In the Japanese, the Allies found an enemy for whom, “Conventions of war, which Western nations had come to accept as facts of human nature obviously did not exist.” European and American generals, for example, were used to assuming that an army could be forced to surrender by killing one-fourth to one-third of its troops. The ratio of soldiers surrendering to those who died would be about 4:1. But even late in the war, when the first substantial number of Japanese surrendered, that ratio was 1:5, five times as many troops dying as surrendering, and that was seen as a huge improvement. In earlier battles the ratio had been as low as 1:250. Why was it that Japanese soldiers would go on fighting to the death, even in situations where they could not win? And then, when captured, why did these fight-to-the-death warriors become model prisoners, meekly doing whatever they were told and not trying to escape as POWs from Europe or America would? And why was the emperor never included in criticisms of their government, their officers and comrades?
Unfortunately, Benedict writes, a fieldtrip was out of the question. She “could not go to Japan and live in their homes and watch the strains and stresses of daily life.” She wasn’t able “to watch them in the complicated business of arriving at a decision," or to observe how they brought up their children. She would have to make do with what she could learn at a distance, by reading books, watching movies, and interviewing Japanese-Americans interned during the war.
I am putting together a senior seminar called "Great Debates in Anthropology" for next semester. Because I want the students to read the original sources, we won't be able to cover all "great debates," and will limit the seminar to a few selected debates in cultural anthropology. We will examine the Mead-Freeman et al debates on Samoa, the Lee-Wilmsen et al clash about the Kalahari, and the Chagnon-Tierney controversy about the Yanomami.
The Samoa debate was in the 1980s, the Kalahari debate in the 1990s, and the Yanomami debate in the 2000s. The first two were about the substantive ethnographic and historical nature of the peoples in Samoa and the Karahari. The third and most recent controversy was about the ethics of the anthropological researchers. Granted, one confrontation does not make a trend. Yet, combined with the politicization, partisanization, and moralism of much recent anthropology, it is hard to dismiss as random this shift in focus, attention, resources, and judgement.
How do we bring social and political organization back in, to make it once again the core of solid ethnography? As opposed to just groaning about the good old days?