Book Recommendation:"Kempeitai: Japan's Dreaded Military Police"

Kempeitai: Japan’s Dreaded Military Police” by Raymond Lamont-Brown
First published in 1998 by Sutton Publishing Limited
ISBN 0750915668

Speculation regarding the involvement of martial artists of the Showa era in war crimes (or the facilitation of war crimes) in the Sino-Japanese war, and Second World War has been generating a great deal of interest among contemporary western practitioners of budo for a number of years now. Aikido’s Morihei Ueshiba, and Shotokan’s Yoshitaka Funakoshi (assisted by Shigeru Egami) both taught unarmed combat at the Kempeitai training facility at Nakano.

The kanji for “bu” is a compound consisting of two elements: at the bottom left is a character meaning “to stop”; above and to the right is a character meaning halberd (or arms);  put together the idea conveyed is “to stop arms”. However historically naive, this is the idea of “bu” that first drew me in and it still resonates deeply with me.

Looking carefully at how it is that civilized, educated people, be they the Japanese Kempetai of the Second World War, or be they American military officers at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib,  can become so callused and brutal should be of interest to anyone with a serious interest in bushido.

This deeply disturbing book provides little information concerning the involvement (or lack thereof) of prominent martial artists of this period.  This book paints a damning picture of Showa era Japanese policy towards POW’s, and towards non-Japanese people though out Asia who were unlucky enough to find themselves under Japanese control. The conduct of the Kempeitai is particularly disturbing.

The author’s father was detained by the Kempeitai on 5, March, 1942 making this personal. Lamont-Brown’s outrage at the sadistic and outrageous abuse of prisoners and indigenous populations throughout Asia by the Kempeitai is palpable throughout the book.

Lamont-Brown describes the systemic brutality of the Kempeitai prior to the second world war in Manchuria and Shanghai, as well as throughout Japan’s war with the Allied powers.

Here are a few excerpts that illustrate the focus of this book:

From page 8:

Historians endeavoring to research Japanese Second World War studies in general, and Kempeitai activities in particular, have long come across the two main ethnic characteristics to thwart their success: namely, ‘Tactical Myopia’ and ‘Strategic Amnesia Syndrome’. For decades the Gaimusho have had a blinkered attitude to such events at Taisho Iwane Matsui, commander-in Chief of the Central China Area Army’s ‘Rape of Nanking’ on 13 December 1937, in which 300,000 Chinese nationals were slaughtered and maimed, and actively discouraged all who sought to build up a picture of Japan’s role in the Second World War. Only since the 1990’s has the Mombusho allowed new textbooks to give anything like detailed accounts of the Second World War from any point of view.

From page 43:

June 1945 saw the position of the Japanese forces in Burma turn precarious. For some time British paratroopers had been teaming up with local guerrillas to harry Japanese positions at Tenasserim, between Moulmein (the city-port capital of Mon state) and Dali Forest. Shosho Seiei Yamamoto,  Chief of Staff to the 33rd Army under Chujo Masaki Hondo ordered a group of soldiers from the 3rd Battalion the 215th Regiment and OC Moulmein Kempeitai to sweep Kalagon and kill as many British paratroopers and dacoits (Burmese bandits) as possible. By 7 July they had occupied the village and and all the inhabitants were rounded up to be interrogated by the Kempeitai.  Although Women and children were raped and beaten, no information about the resistance movement was elicited and the Kempeitai ordered  the whole village to be massacred. The people were taken tied up, in batches of five to ten, to a nearby group of wells. There they were blindfolded and bayoneted into the wells, alive or not. On that day the 3rd Battalion and the Kempeitai killed 600 villagers.

I will include one last excerpt, from page 151;

Chusa Oishi quickly and meticulously divided Singapore into manageable sub-divisions under Shosa Tomotatsu Iyo and Chusa Yoshitaka Yokota, who commanded the screening of all civilians and characterized Chinese suspects as ‘undesirable and anti-Japanese’; and decided who should die. Soon Kempeitai lock-ups were bulging with suspects, and during 17-24 Febuary 1942, the Chusa Tsuji monitered every step of the killing programme, berating the Kempeitai if the numbers of the Chinese slaughtered seemed to fall. In all some 5,000 persons were to be murdered in Singapore in the ‘Tsuji holocost’.

Because of the profoundly disturbing nature of this book I will refrain from using our usual light-hearted rating system and simply recommend that you take the time to read it.

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2 responses to “Book Recommendation:"Kempeitai: Japan's Dreaded Military Police"

  1. Got this book off a friend, great read, if you like that sort of thing..

  2. It definitely reaffirms the fact that human beings at their worst tend to commit the same kinds of atrocities against other human beings, no matter their nationality or motivation.

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