I believe the Japanese army eschewed medals, as in their view, being brave and soldierly was the basic duty of the emperor's troops.I think you were listening to it with some idea of what it should be, rather than what it was. It wasn't an investigation of Cutterham, even though it leant on that story very heavily (which is fair enough). It was a direct criticism of the honours system, which is something that I and many other guys in Afghanistan would agree with - including, by the way, guys with bravery awards with whom I've talked about it, including several MCs and one CGC.
Saying that, like many of the Army's supposedly great systems, the medals system is actually substantially flawed, is not the same as impugning the bravery of soldiers. In fact, one of my main criticisms of the system is that it creates kind of reverse scapegoats: it awards halos to specific individuals to bolster a sort of hero effect, rather than rewarding the group and bolstering the team ethos which the Army says is its priority. I've rarely met anyone with any award who didn't suggest that him getting it was out of proportion with the contribution of others during that incident or tour. There are exceptions I'm sure, either extraordinary individual acts or incidents where a lot of medals were awarded, but why shouldn't we have a system geared to the norm rather than exceptions?
People are reflexively critical of the US system of badges here, and it can be overdone. But they have one thing we don't - unit citations - which are important to cultivating the team rather than individual ethos. Call it an updating of regimental honours if you like, because basically nobody (other than training staff, recruits and WOs) knows nor cares what the names on your regimental colours are.
I also think a system that focused on displaying objective achievements like merit badges - a thing which soldiers already use as a way of status and ranking each other (e.g. wings, daggers, winged daggers, etc) - would help. It's a virtuous incentive to encourage soldiers to take and pass serious professional qualifications, and frankly more useful to have them on uniform than JPA where they often go unnoticed. There is already a status that comes with certain courses - widening that and encouraging people to take some overt pride in them would broaden public forms of recognition that are currently quite narrowly directed into just rank and medals.
These alternate forms of recognition (unit awards and qualification badges) might draw some of the effort and investment that clearly happened at unit level in Iraq and Afghan, if individuals and commanders could explicitly demonstrate their value and status in ways that didn't require a gallantry award. It's the same logic as awarding honours, just applied more widely so that it rewards a larger set of desirable behaviours instead of just getting rounds down.
Unfortunately I think there is no answer to the "reward mission achivement not the fighting" problem until the Army first solves its more critical problems with understanding, stating and sticking to missions.