Is Japan About to Become an Offensive Military Power?

Japanese Army picture

“Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” -Article 9; Constitution of Japan

The now famous Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution is getting a lot of attention in Japan these days. Along with a few other articles, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to make significant changes to the Constitution. He is looking to make Article 9 allow the country to (at least slightly) militarize.

So far he does not have a significant amount of support among the population – because it’s easy to see the good things that have come from around 70 years of peace. However, times change, and attitudes change. There is a gradual but significant shift in the attitude of the public on whether or not to militarize, and it’s all because of the territorial disputes with its neighbours – especially China.

Al Jazeera’s 101 East had a recent program on the possible change of  Japan’s Constitution, called “The Pacifist War,” which can be seen here:

Right now, Japan officially doesn’t have an “army,” but a “self defence force,” called the JSDF (Japanese  Self Defence Force). But if Abe and many of his supporters have their way, this will be changed to a regular military. Unfortunately, it’s not all semantics; it’s about legality. And yet, apparently the proposed changes would not allow Japan to start a war, so it’s not yet clear what exactly these changes would mean.

Nevertheless, these propositions have many people – including Japanese civilians, of course – worried. Especially because while the Japanese public has been enjoying generations of peace, the JSDF has been honing their military – err… I mean self-defence – skills the whole time.

A recent interview with American film director Oliver Stone is illuminating – he seems to really understand the situation. From the Japan Times:

Stone called the U.S. relationship with Japan “corrupt” and “disgusting,” arguing that the current dynamics of the relationship leave the nation at the mercy of American whims.

“You (Japan) are really in bed with us (the United States) and you are in bed in a very strange way because you have economic power, but you don’t seem to have political sovereignty,” Stone said. “I believe that if the Japanese can free themselves from the U.S. interests, they would be a regional force for good in the world.”

Since the end of World War II, the United States has used Japan as a satellite country to take care of its business in Asia, Stone argued, for instance by setting up military bases in Japan to launch U.S. forces during the Vietnam War.

“From the beginning, (Gen. Douglas) MacArthur, it seems to me, set up a satellite country that would serve American interests in containing communism in the Far East. Japan was a satellite nation bought and paid for, and the Constitution was always violated,” the filmmaker said.

Stone added that the United States continues to misuse Japan to promote its interests in containing China via Washington’s strategic pivot from Europe and the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region.

One part of the Constitution that has and continues to be violated, according to Stone, is Article 9, which he called an “idealistic, beautiful concept.”

Article 9 stipulates that the Japanese people renounce war and will maintain no military forces. But Japan maintains the Self-Defense Forces for protective purposes and also allows the presence of U.S. forces on its territory.

“I don’t know what a self-defense force means,” Stone said. “All militaries are for self-defense, so essentially you’ve subverted the Constitution, the Article 9, whatever that means, because you’ve called it whatever you want.”

Stone, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, said he continues to see strong militarism in Japan through the rhetoric and actions of its leaders.

“It’s clear from Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe and Prime Minister (Eisaku) Sato (1964-1972) that there’s a lot of militaristic feeling in Japan — the old empire still breathes,” he said.

“Abe has said some very stupid things and it’s dangerous for them, for Japan, to start talking about shrines and going to worship at World War II shrines and not apologize to the Koreans or Chinese. It’s not good.

“The Germans have apologized and moved on. The Japanese, for some reason, a certain portion of that population is very rigid,” Stone said.

Stone has been vocal on other bilateral issues as well, especially the use by the United States of the worlds first atomic bombs, dropped on Japan in August 1945.

“In America, you get the attitude, a blase attitude like, oh, who cares about the atomic bomb, that was 70 years ago,” he said. “But you don’t understand that it’s the founding myth of our sole superpower culture. It gives us the right to dominate the world.

“We think of it as a good thing because it helped end the war with Japan and we’ve confused the issue, so we make our own moral code up out of that atomic bomb as a good thing.

“Every year, when we go to the real shrine, it’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We have to remind people that it was unnecessary to drop that bomb,” he said.

This August, Stone will travel to Hiroshima and Nagasaki with American University professor Peter Kuznick to participate in the 2013 World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs. The pair will also promote their 10-part documentary series and companion book collaboration, “Untold History of the United States,” released in 2012.

I couldn’t have said it any better; and I’ll now be looking forward to their documentary series.

Hopefully, if these changes in the Constitution do occur, the country knows how to be nationalistic without getting carried away. And hopefully, the confident leaders on each side of the disputes don’t forget the lessons they learnt from the last century.

In order to keep peace, you must hate war.

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One Response to Is Japan About to Become an Offensive Military Power?

  1. Sophelia says:

    I find the whole debate about changing Article 9 largely symbolic. If you look at all the laws relating to the SDF enacted in the past twenty years, there is really nothing that the SDF cannot legally do. I’m just going to quote myself from a thesis I wrote in 2008 because it’s easier than writing it out again, so sorry that it sounds a bit stuffy:

    “In 1992, in response to the Gulf War, a law was passed allowing overseas deployment of the SDF in peace keeping missions, bearing arms only for self defence. In 1999 and 2001 further laws were passed allowing deployment of the SDF in the region surrounding Japan bearing offensive arms in support of US led campaigns (Saft & Ohara 2006: 85). At the time of the invasion of Afghanistan then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi amended Self-Defence Force laws to allow SDF defence of US bases in Japan from terrorist attack and dispatched the SDF to provide logistical support during the invasion, with an extended definition of permissible self defence (Midford 2006: 23), and in 2003 introduced a bill allowing dispatch of the SDF to Iraq (Ibid: 24). Japan’s policy changes in response to the US led “war on terrorism” have gone beyond changes in public opinion, opening up a gap that Midford describes as having important implications for Japanese policy and politics (Ibid: 7). As long as the Liberal Democratic Party remains in government and retains constitutional revision as a policy objective, this public opinion gap will be problematic.”

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