Heng on Mulloy, 'Defenders of Japan: The Post-Imperial Armed Forces 1946-2016, A History'

Garren Mulloy
Yee Kuang Heng

Garren Mulloy. Defenders of Japan: The Post-Imperial Armed Forces 1946-2016, A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. 440 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-760615-5

Reviewed by Yee Kuang Heng (University of Tokyo) Published on H-War (October, 2022) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=57733

This massive tome of over four hundred pages may be read as a culmination of over two decades of research on Japan’s defense and security policies. Garren Mulloy, a professor of International Relations (IR), poses an overarching question, “how did Japanese defence end up like this?,” and seeks to fill what he considers a glaring gap in studies of the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) and its postimperial precursors after 1945, in particular “neglect of joint Force and civil-military cooperation issues” (p. 3). As a result of this research design, the book unsurprisingly adopts a chronological and historical approach tracing postwar JSDF roots, its Cold War evolution, and finally its adaptation to post-Cold War challenges, both external and domestic. This historical perspective serves up valuable reminders to readers that several contemporary debates on Japanese defense policy are not without precedent. For instance, the recent attention focused on Izumo-class helicopter carriers can be traced back to discussions in the 1950s. Likewise, the fact that a ten-day-long Defence Expo publicly exhibiting JSDF equipment as long ago as 1966 passed without major scandal or controversy, implying, as Mulloy suggests, that pacificism in Japan is more nuanced and complex than often portrayed. Mulloy has consciously sought to engage nonspecialist readers by steering away from convoluted discussions of IR theory. As a result, any well-informed member of the general public with interest in the topic can pick up a copy and follow the discussion right away. Evincing his years of research on this topic, Mulloy has marshaled an extensive range of sources from conversations with JSDF officers and policymakers, to official documents and academic literature. The endotes alone occupy pages 281-416 of the book. Anecdotes peppered throughout this lengthy book liven up the analysis, such as the 25th Infantry Regiment’s duties in Hokkaido, which involved, among others, capturing a rogue bear. Another is the observation that days of debate were needed before a single machine gun was issued to peacekeeping troops deployed to Zaire/Rwanda.

One of the unique contributions contained in this volume is an extensive discussion of “post-war Japanese fighters” (p. 13). Japanese personnel were involved in wars through to the Korean War and Vietnam War, albeit not officially on behalf of the state nor acknowledged by the government. Fatalities were also incurred during postcolonial independence wars in Asia after the end of World War II. This raises questions about the widespread narrative held about Japan since 1945 of a long peace leading to heiwa boke (roughly translated as complacency about peace or, more rudely and directly, peace senility).

Meanwhile, if there is a universal military and operational issue raised by Mulloy that concerns students of strategic studies and IR, it is that of “jointness.” The United Kingdom, for instance, established Joint Force Command (now called Strategic Command) to ensure joint capabilities like medical services, training, intelligence, information systems, and cyber operations. Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) brings under one command battlefield helicopters of the Royal Navy, Army Air Corps, and Royal Air Force. While UK joint efforts undoubtedly remain a work in progress, Mulloy documents in Japan’s case how the early years of the JSDF provided a textbook example of how each different branch (ground, air, maritime) developed independently of each other, such that each branch essentially set out to prepare to fight its own war scenarios. Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) officers held “distinctly underwhelming impressions of ASDF [Air Self-Defense Force] close air support [CAS], hence the need for its own extensive artillery and aviation forces to compensate for the CAS-gap” (p. 50). The ASDF, focused on fighter intercepts and scramble (or quick reaction alert) missions, was not seen to be interested in grittier CAS aircraft. The GSDF even developed its own Type 99 surface-to-surface missile because of doubts that the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) could deter/defeat a Soviet amphibious assault on Hokkaido. Meanwhile, the ASDF and MSDF questioned the need for the GSDF to develop a maritime defense role. Unsurprisingly, GSDF personnel, both serving and retired, “lamented the lack of joint training with the MSDF and ASDF” (p. 57). The MSDF, for its part, “defined national defence by its own parameters, in USN partnership and through imperial-era experiences,” leading to a focus on mine and anti-submarine warfare (p. 67). Despite recent JSDF attempts at jointness, such as a GSDF AH-64D Apache attack helicopter landing on an MSDF helicopter carrier in support of island landing operations, it remains to be seen how Japan’s attempts to build jointness through a Dynamic Joint Defense Force will develop.

Whereas the book is rich in its coverage of issues relating to “jointness,” another important (though relatively less developed) analytical angle is focused on civil-military relations. In terms of imperial legacy, Mulloy finds that GSDF culture developed from a policy base and rejection of Imperial Japanese Army legacies, while the MSDF blended its “pre-war imperial and post-war secular-democratic naval heritage” (p. 90). As any tourist to major base cities like Sasebo and Yokosuka can attest, Kaigun kare (Navy Curry) is an MSDF staple carried over from the Imperial Japanese Navy. Mulloy describes in detail the public acceptance, even popularity, of the JSDF when it comes to domestic humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) missions, of which there are numerous in a disaster-prone country. JSDF eventually acquired niche capabilities especially in water purification, which served it well on later PKO (peacekeeping)/HADR missions overseas. While Mulloy has harsh words for the “failure of JSDF civilian control” in providing direction and guidance on strategy and describes how the MSDF in fact was a “Force pioneer” in appointing women to senior positions, there is far less attention on innovative (some might say wacky or quirky) attempts on the part of the JSDF to engage with the society it is meant to serve (pp. 114, 245). The pressing challenge of recruitment in a rapidly graying population, especially the ostensibly quirky ways the JSDF has tried to enhance its attractiveness as a career choice, deserves far more attention. For instance, the JSDF has released recruitment posters featuring popular anime (cartoon animation) productions in an attempt to reach out to a society saturated with manga (comic books) and anime. Some of these posters have been criticized for their overly sexual depiction of female cartoon characters. Different MSDF naval destroyers with their own individual recipes have participated in the Sasebo Goeikan (Escort Ship) Curry Grand Prix (GC1) in Sasebo. This event has even become a tourist attraction in its own right. JSDF-themed souvenirs and cakes are openly sold in tourist shops across the city. These evolutions, while less attention grabbing than high profile failures, such as the 1976 Foxbat incident or the Lockheed scandals, are also suggestive of how the JSDF has adapted to its domestic societal context and vice versa.

Mulloy consistently points out the pitfalls of the JSDF focusing on “big ticket” items and hardware/equipment rather than on more mundane “software,” training, logistics tails, and recruitment (p. 254). Certainly, the Russian military’s struggles in Ukraine provide a strong reminder of the critical importance of logistics in supporting and sustaining operations. While the book title suggests that its historical coverage ends in 2016, there are in fact many lessons to be drawn for the JSDF operating in an international order upended by Russian aggression and rising concerns over Chinese military assertiveness.

Citation: Yee Kuang Heng. Review of Mulloy, Garren, Defenders of Japan: The Post-Imperial Armed Forces 1946-2016, A History. H-War, H-Net Reviews. October, 2022. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=57733

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