Ja­pan: gut­ting Ar­ti­cle 9

They aren’t think­ing about ag­gres­sive wars; only ‘just’ wars, prob­a­bly along­side their Amer­i­can al­lies

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

Fifty-five years ago No­bo­suke Kishi, Ja­pan’s prime min­is­ter, re­signed just af­ter win­ning the bat­tle to push the treaty re­vis­ing the coun­try’s mil­i­tary al­liance with the United States through par­lia­ment. The demon­stra­tions against it were so mas­sive and vi­o­lent that his po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal was ex­hausted. To­day his grand­son, Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe, is wag­ing a quite sim­i­lar bat­tle, but he will prob­a­bly get away with it. More’s the pity.

Abe, like his grand­fa­ther, is on the right of Ja­panese pol­i­tics, and his tar­get this time is Ar­ti­cle 9 of Ja­pan’s post-war “Peace Con­sti­tu­tion.” That clause un­der­mines his vi­sion of Ja­pan as a “nor­mal coun­try” (like the United States, Bri­tain or France) that sends its troops over­seas to fight wars.

The lan­guage of Ar­ti­cle 9 is clear. It says 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 ...Land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war po- ten­tial, will never be main­tained.” It would take a pretty sharp lawyer to get around that.

More­over, it’s very hard to change the Ja­panese con­sti­tu­tion. It would take a two-thirds ma­jor­ity in each house of par­lia­ment, plus a na­tional ref­er­en­dum, to change or drop Ar­ti­cle 9. Abe would cer­tainly lose that ref­er­en­dum: 80 per cent of Ja­panese like Ar­ti­cle 9 just the way it is.

Those are the opin­ions of or­di­nary Ja­panese, how­ever. They are not so widely held among the elite – and Ja­pan has an elite like few other coun­tries.

A Ja­panese his­to­rian once told me in con­fi­dence that he reck­oned around 400 peo­ple – politi­cians, in­dus­tri­al­ists and se­nior bu­reau­crats – make al­most all the de­ci­sions in Ja­pan. More­over, they have been in­ter-mar­ry­ing for gen­er­a­tions, and are al­most all dis­tantly re­lated to one another. Which ex­plains, per­haps, why the grand­son of a “Class A” war crim­i­nal is now the prime min­is­ter of Ja­pan.

There’s an in­ter­est­ing con­trast be­tween No­bo­suke Kishi, who be­came Min­is­ter of Mu­ni­tions in the Im­pe­rial Ja­panese gov­ern­ment in 1941, and Al­bert Speer, whom Hitler ap­pointed as Min­is­ter of Ar­ma­ments and War Pro­duc­tion in early 1942. Both men were ar­rested at war’s end, and Speer was sen­tenced to 20 years in prison.

But Kishi was never charged, and while Speer lan­guished in Span­dau prison Kishi was freed, helped to found the Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party that has dom­i­nated Ja­panese pol­i­tics ever since, and was elected prime min­is­ter in 1957. In fact, the great ma­jor­ity of the “400” of that era were back in busi­ness by the mid-1950s: the United States needed to get Ja­pan back on its feet in a hurry, and it had nowhere else to turn.

So here we are, half a cen­tury later, and their de­scen­dants are still in charge. Ja­pan is a democ­racy, but the vot­ers mainly get to choose be­tween mem­bers of the “400.” Kishi’s brother, Eisaku Sato, was prime min­is­ter for eight years in the 1960s and early 1970s, and his grand­son Shinzo Abe be­came prime min­is­ter for the first time in 2006.

It’s safe to say that most mem­bers of the elite have al­ways wanted Ja­pan to be­come a “nor­mal coun­try” that is free to fight wars again. They aren’t think­ing about ag­gres­sive wars, of course; only “just” wars, prob­a­bly along­side their Amer­i­can al­lies. The big stum­bling block has al­ways been pop­u­lar opin­ion – but Shinzo Abe has found a way around that.

If you can’t win a ref­er­en­dum on con­sti­tu­tional change, then don’t hold one. Just “rein­ter­pret” Ar­ti­cle 9 so it means the op­po­site of what it seems to say. Shinzo Abe’s cab­i­net did that last year, declar­ing that Ar­ti­cle 9 re­ally al­lows the mil­i­tary to go into bat­tle over­seas to pro­tect al­lies — so­called “col­lec­tive de­fence” — even if there is no di­rect threat to Ja­pan or its peo­ple. That cov­ers just about ev­ery con­tin­gency you can imag­ine.

Last week Abe pushed two bills through par­lia­ment that re­shape mil­i­tary pol­icy and struc­tures in ac­cord with that “rein­ter­pre­ta­tion.” The op­po­si­tion par­ties walked out and thou­sands demon­strated out­side the par­lia­ment build­ing, but the deed is done, and there won’t be any ref­er­en­dum about it.

Un­less some mass move­ment arises to protest against this cyn­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion of the law, Abe will get away with it. The “Peace Con­sti­tu­tion” will need a new name, and the United States will fi­nally have a Ja­pan will­ing to fight by its side. No doubt that will make the world a safer place.

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