Analysis of Karl Friday's Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan

Analysis of Karl Friday's Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan

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In the book Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan, Karl Friday focuses on war in early medieval Japan. A central thesis could be the political primacy of the imperial court. (Lamers 2005) This is the tenth through fourteenth centuries, before the samurai became prominent in Japan and were trying to form themselves into more of what we think of them today. Friday focuses on five aspects of war in his book; they are the meaning of war, the organization of war, the tools of war, the science of war, and the culture of war.
War is term that we are very familiar with. First, Friday defines warfare as armed conflict between organized bands or bodies. Then you really need to define organized. Gangs could be considered organized. Or how many does it take to be organized? Could two people be considered organized? I think legitimate should be included in that definition. Then again when two gangs fight, they still are making warfare. When looking at the organized part I think you have to be thinking multiple people.
He also talks about warfare as a form of communication. Rebel groups that are trying to overthrow a government could fit in this description. They are not pleased with the form of government, so to let people know they fight to overthrow the government.
This takes us to the concept of just war. Aristotle saw just war as a means to a higher goal. You don't just fight the war to win the war there needs to be a purpose to fighting the war. He goes on to tell us how others view just war. The Romans said war was just only when conducted by the state, and only accompanied by a declaration of hostilities, meaning war had to be declared on someone. Rebellions and revolutions were not considered just wars. The Japanese did not define when war was just or proper. Early Christians rejected war; this came from the effort to be more Christ like, the Golden Rule, due unto others as you would have them do to you. Later the Christians could no longer be pacifists; they were going to have to go to war sometime after Constantine became emperor and declared Christianity as the main religion of the time.

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Christians only fought when key criteria was met. Those criteria were the right authority, just cause, right intention, proportionality, last resort, and the end of peace. I guess what is meant by end of peace is exactly what it says. The Japanese looked at the Chinese/Confucian principles who said war "was justifiable only when all else had failed." (Friday 2004)
The ritsuryô polity said that for war to be just it had to be action taken to preserve or enhance the imperial order, while any other force of arms was viewed as selfish, particularistic, and unjust. This polity was erased by the middle of the tenth century. After the ritsuryô codes had been discarded the emergence of the bushi, early samurai, was the way the government chose to go. The state now had no armies of its own and depended on the privately armed, privately trained warriors, the bushi.
Warrants were a thing that I found particularly interesting. If you took any form of military action without a warrant it was subject to punishment, I am kind of interested in what kind of punishment this would institute, would it be death, a whipping, losing some privilege, being exiled, or what? A single warrant carried six basic powers. Really nothing like a warrant we think of today.
There are three main causes of private warfare between the early bushi. The first, a breach of etiquette or failure to show proper respect, the second, malicious gossip, and the third cause of private warfare was filial piety or familial honor. Two stories he told about a breach in etiquette and rudeness stuck out in my mind. First, a man was shot for not dismounting from his horse in the presence of a higher ranking bushi, and a man being ordered to death for being rude. The malicious gossip was in the shogunal laws. It states that the perpetrator shall be punished by exile or confinement. It is a good thing that our society does not have that law intact, there would be a lot of people exiled or confined. The filial piety and familial honor also had a shogunal law. It said that if a son or grandson killed his father or grandfather's enemy that the father or grandfather too would be punished. That seems like a fair law to me. If you have a family member knows of and you have them take that person out you should definitely be held responsible.
The idea of Just War broadened over time. There was much more room for legitimate battles. I wonder why this happened, maybe the government saw it as being too hard to control and regulate so they just let more violence take place without punishment. This led to the rise of the bushi.
Next, was the organization of war. With the new system in place all free male subjects form the ages of twenty to fifty-nine were eligible to be inducted into the military. It was much like our national guard though, the men would usually go back home and were selected for training, peacetime police, and to serve in wars. Most of the men that made up the military were peasants. The nobles served as officers. While all this was happening there was fear of being attacked by the Chinese. Once the Chinese backed away the forces were eliminated entirely.
The most common of the weapons used was the bow. The earliest ones were made out of plain wood. According to Friday the tools that produced and defined the bushi throughout the early medieval era was the horse and the long bow. The sword was known as the "soul of the samurai." The first thing I think of when I think of a samurai is him fighting with a sword. Friday says that swords were symbols of power, war, military skill, and warrior identity. Swords were easy to carry, and were more honorable than daggers. Weaponry could not just be viewed as offensive. The defensive weaponry was important too. Shields and armor were the main defensive weaponry. Horses were used at this time for mobility.
Battle was very unorganized many times. The generals would fight with the ranks and would not order the troops around. The troops would act in small groups or there would be archery duels. I would have expected them to be very well organized and go in with a plan, but with no general commanding the entire time of battle it would be hard to have any organization. I guess it would kind of be every man for himself sometimes. They did use some battle tactics though. Warriors would use ambushes, when the enemy's whereabouts were reliably predicted. They would also build forts and strongholds. Much like in the movie Seven Samurai. That is how I would picture all battles of this time being. The warriors were viewed as bowman on horseback. They also used swords and grappling, but only under extreme circumstances, when the battle had moved to the ground.
The early warfare is compared to combat of stags and rams by William Wayne Farris. He also likens them to lions preying on antelope, also. The first example would be used a group. The second would be used in fighting to stay alive. There were six fundamental rules of engagement for the time. They were as follows: fixing of the time and place for battles, guarantees for the safety of messengers exchanged at the start of battles, fighting centered on one-to one duels, selection of suitable or worthy opponents by self-introductions, honorable treatment for surrendered or captured enemy troops, guarantees for the safety of non-combatants on the field. (Friday 2004) So, battles had to be planned out, messengers could not be killed, fighting was man to man, you had to fight an opponent that was of your same skill, prisoners of war were to be treated fairly, and they could not kill people who weren't fighting on the field. I liked that the fighting had to be planned and they couldn't kill messengers or, I would assume doctor, nurses, etc. I also like that they had to treat the prisoners fairly, they could not torture them. Fighting of the time was very formal and custom.
To conclude, Friday cleared up some of the unknowns about early medieval samurai. He shows us how they got started, and takes us clear up to the fourteenth century when they really became prominent. He looks at five angles of war in his book, the meaning of war, the organization of war, the tools of war, the science of war, and the culture of war. There were a number of typos in the book, which I found very surprising. He also included a lot of illustrations, which was nice to see how things were. This book was a helpful book in learning the origins of the samurai.
Bibliography
Friday, Karl F. Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Lamers, J.P. The Journal of Japanese Studies 31.2, 2005: 466-469.
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