There have been times throughout history in different cultures when war has been declared based on reasons that were downright trivial, such as fighting over resources that weren’t needed and just wanted, or fighting over a silly little disagreement that got out of hand and became an all-out war, or perhaps a war was even declared just because of skin color or belief systems. Then there were times when war was declared based on true feelings of patriotism. We need to define, first, what war and patriotism are. War, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “a state of hostility, conflict, or antagonism” while the same dictionary defines patriotism as a “love for or devotion to one’s country.” By comparing and contrasting the short story Patriotism by Yukio Mishima and the poem The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, we’ll show that having a love for one’s country does not necessarily mean that you need to kill others on a battlefield, even when they may be willing to kill you or others when they have a lack of patriotism and are only doing so because they are ordered to or because they feel a need to fight for no good reason whatsoever.
There is a lot more to analyze when it comes to Patriotism, not only because it is a longer story, but also because it offers a deeper look into what patriotism actually is. Even in the very first paragraph when we learn what Reiko, the Lieutenant’s wife’s, suicide note reads, we realize that their deaths are for their country and nothing more. They are not doing it because they don’t want to face the battle. They are not doing it because they do not want to see each other grow old. They are not doing it because they are depressed with the current, and very tense, military actions going on with the mutiny being carried out by some people in the Imperial forces – some of whom where friends, and even guests in their home. They are doing it because they feel an intense love for their country and they will die for their country rather than fight against their brethren.
We learn that this couple, Lieutenant Takeyama and Reiko, are a “heroic and dedicated couple” from what the author tells us about their wedding day and from small details we get throughout the story. But we are shown the passion they have for their country and for each other when the Lieutenant tests his wife on their wedding night by telling him about what it means to be a soldier’s wife, that his death can come at any time – even within an hour, and what would be expected of her should the worst happen. Her response leads him to trust her thoroughly and their unfortunately short marriage is a happy one until the mutiny that causes the double suicide to take place.
The Lieutenant and Reiko were not only passionate about their country but about their love for each other, as well as their belief system. They prayed at the shrine regularly, replacing the water each morning, and this was a routine that gave them a sense of pride in every aspect of their lives, including their country – there was a piece in that shrine that represented the Imperial Majestics, which is, in essence, their country.
Once the mutiny began on February 26th,1936 and her husband was away for those three days, Reiko knew what was going to happen and while she was going through her possessions and addressing things to various friends and family who she wanted to give them to, she was not afraid of her own death. This was because she knew she was doing it not only alongside her husband, but also for her country. She was giving her life just as her husband would as a soldier. Just as he would on the battlefield. “She was not in the least bit afraid of the death hovering over her mind.”
When the Lieutenant returned home, finally, his dejected appearance did show that his patriotism had waned with everything he had gone through over those three days. However, he knew what he needed to do and he said it simply – “Well, then…’ The lieutenant’s eyes opened wide. Despite his exhaustion they were strong and clear, and now for the first time they looked straight into the eyes of his wife. ‘Tonight I shall cut my stomach.” His courage to do what he needed to do so that he did not have to fight his fellow brothers in arms, and to “lay down his life for the Imperial Household, the Nation, [and] the Army Flag” for which he had always believed in returned and he knew that taking his life in the presence of his wife and as “an act in his public capacity as a soldier” was the same as if he was dying for his country on the battlefield, fighting for what he believed in. He believed in his country that much that he would die for it rather than fight against it. He had to give up his life in order to fight for his country. In his heart, it was the same thing. This was his final act of patriotism and to share it with his wife filled him with happiness in his final hours.
Reiki saw the patriotism he showed as he took his own life and she was determined to prove that same moral principle and the same patriotism that she had in her country that her husband had, so she took her own life after her husband took his.
This story is an ultimate show of love and devotion for one’s country, which, as we have learned, is patriotism.
How does this compare with the poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade? by Alfred, Lord Tennyson? This poem describes perfectly a “brigade” of 600 men marching into battle on orders – not because they have any love of the country they are fighting for or because they even know the reason why they are fighting against the people on the other side of the field. They don’t know why they have bullets flying toward them and hitting them and killing them. They don’t know the reasons why they are dying – only their superiors know that. When the poem reads: “Forward, the Light Brigade!/Charge for the guns! He said./Into the valley of Death/Rode the six hundred.” you can already see that these men are fighting for their lives to take out guns that are meant to kill them, and most likely will. But do they know the reason?
We find that out in these lines: “Theirs not to make reply,/Theirs not to reason why,/Theirs but to do and die.” So these soldiers are not told why they are fighting and may never know. If they don’t know why, then how can they have that love of country that is the core foundation of patriotism?
Patriotism gives soldiers a true reason to fight. It lives in the soul and the heart and it gives them the spirit to march on when they feel they don’t have any power left to do so when it does come to the point where a battle like the one being fought in the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson has to be fought. It is up to the commanders, from the lowly ones all the way up to the Commander-in-Chief, to ensure that the soldiers fighting on the front lines know the reasons why they are fighting. When they know why, and when they have that true spirit of patriotism for their country, only then will they have the power to “soldier on” and do the best they can to win that battle. And every battle won is one more closer to a war won.
However, when this doesn’t happen, and a war is fought for trivial reasons, or over resources, or over disputes that mean nothing and aren’t worth the bloodshed, then you have verses like this in poems: “They had fought so well/Came through the jaws of Death,/Back from the mouth of hell,/All that was left of them,/Left of six hundred.” Because not everyone comes back from a battle, and it’s not just soldiers that are hurt or die.
Even in today’s world of modern technology, there are still battles to be fought on the ground and people get hurt, and people lose their lives. It’s not just soldiers that lose their lives, but also civilians. Plus, you have to take into account friendly fire incidents. Even if someone doesn’t lose their life, they may be severely wounded and not be able to live a happy, healthy, productive life. And this hasn’t been just a recent event like what most people are used to seeing on TV with wars that the United States are fighting as well as with civil wars all over the world. No, this has been happening throughout time. But are these battles fought based on patriotism for one’s country? Or are they fought just because they want to fight over something trivial? Because then it is war for war’s sake and there is no reason for it.
However, whenever there is a battle fought, no matter the reason… whether it is a war fought for those trivial reasons or there are true patriotic reasons at stake, we must always remember to support those people who fight. They may not know the reasons why, we might not know, or maybe we all do know the reasons why, but we must support their efforts and the fact that they are laying their lives on the line. After all:
“Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!”