At a critical time in the Asia-Pacific war, the second generation of the Kyoto School of philosophy engaged in a discourse of war represented as Sekaishi-teki tachiba to Nihon (The World Historical Position and Japan) (1943). This book consists of three roundtable discussions organized by Kōsaka Masa'aki, Nishitani Keiji, Kōyama Iwao, and the historian Suzuki Shigetaka. These discussions aimed to legitimate Japanese empire and its war efforts through a “philosophy of world history.” In particular, in the last session, “The Philosophy of Total War,” the participants provided a philosophical determination of the current warfare as “total war.” In this essay, I first critically examine the current debates on this topic, touching in particular on the newly discovered and published documents attesting to the wartime collaboration of the Kyoto School with the Japanese Navy. I then analyze how the Kyoto School conceived of the notion of total war and sought to philosophize the imperial war efforts as a world historical mission. I call attention to both the novelty and the hyperbolic nature of total war, which the Kyoto School insists has no boundaries, spatial or temporal, nullifying the traditional distinctions between war and other areas of social life and even between wartime and peacetime in a postwar period. While explicating the particular issues involved in the problematic, such as overcoming modern capitalism, their criticism of Western imperialism, and the agenda of the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere, I show that each aspect of total war was haunted by a specific kind of self-contradiction that I call antinomy. Specifically, I focus on the temporal aspects of this sort of war and its ambiguous beginnings and ends, revealing how the Kyoto School philosophers tried in vain to mediate these aporetic dimensions of time of war.

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