Japan's Economic Miracle: Masking its Nuclear and Military Growth

By Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg

You know about Japan's soaring yen, its diligent people, its economic miracle. You may not, however, have seen Japan through the spectacles of Japan 's peace, development, and environment activists. They see the price of this success: the toxic and radioactive waste, the militarization, the trend toward renewed right-wing fascism. Some months ago, visiting Japan, I had long talks with many generous, reflective, committed social activists. They spoke of their concerns about this upsurge of militarism and nuclear technology. Japan has its own historical sources of militarism, and (if that were not enough) it is being pressed to spend more on arms by its ally and former conqueror, the United States.

The Legacy of War

Professor Shigotoshi Iwamatsu of Nagasaki University, himself a hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor), spoke with me about Japan's legacy of war. He said that it was not the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought about Japan's surrender, but rather the entry of the Soviets into the war. The surrender was hurried up to prevent them from abolishing the Tenno Emperor system.

Japan's Peace Constitution, enacted shortly afterward, renounced war and prohibited military build up. Yet the regime of peace may be endangered now by the possible renewal of the militaristic Emperor system.

The current Japanese government, which is so friendly to the United States, never criticizes the U.S. bombing, has been cool to the A-Bomb victims, and denies the Japanese record of cruelty in the war. Critics allege that these authorities plan to revive the absolute Emperor system and the Imperial Constitution, with the rationale that the Peace Constitution was imposed by the conqueror, General Douglas MacArthur, against the will of the Japanese people.

Professor Iwamatsu told me that young people do not know about the crimes the Japanese committed against other nations. Iwamatsu insists on teaching his students about the war: that the people supported the pseudo-feudal and bureaucratic Tenno system, while they were, themselves, the internal victims of that government.

Professor Iwamatsu warns that right-wing influences are again powerful - in the government, the military, the conservative ruling party, and in financial circles. Opposition is increasing against the democratic educational, legal, and social welfare systems that are guaranteed by the constitution. Conservatives glorify the war crimes. The school textbooks will soon be rewritten under government direction, with conservatives having their say on such issues as the value of military forces, past wars, U.S. military bases, the no-arms constitution, the need for nuclear reactors, and the relaxation of industrial pollution standards.

A Military Partnership with the U.S.

The restoration of militarism today is justified in terms of Japan's alliance with the U.S. against the USSR. Thus former Prime Minister Nakasone envisioned the whole Japanese archipelago as an unsinkable aircraft carrier, a bulwark against the Soviets. Accordingly, Japan hosts 119 American military facilities, the largest number outside the U.S.A.

Even more worrisome is the increasing nuclear activity of both superpowers in the area. To compensate for the land-based weapons banned by the INF Treaty, there will be sea-based nuclear weapons. For example, the U.S. Navy will home-port the USS Fife at Yokasuka naval base; it carries 61 launchers for Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The Japanese government is a willing participant with the Americans. It pays the princely sum of $45,000 for each of the 55,000 U.S. service personnel stationed in its country. Moreover, it is developing weapons jointly with the Americans. Mitsubishi, Japan's leading weapons manufacturer, is a joint venture partner to develop a new jet fighter, the FSX. Mitsubishi also leads the consortium involved in Star Wars contracts. The Japanese Defence Agency plans to build four destroyers, each carrying 61 Aegis surface-to-air missiles.

Civilian Responses

Such plans do not go unopposed. The Japanese peace and social justice groups act much as Western groups do - petitioning, marching, running in marathons, surrounding army bases in non-violent civil disobedience, conferencing, lobbying politicians - and holding stirring Hiroshima and Nagasaki Bomb commemorations on August 6th and 9th.

Much effective work is done in communities, which often densely surround the vast military bases. I had the opportunity to participate when 12,000 people surrounded the Atzugi Base to protest the deafening flight tests of U.S. bombers. The residents have been waging a court battle for 30 years to stop training flights, especially at night. During those 30 years, 67 planes have crashed. Yet the court ruled out the claim, calling the noise "within the limits of patience, in light of the greater benefits to the public."

Opposition to Nuclear Power

Today 36 nuclear reactors operate in Japan, and others are planned. Researchers and activists say that hydroelectric and thermal power has been allowed to decline so as to increase the dependency on nuclear-generated electricity, which now accounts for about 28 percent of the total. Experiments on enrichment and reprocessing are underway, as part of the plans to establish the whole nuclear fuel process.

Since the Chernobyl accident, awareness has been growing about the dangers of this technology. Many Japanese know about nuclear facilities in their communities. Nuclear Info Tokyo does an excellent job of publicizing nuclear accidents at reactors, radioactive spills, and other problems of the nuclear chain. Women in particular have been educating on the health effects of the fuel chain by researching, writing, and distributing books and pamphlets. Since many women stay home to raise their families, they have been taking on this threat in practical ways. They cooperate with concerned scientists to monitor the contamination of food from Chernobyl (much of which is imported) by Caesium 137, a product of radioactivity.

The Japanese Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikin) is concerned about the proposed overflights or sea shipments of weapons-grade plutonium from France and Britain for use in Japan's nuclear power plants. They warn that their government's support for nuclear deterrence will eventually lead to its possession of nuclear weapons. Pointing to Japan's growing role in U.S. military strategy, they criticize their nation for ignoring its own pledge never to build, possess, or introduce nuclear weapons. They call for nuclear free zones in Asia and in the Pacific, for the abolition of all nuclear weapons and banning of nuclear power plants.

A Gensuiken Rally

In April 1988, more than 20,000 people gathered in Tokyo for the largest anti-nuclear rally ever held in Japan. It was part of a two-day action organized by the Citizens' Nuclear Information Centre, the Consumers' Union of Japan, Gensuikin, and 150 grassroots groups. A campaign for a nuclear moratorium law was proposed as one of the new forms of participation arising from this gathering.

Suffering from the Miracle

Environmentalists are calling international attention to the negative impact of Japan's official development assistance (ODA) on the environment and natural resources. Over the past decade, Japan's foreign assistance has increased; it is provided largely through Japanese firms in both private and public sectors. Funding has increased to the World Bank and the U.N.'s International Finance Corporation. According to Yukio Tanaka of Friends of the Earth Japan, there are no laws or government standards for the use of aid; no environmental or social impact assessments are required.

The Japan International Environment Center says that borrower countries are forced to exploit forests and other natural resources at an unsustainable rate to repay their debts.

Over half of Japan's engineering consultant firms reportedly depend on business related to ODA. Companies profit , but the recipient nation is left with pollution, depletion of resources, and environmental destruction. Environmentalists claim that Japanese government policies- the promotion of consumerism and dependence on imports-influence developing countries' governments by defining the nature of development and economic competition.

Polluting Malaysia

One example of the environmental impact of Japanese business can be seen a case in Malaysia. The citizens of Burkit Merah are suing the Asian Rare Earth Factory (ARE), which produces 2,250 tons of radioactive waste per year. They charge the company with contamination of their community and water supply. ARE, 35 percent owned by Mitsubishi Chemical, produces electronic components.

Dr. Rosalie Bertell of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health (Toronto) is a key scientific witness in this trial, showing the harmful results of ARE dumping. Children living near the plant suffer from lead toxicity, impaired immune systems, and high perinatal death rates. The trial costs are borne by poor citizens of Burkit Merah. Last year there was a crackdown against activists in Malaysia.

Dorothy Goldin Rosenberg attended the 1988 International Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikin) in Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki for the International Youth for Peace and Justice Tour. She consulted with NGOs on development and security and spoke at the Second Annual Conference of the Japan Physicians for the Prevention of nuclear War and the Atsugi Rally.

Japan and U.S. Military Command

U.S. Army Headquarters at Camp Zama commands forces deployed to the W. Pacific.

The U.S. Seventh Fleet Headquarters at Yokasuka directs aircraft carriers and subs targeted on USSR.

The Seventh Fleet Command Center in Kamiseya directs anti-submarine, naval surveillance and P-3 Orion planes.

The Fifth Air Force Headquarters in Yokota has nuclear-capable planes in Korea, Japan.

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1989

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1989, page 24. Some rights reserved.

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