Book review, from Tokyo – A couple of months back, I chanced upon this picture book by the late David McKee translated into Japanese. I felt it was what I needed to read then, a time when tensions everywhere seemed to just escalate. And today I flip it open again, feeling very much same.
Translated by Chihiro Nakagawa into 『せかいでいちばんつよい国』(Sekai de ichiban tsuyoi kuni, lit. The world’s most powerful country) McKee’s The Conquerors (2004) tells a story of the President (“General” in the original) of the most powerful country who waged war on the rest of the world so that they could all live “happily in harmony”.
One by one, countries fell to the world’s largest and most powerful army. Until there was just tiny one. The littlest country. But to leave it unconquered did not sit well with the president. And so he sent an army to conquer it. When they arrived, the people welcomed into their homes! The president even got the largest house in the country, where he wrote home to his wife and son to pass the time.
With nothing to conquer, the soldiers spent their time chatting with the people, playing their games, hearing their stories, laughing to their jokes, learning their songs. But when they started helping out, the emperor sent them home and called for a fresh group of disciplined soldiers. But when these soldiers also grew lax, the emperor headed home, leaving a small contingent behind. As soon as the emperor left, these soldiers quickly changed into their civilian wear to lead normal lives.
The president led a homecoming victory parade on his homecoming, but when his son asked him to sing at bedtime, he sang a song from the littlest country.
It was interesting to see this comical president garbed like Napoleon I in contrast with the French emperor as various versions of Genzaburo Yoshino’s 『君たちはどう生きるか』(translated into English How Do You Live? by Bruno Navasky) was enjoying a sustained resurgence in Japan at the time.
This funny, simple story of war and conquest with underlying messages of inclusiveness and pacifism left me hoping that if only the powerful and more of us were a bit more like that littlest country, the world might be that bit more open and peaceful.
*Review based on the Japanese translation.
Title: 『せかいでいちばんつよい国』(Sekai de ichiban tsuyoi kuni, lit. The world’s most powerful country) translation by Chihiro Nakagawa, original by David McKee
Publisher: Mitsumura Educational Co., Ltd., 2005