“There is the germ of infirmity in you, which infects everything you touch or attempt. Besides all else, how do you think you will ever become a surgeon? A surgeon determines his course and acts. He goes to the point he has determined without any other faith, and commits to an execution. You, Lieutenant, too much depend upon generous fate and gesture.”

This quotation appears in Chapter 12, when Doc Hata recounts the critique Captain Ono made of him while they were stationed together in Burma in the mid-1940s. In the early stages of their deployment, Doc Hata looked up to his superior officer. Captain Ono was a trained physician and a gifted field surgeon, and Doc Hata planned to pursue advanced medical training and become a cardiopulmonary surgeon. Yet throughout their deployment, Ono frequently chastised Doc Hata for his failure to live up to the standards he required from his field medic. Doc Hata didn’t perform his duties with sufficient confidence, and his personal conduct in the camp suggested a sense of vagueness and hesitation in his character. However, in Chapter 12, Doc Hata finally decides to approach Ono and speak his mind about his superior officer’s suspicious conduct regarding K. Doc Hata speaks with clarity and force, which Ono respects. But Ono, who still sees Doc Hata as a naïve boy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, unleashes the critique in this quotation.

Ono’s critique relates primarily to insufficiencies of personal character, but it also subtly points to inadequacies in Doc Hata’s commitment to preserving national honor. Ono’s words focus on Doc Hata’s personal shortcomings. Knowing his ambition to become a surgeon, Ono uses that profession as an example to indicate a more basic defect in Doc Hata’s character. A surgeon must proceed with confidence and precision in order to succeed in their work. Doc Hata, by contrast, conducts himself with so much hesitation that he will never make a good surgeon. But Ono’s point goes beyond Doc Hata’s career ambitions. Doc Hata’s basic lack of confidence and inability to take decisive action also reflects on how he conducts interpersonal relations. Furthermore, Ono subtly indicates that Doc Hata’s personal flaws also make him deficient as a representative of the Japanese army. In the context of war, every officer and soldier must, like the surgeon, perform their duties with exactitude. Doing so saves lives and preserves honor, but failure results in death and dishonor. The Japanese army fights to preserve a way of life, and Ono believes that men like Doc Hata threaten to compromise the greater national vision.