Thoughts on Nationalism and Militarism in GATE

The following was handwritten in a notebook of mine. I don’t think this idea is complete yet, but I wanted it out here to get some feedback. My goal is to turn this into a video script.


Up to this point, what little discourse there has been on the anime GATE: Thus the Japan Self-Defense Force Fought There has focused on the nationalism present in it. I’m no different and I even wrote how the anime depicted an idealistic nationalistic Japan. Well over a year later, I find such an answer unsatisfying. My misgivings can be seen when you ask a few questions. Who are the good guys? More specifically, is it Japan, or is it the JSDF. Who are the bad guys? Is it the Empire within the GATE, or is it whoever moves against the JSDF. And this is the most important question, do the Japanese people even matter in GATE?


GATE is about the JSDF, its in the name for Pete’s sake. However, I no longer agree with the idea that just because the anime is for the JSDF means that it is nationalistic. Nationalism is an ideology that unifies a group of people with shared culture, history and often ethnicity into a nation. Often, each nation forms its own recognized government in the nation-state. Historically, a more unified country is a more powerful country because it is able to synchronize more aspects of the society to achieve the state’s goals. However, GATE shows there is no need or desire to mobilize the society to achieve the state’s, or more specifically the militaries, goals. It is for this reason I now argue GATE is contains post-modern militarism.


Before I can move on to prove my point, I need to define my terms. Because it’s the easiest, I’ll start with militarism. Militarism means pretty much what it sounds like; it is the belief or desire of a government or a people that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests. I think it is safe to say that this definition fits GATE.


Postmodern is a much more difficult idea to define. Postmodernism contains many ideas within it, with their unifying feature being the skepticism or departure from modernism. To keep things simple, I’ll focus on one of the most prominent ideas in Postmodernism, which is the rejection of the Grand Narrative. To understand Grand Narratives I’ll quote from Hiroki Azuma’s book, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals. “From the end of the eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century in modern countries, various systems were consolidated for the purpose of organizing members of society into a unified whole; this movement was a precondition for the management of society. These systems became expressed, for instance, intellectually as the ideas of humanity and reason, politically as the nation-state and revolutionary ideologies, and economically as the primacy of production. Grand Narrative is a general term for these systems.” To clarify the point nationalism, with its goal to unify a group of people into a single national identity, is a Grand Narrative. Azuma makes a further claim that Japan is currently a post-modern society.


An important feature of GATE is that the author is committed to realism within the story. The GATE contains many fantasy elements and the story clearly establishes a world in line with the creator’s wishes, but those wishes can never take the world too far from reality. A fidelity to realism sacrifices aspects of the authors ideals, and how the story reconciles those two opposing forces can provide telling insight into the post-modernism militarism.


A feature of a Liberal Democratic Government is civilian control of the military, and Japan is a Liberal Democratic country. The JSDF is subordinate to the Prime Minister, who is the Commander-in-Chief, and the Minister of Defense. The prominence of these positions means they will naturally be characters in GATE. However, GATE looks at civilian leadership in a generally negative light. The favorability of civilian government officials coincides with how much they agree with the JSDF, and most civilian officials are not completely on board with the JSDF. The tension stems from the fact that the government and the military view problems differently. The JSDF has a bias towards bold and aggressive actions where overwhelming force is applied at a critical point to resolve the problem in the quickest and most decisive way possible. This attitude has proven to be the most effective on the battlefield and is ingrained in the minds of the JSDF officers and soldiers. The government has a bias towards consensus building and avoiding negative publicity. A successful politician is one who is able to manage their image in the eyes of their constituents with the goal of doing positive actions when they’re most visible and negative ones when they’re not. Their inclined to ensure there is broad support for a measure before they act towards it, and there is a tendency to avoid action in tricky situations if that is a viable option. In reality, there are tangible benefits and costs to both approaches and one is not clearly better than the other. In GATE military action is always better. A noteworthy example occurred in the hot springs episode. The United States wanted control of some people from beyond the Gate and were willing to use any means necessary to achieve it. One tactic was the blackmail the Prime Minister with compromising information. In order to preserve the military objective of preventing those people from being captured, the Prime Minister resigned.


The most prominent confrontation between the JSDF and the government occurred when the Diet, Japan’s national legislature, ordered a hearing on the JSDF’s actions within the Gate. This scene is easily the most egregious instance of propagandizing that occurred in the anime, but also showed how palpable the distain was in the military to the civilians that lead them. The female legislature was a complete strawman who was hunting for any reason to hurt the JSDF and used the weakest arguments possible to attempt to make her points. She was soundly handled by Rori Mucury who spoke with eloquence that wasn’t seen beforehand, nor really seen since. What is enlightening here isn’t the points that were made, but the sheer contempt the author showed to the Diet. Now a hearing to the Diet is a very reasonable action. The people have a right to know what their military is doing, especially if there are concerns of improper actions. Yet you see the idea of a Diet hearing as something terrible from the JSDF members. Not only does GATE show that members of the Diet have a strong dislike of the JSDF, the members even lack the most rudimentary understanding of military matters. I don’t know the reality about the relationship between the actual JSDF and the Diet, but it is clear the militaristic view sees it as negative and antagonistic. My knowledge on the American military-civilian relationship leads to me to easily except the idea that the details of military matters are not well understood in the Diet, though I’m lead to believe whatever antagonism found is more philosophical and political rather than personal.


What I find the most fascinating aspect of GATE is how a postmodern society interacts with a military, namely it doesn’t. The Gate itself in the anime is a physical and metaphorical representation of war and violence. It’s appearance directly resulted in the deaths of thousands of Japanese civilians. Within the same episode, it has been covered up. The 24 episodes of the anime is full of war, violence, intrigue, adventure, horror and even love, yet the average Japanese citizen isn’t aware of any of it. While the anime does show that the Japanese people are interested in the world within the Gate, it is an abstract curiosity that doesn’t prevent them from living their normal lives. The JSDF’s mission is to push the non-postmodern idea of war outside of the postmodern world. The war then takes place is some other world that isn’t here and doesn’t effect here at all. This requires the military to adopt ideas and practices not in line with the world they are trying to defend in order to defend that world.


The anime intuitively recognizes that the calls to nationalism will no longer be heard and acted upon by the people. It shows that the concerns of individuals do not extend beyond what is personal. Society has gained the luxury of indulging in the reality that it wants, and in doing so makes itself ignorant of the actions of others. GATE shows that military matters have been delegated to those who practice the profession of arms. It also shows that the actions needed for military success will not easily be understood by society at large, so the goal is to act covertly and independently to provide results that will satisfy the people.


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