The Japanese in New Guinea:
I still remember well when we retreated from Buna. It was the night of 20 January 1943. . . . There were many soldiers wounded, or too sick to retreat. Five or six of us were standing around with Captain Kondo when he said to one of the wounded, ‘We are going to leave now. But there is no one who can carry you. It would be a big problem if a soldier like you, who is still clear in his mind, should become a prisoner of war. So, you should kill yourself here.’ The wounded soldier said, ‘Yes sir. I will die here, sir.’ Kondo said, ‘I’ll give you my pistol. Please die now.’ But the soldier didn’t have enough strength to pull the trigger of the pistol. He told Kondo that. The Captain said, ‘Alright. Give it to me. I’ll shoot you.’ The soldier pleaded with Kondo to wait. Kondo said, ‘Now what! Are you scared?’ The soldier asked if he could call out to His Majesty, the Emperor. He shouted ‘Long Live the Emperor,’ then the Captain shot him in the head and killed him. It was the first and last time I saw someone calling out the Emperor’s name before he died. We all knew that it was not his real feeling, because everyone else called out for their mother. To call out ‘long live the Emperor’ was just for show.Peter Williams, Japan’s Pacific War: Personal Accounts of the Emperor’s Warriors 62-63 (2021).
The Americans on Guadalcanal:
I was passing a line company when I heard the company commander berating a Marine for walking along the top of the ridge. Because of sniper fire it was against regulations. I knew this captain was a Reserve officer, and stopped to watch. The Marine on the skyline did not immediately come down as ordered. The captain proclaimed that he had one minute or the captain would shoot him on the spot for refusing a direct order. He looked at his watch and placed his right hand on his sidearm, a showy, chrome-plated, ivory-handled, Smith and Wesson revolver. A few yards behind, a Marine was cleaning his rifle and seemed to be paying no attention. He replaced the bolt, loaded the magazine, and put a round in the chamber. Then he cradled the rifle in his arms and gazed off into the distance. I noticed that the piece just happened to be pointed right at the captains back. The Marine on the ridge ambled down, the captain took his hand off his revolver, the rifleman took the bolt out of his rifle, and I continued on my way.Eric M. Bergerud, Touched with Fire: The Land War in the South Pacific 437 (1997).
In both of these stories there is abuse. In the Japanese story it is from the top and in the American story it is from the bottom.
I find the American story more frightening, I think.
For there is nothing more frightening than resentment.
All the more so, here, because, fifty years later, the American historian who recounts the tale, Eric Bergerud, remarks that the officer was inadequate—because he tried to exercise authority.
I am struck by how different the American experience was, also, from another army that, like the Japanese army, was authoritarian—that of Germany in World War One. Here is Ernst Junger:
As we hurried on, I called out for directions to an NCO who was standing in a doorway. Instead of giving me an answer, he thrust his hands deeper into his pockets, and shrugged his shoulders. As I couldn’t stand on ceremony in the midst of this bombardment, I sprang over to him, held my pistol under his nose, and got my information out of him that way. It was the first time in the war that I’d come across an example of a man acting up, not out of cowardice, but obviously out of complete indifference. Although such indifference was more commonly seen in the last years of the war, its display in action remained very unusual, as battle brings men together, whereas inactivity separates them.Ernst Junger, Storm of Steel 194-95 (1961) (M. Hoffman, trans. Penguin Books 2004).
Junger fought almost continually from 1915 to 1918.
Authority means freedom from resentment—you accept your position.
On the other hand, the Americans came out on top in both wars.