Inglorious, Illegal Bastards: Japan’s Self-Defense Force during the Cold War

Aaron Skabelund, Associate Professor of History at Brigham Young University

October 28, 2022  |  10:00-11:30 AM
GAR 4.100, Garrison Hall

On Friday, October 28, the Asia Policy Program, the Clements Center for National Security and the Department of Asian Studies are sponsoring the Institute for Historical Studies’s event “Inglorious, Illegal Bastards: Japan’s Self-Defense Force during the Cold War”a book talk with Aaron H. Skabelund, Associate Professor of History at Brigham Young University. This talk will be moderated by Dr. Patricia Maclachlan, Mitsubishi of Heavy Industries Professor in Japanese Studies and Asia Policy Faculty Affiliate. Join us at 10:00 AM at GAR 4.100, Garrison Hall. The Asia Policy Program is a joint effort of the Clements Center for National Security and the Strauss Center for International Security and Law

In Inglorious, Illegal Bastards, Aaron Skabelund examines how the Self-Defense Force (SDF)―the post–World War II Japanese military―and specifically the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), struggled for legitimacy in a society at best indifferent to them and often hostile to their very existence.

From the early iterations of the GSDF as the Police Reserve Force and the National Safety Force, through its establishment as the largest and most visible branch of the armed forces, the GSDF deployed an array of public outreach and public service initiatives, including off-base and on-base events, civil engineering projects, and natural disaster relief operations. Internally, the GSDF focused on indoctrination of its personnel to fashion a reconfigured patriotism and esprit de corps. These efforts to gain legitimacy achieved some success and influenced the public over time, but they did not just change society. They also transformed the force itself, as it assumed new priorities and traditions and contributed to the making of a Cold War defense identity, which came to be shared by wider society in Japan. As Inglorious, Illegal Bastards demonstrates, this identity endures today, several decades after the end of the Cold War.

Free and Open to the Public. Please RSVP to to reserve your seat.


Aaron Skabelund specializes in modern Japanese history, with an emphasis in the social and cultural history of imperialism, animals, and the military. Dr. Skabelund joined the history department in 2006 after completing a Ph.D. in modern Japanese history at Columbia University in 2004 and a postdoctoral fellowship with the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science at Hokkaido University. His research has also been supported by a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship and the Japan Foundation, among other external and internal fellowships. His first book examines the history of empire—Western and Japanese, human and canine—by analyzing the actual actions and metaphorical deployment of dogs. In his second book, he explores the history of the Japan’s post-Second World War military, commonly known as the Self-Defense Force, during the Cold War.