Asahi and Yomiuri newspapers both have reports on an October incident in a Fukuoka junior high school in which a teacher passed out copies of wartime “Red cards,” which called men up for the military draft, to students. Students had to mark the paper to indicate whether they would go or not go.
The teacher returned the card, and apparently left comments on those cards belonging to the nay-sayers to the effect that those students were 非国民 or that “Those who refuse on personal grounds are 非国民.” The word, hikokumin, is sometimes translated as “unpatriotic individual” but in fact was a much stronger term which implied that the person was a traitor. The 広辞苑 dictionary defines it as, “Someone who has not performed their duties as a citizen. A person who does actions which betrays the nation.”
It is a bit unclear what the point of the exercise was. Asahi says simply that the school was aiming to teach something about human rights (学校によると、教諭は人権学習に熱心という), while Yomiuri reports the school as saying that they simply wanted to point out that people would be called that at the time and was not intended as an insult to the students. (教諭は、戦争に行かなかったら、『非国民』と呼ばれた当時の状況を説明して令状を配った。生徒の人格を否定するつもりはなかったようだ)
In fact, I find this little history lesson to have some great potential, if handled carefully. We can’t really tell much about the circumstances in the reports above. There seems to have been a lack of sensitivity on the part of the teacher by not supplementing the exercise with further explanation at the very least, or at worst, he may be seen as accusing his students of being traitors. However, stepping back for a moment, this kind of experiment might provide a great opportunity for a junior high school teacher to encourage students to think hard about some important issues. I remember my own 6th grade teacher did many of these kinds of experiments, and there were times we as students found them psychologically stressful, but I came away from that year having thought through a lot of important social issues related to race, justice, and democratic institutions. These are formative years and had a huge impact on my political consciousness, but I don’t think such students are too young to begin facing these kinds of questions.
The conduct of the teacher is very important, obviously. I dismiss any suggestion that a teacher or historian can somehow excise politics completely from their instruction. Beginning with the issues they choose to instruct about, and the questions they ask, they are already passed that point. However, instructors are obligated, I believe, to cultivate an environment in which contending positions may arise, fruitful debate and discussion result, and in which students may learn the strengths and weaknesses or the consequences of their eventual positions.
In this case, I like very much the “shock” factor of these draft cards. Their receipt was often met with shock, horror, if not complete terror. For one example of this in recent film, I recommend the interesting comedy 笑いの大学. The entire comedy is essentially a long exchange between a comic play writer and a wartime censor. However, there is also a dramatic scene showing the dreaded red card.
By giving the students a physical red photocopy of the card, and then asking them to choose to comply or not comply (which in wartime, of course, would have consequences well beyond that of being called a 非国民) could be a great starting point for discussions about civic duty, sacrifice for the nation, and as anyone knows my own feelings on this issue can guess: a discussion about the relationship between individuals and nations in general.
If open discussion is promoted, the result may not be to the liking of Ministry of Education policy makers, especially if the nation is problematized. The ministry of education has clearly stated its desire to further inculcate feelings of patriotism (=nationalism, one being a euphemism for the other) among students. This is not limited to Japan, of course, as it is difficult to justify a place for this kind of open ended discussion within the goals of any public national education system. When national education systems provide a place for instructors and writings which clearly subvert national goals, they survive in spite of the founding goals of national education, and not because they are compatible with them. This is one reason that they are especially weak in response to the kind of critique launched against them by nationalist forces within Japan.
This is perhaps one reason why the aging parliamentarian Ozaki Yukio, in the early aftermath of World War II believed that the first and most important step to moving beyond the nation-state as a political unit was the abandonment of a “national” educational policy, which he believed was the primary site in which a sense of national identity and loyalty is cultivated – an assumption shared by Japanese nationalists today. Like all the early postwar movements for a global government, Ozaki’s efforts to promote world federalism failed. Since then many other problems with such ideals, beyond their alleged naivety, have been critiqued. However, the basic observation that any national education policy has a natural tendency to promote the cultivation of national identities and loyalties, I believe, remains sound, and is important for our and future generations to keep in mind.