15th January 1945

All the drums of propaganda are being beaten frantically throughout Japan. Yesterday afternoon, according to an official communiqué, “the enemy dropped several bombs on the sacred precincts of the Toyouke Grand Shrine. Two halls for purification rites and five halls for sacred dances collapsed”. The moral effect can be measured from the fact that, whether for purposes of concealment or in sincere indignation, the communiqué barely mentions the damage done to the great industrial center of Nagoya.

Still, considering the fact that the Toyouke is one (the outer) of the Grand Shrines of Ise, the hysteria is understandable. Ise, which enshrines the sacred sword and mirror constituting two of the three imperial treasures handed down by the divine ancestress, would amount to a combination of Bethlehem, the British Museum, Lenin’s tomb, and Plymouth Rock.

At any rate the “military regret with awe that they could not prevent this outrage” while the “one hundred millions” are supposed to be “burning with indignation at this devilish action of the Americans” and to have become “more determined than ever to chastise the American devils.” An honorary professor of the imperial university is quoted as saying that “the Americans do not hesitate to pollute the gods themselves”. Another Tokyo professor says quite simply that “the enemy is a wild animal”. The poet Noguchi calls the bombing “the greatest challenge of the enemy” while a leading member of the Black Dragon Society calls on the one hundred millions to all join the suicide special-attack corps.

One is left wondering whether religious propaganda is still as effective as all that. At the start of the war in the Philippines a determined effort was made to popularize the slogan “Remember Santo “Domingo”. Nobody remembered Santo Domingo very long. Will the Japanese, who are not more religious than the Filipinos, remember Ise longer?

And yet the era of religious motivations and sensibilities is not yet wholly past. One may still catch fugitive, echoes of a “holy war” from the patriotic outbursts of shamefaced archbishops. Perhaps because men want to look up to something higher than their blood-stained flags, something they can believe is purer, nobler, more deserving of human love and sacrifice, something that will endure and still be there when the new lies are found out in their turn and the new hopes are cheated like the ones before, perhaps because of this men will always shudder and gasp and grow angry, if only for a little while, when their murderous lusts in their mad career stumble against a church or a hall for ritual dances, even though more of their fellowmen are killed in one strafed train, one suburban assembly plant, one tenement of the slums, than in all the empty cathedrals and sacred groves which they “regret with awe”.