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In Session: Reassessing Modern Japanese Military History as Method and Framework
1: Visualizing the Siberian Expedition through the Pictorial Diaries of Infantryman Takeuchi Tadao
Thursday, March 25, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of East Anglia, United Kingdom
The Japanese intervention in Siberia was a costly and misconceived enterprise, a failure that historians blame on an incoherent foreign policy and military opportunism. Although official records attest to the chaotic situation faced by the Japanese forces, few documents, if any, offer a compelling visualization of this messy and “forgotten war” from the perspective of ordinary conscripts.
This paper explores the Siberian Expedition through a rare set of pictorial diaries left by Takeuchi Tadao, a first rank soldier in the 58th infantry regiment of the Imperial Japanese Army, which was involved in front line operations in eastern Siberia. Takeuchi, a talented draughtsman, illustrated in a series of vivid sketches and watercolours his experience of warfare, military life, ethnic differences and local conditions between January and August 1920.
In contrast to officially sanctioned prints that emphasize territorial and strategic control, these visuals convey the ambiguities of the conflict. They bear witness to the costs borne by both combatants and non-combatants. They depict distressing brutality and civilian entanglements. Uniquely, Takeuchi’s drawings offer a ground’s view of the Expedition, as he observes the battlefield and military movements while positioned at the level of the human eye in the midst of his battalion.
The picture that emerges is that of a multi-faceted enemy. The Japanese confront not only other men, but also the vastness of the territory, a fierce climate, impossible logistics, complex political and ethnic allegiances, and poor military morale.