Photo/IllutrationGround Self-Defense Force members on the outskirts of Samawah, Iraq, in 2004 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Daily logs kept by the Ground Self-Defense Force in Iraq and released April 16 by the Defense Ministry contain some light-hearted entries in addition to accounts of troop activities and local security-related reports.

A July 2006 entry concerns the discovery that Japanese cup noodles were being sold at a kiosk in Baghdad. “Five or six brands were available, including the all-too-familiar Chicken Ramen and Donbei.”

As the stock of Japanese provisions dwindled, a subtle feeling of tension was reported to be building up among the troops. But those cup noodles were a godsend.

“(The tension) dissipated immediately, and our solid-as-steel solidarity returned," goes the entry, illustrating how badly the troops were craving Japanese food.

The logs, kept during the GSDF mission in Iraq from 2004 to 2006, depict the harsh circumstances in which those young men found themselves.

There is mention of their hair changing color and starting to fall out, referring to the effects of stress from exposure to explosions in the neighborhood.

According to one entry, some troops began to react to the sound of a door closing, as it resembled that of a bomb's impact.

Expressions such as “combat” and “exchange of gunfire” are used without inhibition, apparently out of the log keepers’ sense of duty to record everything exactly as it happened. They took their job seriously to ensure that their successors would take over without a hitch.

Whether it was from political opportunism or the SDF brass’s self-preservation instincts, these logs were said to be “non-existent” for some time. These records came very close to being deleted from history.

One lesson to be learned from all this is that we must firmly define the nature and extent of the SDF's duties.

One entry goes: “I heard the boom (of something being launched) and the keening (of it sailing in the air). I could tell it was close, but I did not quicken my pace as I kept walking because it is shameful for an SDF member to over-react. (To be truthful, the thought did cross my mind that I should perhaps lie face-down on the ground.)”

Reading this passage, I was begging him to lie down in a situation like that. There is no shame in trying to save one’s own life.

--The Asahi Shimbun, April 18

* * *

Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.