On The February 26th Incident
What would have happened, had the youths not detonated their sense of justice?


From the Substack post on February 5, 2022, by Masaki. Translated from Japanese by him. Original by Yukio Mishima.

I have long ago made it clear that, if asked whether I affirm or reject the February 26th Incident, I am one who unhesitatingly takes the position of affirming it, but that judgment has symbolic significance among Japanese intellectuals. To wit, that is because liberals, social democrats, and socialists, no, even national socialists1 seek their vindication in “the rejection of the February 26th Incident.” If you approve of that incident, things truly become troublesome. Because you bear the role of having to continue passing solitary judgments on the political phenomena of the present moment.

The most commonplace and universal view of the February 26th Incident, until now, is summarized in the following line by a journalist.

“The path to military fascism2 was opened by the February 26th Incident, and Japan entered the era of the dark valley3.”

The February 26th Incident is not merely the greatest political incident of Shōwa history4. It was the greatest “clash between the spirit and politics” incident of Shōwa history. And the spirit was defeated, and political ideology won. The undercurrent of “the spiritual in politics” that had continued since the late Tokugawa period here showed its most radical exaltation, and was then subjected to extirpation.

What won was temporarily a Western constitutional monarchical regime and, subsequently, an amalgam of national socialism (which included many ideological converts5) and militarism that used it. I do not speak of such hackneyed matters as the conflict between the Imperial Way Faction and the Control Faction6. The bloody end of Japanism, which had exhausted its sword and broken its arrows,7 is the shape of the February 26th Incident in my eyes, and the death of Kita Ikki was no more than the entangled and ironic death of this thinker of absolute rejection who could not, in the end, commit himself to anything.

Those who criticize the February 26th Incident are directing their deeply resentful rage toward the wartime military clique8 at the scapegoat that is the February 26th Incident. The sin of the man responsible for the feeble foreign policy after the arms reduction conference9, the worshipper of the UK and the US, and the cowardly liberal who received the trust of the Emperor, Shidehara Kijūrō10, has been forgotten. It is this man who played the role of the greatest “evil of the weak” in Shōwa history. The successive failures of and breakdowns in financial and economic policy after the world depression have also been overlooked. Who took responsibility for that? Party politics grew corrupt, interference in elections was the normal state of affairs, the villages were impoverished, the gap between rich and poor was tremendous, and there was no valorous politician who would, as an individual11, seek to save the country by his own death.

That not a single such politician appeared until we lost the war proves the righteousness12 of the February 26th Incident. What would have happened, had the youths not detonated their sense of justice?

Further, and this is made clear by materials unearthed after the war, but the irresistible jump of the spirit, the explosion of the sense of justice of such youths ultimately was not accepted by the highest justice in the country. The mingling of the spirit was mercilessly cut off. What is most tragic is that this severance was until death not known to the Young Officers. And the Tragische Ironie13 of this false tragedy14 attains its pinnacle in the problem of the transmission of the imperial order15. The imperial order was being pigeonholed.

The February 26th Incident strategically committed numerous errors. Their greatest error was that they did not dare to besiege the Imperial Palace16. If Kita Ikki had participated, he would surely have made them attempt17 this, and speaking from left-wing revolutionary theory, this is an almost unbelievable childish error. But in this overflows the fragile, pure beauty of the righteous army that did not kill even a single woman or child. By this “error,” the February 26th Incident has, forever beautiful, eternally engraved its spiritual values into history. Ironically, it was not the Emperor who pardoned the prisoners of the February 26th Incident after the war, but the American occupation army, which recognized that incident as democratic reform.

February 13th of the Forty-third Year of the Shōwa Era (1968)

Footnotes

1 国家社会主義者 Kokkashakaishugisha. This term can mean either “national socialists” or “state socialists.” I have chosen the former translation, because the contrast indicated here and subsequent portion of the text makes little sense otherwise.

2 This is a common cliché of postwar left-wing scholarship and writing. For a leading example of this, see distinguished historian Hata Ikuhiko’s 軍ファシズム運動史 A History of the Military Fascist Movement.

3 This is another common cliché of postwar left-wing writing. The period from the early 1930s until surrender, or perhaps later, is described as a “dark valley.” As neutral observation of the period in question from any but the most blinkered and sycophantic perspective reveals that not all was well, the view implied by this cliché is not entirely without merit.

4 昭和史 Shōwashi. The unusual length and eventfulness of the Shōwa era (1926-1989) has led to various coinages of this nature.

5 転向 Tenkō. This term is specific to this period, and describes the many left-wing radicals who, often under police pressure, abandoned their prior beliefs and adopted those promoted by the state at the time. The usual term for conversion to a faith is 帰依 Kie.

6 皇道派 Kōdō-ha and 統制派 Tōsei-ha. The former refers to a major faction within the Imperial Japanese Army in the 1930s, and the latter was their term of opprobrium for their enemies. For more on this, see James Crowley’s “Japanese Army Factionalism in the Early 1930’s.”

7 血みどろの日本主義の矢折れ刀尽きた最期 Chimidoro no Nihonshugi no ya ore katana tsukita saigo. The last half of this is a proverb that refers to a situation in which one has fought until all means have been exhausted. I have chosen to preserve Mishima’s literal wording.

8 軍閥 gunbatsu.

9 Mishima is here likely referring to the 1921 Washington Naval Conference, where the UK, the US, and Japan agreed to maintain a battleship ratio of 10:10:6 respectively, in addition to a variety of other measures that were thought to harm Japanese interests to the benefit of the US and the UK. This marked the beginning of what have been called the Washington System and Shidehara Foreign Policy.

10 Shidehara Kijūrō (1872-1951) was a career diplomat who led Japanese foreign policy from 1921 to 1931 and is credited, or blamed, by some for Article Nine of the Japanese constitution.

11 一人として hitori to shite.

12 正しさ Tadashisa.

13 Tragic irony in German. Many thanks go to the Straussian Gymcel, @agrippapublius for his help with this.

14 錯誤悲劇 sakugo higeki. It is not clear to me what Mishima means by this.

15 奉勅命令 hōchoku meirei.

16 宮城包囲 kyūjō hōi. Can also mean “encirclement.”

17 敢行 kankō. Means to decisively implement, execute, or attempt.