The Yasukuni Shrine and Arlington National Cemetery: Defining Monuments of Courage and Honor East and West

           Cycling through history, it is bluntly obvious that military prowess, loyalty, and the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield are the capstones of courage and honor in both western and eastern culture. But is this because of national identity and pride? Or is it of mindful, genuine respect for soldiers as individual people, who had the courage to not only defend, but to fight for political ideals.

            War is a wild, rabid animal. After exposure, many soldiers are shocked both mentally and physically; but these effects should not overshadow the fact that the vast majority of soldiers voluntarily signed up for the dirty job. Good examples of this idea have come from soldiers themselves. For instance, Medal of Honor recipients in America, when asked how they mustered the courage to attain such recognition, commonly respond with a phrase to the effect of “if another soldier was in my position, they would have done the same thing.” The impression one takes away from these statements is that of humbleness assuredly; but often, the responses are more or less true.

            Interestingly, both the Yasukuni Shrine and Arlington National Cemetery were developed after feudal conflict or civil war. In Japan, during the Meiji period (1868-1912), groups including the Samurai (whose status was ironically abolished during this period) called for “a new age of ‘Enlightenment and Restoration’” (Earhart 162). A decision was made to modernize Japan, basically meaning that the government concluded to divide feudal Japan from modern Japan and thereafter maintain a nation-state.  The Yasukuni Shrine was first developed in 1869 at the start of the Meiji restoration and feudal conflict resolution, and although it is not a cemetery, “the shrine specifically honors the spirits of around 2.5 million “fallen heroes”—Japanese soldiers, officers, and civilians who died in military service” (Shibuichi 198).

            Similar to the original significance of the Yasukuni Shrine, Arlington National Cemetery was founded during the United States Civil War to honor the casualties of the Union. Ironically, the acreage of Arlington was purchased from the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in 1864. Over a half-million soldiers died in the U.S. Civil War, and over 300,000 from various wars have been consecutively buried with honors at Arlington.

            Noting that both monuments were originally triggered into existence by civil or feudal conflict, it raises the question as to why so many military honors are carved into the history of Japan and the U.S., as civil conflict in and of itself is more shameful than honorable. Perhaps the answer is that the nations are remorseful because so many lives were lost for the sake of a higher echelon of leadership and their undertakings. But this answer does not satisfy my conscience when acknowledging countless civilian lives— including women and children –that suffered mass casualties during these conflicts.

            Returning to the subject of courage and honor, and the discord in defining these attributes, it can be understood that nations are susceptible to priding their global identity based on the strength of their military. If this is the case, it is, again, more shameful than honorable. What could have been considered courageous and honorable is if the political leaders— be it the emperor or  president –had claimed ownership of the lives of their fellow man lost to internal combat, and consequently admitted their follies and failure to resolve conflict by other means. Pride is a fallacy, and is more venomous than money or greed. It is the destroyer of innocence, and the taker of lives. It above all, has no place in the annals of courage and honor.


 Works Cited & Referenced

Earhart, H. Byron. Japanese Religion, Unity and Diversity. 3rd ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Pub. Co., 1982. Web.

Shibuichi, D. (2005). The Yasukuni Shrine Dispute and the Politics of Identity in Japan: Why all the Fuss? Asian Survey, 45(2), 197-215. Web.

“The Official Webste of Arlington National Cemetery.” History. U.S. Amy. Web.

About Hudson Saffell (36 Articles)
Freelance Writer / Editor
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