“Even if you want to retire, it’s not easy to quit ……” as serious as the Gifu shooting incident in the Self-Defense Forces “One person a week commits suicide”. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

“Even if you want to retire, it’s not easy to quit ……” as serious as the Gifu shooting incident in the Self-Defense Forces “One person a week commits suicide”.

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On June 21, a week after the incident, former Self-Defense Force officers join hands near the gate of the JGSDF firing range (Photo: Jiji Press)

On June 14, an 18-year-old JSDF cadet (hereafter “A”) opened fire at the JGSDF Hino basic firing range in Gifu Prefecture, killing and wounding three JSDF officers in a shocking incident.

A would have done it knowing that, at worst, he would have been executed. In this respect, it can be called an extended suicide. Through my experience and interviews, I have come to realize three factors common to A’s motive and the unusually high number of suicides by SDF officers.

1 Difference between ideal and reality
2 An organization that does not reward hard work
3 Unable to leave

About 40 years ago, in February 1984, at the Yamaguchi Firing Range of the Yamaguchi Garrison of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, a second class private suddenly opened fire with a gun he was carrying during target practice. Four members of the unit were injured, one of whom died the next day. The man was declared insane and the case was dropped, but the shock was great for those involved, as they had learned from the incident 40 years earlier and had worked to prevent a recurrence by putting in place a safety management system that is said to be the “strictest in the world.

The 18-year-old A, who had dreamed of joining the Self-Defense Forces, was to have his dream come true in about half a month. Furthermore, according to my interviews and various news reports, A was not routinely instructed by the shooters, Sgt. So why did A pull the trigger? One active duty JSDF member revealed, “A is a military maniac.

I heard that A was a military maniac and was quite familiar with the SDF. He joined the JSDF with high hopes because he could expect a stable income for the rest of his life as a “public servant who protects the country. However, as I entered the final stage of my three-month candidate training, I was assigned to a specific position and area of assignment, and the reality of unit service began to emerge. For example, you are reminded of the hierarchical relationship in which the person who joins the Self-Defense Forces as early as possible, regardless of ability, is absolutely superior, and that being good at bayonetry, which is completely useless in modern combat, is the path to success. They realize that ideals and reality are different.

They also learn that their performance in candidate education and the rank order in the sergeant candidate course, which is their goal after being assigned to a unit, determines how quickly they are promoted in rank, and that their efforts cannot be overturned in unit service, and that they will not be rewarded for their efforts. He also realized that he could not escape from things he did not like because of group life, and that he could not quit easily even if he wanted to.

The number of those who committed suicide because they did not have a satisfactory hope for themselves in the life of the IDF, as described above, was as many as 100 a year at the highest number; since 2017, when 84 were recorded, the number has been gradually decreasing, but in 2021 there will still be 53, which means that one person a week will die by suicide. Incidentally, Koki Miura, author of “Soldier wo Mamoru: SDF ni Ombudsman wo” (Protecting Soldiers: Ombudsman for the Self-Defense Forces), published in November 2013 data on the suicide rate per 100,000 population in Germany, which was 7.5 compared to 33.3 for SDF personnel and 11.5 for the general population in that country. In the United States, which was in the midst of the conflict with Afghanistan at the time, the rate was 20.2, higher for the SDF. Another active duty SDF member continued, “If you are a soldier, you have to live on your own.

In the case of soldiers, they don’t have to worry about their future, so their figures should be lower than those of the general public, as in the case of the German army. The fact that the suicide rate is higher in the SDF, which did not participate in the war, than in the U.S., which was in the middle of the conflict, suggests that the cause is “internal.

Self-Defense Forces personnel gather in front of the facility at the Hino Basic Firing Range of the Ground Self-Defense Force, where a raid and on-site inspection was conducted on June 15, the day after the incident occurred (Photo: Kyodo News)

Why the high suicide rate? First of all, SDF personnel are unable to retire when they wish to do so. The employment status of company employees differs from that of SDF personnel. Company employees have a “contract” between the company and the individual, so if they wish to resign, they can simply “terminate the contract. However, SDF personnel are “appointed” by the government, and since the SDF is an organization of “order and obedience,” it takes a considerable number of days for them to retire before their term of service expires or before retirement age.

Furthermore, senior officers (3rd lieutenants and above) are appointed by the Prime Minister, so retirement requires the approval of the Minister of Defense. The day of the week to seek the Minister’s approval is fixed, and if the approval is not granted, the retirement is postponed until the next week or later, which can take several years.

In addition, commanders at all levels may not allow retirement while they are in office for fear that it will negatively affect their own performance reviews if their subordinates request retirement at their request. If a member requests mid-career retirement, the entire unit stalls it for some reason, such as “for his/her own better reemployment. While struggling between these organizational obstacles and their own wishes, they may suffer from mental illness, which may negatively affect their later life, or they may make the hard decision to take their own lives.

Japan Self-Defense Forces personnel also have the freedom of choice as stipulated in Article 22, Clause 1 of the Constitution of Japan, and normally, in peacetime and without major disasters, they can retire in a total of two months: the 30 days stipulated in Article 28 of the Ground Self-Defense Force Personnel Service Regulations and the number of days required for the appointing authority to approve their retirement as stipulated in Article 31 of the Self-Defense Forces Law, one month at the most. It can also be said that unreasonably holding back a wish to retire without acknowledging it is in violation of the Constitution.

Unreasonableness peculiar to the Self-Defense Forces is also a major cause of separation from service and suicides: on January 6, 2021, after NHK Close-Up Today+ aired the program “Suicide of a Self-Defense Forces Personnel”, the following comments were sent to me, who had already retired from service and was independent. The husband and wife were both members of the Ground Self-Defense Force, and the husband was a senior SDF officer in a management position.

I submitted an application for childcare leave to my company commander to facilitate my wife’s return to duty, but he brushed it off, saying, ‘If a senior officer takes the leave, everyone offers to take it and the unit cannot function. When I still insisted on my right, I was instructed to prepare a document explaining the reason for taking the leave to the division commander. I realized that the organization was unreasonable and could not fulfill my wishes, and I decided to resign.

If I resigned, I would be required to explain the reason for my resignation to the Chief of the Land Staff, the head of the Land Self-Defense Forces. If I prepared a document describing the circumstances in detail, I was told that I could not resign with this information, and I was given an example in red and told that I could resign if I filled in this information as it was. It is obvious that suicides will increase in such an organization.

While executives and married sergeants live outside the brig, so their workplaces and lives are far apart, sergeants and officers who live inside the brig have the hardship of “not being able to leave” because they live together as a group. They live in the same living space 24 hours a day, from work to daily life, in the same fixed relationships. Therefore, there is no way to escape when problems arise in relationships, and there is always the risk of being woken up in the middle of the night and lectured until morning, a situation that is unbearable for even a single day.

Because the SDF is a closed organization responsible for defense, there is a big difference between what the general public thinks is ideal and the reality of the SDF officers actually working there. There are many SDF personnel who try their best to make up the difference, but are not rewarded. Some new members may be disappointed in the SDF after seeing the backs of their seniors.

If the highest value is placed on taking the easy way out so as not to increase the number of jobs, this will lead to the elimination of safety and lifesaving efforts. This is one way of looking at it, and it has created the conditions for random shootings like the one that occurred this time.

The Self-Defense Forces are armed with guns that can kill and wound in order to do what they are supposed to do. There is a special danger because of the special weapons. The professionalism to it should be the purpose of life as a SDF officer, but the loss of that professionalism has led to suicides, and the current SDF, which is not even fighting a war but is losing members, cannot be said to be very well prepared for a contingency.

◆Suicides by SDF personnel

Excerpt from twitter (@mizuhofukushima) of Mizuho Fukushima, leader of the Social Democratic Party and a member of the House of Councilors
  • Reporting and writing Shigenori Terui

    Former medical officer of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. He is the only senior SDF officer to have served as a researcher in two positions at the Regular Course Department of the Ground Fuji School and the School of Hygiene. After 20 years of service in the Self-Defense Forces until 2015, he worked as a part-time lecturer at Aichi Medical University (disaster medicine and medical safety) and at the University of the Ryukyus School of Medicine (emergency medicine). Currently, he is the President of Ikigai Corporation, the representative of Tactical Medicine ESSENTIALS Asia Chapter, a Master of Technology Management (Professional), and a Blasting Engineer.

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