Self-Criticism: Killing the Past with Kusabi Tetsugoro

For those unfamiliar, “The Silver Case: Killing the Past with Kusabi Tetsugoro” is one of video essays that went live 12 January 2021.

The fundamental flaw of “Killing the Past with Kusabi Tetsugoro” lies in how I frame the analysis. This analysis itself is, in my humble opinion, excellent. I do not mean that it is “definitive” since there are many ambiguous points that could reasonably be read not only differently but as almost the opposite of how I take them. But I believe it is persuasive and interesting. I aim to make people think, not to lay down the law. “Intellectual anarchy,” I suppose.

I have understood Kusabi in the way I outline in the video since I played The Silver Case in 2018. However, from that same period, I was uncomfortable about The Silver Case’s depiction of police. As with its sequel, I felt like it was a plot twist that the story understands the HC Unit “processing” criminals as fundamentally negative, instead of cool. The story initially seems to frame these characters as badasses out taking down bad guys, as does much of the confused marketing, but the story heaps unsympathetic character traits on the HC Unit before revealing that “public safety” is cover for the real estate interests of a political elite. That said, at no point, as my script might be interpreted to imply, is The Silver Case “copaganda” in the manner of Dirty Harry or the creations of Dick Wolf. While there is some influence there, the scenarios of The Silver Case are too bizarre and too metaphysical, its police too un-police-like in dress, demeanor, and activity. The often erratic and metaphorical “investigation” the HC Unit and the Central Police carry out rarely resembles real-life police work or even cop shows. “Copaganda” might justify torture, depict cops being nice and rescuing puppies or something, or show that they’re sad about “having” to hurt people. The Silver Case includes no torture despite the brutality but never pretends its police are nice, not being particularly torn up even when they’re massacred.

Still, during the George Floyd protests—that brief moment in summer 2020 when mainstream purveyors of public opinion, responding to protestors’ righteous fury and, most especially, property damage, the greatest boogeyman of the propertied classes, began reconsidering the organization of American “public safety” and pretended they cared about racism—I thought I might not make “Killing the Past with Kusabi Tetsugoro” after all. The world seemed to be hammering me over the head with the truth that the last thing culture needs is another story of an awful vigilante cop and even less me babbling about one. Instead, I considered either writing nothing about The Silver Case or instead releasing an essay about Morishima Tokio. However, while I still plan to make a video about the Placebo scenario, I felt compelled to create a similar video about Kusabi. If nothing else, Kusabi could be a good example of the larger-than-life strangeness against which the story contrasts the everyman Tokio.

I decided that if I addressed the police violence issues directly instead of focusing more strictly on The Silver Case, I could “safely” release an analysis of Kusabi Tetsugoro. The problem is that the opening and ending sections, “All Copaganda Is Bad” and “Facts Behind the ‘Truth,’” are both irrelevant and shallow. While police, like everything else, have issues everywhere, the way I view them as an American and the institution of policing in the US are fundamentally results of different historical processes than those that shaped the Japanese police to which The Silver Case bears more relevance. While what I describe in the video is not incorrect, it is incomplete. The history of police is more complicated. Depending on how we define “police,” of course other societies have had officials in a “police” capacity, often extensions of what in modern times we would consider the military. But the institution of police as they exist in “modern” countries, as I understand it, originates in part as a tool for the emerging bourgeois, capitalist, bureaucratic classes to exercise their power in a manner analogous to how the aristocracy once wielded the military. “Modern” police—again, as I understand it—originate from two main European traditions: the continental police tradition that emerged from different monarchs in France and Prussia and the British tradition emerging from the later police reforms of Robert Peel. While, at a glance, these models seem similar, basically the continental tradition is more authoritarian, more centralized, and more openly political. The police organized by Frederik Wilhelm were as much spies for the prince as they were organizers of patrols to defend property, all under the guise, probably sincerely believed, that the best interests of the state were the best interests of everybody. This is the tradition that Kawaji Toshiyoshi favored when establishing the modern Japanese police. Not coincidentally, this is also an influence on the “secret police” of assorted dictatorships. The term “police state” was originally used in the eighteenth century in a positive sense by those who advocated this paternalistic police philosophy, where cops are parents and the public children. The nominally more democratic British tradition is instead based on the notion of policing “by consent,” where cops are not opponents of the public but are members of the public there to maintain order by cooperation instead of terror. In Peel’s day, it was very important that the London public accept these police as legitimate, since many were (reasonably) distrustful of an organized police force. It is this British system, in addition to local militias and slave patrols and so on, that served as a model for American police, who gladly accepted the British classism while mixing in extra racism and many more guns. The American police philosophy that exists today, instead of paternalistic in either the Prussian or British way, is predatory: influential police trainer Dave Grossman has argued that that cops are predators, sheep dogs, and the public a mix of clueless sheep and the evil criminal predators, wolves. This is not to say these traditions haven’t influenced each other or that the British-influenced police have no dictatorial leanings or that the continental police are not plagued by racism. A number of Black American writers, for example, have drawn direct parallels between American cops abusing Black people and French cops abusing Algerians (including massacring dozens of Algerian people in a sports stadium in one particularly notorious incident in 1961 where the police chief Papon was still literally a former Nazi collaborator, but I’m getting off track).

Mass incarceration is a uniquely American problem. The contradictions that led to the George Floyd uprising all amount to this: the US has never adequately addressed slavery. Japan’s issues with police are different, stemming from different historical roots. I read the police of The Silver Case in certain ways because of the context in which I exist. (The “War on Drugs” is less uniquely American—Japan’s treatment of drug crimes makes the US seem downright tolerant! But there are no drugs in The Silver Case.) These international comparisons are not wholly unjustified, given the shared issues fundamental to “modern” society. But to flatten these matters like I do in the video is irresponsible.

Furthermore, I did not do enough research into the alternative police models I mention in “Facts Behind the ‘Truth.’” I wanted to have the video out on Christmas (and failed), and believing that the point was there are alternatives, not necessarily the merits of any reform or abolition in particular, I went ahead and touched on everything I found even if I did not understand it well. Rojava, for example, has police, but they function very differently and on very different principles than American police. Or perhaps they do not have police, for whether one would call the Asayish and HPC “police” depends on how pedantic one is about the word. The article about them I found does not adequately explain how they function, and I never got a better understanding until listening to The Women’s War, a journalistic podcast series about Rojava. The clip I include of Oren Lyons is particularly cringeworthy! What was I thinking? In context, the “laws of the universe” he refers to concern not interhuman relations but the treatment of the environment. Judging from the details of the Great Law of Peace, modern states, enforcing order through coercive violence, definitely do not treat people how the Peacemaker dictated. At the time I considered this part of Lyons’s meaning, but today I worry I was almost deceitful.

Given where I come from, I am acquainted with the refrain that how “we” do things is the only way to do them, the most natural and logical way, and that everything else anyone ever tried has failed. Usually I hear this thought-terminating nonsense as regards the economic and not the legal system, but conservatives bring such clichés to bear against any challenge to the status quo. (You can argue for capitalism, sure, but not because it’s “natural”! That is both fallacious and false!) With these examples, I wanted to simply show there have been and are alternative methods of maintaining public safety. I also wanted to show that the police as they exist have not always or even usually been on the side of true justice and are not, as many people seem to think, a natural force of nature coeternal with humanity. But “Facts Behind the ‘Truth’” is an unnecessary and sloppy coda. It might be effective if it were far shorter and less detailed, more around a minute.

Worse, “Facts Behind the ‘Truth’” is an embarrassing digression. It reminds me of a certain video essayist who, to avoid any possible drama, I will not name. He made an overall good retrospective about Final Fantasy II but felt the need to include a segment on historical fascist atrocities to explain why the Palamecian Empire is bad. It is not that the video essay is wrong but that this segment is jarring and unnecessary. My slapdash history lesson is similarly embarrassing and the clips from podcasts I feature even more so, attempts at shoring up my careless work with the words of braver, brighter people.

All I needed to say is this: police are enforcers of the current system. They have vested interests in maintaining this system. If the system is unjust, then police are essentially unjust. What is considered “criminal” is a result of political decisions, not innate morality. (For example, the decision in the US to ferociously punish harmless drug crimes but to rarely punish destructive financial crimes such as wage theft is a political decision indeed.)

I still defend the digressions that occur in the segment “Backstory” near the middle of the video because these points are relevant. Suda Goichi has explicitly said Sakakibara Seito influenced The Silver Case. Whether or not Suda intended it, the Mikumo 77 disaster is an obvious parallel to the Minamata disaster. My comments on the Mitsubishi bombing, Glico Morinaga case, and the Tokkō are weaker. I admit that my motive for including these latter points was somewhat childish. In the few discussions I had seen of The Silver Case and other Kill the Past video games online, people would comment how bizarre and outrageous they were, how they bore almost no resemblance to anything that could happen. I wanted to point out that, as extreme as The Silver Case is, there are legitimate grounds for a lot of this material: terrorism against corporations, a small group of conspirators outmaneuvering the police to attack a CEO, and criminal police out to control (ironically) “criminal thought.” A lot of The Silver Case’s alternate history—and killer7’s alternate history, for that matter—focuses on the continuity of Japanese fascism (if we want to call it that) after the period of open fascism ended with the war. The assassinations political rivals carry out in the Kill the Past series aren’t such an exaggeration. Historically, many states were basically run by whoever succeeded in killing their rivals. Japan in particular had a major issue with political assassinations through the 1930s, not at all long ago. To quote Elise Tipton in Japanese Police State: “Violence became common enough for a contemporary foreign journalist to describe Japan as ‘government by assassination’” (133).

That said, the Tōkko operated nothing like the HC Unit, and I should have been clearer on this point. These real and fictional thought police are parallels in the sense of being police explicitly created to contain supposedly pernicious thought, not in the sense of literal function. The Tōkko rarely murdered people, whereas the HC Unit never tortures people, the Tōkko’s prerogative. Also, Tipton claims the Tōkko often tried to logically persuade ideological enemies to “cure” them of criminal thought! Tōkko officers would express familiarity with Marxist critiques of capitalism and the imperial system. They were sadistic thugs, yes, but not exclusively. The HC Unit never does anything like this. My point was just that The Silver Case falls into a certain vain of Japanese media that reflects the culture’s history with “fascism.” (Of course, the HC Unit also doesn’t function in any consistent way. Why does the HC Unit want to execute Ryo and Rumi on the spot, but allows Ayame and later Sumio to live? How are the crimes of the latter any less “communicable” than Ryo’s? On the contrary, Ryo was a mentally ill or maybe demonically possessed spree killer, whereas Ayame is, well, an Ayame, and Sumio is part of an ideological, Kamui-influenced conspiracy.)

While better researched and a reasonable inclusion for the video essay, I nonetheless feel uncomfortable with this “Backstory” segment. I worry that someone could take me to be trivializing the pain of those involved in these horrifying and tragic events.

I will try to avoid such pitfalls in my future videos.

Update in January 2022: In light of the criticisms I have laid out in this post, I have decided to upload a remade version of “The Silver Case: Killing the Past with Kusabi Tetsugoro.” When it is finished, I will put a link to the improved version here and most likely set the original to private.

Here is the link to the improved version. It might seem largely the same, but it is no longer so embarrassing to me. It takes only a few sentences to change a video from off-putting to good.