electronic journal of contemporary japanese studies

Book Review 10 in 2010
First Published in ejcjs on
30 September 2010

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Militarisation, Colonisation, Subordination, Resistance


Timothy Iles

Associate Professor
Department of Pacific and Asian Studies
University of Victoria

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Shigematsu, Setsu, and Camacho, Keith (eds) (2010) Militarized Currents: Toward a Decolonized Future in Asia and the Pacific, Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, xlviii, 355 pages, ISBN 978-0-8166-6506-8

Perhaps it is inevitable that a highly theoretical approach to the historical and current situation of militarisation as a cause and consequence of specifically American and Japanese colonisation in Asia should strike an especially militant tone, given the undeniable justification for outrage amongst the peoples whose lives have been conscripted by that ongoing process. This inevitability does much to mitigate the stridency which seeps into Shigematsu's and Camacho's Introduction to their collection of fourteen essays, Militarised Currents: Toward a Decolonised Future in Asia and the Pacific. In their Introduction, they state the aims of the collection are to analyse historical processes of militarisation and the institutionalisation of artificial divisions of time and geography which serve as barriers between colonised subjects, in order to demonstrate how these barriers 'obscure the needs for resisting the ways that peoples, lands, and waters have been categorised and claimed by imperialist-militarist endeavours' (p. xvii). The overall thrust of the collection of essays, they state, is to advance 'the current value of indigenous, people of colour, and feminist-oriented demilitarising coalitions as critiques of and alternatives to militarised worlds of the twenty-first century' (p. xvii). Shigematsu and Camacho assert that:

Imperialist wars initiated by these respective nation-states created wartime and postwar conditions of military invasion, occupation, and violence through which the peoples of [the Asia-Pacific] have struggled and survivedc The clashing of the Japanese and US empires variously devastated and made claims to liberate colonised subjects from other competing imperialist power(s) (p. xvi).

It is against what the editors assert as an intricately-intertwined, concretely cooperative, US-Japan militarised colonial project, that they situate their collection, as a demonstration of paths of resistance to an increasingly hegemonic program. This is a bold project for only sixteen essays in total to accomplish, an impossible task, one may argue. The attempt is valiant, however, and the book which makes it is worthy of sustained attention.

The editors organise the chapters into three parts, each with four essays: Militarised Bodies of Memory; Militarised Movements; and Hetero/Homosexualised Militaries. The Introduction and Conclusion (by Walden Bello) aim at a contextualisation of the diverse approaches and arguments which constitute the bulk of the volume. While the diversity of methodology and country of focus makes for a comprehensive overview of the central issue, there exists nonetheless a set of unifying political and theoretical assumptions about Asia in general, the roles of Japan and the United States as guardians of a 'transnational garrison state' (p. 311), and what may constitute a 'demilitarised' future for the region as a whole. These assumptions typically grow forth from firmly-rooted postcolonial, feminist, and Marxist ideologies of resistance, all valid within the context of the authors' presentations, but highly polemical in nature. Notions of academic objectivity are absent here, as are notions of neutrality in analysis. The essays paint Japan and the United States as operating in lock-step ('the dual voice of American and Japanese colonialism and militarism' (p. xxx)) towards mutually beneficial objectives of territorial acquisition and colonial subjugation of indigenous peoples through the Asia Pacific.

Despte the rhetorical flourishes which introduce this volume, its content is not entirely unprecedented. The editors themselves are aware that their work treads well-covered ground, when they write 'Familiar questions need to be asked: Who has the power to speak for whom and why? What theories and methods of resistance does one advance and why? What kind of knowledge is produced in these efforts, and how might oral, written, and digital forms of communication affect the production, distribution, and representation of such knowledge? Above all, what are the probable advances and potential pitfalls involved in undertaking coordinated cross-regional struggles to secure demilitarised futures?' (p. xxv). In asking these familiar questions, the remaining fourteen essays and conclusion nonetheless contribute worthwhile analyses to existing postcolonial studies—and, indeed, despite the editors' hesitation to adopt that particular mantle in which to clothe this volume, it remains the most appropriate category for the fundamental ideological stance at work here.

The essays themselves, by international scholars or indigenous Pacific Islanders, are often personal and moving, while retaining academic precision. Their approaches differ—we have Hawaiian history, told very conversationally from Jon Kamakawiwo'ole Osiro's recollections of his family and youth:

As a historian I have a perspective on my parents' war and on the country for which they fought and sacrificed. It is just a generation, and I see this all so differently than they did, which answers for me the question of whether in the space of a single generation our people could go from Hawaiian patriots to American soldiers (p. 13).

We have keen rhetoric informed by feminist/post-colonial analysis of the sexualisation/trivialisation of the Marshall Islands, from Teresia Teaiwa: 'The bikini bathing suit manifests both a celebration and a forgetting of the nuclear power that strategically and materially marginalises and erases the living history of the Pacific Islanders' (p. 15). We have, also, two essays by Japanese scholars, Sakai Naoki and Sato Fumika, analysing the sexualised nature of contact between coloniser/colonised, and the 'feminisation' of the Japanese Self Defense Force, respectively.

The chapters are uniformly valuable, offering persuasive and insightful explorations of their subjects. Historical detail returns from its banishment in the Introduction to its central, organising place in the articles, which are the stronger for it. The writing is generally clear and free of the polemical embellishments so frequent in the Introduction, while the arguments do not shy away from critical confrontation with instances of ongoing colonial exploitation. The common threads which run through the essays—of bodies, complicity or resistance to violence, institutionalisation of race and gender difference within international relations, and the dependency of these on militarised systems—do not twine into a simplistic accusation, but instead retain their distinct though complementary logical arguments, weaving together a vibrant tapestry of colonial excess and consequence.

And yet the stridency of the Introduction does occasionally threaten to undermine the compilation as a whole. For example, the editors state with admirable though suspect confidence: 'Japanese tourism in particular [in the Pacific Islands] would not have occurred without the nostalgia associated with former Asian settler communities and wartime battlegrounds; the paradisiacal allure of island lifestyles and settings; the American military's presence to assure the 'safe' travel of Japanese and non-Japanese tourists; and, increasingly, the advertisement of the Pacific as utopic sites of heterosexist and homoerotic desire' (p. xx). Such sweeping hyperbole is remarkably—and disappointingly—simplistic in its transparent attempt to hit a fashionable list of targets, blithely overlooking the need for support to sustain the argument the editors wish to make. One could argue, in fact, that the Introduction does a disservice to the chapters that follow. And yet here we come to the question of necessity: for one could also argue that while the contributors present their material with persuasive detail, it becomes the place of the editors to set the tone of the volume in ways beyond those available to the separate authors themselves. This is not unreasonable. And so, once again, the suggestion that a militant tone is inevitable in a collection of essays critical of the ways in which militarisation has facilitated the continuing colonial project of what Saki Naoki terms 'the regimes of the trans-Pacific security rule' (p. 206).

In total, the volume is a provocative one which offers much to politically-engaged scholars of colonialism in the Asia-Pacific. The range of material is broad, the approaches diverse, but the effect, overall, is remarkably consistent. The chapters are appropriate for both upper-undergraduate and graduate seminars, as well as for readers familiar with contemporary Asian-Pacific history. The rhetoric, while intense, is challenging; the research is substantial; and the stance, in a word, is militant. It is difficult to suggest that more academic writing should strike this tone, but those that do are, after all, welcome.

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About the Author

Timothy Iles is Associate Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where he teaches Japanese culture, cinema, and language. He has an MA from the University of British Columbia in Modern Japanese Literature, and a PhD from the University of Toronto, also in Modern Japanese Literature. He has taught courses on Japanese literature, theatre, culture, and cinema in Canada and the United States, and has published articles on those subjects. He is also author of Abe Kobo: an Exploration of his Prose, Drama, and Theatre (Fuccecio: European Press Academic Publishers, 2000), and The Crisis of Identity in Contemporary Japanese Film (Brill, 2008).

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Copyright: Timothy Iles.
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