After almost 70 years of pacifism put in place by the constitution that was drafted by the occupying Unites States in 1947, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed a bill through Japanese legislature that reinterprets Article 9 of Japan’s constitution to allow for limited warfare.
Article 9 states that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained” and that Japan must “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation.” The article was widely accepted by the Japanese people after the traumatic events of World War II – including the nuclear bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki – and pacifism has been the way of the nation ever since.
Soon after the constitution was put in place, Japan faced pressure from the United States to de-arm entirely, but Japan maintained pacifism by creating the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, which are only maintained for the protection of the Japanese homeland. Despite sending noncombatant troops to aid U.S. occupation of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Japan has successfully evaded combat since the end of World War II. However, with the reinterpretation of Article 9, Japan now has the allowance for “collective self-defense,” and could assist the U.S. and other allies if those allies were attacked.
While Abe might be celebrating his success in allowing Japan to become a more assertive nation in international affairs, the bill has been met with incredibly polarized reception in Japan. Massive protests have been held, and political opposition is determined to reverse the decision. However, supporters of the bill note that the East Asia region in which Japan is located is volatile and dangerous – with China and North Korea in very close vicinity.
“I think that it is a lot of fear-mongering that is going on,” fourth-year David Duffrin said. Having lived in Japan for a year as he studied abroad in his second year of college, Duffrin has extensive experience with Japan, and is strongly against the bill. “If you listen to Japanese news, it is all about how the Chinese have this army, and the Koreans have this, so they are trying to make it seem like they are going to be attacked at any moment so they need a standing army to protect themselves.
“But the bill says that they can preemptively send soldiers to other countries, and that isn’t defending your country,” Duffrin said. “A big problem is that there is only a 30 percent turnout rate at the polls, so almost no one in Japan actually votes.”
Fuko Tokitsu, a second-year student at New College, has lived in Japan all her life and is also in opposition of the bill’s reinterpretation of Article 9.
“In my opinion, I don’t like the bill because we are under the constitution that doesn’t allow for war, and we have been safe with that,” Tokitsu said. “But America and a lot of other countries started wars and they have influenced my country [away from pacifism].
“We already have our own army in Japan, but it is really there just to help in case there is a tsunami or earthquake – it is really more of a homeland security,” Tokitsu continued. “But with the security bill, we have to make our army so it can fight other people.”
Duffrin believes that the bill was just another way for Prime Minister Abe to please the United States, calling Abe a “pawn of America” because he is so accommodating with the desires of the United States. For the United States, having Japan as an ally in East Asia is clearly beneficial due to the country’s location between both North Korea and China.
One of Duffrin and Tokitsu’s main concerns was the possibility of the reinstatement of a draft in Japan in the future because of the movement away from true pacifism. “To help other countries in war we don’t want to have our friends and family drafted for war,” Tokitsu said.
With the reinterpretation of Article 9, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has led Japan away from the pacifism that has maintained peace in the country for almost seven centuries. On a global scale, the United States and other allies of Japan are satisfied with their reinterpretation, but for many Japanese, the policy change is frightening.
“It sounds dangerous,” Tokitsu said. “And I don’t like it, and I am sure that a lot of people [in Japan] don’t like it either.”