Monday, August 25, 2014

Just War doctrine: Rurouni Kenshin's reverse blade sword

In the movie, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (I am sure you have already watched the movie), there is one scene wherein Kenshin traveled to Odawara in search of Shishio Makoto.   Along the way, Kenshin went to a river to replenish his water and left his sword behind on the river banks.  A female ninja, Misao, stole his sword thinking that she could sell it to have some money for her journey, but Kenshin caught up with her.  After they fought for the sword, Kenshin was able to grab the sword, while Misao was left with the scabbard.  Kenshin then explained that it's a reverse blade: useless in real combat because it could not kill.  Upon seeing the sword herself, Misao gave up: the sword is worthless, because no one will buy it.

But, of course, the sword is not worthless.  It was made by the greatest sword-maker, Shakku Arai.  Shakku has been making swords to kill for many years, and one of them went into the hands of one of Shishio's powerful mercenaries, the Juppontagana or the Ten Swords.  In his regret, Shakku reluctantly crafted one last pair of swords before he died.  These are reverse blade swords.  One sword, the shadow sword, he gave to Kenshin, because Kenshin promised to him that he vowed not to kill anyone again.  The other sword, the sword he offered to the gods, was the true sword, a sword that would never break even under the most crushing blows of the opponent's swords, such as what happened to Kenshin's original sword (shadow) when he fought with Sojiro.

Kenshin's reverse blade sword provides a good metaphor for the doctrine of just war, as enunciated by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica.  According to Aquinas, there are three things necessary for a war to be just:
  • First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged. For it is not the business of a private individual to declare war, because he can seek for redress of his rights from the tribunal of his superior. Moreover it is not the business of a private individual to summon together the people, which has to be done in wartime. And as the care of the common weal is committed to those who are in authority, it is their business to watch over the common weal of the city, kingdom or province subject to them. And just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending that common weal against internal disturbances, when they punish evil-doers, according to the words of the Apostle (Romans 13:4): "He beareth not the sword in vain: for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil"; so too, it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies. Hence it is said to those who are in authority (Psalm 81:4): "Rescue the poor: and deliver the needy out of the hand of the sinner"; and for this reason Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 75): "The natural order conducive to peace among mortals demands that the power to declare and counsel war should be in the hands of those who hold the supreme authority." 
  • Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault. Wherefore Augustine says (QQ. in Hept., qu. x, super Jos.): "A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly." 
  • Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil. Hence Augustine says (De Verb. Dom. [The words quoted are to be found not in St. Augustine's works, but Can. Apud. Caus. xxiii, qu. 1): "True religion looks upon as peaceful those wars that are waged not for motives of aggrandizement, or cruelty, but with the object of securing peace, of punishing evil-doers, and of uplifting the good." For it may happen that the war is declared by the legitimate authority, and for a just cause, and yet be rendered unlawful through a wicked intention. Hence Augustine says (Contra Faust. xxii, 74): "The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war."
Let us check if these conditions are present in Kenshin Himura's desire to defeat Shishio in combat:
  • Authority of the Sovereign.  Kenshin works for the new government of Japan and coordinates his actions with the Meiji Government.  It was the leader of the Meiji Restoration, Okubo Toshimichi, who personally asked Kenshin to kill Shishio to stop him from overthrowing the new order in Japan.
  • Just Cause. Kenshin saw the dead police officers on the road, with their wives and children crying.  In order to prevent further bloodshed, Kenshin was convinced that Shishio and his group must be stopped.
  • Rightful Intention.  The aim of Kenshin is to restore peace in Japan.  He does not intend to rule over Japan as Shishio would wish himself to do so; rather, Kenshin wishes only to live a simple family life with Kaoru.  But against Kaoru's wishes, he has to undertake his mission to go to Kyoto and stop Shishio.  Kenshin went to Odawara village and fought with Shishio's men.  But because his sword was reverse-blade, he did not kill them: he only rendered them unconscious, so that the villagers can tie them up.  When his sword was broken in his battle against Sojiro, Kenshin went to the Shakku Arai's son and asked him to make him a new sword, but the sword-maker refused.  But when the sword-maker's son was held captive by one of Shishio's Ten Swords and Kenshin still fought with him even with only a scabbard as a sword, the sword-maker realized that Kenshin has the right intentions and it is to him that the true sword of his father should be given as gift.  Finally, in the last scene at the temple, Kenshin waited for the enemy to attack him.  But when his enemy refused and went to go to the baby instead, Kenshin sensed the danger, rushed to his enemy, and delivered a swift stroke at the neck.  To immobilize the aggressor--even killing him--in order to save another life is a right intention.  But he was not able to kill him, because his sword was a reverse blade, though he realized this only after, to the joy of Kaoru who wishes him not to kill again. 
Thus, the three conditions for a just war are present in Kenshin Himura's desire to fight against Shishio Makoto and his forces.
Rurouni Kenshin Live Action Movie [Japanese Audio with English Subtitles] [All Region]
Rurouni Kenshin Live Action Movie [Japanese Audio with English Subtitles] [All Region]
Kenshin Reverse Blade Sword Sakabato
Kenshin Reverse Blade Sword Sakabato
The Craft of the Japanese Sword
The Craft of the Japanese Sword
Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912
Emperor of Japan: Meiji and His World, 1852-1912
Japanese Sword Fighting: Secrets of the Samurai
Japanese Sword Fighting: Secrets of the Samurai
A Wide Variety of Rurouni Kenshin Anime Characters Desk & Mouse Pad Table Play Mat (Shishio Makoto 1)
A Wide Variety of Rurouni Kenshin Anime Characters Desk & Mouse Pad Table Play Mat (Shishio Makoto 1)