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Politics & Security

Professor Kaji on Putin, National Security, and the Wisdom of Confucius

Facing an uphill battle since launching an invasion of neighboring Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has earned the reputation of a desperate, miserable old man.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia May 27, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS

Hot — that is the only word that comes to mind these days. When I was in my 20s a long time ago — 60 years ago, to be precise — people predicted that the weather forecast would soon be warning us of 30-degrees-Celsius (86-degrees-Fahrenheit) weather. Those days are long gone.

Speaking of old times, I am reminded of the ancient words of an old man that still ring true today — the wisdom of Lao Tzu. In chapter 9 of Tao Te Ching, he teaches, “When you have accomplished your goal simply walk away. This is the pathway to Heaven.” 

Another famous old man has notably failed to do this: 69-year-old Vladimir Putin

Facing an uphill battle since launching an invasion of neighboring Ukraine, he has earned the reputation of a desperate, miserable old man. He should have taken heed of Lao Tzu’s words.

Search and rescue workers and local residents take a dead body from under the debris after an Russian air raid in Lysychansk, Ukraine, June 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Path of Wanton Violence and Destruction

The Russian army is exhibiting the behavior of hunter-gatherers: As long as they can take everything within their reach, the rest be damned. The violence and assault, which continue today, are reminiscent of what the Japanese army did in Manchuria (now northeastern China) upon its defeat in World War II. 

But no amount of reprimand from the agrarian-minded Japanese people will get through to the hunter-gatherers.

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That means Japan’s top priority is to be vigilant, prepare itself, and solidify its defenses against Russia, because it would be naive to think that common sense would work on Russia. 

To anyone who thinks, “They wouldn’t dare,” I would say, “They will and they have.” 

Defending the Homeland

But Japan faces another harsh reality. According to a survey, only 20% of young people in Japan are willing to fight against a foreign invasion. Meanwhile, 40% will “wait and see,” and the remaining 40% will escape abroad and return home when the situation settles down.

The results of the survey cannot be taken lightly by any Japanese. It reveals the reality of our country and the challenges it faces.

Peace, or heiwa in Japanese, is a beautiful word. But with the current state of Japan’s defense capability, peace in Japan, to a large extent, exists only by virtue of its dependence on the United States military. However, the peace of an independent nation should be achieved through self-defense.

In chapter 15 of the Analects, Confucius warns, “If a man takes no thought about what is distant, he will find sorrow near at hand.” 

Preparations should be made well in advance while nothing is still happening. This is all the more so for military preparations, which require a country to allocate a considerable portion of its time. 

Graduation ceremony at the National Defense Academy, where Prime Minister Fumio Kishida delivered an address to the graduates, on March 27, 2022 (Pool photo).

Training Troops

The most time-consuming part is the training of officers and soldiers. This is especially true for general officers, which means Japan must improve its National Defense Academy and increase its enrollment capacity.

The quality of troops is another issue. Quantity will not make up for the considerable amount of training required. Mindlessly assembled troops with low combat (and therefore, defense) capability would be useless and equivalent to not having any at all.

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In chapter 13 of the Analects, Confucius says, “To lead an uninstructed people to war, is to throw them away.”

I interpret the word “uninstructed” to mean the lack of military training. In other words, fighting with troops that have no military training is like abandoning them because they lack military (or defense) capability.

Basic training for homeland defense needs to start in middle school or high school. War is a matter of life and death. 

According to chapter 13 of the Analects, “The things in reference to which the Master [Confucius] exercised the greatest caution were fasting, war, and sickness.”

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(Read the column in Japanese at this link.)

Author:  Nobuyuki Kaji

Find Professor Kaji’s essays on JAPAN Forward at this link.

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