gone, Gandalf is elsewhere, and even the elves have left. There is nobody else to defend the Shire but the hobbits. If they want to take back their land, they must themselves fight against the occupiers. A couple of hobbits who had ventured out of the Shire and fought in alien lands, Merry and Pippin, lead the battle. They've seen war; they've learnt how to fight.

Maybe as more and more Japanese work closely in peacekeeping operations with Americans and other fighters -- even if the Japanese work in a non-combat capacity -- they will rediscover war, the common heritage of all humanity. Then they can return to Japan and explain to Japanese civilians about the wall, the men, and "punchlines" like honor, duty, and a code. (We even have a word for that already: Bushidō (武士道). Too bad Japanese youths have never heard of it.)

This is not just about Japan. Europe suffers from the same syndrome. In fact, it's even worse in Europe, since the war has already reached their lands. How many terrorist attacks and riots do they need before they finally wake up?

It is time for both Europe and Japan to scour their own shires.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, December 13, 2007, at the time of 8:19 PM

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The Englsih version of this entry can be read here. 先日私はずっと以前からのネット知り合いで東南アジアでNGO活動をしてらっしゃるアセアンさんと日本の護衛艦が日本の商船を守るべきなのではないかという話をしていた。その時彼が言ったことがきになったので、アセアンさんのご了承を得てここにそのやり取りの一部を掲載する。しかしその前にちょっと寄り道をさせてもらう。関係ないようだが後でちゃんとつじつまを合わせるのでご心配なく。 私の好きな小説のひとつにJ.R.... [Read More]

Tracked on December 14, 2007 10:51 AM


The following hissed in response by: Binder

I'm pleased to see that I'm not the only person who thinks that Peter Jackson missed the entire point of "The Scouring of the Shire", if not the entire Lord of the Rings. I've long felt that the central message is one of personal responsibility; people have to take charge of their own lives, because if they let someone else do everything for them, things are going to turn out poorly.

Ever read A Discourse by Three Drunkards on Government (Sansuijin Keirin Mondou) by Nakae Choumin? Published 1887. Ran across it in one of my college classes, ended up using it for my senior thesis. Each of the three characters represents three ways Japan could develop in the Meiji world: the way of the traditionalist Champion, with a militaristic society still run by the old samurai families; the Gentleman's European-styled world of learning, industrial development and pacifism, and the Master's nebulous syththesis of the two.

I'm hardly a Japanese scholar, so this may be a tad presumptuous of me, but it seems to me that Japan has essentially adopted each of these three styles in turn: the Meiji Oligarchs going the middle way with neither economic/educational nor militaristic improvements as the sole focus, but despite a brief period of near-democracy after the last of the oligarchs died, the military shortly thereafter seized control and ran the nation according to the Champion's militaristic ideal. After that went poorly for Japan, the nation threw itself behind the Gentleman's theories, with the economy being the most important factor in life, while hoping that no one will invade a Japan purposely kept weak because 'the rest of the world' wouldn't stand for it.

Someday Japan's going to realize that 'the rest of the world' will in fact stand for an awful lot...unless it's in someone else's interest to intervene.

The above hissed in response by: Binder [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 14, 2007 4:17 AM

The following hissed in response by: dave55

I did some work about a year ago at the USAF base in Okinawa. I was told by people there that the US paid a rather substantial rent to the land owners for use of the base land. So, the Japanese are not giving us the base for free.

The above hissed in response by: dave55 [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 14, 2007 7:11 AM

The following hissed in response by: oldirishpig

Hobbits? Japanese? Substitute 'Democrats' and the substance of your post remains unchanged.

The above hissed in response by: oldirishpig [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 14, 2007 7:35 AM

The following hissed in response by: David M

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 12/14/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

The above hissed in response by: David M [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 14, 2007 8:30 AM

The following hissed in response by: Geoman

You forgot a couple of salient points regarding the scouring of the shire.

The evil that invades the shire is built up throughout the books, as is the supposed weakness of the shire. When evil comes to the shire, and everyone cowers in fear, Merry and Pippen, literally, laugh. What's this little bit of nonsense? In no time at all they are victorious.

Evil often grows in proportion to our own fear of it. Even the greatest evil can be overcome with wit, courage, and a happy heart.

Also - when you depend on others for your defense you enslave yourself to them. I believe such things are, if this is even a word, infantalizing. Those that do not accept or are prevented from accepting adult responsibilities become silly, hysterical, and childish in their beliefs.

Back to the shire, I think it is very interesting that the hobbits are in many ways child-like, both in stature and in attitude. At the end of the book, Gandalf remarks that, in the future, the hobbits will grow taller and slowly join the race of men. They have taken responsibility for themselves, and now becoming adults.

The above hissed in response by: Geoman [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 14, 2007 9:46 AM

The following hissed in response by: tcblj

Your analysis is right on -- for all countries but Japan and Germany. Men who fought to convert them to pacifism are still with us, so it seems too early to complain about their success.

The above hissed in response by: tcblj [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 14, 2007 10:31 AM

The following hissed in response by: Sachi


I know about the rent. That is one of many misconceptions that Japanese have.

The above hissed in response by: Sachi [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 14, 2007 11:23 AM

The following hissed in response by: Seaberry

I read the books, some 30-years ago, so I didn't realize that the movie had left out so much. Had to run a search on, "The scouring of the Shire", to understand your point about Japan. I knew that Europe was in trouble, but did not realize that Japan was also 'sleeping-at-the-wheel'.

The above hissed in response by: Seaberry [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 14, 2007 12:49 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Dear readers;

Sachi is now once again underway (at sea), thus out of internet communications until probably Friday the 21th.

(It's possible she could get access to the ship's internet connection before then, but they usually restrict that access to the sailors. As Sachi is a visiting civilian tester, she's at the bottom of the list.)

Ergo, while she is anxious to read as many comments as y'all can post, she won't be able to respond to them until then.

In the meanwhile, if a comment begs for instant response, I'll try to respond for her.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 14, 2007 6:38 PM

The following hissed in response by: Consul-At-Arms

I've quoted you and linked to you here.

The above hissed in response by: Consul-At-Arms [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 20, 2007 10:49 PM

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