The Fatties vs. the Fantasists: A hypothetical rematch with the Japanese

Last night, by way of explaining to my daughter more fully why Roger Sterling was so abominably rude to the guys from Honda in last week’s “Mad Men” I popped in the first episode of “The Pacific.” (As I’ve mentioned, since I’m currently reading the books that series was based on — I’m on Eugene Sledge’s With the Old Breed now — that theater is much on my mind.)

For most of us, buying Hondas and Toyotas, and even, most improbably, Mitsubishis (as in, the Zero) comes fairly naturally. There is probably less conflict in the national psyche over those than over, say, Volkswagen. But for those who fought in the less-understood Pacific war, the stress of fighting a suicidally aggressive enemy with seemingly superhuman commitment to his cause, would be something that would mark you forever.

But if we had a rematch with the Japanese, it might go differently.

Did you see the NYT story on the front page of The State today, about how Army training has been “walked back” a bit to  make it less stressful on recruits who grew up playing video games instead of baseball? An excerpt:

FORT JACKSON, S.C. — Dawn breaks at this, the Army’s largest training post, with the reliable sound of fresh recruits marching to their morning exercise. But these days, something looks different.

That familiar standby, the situp, is gone, or almost gone. Exercises that look like pilates or yoga routines are in. And the traditional bane of the new private, the long run, has been downgraded.

This is the Army’s new physical-training program, which has been rolled out this year at its five basic training posts that handle 145,000 recruits a year. Nearly a decade in the making, its official goal is to reduce injuries and better prepare soldiers for the rigors of combat in rough terrain like Afghanistan.

But as much as anything, the program was created to help address one of the most pressing issues facing the military today: overweight and unfit recruits…

Now, I’m not about to call today’s war fighters wimps. Especially not the tip-of-the-spear types like the Marines, or the Airborne divisions, or the Rangers or other elites. They are, if anything, tougher than ever, and certainly more lethal.

But that story gives us a hint of what it would be like if the Army ceased being so selective because it was handling a mass mobilization such as that of 1941-45. Imagine soldiers who had never done a pushup in basic trying to make their way through a fetid jungle in 100-degree-plus temps.

But fear not, because in today’s WSJ, we have evidence that they would not be met with shrieking madmen eager to die for their emperor. Get a load of this:

Since the marriage rate among Japan’s shrinking population is falling and with many of the country’s remaining lovebirds heading for Hawaii or Australia’s Gold Coast, Atami had to do something. It is trying to attract single men—and their handheld devices.

In the first month of the city’s promotional campaign launched July 10, more than 1,500 male fans of the Japanese dating-simulation game LovePlus+ have flocked to Atami for a romantic date with their videogame character girlfriends.

The men are real. The girls are cartoon characters on a screen…

Love Plus+ re-creates the experience of an adolescent romance. The goal isn’t just to get the girl but to maintain a relationship with her.

After choosing one of three female characters—goodie-goodie Manaka, sassy Rinko or big-sister type Nene—to be a steady girlfriend, the player taps a stylus on the DS touch-screen in order to walk hand-in-hand to school, exchange flirtatious text messages and even meet in the school courtyard for a little afternoon kiss. Using the device’s built-in microphone, the player can carry on sweet, albeit mundane, conversations.

Wow. Get those guys charged up on saki, and they’re not going to be screaming “banzai,” but drooling over decidedly unwomanly avatars, hoping for a pretend peck on the cheek.

So maybe a nation of fatties could take them. But probably only in a virtual war, fought on a virtual playing field. At least our video games are tougher than theirs, if this is an example.

Maybe Harry Turtledove will take on this topic.

31 thoughts on “The Fatties vs. the Fantasists: A hypothetical rematch with the Japanese

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    I find the term “fatties” to be seriously offensive. For many of us not blessed with your metabolism or cursed with your dietary restrictions, a lifelong struggle with weight has made us extremely sensitive.

    From the outside,you do not know why any single person is overweight. We do not even know for certain why our population is overweight. Is it lack of exercise? Studies repeatedly show that it is almost impossible to lose much weight through exercise alone. I daresay I exercise considerably more than my skinnier friends, to no discernable result on the scale.

    Is it high fructose corn syrup or MSG or estrogenic compounds in our drinking water and plastics? Central air-conditioning and heating? No recent famines? Many theories have been proposed…

    Until we know for sure why the population is getting heavier, and why a certain individual is heavy, using schoolyard taunt terms like “fatties” is deeply wrong.

  2. Brad

    OK, so give me something that says “out-of-shape Americans” that works in terms of alliteration with “fantasists”…

    Dang it, I avoided the temptation to make my headline fit on one line by saying “Japs” (and leaving out “hypothetical,” which still might not have fit anyway) and now I get hit for “fatties…”

    Just how sensitive do I gotta be?

  3. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, there times when maybe the cheap, snarky alliteration needs to give way to a kinder, more mature take–or else you risk being FITSNews…

  4. bud

    The USA Today had one of their little snapshots the other day showing the percentage of military spending by nation. The US spends 43% of all the money spent worldwide on military stuff. The number 2 nation, China, lagged behind at just 9%.

    It’s impossible to make a rational argument that this staggering level of spending is necessary to our security. So why do we throw so much money away on this worthless crap? And what’s even more puzzling is why there is absolutely no voice in congress to reduce this insane level of spending?

    But at least now I’m beginning to understand the mindset that has become so pervasive in this country that would engender an environment conducive to passing near trillion dollar annual military budgets. I try in a very small way to suggest that it might be a good thing to devote a small amount of attention and funding to memorials honoring humanitarian activities. I even suggested 1/10 the amount that we spend on military memorials. And you’d think I was some type of traitor to the United States Constitution. To even make the suggestion I was branded as someone who wishes that we were all speaking German now.

    And we barely go two more posts before Brad is once again rambling on and on about the Pacific campaign in World War II! No wonder we keep getting involved in foreign wars. Apparently folks just love wars. Damnest thing I’ve ever seen. It’s madness really. We fight and fight and fight, spend and spend and spend on the military while we debate how to cut the budget deficit. Really folks, this is not that hard. End the wars and cut the spending on useless military stuff and the deficit drops. Since war spending has very little stimulative effect we risk little in terms of exacerbating our economic woes.

    Until we can have a rational debate about our national security we will be stuck with the current wasteful paradigm of militarism. The end result will ultimately be a declining standard of living, reduced life expectancy and ironically a less secure America.

  5. Brad

    It’s what I’m reading right now, Bud. And other things I see — the Mad Men thing, the story about Army training lite, and the weird story about those rather sad Japanese men — entered my mind within the framework of the books I’m reading.

    I WAS reading “Trotsky: Downfall of a Revolutionary” which was kind of interesting, all about his last years in Mexico hanging with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo — but after awhile I just got tired about reading about all those deluded would-be revolutionaries he interacted with, and turned to my WWII reading, which is far more absorbing. Hard for me to imagine that there was a time when the American left was divided over whether Stalinism was, or was not, a good thing. Even later neocon Irving Kristol (who was counted among the Troskyists). But it just got monotonous. I’ll go back to it at some time, I suppose, but I’m getting a lot more out of reading about the war in the Pacific…

  6. Doug Ross


    A big chunk of our military spending goes to pork projects that sitting Congressmen use to bring money back into their home districts — thus improving the chance of re-election.

    There are jet fighters being built today for billions of dollars that the Air Force doesn’t want but the Congress keeps funding. Some of those fighters have parts built in each of the 50 states in order to spread the “wealth” around.

    Also, take a look sometime at the median income in the suburbs outside D.C. You think those defense contractors and lobbyists know where the money is? Just like Willie Sutton.

    Personally, I’d start by closing foreign bases and cutting foreign aid. We need to think of American’s first and stop playing the Policeman to the World.

    We have the military capability to deal with any foreign nation that attacks us or our allies. We will NEVER have enough capability to stop a terrorist with an IED.

  7. Burl Burlingame

    Hey, watch “The Pacific” again and give us a review. The DVD set will be available in a couple of months.

    American soldiers suffered horribly during WWII. But not as much as all other nations. The Japanese soldiers on Peleliu were worse off than the Americans, with no hope to sustain them, so the alternative was fanaticism.

    The Western Front in the Great War was no picnic either, with the lines bogged down in stalemate.

    The sustaining goal of the campaigns of WWII was territory. Overrun Germany, knock out Japan, and the war is over. The end was in sight, however difficult the road was to get there.

    Our guys in Iraq and Afghanistan have no such end game. There will be no “victory” — just a dangerous slog without result.

  8. bud

    I enjoyed Letters from Iwo Jima. It provided a bit of balance that few American produced film do. The Japanese are just people too. They’re troops were heroic, had families and for the most part simply went along with the war because they had a strong sense of duty and honor. That brand of hyperbolic patriotism sounds nice when viewed from an American context but when we see it in others it just seems crazy.

  9. Brad

    “Letters from Iwo Jima” was excellent. Far better than “Flags of Our Fathers” (although the book was better than the film). You were able to relate to it because it centered on individuals who in various ways ran counter to, and even resisted the fanatic, death-centered cult that had perverted the Japanese military in that generation.

    But when Bud indulges in the standard relativist fantasy — “That brand of hyperbolic patriotism sounds nice when viewed from an American context but when we see it in others it just seems crazy” — he misses the mark.

    The differences in attitudes toward war, toward service, toward life itself between the combatants on either side was rather profound. It wasn’t a simple matter of good guys vs. bad guys, the two sides were just profoundly different. One thing that emerges is that there was an extreme animus on that front. Sledge writes of the utter hatred that the typical Marine and the typical Japanese soldier had for each other. It’s somewhat easier for us to understand the Marine’s hatred, based in everything from Pearl Harbor to having witnessed Americans trying to help wounded Japanese, only to have the Japanese pull the pin on a grenade to blow themselves and the would-be helpers up. Or faked surrenders. Or the fact that the Japanese deliberately targeted medical corpsmen, trying to wound them so that they could kill the Marines who came to their aid (because they had noted that Marines felt very protective of corpsmen.) What I have yet to see, in “Letters from Iwo Jima” or anything else, is an adequate explanation of the Japanese hatred. The oil embargo? The fact that when the Japanese engaged in suicidal “banzai” charges, the Marines obligingly mowed them down wholesale? Or simply a philosophy that regarded anyone who was not Japanese and stood against Japan as subhumanly evil? I just don’t know.

  10. Brad

    And Burl, I’m sorry I haven’t written one big post on “The Pacific.” I owe that to you. I’m trying to follow your advice and watch it all the way through a second time first. But instead, I’ve watched the early episodes many times, and haven’t gotten through the Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa parts for a second time yet. I will, though, and soon.

  11. Brad

    Oh, I don’t think the oil embargo was an adequate excuse for Pearl Harbor. But I think they thought it was.

    Unlike my friend Bud, I am not a relativist. They were definitely in the wrong. Culture doesn’t even things out. There actually is such a thing as right and wrong, however hard it may be able to see sometimes on a battlefield — or in the blogosphere in a secure country 65 years later.

  12. Burl Burlingame

    That hatred toward the enemy is a central theme in “The Pacific,” and I think depicting it made moderne folk uneasy. I think also the series made clear that blind hatred is a psychological tool for sheer survival.
    I have interviewed many Japanese from that era. The military were almost a separate people from the average Japanese citizen. Even their language was different (The US had to produce two separate translation books during the war.)
    Both sides fought as valiantly as they knew how, and as defined by their respective cultures. But for the Japanese, patriotism and duty are wound up in the national psyche, and being the point-warriors of their empire was almost a religious issue. And Shinto pushed it.
    It’s always easier to justify your actions when you believe God is on your side. For the Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun, the empire was both God and family. A potent combination.

  13. Burl Burlingame

    The Japanese today — if they even know about the war — prefer to see themselves as victims. (Just like Southerners still stewing over “War of Northern Aggression” that was actually kicked off by the South, heh heh.)
    It’s certainly a kind of national mental block. It’s also an excuse. The scrim of memory has been pulled down.
    BTW, pay attention to how often the Tea Partyers portray themselves as victims.
    The Japanese military didn’t specifically hate Americans. They hated everyone, pretty much. Except that “hatred” isn’t exactly the right word. It’s more like they viewed non-Japanese as vermin to be exterminated.
    But this is an extreme view perpetrated by the radical-right Shintoists of the Japanese military that had control during this time period. The average Japanese citizen was spoon-fed information about military adventurism overseas, in a time period when the press really could be controlled.
    Japan, from the late ’20s until 1945, was in the hands of right-wing fanatics who viewed nationalism, the military and religion as a single package. The rest of the world was actually pretty appalled by what the Kwantung did in China in the ’30s, when previously, the Imperial Army behaved with honor by international standards. It’s like something snapped.
    The Japanese people were also never confronted with the enormity of their war crimes, as were the Germans. The War Crimes trials in Japan after the war were too specific and the net of defendants far too small. It was a mess, and MacArthur’s hurried execution of Homma was embarrassing.

  14. Brad

    As embarrassing as the messy execution of Saddam?

    Thanks for that analysis, Burl. I rely upon your expertise in these matters. I confess my own understanding of the Pacific War was pretty much limited to having read, and read until it was in tatters, Uris’ Battle Cry. A limited perspective, I’ll admit (but an awesome book; at least I thought so when I read it at 16).

    Before you posted the above, I was going to ask you, Do you think the Japanese hatred was simply a function of the rest of us being gaijin? I think you answered that fairly well, in the affirmative.

  15. Phillip

    An interesting corollary to the Japanese-vs.-American hatred is the propaganda on our side (and I don’t mean to use that term necessarily pejoratively here…). The Japanese were caricatured as a race rather viciously, whereas the Germans weren’t really portrayed that way as a people (except occasionally Hitler himself made out to be a buffoon or such). Of course much of America is and was of German stock to begin with so our quarrel there was more with “cousins” under terrible leadership, whereas I think both we and certainly the Japanese (with a historically insular society) viewed each other as truly the Other, something truly alien and incomprehensible.

  16. bud

    The average Japanese citizen was spoon-fed information about military adventurism overseas, in a time period when the press really could be controlled.

    Change Japanese to American and that’s what we had in early 2003.

  17. Brad

    Bud, Bud, Bud…

    Bud has just shared with us another of the fantasies held as gospel by the modern antiwar movement — like sleep-teaching in Brave New World, repeated so many times that it has taken on the force of absolute truth, and never questioned.

    It’s related to the canard about how imbedding media troops (did I spell it right that time, Burl?), because it causes the media to understand and even (horrors!) identify with what Americans in combat are experiencing.

    As a journalist, I find this one particularly objectionable. Of course, if I were Bush, I’d find the “Bush lied” lie more objectionable. But fortunately, I’m not he.

  18. Brad

    And Phillip — you’re absolutely right. And I don’t think we’ve gotten over the “alien and incomprehensible” yet. I don’t think Americans will ever understand what turned those guys into suicidal fanatics (we think we have trouble with suicide bombers now — then, we were up against an entire army of them). And personally, I’m at a loss to understand a culture that produces phenomena such as the original subject of this post — the fantasists.

    But, as horrible and outrageous as his behavior was, I AM able at least to understand what made the Roger Sterling character act that way. Because he’s from my culture, I guess. While I didn’t experience what (real-life) guys like that experienced, I have the cultural frames of reference to read about it and understand.

  19. bud

    Who said anything about embedded (imbedded) troops? I’m talking about the runup to the war when there were no troops to be imbedded. The media’s disgusting behavior in the runup to the Iraq fiasco is legendary. They bought into the whole WMD nonsense just as surely as if they were controlled by the Bush Administration. That was not the finest hour for American journalism.

    As for the “repeated so many times” canard. Really, the anti-war pragmatists are not the ones repeating utter nonsense over and over and over again. It’s the war folks who continued over and over again with BS about mushroom clouds, and the gassing of civilians (which occurred during the Reagan era).

    We’ve gone over this ground many times in the past and probably will again in the future. But it absolutely needs to be refuted every time it comes up. It’s critical that we get a handle on this deadly game of “police the world”. It is imperative that those of us who understand the insanity of pre-emptive war continue to refute all the mis-information strewn about by those who forget the trillions of dollars wasted, the millions of lives destroyed and the respect of America sullied by the lies of Bush and his puppet press corps.

    Will we convince hard-heads like Brad? Of course not. I don’t understand his thinking on this. The statistics don’t lie. The Iraq war was a horror of epic proportions and no matter how badly it turned out they would continue to say how wonderful it all was. But maybe, just maybe, a few folks can be persuaded that the next time some war-mongering cowboy wants to invade another country (Iran maybe) they will think twice about what we’re getting in to.

  20. Brad

    “The statistics don’t lie. The Iraq war was a horror of epic proportions…”

    Actually, no — you have to lie about the statistics to get “a horror of epic proportions.” Using “epic” in the standard sense of the word, you really can’t apply it to Iraq, which was a low-intensity conflict, and has statistics consistent with that.

    WWII, which had single battles with more casualties (military and civilian) than the entire Iraq conflict, was “epic.” Iraq was not. If words mean anything.

  21. Phillip

    But much has changed of course; we are exposed to Japanese culture so much more thoroughly than ever before, and of course no one needs to be told how deeply American popular culture has penetrated Japanese society. (The cultural “exchange” is more even-handed than one might think…there are a lot of elements of Japanese culture that we take for granted today even in middle America that were unheard of 25 years ago).

    And I think this is the direction things are going, certainly at least with these two countries. Still, Japan is an awfully homogeneous country…when would spend 2 months each year in the 90’s there, they were already struggling to figure out how to deal with the small number of guest workers, or whether/how much to allow immigration. It was very hard for anybody not Japanese to decide, hey I love Japan, I’m gonna move there. You can live there, but you can’t really be Japanese. This is going to be more and more a challenge for them in the century ahead.

    Still, I love so much about that culture and the country itself. Haven’t been there in 10 years and miss it terribly.

  22. Brad

    Yes, it’s fascinating, and I love the cars and electronics, but the chauvinism (to put it mildly; in fact they are flat-out racist) is a big turnoff for me, as a gaijin.

    And as a foreign devil, I have a similar problem with the Middle Kingdom.

    There was a great “leader” in The Economist years and years ago that I wish I had saved. It began with a contrast between what it meant to be Japanese and what it meant to be American. It said you could be a little green man from Mars and, if you ascribed to a set of values set out by some white guys of English descent in the 18th century, you were an American. Not so with Japan.

  23. Burl Burlingame

    The “Iraq War” only lasted a couple of weeks, and was brilliantly conducted. What has occurred since then has been a disorganized occupation and a money hole so howlingly vast that one cannot help but wonder if the chaos is deliberate. It’s an accounting and accountability nightmare.
    If World War II had been conducted with as little fiscal oversight as the Iraq occupation, the war would have not ended until long after 1945 and the Daddy Warbucks cashing in on the conflict would still be busy hiding their profits in offshore investments. It’s simply shameful. And embarrassing. The “Iraq War” has been a cash cow for corporations little interested in anything other than prolonging the conflict.
    But back to Japan and foreign devils.
    Yep, Japan is thoroughly homogenous. There are Korean descendants living there for several generations who will never be considered “Japanese.” The government and culture refuse to come to grips with their adventurism during WWII. But the nation has a wonderful capacity for absorbing culture from abroad, nut just from the U.S. and most Japanese are wonderful, delightful people.
    But that’s today. In 1941 the world was a vast, mysterious place and nations like Japan seemed as far away as Martians and as unknowable. Propaganda of the period played that up. But if it’s true, then it’s news and not propaganda. The constant drumbeat that race equals nationality continues today. The most patriotic Americans I know are Japanese-Americans. Today, that includes the Muslim-Americans I know.
    There are bad eggs in every basket, but that doesn’t mean that eggs are bad.

  24. Phillip

    Burl, I have to second your experience of most Japanese being “wonderful, delightful people.” And Brad, while I too appreciate Japan’s contributions to the automotive industry and electronics, I would add to the list of their great contributions (especially in the post-war era) cinema, literature, and probably the most refined culinary arts on the planet.


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