The Kenpeitai in Java and Sumatra

The Kenpeitai in Java and Sumatra

The Kenpeitai in Java and Sumatra

The Kenpeitai in Java and Sumatra

Excerpt

Who cares to understand the Kenpeitai? These memoirs of the Japanese military police in the Second World War are collected for principals, friends, and sympathizers. They may therefore read strangely to people of other nations, and other persuasions. The writers, long after the events, lavishly distribute in-group credit for courage under duress and imagination in adversity. They highlight cases where individuals among them have understood native norms and brightened the lives of desolate and oppressed Indonesians. They find the Dutch-administered war crimes trials almost maniacally unjust.

War stories rarely rise to the level of literature. Generally they gratify the participants in particular. These are not exceptional, but they are welcome because until recently it was not readily possible to understand the Kenpeitai in Southeast Asia from their own point of view. Now it is possible. The record is filled in. At worst, however, it may remind us of

1 The surviving Kenpeitai have looked to their reputations with a recent trilogy. The basic work, of
which the Java and Sumatra sections follow in translation, is Zenkoku Kenyūkai Rengōkai Hensan
linkai [Editorial Committee of the National Federation of Kenpeitai Veterans’ Associations],
Nihon Kenpei Seishi [The Authentic History of the Kenpeitai] (Tokyo: Zenkoku Kenyūkai
Rengōkai Honbu, 1976). A successor volume adds further details and lesser narrative accounts,
while expanding on self-justifying themes: Zenkoku Kenyūkai Rengōkai Hensan linkai [Editorial
Committee of the National Federation of Kenpeitai Veterans’ Associations], Nihon Kenpei Gaishi
[The General History of the Kenpeitai] (Tokyo, 1983). For the sake of brevity, the first will be
referred to hereafter as the Seishi, and the second as the Gaishi. A companion volume will be
referred to as the Isho: Junkoku Kenpei no Isho [ Last Testaments of Kenpei Who Died for their
Country] (Tokyo: Tokyo Kenyūkai and Zenkoku Kenyūkai Rengōkai (1982).

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