The stories we tell about what we know and what we suppose, what we fear and what we love, who is a friend and who an enemy contribute enormously to how we live and experience life. Without stories, it could be said, there is no life.  I suspect that those which impact us most are the constant stream of micro-stories of gossip and innuendo, the raised eyebrow and shared grimaces of everyday life, a contagion of mutual understandings that are accepted as “normal” wherever people become “a people” around the globe and throughout history.

My particular interest, however, is in the stories told by celebrated story tellers, novelists, playwrights and even memoirists, of the wars they have imagined, witnessed or participated in.  Do these stories, more deliberately crafted, from the Iliad to The Things They Carried from Shakespeare to Kubrick contribute to our understanding of, readiness for, acceptance of, or opposition to war? How much do the stories reflect popular understanding of and interest in war, how much do they push against the grain? Do listener and readers extract rules of moral behavior from such stories, or are they simply “entertained?”

After four years of reading heavily in war fiction I’m not sure I have answers that satisfy me; in fact the question as I have it framed may be unanswerable.  The urge to worry the bone, however, is strong.  Why do we continue at war? Why is it so unresisted when proposed? What have our novelist-thinkers contributed to our past and current condition?

One Man’s Justice, a 1978 Japanese novel by Akira Yoshimura, in its English translation by New Zealander Mark Healey (2002) is an interesting addition to my query, in part because the attitude of the main character, and author, towards the war, are not easily obvious as in, say, All Quiet on the Western Front or Catch-22.  A popular novel in Japan when it was published, it deserves a place in war fiction, of any era, but especially of WWII, in Japan. It, and other war fiction from Japan should by now be taking their place alongside of the great classics of the West, if only to understand what stories those not of the West have told, what celebrated, what condemned and what suffered.

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