Friday, February 2, 2007

Japan Should NEVER Be Rearmed

Dreadfully enough, the essay that follows is even more relevant than when it was first published in a different form in The Japan Times on April 6, 1997 (under the irksome title, “Japan need not follow America’s bloodstained path”). It sparked a great deal of controversy by arguing against the remilitarization of Japan, and a Japanese translation was published in August 15, 1997 issue OCS News, the largest Japanese publication in the U.S. at the time, to considerable acclaim. When they learned I was the author, several young Japanese in New York personally thanked me for writing the piece and expressing their heartfelt views, and the article made a lot of people in Japan happy as well.

Two things in particular struck me (and pleased me) while I was living in Japan as JET teacher for a year after August 1995. The first was that I was really impressed by the sincere, deep-rooted pacifism ingrained in the Japanese people. They really hate war. They had enough fun on the home front during World War Two, thanks to a few B-52s and the superb organizational talents of Leslie Groves. Secondly, they really hate nuclear weapons. I can’t understand why.

I’m a pretty serious student of twentieth-century Japanese history, especially the key period of 1931 to 1952 (fascism, the War, and the Occupation), and let me tell you why I stopped studying the Japanese language in October 1996 while living in Himeji. I was reading Hugh Byas’ classic 1942 account of the rise of Japanese militarism in the Twenties and Thirties, Government By Assassination, when I came across this startling fact: during the Twenties and the Thirties, when prime ministers and cabinet members were routinely murdered in public for their opposition to the war in China, not one of their fanatical young assassins ever suffered the death penalty. In fact, most of them served only token prison sentences of a few years, and after numerous thankful Japanese mailed in their fingers to them (you heard me right) for terminating the Emperor’s “insincere advisors,” they were released to a hero’s welcome and widespread public acclaim.
That was when I realized that it would be useless to study the Japanese language when the truth was, this was a society where only 60 years previously, everyone knew you could murder the prime minister and you’d never be executed. It was open season on liberals. I needed to understand that aspect of the society rather than its impossible grammar.

 Since World War Two, there have been countless popular thrillers in the United States, in print, television, and films, centering on the theme of the imminent threat of resurgent Japanese militarism. I’d always assumed that these melodramas were impossibly far-fetched, but recent events in Japan have proven me quite wrong. In 1995, Japan secretly developed nuclear weapons (check out the London Times and BBC stories at the time), now they’re openly expanding their military, “patriotic” education is being taught in public schools, and xenophobia is being encouraged again China and South Korea. Recently the new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, his popularity dropping, pressured NHK, the public broadcasting network, to devote more than 25% of its news coverage to the North Korean kidnappings of Japanese citizens in the Seventies and Eighties so he can curry favor with the extreme rightists. NHK acceded without a whimper.

Like most of Asia, I’m outraged that Japanese prime ministers since Nakasone have been visiting Yasukuni Shrine to tacitcly show their approval for Japan’s conduct in World War Two. (Imagine how Jews all over the world might react if the prime minister of Germany made an annual visit on Hitler's birthday, April 20, to the Fuehrer's birthplace in Braunau-on-Inn right across the Austrian border, and you'd get an idea of the enormity of the provocation.) Such visits are not only a calculated insult to the millions of Asians and Allied soldiers who died at the hands of the Japanese war machine. They are also an insult to the trusting Japanese men who were deceived into believing they were fighting for the honor of their homeland, when in fact they were sacrificing their lives to batten the profits of the zaibatsu.

 The Yasukuni Shrine is not a symbol of Japanese national pride. It’s a symbolic crematorium for the estimated ten to twenty million Chinese who were slaughtered by the Japanese military between 1931 and 1945. And that’s not counting the millions of other hapless Asians who were exterminated so that a corrupt group of businessmen and military officers could do their best to convert half the world into slave labor. During the Rape of Manila in 1945, the Japanese Army murdered 250,000 innocent Filipinos as it withdrew and burned down the city—simply as an act of bad sportsmanship, to show what sore losers they were.

You can’t blame the Japanese people for what happened in World War Two. You have to blame their leaders, the elites who exploited the innocent trust and idealism of the Japanese people and who let the masses at home die in fiery bombing raids by the millions while they got away scott-free after the war. MacArthur didn’t abolish the zaibatsu during the Occupation. He only gave them a vacation, between 1946 and 1948.

Today the same powerful forces are trying to pressure the Japanese people into readiness for military confrontation in Asia—the same way that George W. Bush tricked and lured the American public into Iraq. And there are many right-wing leaders in Washington who want the Japanese to serve as America’s proxy army in the event of a war with China or North Korea.

The only thing is, I saw those Japanese boys and girls drilling on the athletic fields of Himeji Commercial High School in 1995 and 1996 with perfect, zealous military precision and discipline, and all I could think of was, if they could see this in South Korea, they’d be scared spitless. You don’t want to see those obedient people aroused and united and violent—again.

Japan Should Never Be Rearmed

Recently a sinister, reckless argument has been gaining in popularity in the United States to the effect that Japan should be rearmed. Sometimes it's phrased as, "Japan should play a stronger role in defending itself," or, "Japan should take more responsibility in the area of international security and peacekeeping," or, "Japan must shoulder its share of the burden of collective security in the Pacific." But despite the smooth sophistry, the real meaning is always the same: Japan's military should be strengthened and it should be prepared to fight in Asia.

Article Nine of the Japanese Constitution states with no ambiguity that "
the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes [italics added].

"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."

In 1950, during the Occupation, the United States swiftly broke this law by establishing "the Self-Defense Forces." The Korean War was used as the excuse, but the fact is that America ignored the Japanese Constitution out of expedience; it was convenient, at the height of the Cold War, to remilitarize Japan, to establish it as our fuchin kubo ("unsinkable aircraft carrier"), our forward military base in Asia for the coming wars with Korea, China, and eventually Vietnam.

Now the U.S. once again wants to ride roughshod over the Japanese Constitution—and the deepest wishes of the Japanese people—and for the same reasons: expediency and convenience. Simply put, America is tired of paying for defending the Pacific, so we're asking Japan to pick up the check.

This idea is so wrong-headed and dangerous that a stop must be put to it at once. And the overwhelming reasons against it are both moral
and practical.

It's brutally unfair of the United States to beat up on Japan for fifty years because of its history of World War Two aggression and war crimes (and how we love to gloat how "Japan has never come to terms with its past"), and then turn around and say it's time to don those old khaki uniforms again. Since 1945 the Japanese have been forbidden to engage in military activities because, quite frankly, the rest of the world felt that they weren't to be trusted with sharp objects.

 Japan's hands have been clean for the past fifty years—an achievement, I might add, that no nation (with the possible exception of Switzerland) can match—whereas America's are terribly stained with blood. Since 1945 America has spent itself into bankruptcy and ruined its moral capital with one sick, bloody, wasteful military adventure after another. Between 1964 and 1975 we slaughtered three million in Indochina; now we scramble to sell Coca-Cola to Vietnam. In Central America under the Reagan Administration, we cheerfully supported nun-rapists and torturers, who assisted world freedom by supplying cocaine to the patriots in the White House during Irangate. In the Gulf War George Bush incinerated hundreds of thousands of Iraqis merely to gamble for a second term in the White House.

From a purely practical, economic standpoint, Japan would be insane to embark on a military buildup similar to the United States. The military-industrial complex has bankrupted America. During the Cold War, while the U.S. was foolishly squandering its great fortune on making and stockpiling weapons that were never used against the false spectre of Communism, Japan created its postwar economic miracle by manufacturing consumer goods that people actually wanted. If Japan is smart, it will stick to churning out great cars and VCRs.

By rights, with the death of the Cold War, America should be enjoying an unprecedented peace dividend; the billions that formerly were allocated for defense should now be channeled into badly-needed domestic social programs. But with the Pentagon still in the driver's seat, somehow that's not happening. New phantom enemies are being conjured up to rationalize continued massive military spending, and the homeless and the destitute keep multiplying on our city streets. Japan, don't let this happen to you!
Speaking of phantom enemies, the China threat is often invoked to justify the rearming of Japan. China is touted as a future "aggressor nation" aching to overwhelm Asia. But China has its hands full converting itself from a giant burned-out collective farm to full-blown corporate capitalism. China is often presented as a massive, monolithic giant (just as the Soviet Union used to be), but this image is pure fabrication. China today is chaotic and lawless and confused; the Chinese people do not act as one. A nation that can't muster enough toilet paper is hardly equipped to conquer Asia.

Formerly the Soviet Union was portrayed as the new Nazi Germany, ravening to subdue the world, when in fact the analysts at the CIA knew damned well all along that it was broke and had a vastly inferior army that posed no serious threat to the U.S.; but they lied in order to procure Cold War funding. I argue that the same kind of calculated exaggeration is going on today in regard to China.

Needless to say, Japan's Asian neighbors are terrified by the prospect of a militarily resurgent Japan. The
last thing they want to see is the Japanese military active in the Pacific and loaded for bear. They have too many horrendous memories of the millions of wartime atrocities produced by Japanese fascism. U.S. policymakers argue that a strengthened Japan is necessary in the event an unstable China or North Korea attempts to invade a neighbor.

But if such an outbreak occurs, how could Japan stop it single-handedly? With nuclear weapons? Only the United States, acting in concert with the United Nations, has the military might to counter such a situation. If America wants to bask in its role of world policeman, it should undertake the responsibility itself—and pay for it itself.

If America encourages Japan to expand its military presence in Asia, it will only serve to create a self-fulfilling prophecy for a nightmare scenario, one already outlined in hysterical right-wing thrillers like Simon Winchester's
Pacific Nightmare and Caspar Weinberger's recent The Next War, where a powerful new Japanese military, encouraged by regional instability, plunges the Pacific into war by stabbing into Asia.

Most importantly, the Japanese people do not, in any way, shape, or form, want any further military involvement. In 1995-6, I was a JET teacher in Japan, and one of the things that most impressed me about the Japanese people was the depth of their pacifistic sentiment. It comes from having bombs crash down through your roof. During World War Two the Japanese people lost family and friends in a stupid, useless war foisted on them by a vicious military dictatorship while their beloved country was incinerated from the air, and then for seven years they were forced to eat the ashes under the American Occupation.

Few Americans can understand what it must be like to see your daughter reduced to a cinder or to be scarred for life by napalm; but I think it's significant that it's the U.S., which has never suffered the ravages of war, that thinks war is fun and heroic and exciting, where Japan, after being devastated by war, hates it with an unrelenting passion.

I was also happy to see that the Japanese people have retained their unshakable nuclear allergy. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nuclear annihilation is not an abstract concept to them. But during the Cold War, it was American policymakers who toyed with the concepts of massive retaliation, preventive first strikes, and mutual assured destruction as if they were novel chess moves to be practiced by precocious teenagers.

When I was teaching in Japan, a fellow English teacher was a member of the left-wing teacher's union that objects to the use of the Imperial anthem Kimigayo and the hinomaru flag in public ceremonies. This teacher's union has a simple but beautiful motto: "No student of ours will ever serve on a battlefield." In World War Two the Japanese people almost lost everything. Nobody asked them in 1931 if they wanted to invade China; the military acted independently, and any politician who objected was assassinated. At that time Japan was not a democracy, but a brutally repressive police state. Any citizen who protested was arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and possibly killed. Popular governments don't have to undertake such measures.

A constant theme that recurs in American popular fiction is the sudden return of militarism to Japan. In these stories, it's as if Japan were just waiting for the chance to drop the mask of democracy and rush back to fascism. But anyone familiar with twentieth-century Japanese history will know this to be untrue. In the 1930s, it was unmistakable what was going on in Japan and where the nation was headed; foreigners were hated, political fanaticism and violence were rife, the political propaganda screamed out at you.

Today's Japan is quite different. It is an open, cosmopolitan, liberal nation, the oldest democracy in Asia (something the Japanese should be quite proud of). The intolerance and irrationality of the 1930s are nowhere to be seen. But if the shift to fascism ever comes, it will come slowly. The growth of the military will be rationalized as "self-defense," "collective security," or "taking responsibility for international security"—just as it is today.

The Japanese people have suffered too much and paid too high a price to be pressured into a situation where they might be maneuvered into repeating the mistakes of the past. If they want nothing more than to be left alone and pursue their quiet, happy, bourgeois, hobbit-like existence, I say, let them. More power to them. For fifty years their hands have been clean of blood. I would like to see their hands remain clean, and so, I think, does the rest of the world.

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Anonymous said...

Really agree with your view on the issue, a thorough analysis.

Iris said...

A very strong web, full of thought and wisdom...

will read more.