Ex-prime min­is­ter led Ja­pan dur­ing 1980s eco­nomic peak

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Mari Yamaguchi

TOKYO — For­mer Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Ya­suhiro Naka­sone, a gi­ant of his coun­try’s post-World War II pol­i­tics who pushed for a more as­sertive Ja­pan while strength­en­ing mil­i­tary ties with the United States, has died. He was 101.

The of­fice of his son, Hiro­fumi Naka­sone, con­firmed that Naka­sone died Fri­day at a Tokyo hospi­tal where he was re­cently treated.

As a World War II navy of­fi­cer, Ya­suhiro Naka­sone wit­nessed the depths of his coun­try’s ut­ter de­feat and dev­as­ta­tion. Four decades later, he presided over Ja­pan in the 1980s at the pin­na­cle of its eco­nomic suc­cess.

In re­cent years, he lob­bied for re­vi­sion of the war-re­nounc­ing U.S.drafted con­sti­tu­tion, a long­time cause that no post­war leader has achieved to date.

Naka­sone be­gan his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer as a fiery na­tion­al­ist de­nounc­ing the U.S. oc­cu­pa­tion that lasted from 1945 to 1952, but by the 1980s he was a stal­wart ally of Amer­ica and known for his warm re­la­tions with Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan.

He boosted mil­i­tary spend­ing, tried to re­vise Ja­pan’s paci­fist con­sti­tu­tion and drew crit­i­cism for his un­abashed ap­peals to pa­tri­o­tism.

In the 1950s, he was a driv­ing force be­hind build­ing nu­clear re­ac­tors in re­source-poor Ja­pan, a move that helped pro­pel Ja­pan’s strong eco­nomic growth af­ter World War II but drew re­newed scru­tiny in the af­ter­math of the melt­downs at a nu­clear plant in Fukushima swamped by a tsunami in 2011.

The son of a lum­ber mer­chant, Naka­sone was born May 27, 1918, the last year of World War I. He went to Tokyo Im­pe­rial Uni­ver­sity be­fore en­ter­ing the In­te­rior Min­istry and then the navy, where he rose to the rank of lieu­tenant com­man­der dur­ing World War II.

In his last news con­fer­ence as prime min­is­ter, he said his po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions were sparked af­ter the war by “the con­vic­tion I felt as I gazed be­wil­dered at the burned ru­ins of Tokyo.”

“How can this coun­try be re­vived into a happy and flour­ish­ing state?” he said.

He es­tab­lished his na­tion­al­ist cre­den­tials by cam­paign­ing for par­lia­ment rid­ing a white bi­cy­cle bear­ing the “ris­ing sun,“or the “Hi­no­maru” na­tional flag, which Ja­pan’s wartime mil­i­tary had used. He won a seat in 1947, be­com­ing the youngest mem­ber of par­lia­ment at age 28.

Naka­sone be­came a lead­ing fig­ure in the Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party that has dom­i­nated post­war pol­i­tics. Dur­ing more than a half-cen­tury in par­lia­ment, he served as de­fense chief, the top of the pow­er­ful Min­istry of In­ter­na­tional Trade and In­dus­try, and sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the rul­ing Lib­eral Demo­cratic Party be­fore be­com­ing prime min­is­ter.

Naka­sone as­sailed the U.S.-drafted post­war con­sti­tu­tion, de­mand­ing re­vi­sion of the doc­u­ment’s war­renounc­ing Ar­ti­cle 9 and urg­ing a mil­i­tary buildup.

He was a key fig­ure be­hind craft­ing and ram­ming through gov­ern­ment fund­ing for nu­clear re­search in 1954, less than a decade af­ter the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Na­gasaki, killing 200,000 peo­ple in the last days of the war. In 1955, he helped pass leg­is­la­tion de­signed to pro­mote nu­clear power.

“Atomic power used to be a beast, but now it’s cat­tle,” he told a par­lia­men­tary ses­sion in 1954.

In a 2006 speech mark­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of Ja­pan’s first nu­clear in­sti­tute in Tokaimura, Naka­sone said he was in­trigued by nu­clear power as he tried to fig­ure out why Ja­pan lost the war.

“My con­clu­sion was that one of the big­gest rea­sons was (the lack of ) sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy,” he said. “I felt strongly that Ja­pan would end up be­ing a lowly farm­ing na­tion for­ever un­less we take a bold step to de­velop sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy.”

Naka­sone is sur­vived by his son Hiro­fumi, a par­lia­men­tar­ian, two daugh­ters and three grand­chil­dren.

TORU YAMANAKA/GETTY-AFP 1987

As prime min­is­ter, Ya­su­rio Naka­sone worked to forge a stronger mil­i­tary al­liance with the United States.

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