80th Anniversary of Student Mobilization / Never Forget Tragedy of Losing Talented Young People to War

Only with peace can students freely pursue their studies and devote themselves to research. During the Pacific War, many students, who had to trade their pens for guns, perished on the battlefield. This history must not be allowed to fade away.

On Oct. 21, 1943, a send-off ceremony for students to be mobilized for military service was held at the Meiji Jingu Gaien stadium in Tokyo. About 25,000 male students from 77 schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area are said to have participated in the ceremony in the cold rain.

High school students and university students aged 20 or older, except for those studying subjects including science and engineering, also became subject to conscription, and about 100,000 students joined the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy. Many of the drafted students went on suicide attack missions or were deployed to the front where they lost their lives.

The purpose of the student mobilization for military service was to make up for the shortage of military pilots and lower-ranking commanders as the situation worsened. This is said to have been encouraged by some within the government who believed that students should not be given special treatment.

Even before that point, universities had taken on an increasingly wartime atmosphere, employing such measures as graduating students ahead of schedule. The leadership at that time bears a heavy responsibility for causing the loss of human resources through reckless warfare, people who could have received higher education and contributed to the country’s development.

The exact number of students drafted into military service, and of those who died in the war, is still unknown.

The military burned related documents at the end of the war, and not much of the school’s materials remain because they were destroyed by the fire during the war or scattered during the post-war turmoil.

For a while after the end of World War II, there was a strong tendency to criticize efforts to collect records of the drafted students and commemorate those who died, in the belief that such actions would lead to a resurgence of militarism. For this reason, many schools were reluctant to research and commemorate their students who died on the front lines.

It was not until the 1980s that universities began to collect records of the wartime student mobilization, taking advantage of such opportunities as the compilation of school histories. One likely reason why is that the end of the Cold War weakened ideological conflicts, leading to growing momentum to mourn the war dead and deepen historical research.

The University of Tokyo in the 1990s conducted full-scale research related to the student mobilization, claiming that its studies had been left “insufficient.”

Kyoto University, Hitotsubashi University, Waseda University and Keio University are also conducting research on the number of war dead related to their own schools. Some universities have created databases and made the relevant information available to the public.

Many students today have never heard of the wartime student mobilization. It is important to pass on this tragic history to future generations. Waseda University is introducing survivors’ accounts and other relevant information at its on-campus history museum. Some universities touch upon the wartime situation as part of classes pertaining to their own institutional histories.

Young people should never again be deployed to war in the middle of their academic lives. How to preserve the current peace must be considered once again on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the wartime student mobilization.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 22, 2023)