Pingchao Zhu
Mao’s Martyrs
The Communists enshrined the ideal of revolutionary heroism into their wartime culture of martyrdom. Mao expounded on the revolutionary heroism: “This army embraces the spirit of moving forward unstoppably. If there is one man ” These martyrs would not only sacrifice part of their own interests, but also their own lives without hesitation. Mao’s strategy in proving “man can beat weapon” lay in his using at least four times larger, if not more, in number of troops than the enemy’s to eliminate them. The concept of “human wave” was born. When death casualties of the CPV soldiers were reported back home, the nation seemed to have little time to grieve. The authorities wanted everyone to “turn grief into strength, sorrow for the loss of loved ones into hatred toward the American imperialism.” Sacrifice for the Chinese nation and world peace was a glorious deed. A historian who studied heroes in Nazi Germany commented, “Death in battle not only guaranteed eternal life for the martyrs, but also acted as a resurgent life force for the Fatherland. Death in combat took on the ennobling force of a sacrament.” Communist revolutionary heroism ensured eternal life in propaganda for those who died for the revolutionary cause.
Walter Skya
Culture of Death:
Japanese Nationalism
The purest form of the code of the warrior: “The essence of bushidō is to seek death. When a warrior is faced with a choice between life and death, he chooses death. It is as simple as that.” The purpose of life of a bushi (samurai) was to be constantly prepared for death. Achieving victory in battle was not one’s ultimate aim. When one’s lord died, vassals would follow him in death. There is a special word for this kind of death: junshi. It meant following one’s lord in death. In other words, life had no meaning for the samurai after the death of one’s lord. The true bushi does not think of victory or defeat. “He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death.” The Japanese culture of death is seen in the ritual practice of hara-kiri or seppuku. When a bushi had to pay the ultimate price, it was the supreme honor to kill the self by his own hands. Radical ultranationalists did not conceive of dying for the emperor as a sacrifice: “Offering our lives for the sake of the emperor does not mean so-called self-sacrifice, but the casting aside of our little selves to live under his august grace and enhancing the genuine life of the people.”
Scott Atran
The Devoted Actor
Uncompromising wars, revolution, rights movements, and today’s global terrorism are driven by “devoted actors” who adhere to sacred, transcendent values—that generate actions dissociated from rationally expected risks and rewards. Devoted actors, who are unconditionally committed to sacred causes and whose personal identities are fused within a unique collective identity, willingly make costly sacrifices. This enables low-power groups to endure and often prevail against materially stronger foes. Explaining how devoted actors come to sacrifice for cause and comrades not only is a scientific goal, but a practical imperative to address intergroup disputes that can spiral out of control. When people act as “devoted actors” they are duty-based agents who mobilize for collective action to protect cherished values in ways that are dissociated from likely risks or rewards. Devoted actors represent a dimension of thought and behavior distinct from instrumental rationality in resisting material compromises over such values. The devoted actor hypothesis is defined as follows: People will become willing to protect morally important or sacred values through costly sacrifice and extreme actions, even being willing to kill and die, particularly when such values are embedded in or fused with group identity, becoming intrinsic to “Who I am” and “Who We are.”
Brian Crim
Review of SS Thinking
and the Holocaust
Total war is total health, and the Nazi party portrayed Germany as a patient in danger of racial infection. The SS translated its biological worldview into practice. War was a matter of self-defense, a prophylactic, and therefore ethical. The Jewish enemy and subhuman Slavs were not equal to Germans, so genocide is not immoral. Most importantly, war was part of the natural order of things. In SS thinking, Operation Barbarossa and the Holocaust combined to act as one 'gigantic sanitary operation', representing the 'politics of antibiotics par excellence.' In May 1941, the Wehrmacht High Command issued instructions to the troops that left no doubt about the nature of the conflict. Bolshevism was the 'deadly enemy of the German people,' an enemy that required 'ruthless and energetic action.'' After decades of fostering an anti-Semitic and völkisch worldview, the Wehrmacht was encouraged to act against Judeo-Bolshevism without restraint. Over half of the five and a half million Soviet POWs in the Wehrmacht's custody died in captivity, largely from systematic starvation and forced labor. Hardly unwilling participants, the Wehrmacht was a vital cog in the machinery of the Holocaust, the blunt instrument the Nazi state wielded before excising the Jewish cancer once and for all.
Yael Feldman
Dying for the Motherland
“Ultimately,” says Benedict Anderson, national ‘fraternity’ made it possible for so many millions of people, “not so much to kill, as willingly to die”. Over half a century earlier, a fictional Palestinian Jew similarly declared on the eve of volunteering in WWI: “You don’t understand me: I am going to die…not to kill.” Willingness to die for one’s country, be it a fatherland or motherland, derives from a much older human ‘habit’ or ‘reflex’—the universal need to secure one’s well-being by appeasing the gods. This appeasement began as a gift giving, or—at times of special duress by giving up life itself, whether of oneself or of one’s loved ones. Like other national movements, Jewish nationalism seemed unable to invent a new, un-sacred “language of irreligion.” Nor has it managed to separate itself from the arch vehicle of the sacred—the trope of ‘blood sacrifice;’ of dying on the nation’s altar, namely, one’s motherland. The very same tropes that in the past had represented martyrs’ death in religious persecutions, were now invoked to signify heroic death in armed confrontation. As with other secular movements, Zionism seems to embody an uneasy continuity between dying for god and dying for the motherland, between religion and ‘secular’ nationalism.
Akio Kimura
Mishima’s Negative
Political Theology
Mishima spoke for those who had died for the emperor believing that he was God. By killing himself, Mishima reenacted the sacrificial death for the emperor during World War II, and by so doing criticized Emperor Hirohito for betraying those who had died for him believing in his divinity. Many Japanese were shocked when Hirohito renounced his divinity after the war because they felt that they had been deprived of the cause of war. Mishima was one of them. Many Japanese died while the government hesitated to surrender; among those were the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They were sacrificed for the country. More precisely, they were sacrificed not so much for the country as for the emperor. It was only for retaining the emperor system, or, in other words, the emperor-centered national polity, that the Japanese government initially rejected the Potsdam Declaration only to accept it later, after hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed. Many Japanese thought it was natural to sacrifice their lives for the country. Despite many criticisms, Mishima’s spectacular death by seppuku thus revived the belief in the emperor as God in an age when people had begun to forget the belief they had had during WWII.