Where is Japan Going?

(1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, 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. (2) 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.

(From Article 9: “Renunciation of War, Denial of the armaments and the right of belligerency” of Chapter II. Renunciation of War of the Constitution of Japan)

By Hiroshi Taka | 2014-01-01 11:00:00

The danger that the Constitution of Japan may be revised is growing sharply, in the wake of the House of Councilors’ election in July 2013, where the Liberal Democratic Party secured the majority of seats, following its victory in the election of the House of Representatives (the Lower House) in December 2012.

The current Constitution of Japan was established in 1946 and went into effect in May 1947. This constitution has as its principles the sovereignty of the people, pacifism and respect for fundamental human rights, based on the reflection on Japan’s aggression and occupation of Asian countries under the absolutist emperor system which lasted until the end of World War II. This pacifism is very thoroughgoing, in that Article 9 not only pledges renunciation of threat or use of war and armed forces, but also swears non-possession of war potentials as proof of that, and renounces the right of belligerency.

Imposed Revision of the Constitution

One of the biggest grounds for constitutional revision often cited by the revisionist forces is that this constitution was imposed by the U.S.A., the victor country of World War II. However, the truth is just the opposite. Even under the occupation, the draft constitution was proposed to the Diet by the Japanese government, and the people of Japan in their own will accepted it. During the 1950s under the Cold War, the United States did not make any effort to democratize Japan, and instead chose to reorganize Japan as an ally in subordination to the US. With this pressure, the government of Japan started rearmament in 1950s by establishing its own military forces in the name of the “Police Reserve Forces.” In order to gloss over its unconstitutional nature, the government called the tanks of the Forces “special vehicles,” called destroyers “escort ships” and combat jackets “work uniforms.” An “overseas mobilization” is still disguisedly called an “overseas dispatch.”

In 1955, conservative forces merged and formed the Liberal Democratic Party, upholding the revision of the constitution as its biggest aim. Ever since then, the “revision of the constitution” has always been the desire of conservative politicians in Japan. And this desire has been supported by the pressure of the US, wanting to reorganize and consolidate Japan as the key ally in its world strategy.

Aiming to create a war-fighting country along with the US

Advocates for constitutional revision often claim, “The current constitution was imposed by the US,” or “it has become too obsolete to respond to the demands of the times.” In fact, the proposed revision of the constitution by the LDP covers almost all aspects of the current constitution, including making the Emperor the head of the state, restriction of the fundamental human rights, revival of old values such as clauses on “Family,” and the relaxation of the procedure for constitutional revision. But central to all these is the move to abandon the war-renouncing pledge and destroy the right to live in peace.

Article 9 in Chapter II, essential to this question, is changed from “Renunciation of war” to “Security,” while in the second paragraph of the article, “non-possession of war potentials” and “denial of belligerency” will be deleted and “National Defense Forces” will be established.

The core of the revisionist forces are those who were in charge of conducting wars of aggression in Korea, China, and other Asian countries—and the oppressive regime inside the country under the absolutist emperor system until 1945—and their descendants.

In fact, Kishi Nobusuke, grandfather of Abe whom the prime minister respects so much, was a cabinet member in the government of Tojo Hideki, who was executed as a war criminal. Kishi himself was arrested as a Class A war criminal after the war, but he was released by the US to work to make Japan a junior ally of the US. Later he became the LDP’s president and Japan’s prime minister, serving to consolidate the bilateral alliance. Due to a change in US policy, unlike in Germany and Italy, many of the politicians responsible for Japan’s war of aggression were given new life in the postwar politics of Japan to follow US policies and endeavor to work for constitutional revision, without being called to account for their war responsibility or expressing any regrets on their past deeds. Thus Asian countries have every reason to be vigilant for any move for constitutional revision in Japan.

Reinterpretation of the Constitution

In Japan’s politics, we have a term, “reinterpretation of the constitution.” In the face of strong protest of the people against express revision of the constitution, this is how the government has tried to achieve de facto change of the constitution through maneuvering its interpretation. Already, by the government’s reinterpretation of Article 9, stating, “Renunciation of war potentials does not exclude Japan’s right to self-defense,” Japan has maintained the “Self-Defense Forces,” spending world’s fifth largest military budget. Saying that it is not unconstitutional if the SDF are not engaged in combat duties, Japan has sent the SDF troops to Iraq, the Indian Ocean, and other places outside Japan.

The Abe government is now focusing on making Japan a war-fighting country in a real sense, by achieving both express revision and interpretational change of the constitution. That is why the government is trying to forcibly pass the bills in the current Diet Session to establish a national security council and to enact a secret protection law. Simultaneously, Abe is trying to change the conventional interpretation that “to exercise the right to collective self-defense would infringe Article 9” through a cabinet approval, thereby opening the way for the SDF to wage war together with the US military anytime, anywhere as necessary, even under the current constitution. It seems anything can be possible with such an outrageous reinterpretation of the supreme law and the high-handedness of the present government.

Protecting the constitution

Currently, the LDP holds the working majority in the Lower House, and in the Upper House, in alliance with the Komei Party, it holds the majority of seats. As the Japan Restoration Party and “Your Party”—from the same part of the political spectrum as the LDP—are readily on its side, the possibility of constitutional revision and Japan being made a war-fighting nation has now become an imminent danger.

But the biggest hurdle for the anti-constitution forces is the very strong peace and disarmament ethos among the Japanese people. During the 1950s, we witnessed the emergence of the huge anti-nuclear peace movement of the people of Japan, standing up against the damage caused by the US hydrogen bomb test in Bikini Atoll in the Pacific, which virtually smashed the attempt of the newly-formed LDP to revise the constitution.

To date, no attempts for revising the express provision of the constitution have been successful.

Opinion polls held during the last year by different news media all demonstrated that the majority of the public constantly oppose the revision of Article 9, maintaining a huge lead for the “yes” forces.

We are also seeing over 50% of the people oppose other major policies upheld by the Abe government, including the resumption of nuclear power plant operation and an increase in the consumption tax rate. This indicates that the political base of the constitutional revision forces is far from being stable or powerful.

We in the anti-A and H Bomb movement, in light of the role we have played since the days of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are firmly determined to dedicate ourselves to defend the constitution and change the course of this country towards a nuclear-free and peaceful Japan.

Hiroshi Taka is Representative Director, the Japan Council against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs (Gensuikyo).

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2014

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2014, page 6. Some rights reserved.

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