dateline japan

Japan’s military now regaining its lost respect

Published Sunday, Sept. 2, 1979, in the Corsicana (Texas) Daily Sun.

Sun Staff Writer

Members of Japan’s right-wing Patriotic Party denounce the August peace ceremonies in Hiroshima.

TOKYO, Japan — At the end of World War II, Japan’s military leaders were thoroughly disgraced.

They were disgraced because they had lost the war. More important to many Japanese, they were disgraced because they had led the nation down a ruinous path of foreign aggression in an effort to set up a “Greater East Asia CoProsperity Sphere” — a path which ended only after the atomic devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s occupation headquarters demanded that the new Japanese constitution include an article pledging Japan would never go to war again, many Japanese welcomed it.

Article 9 of the Japanese constitution probably is unique in the history of the world.

The Japanese people, it says, “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation...” It also pledges that Japan will never maintain “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential...”’

It was not long, however, before MacArthur himself took what became the first step toward re-establishing a Japanese military force. As American troops went off to the Korean War, General Headquarters set up a 75,000-man National Police Reserve.

Today that force has grown into the small but sophisticated Self-Defense Forces.

The Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense forces now have a total strength of 180,000 men and a budget for fiscal 1979 of $9.74 billion.

This is tiny compared to the military establishments of the world’s other major economic powers. The budget represents less than one percent of Japan’s gross national product and just more than five percent of the government’s total budget.

But the day has long since passed when these troops could be considered simply a beefed-up police force.

Japan’s armaments industry has grown too, and is now designing and producing high-performance fighter aircraft, tanks that meet advanced world standards, navy ships and a variety of small missiles.

The public reaction to these changes has been rather curious, according to Professor Shigeki Miyasaki, a specialist in constitutional law at Meiji University in Tokyo.

Recent polls show that a majority of people want to keep Article 9 as a part of the constitution. At the same time, a growing number believes Japan should have the Self-Defense Forces. In the latest poll, conducted for the prime minister’s office last December, 86 percent said the SDF is necessary. Only five percent said it is not.

As the armed forces have gained respectability, there have been some who have called for Article 9 to be stricken from the constitution as a shameful provision imposed by foreign conquerors.

Those voicing this view include some former members of the imperial armed forces and the ultra-rightist Patriotic Party.

The government prefers to keep Article 9, saying that the SDF is constitutional because the force is purely defensive. Japanese courts have repeatedly upheld this interpretation.

Advocates of Article 9 like Miyazaki say that even today it has its value.

“It cannot be denied that Article 9 impedes remilitarization,” he says. “Because of Article 9, Japan will not allow the SDF to be transferred to any foreign land It has been possible to block any increase of the military budget to more than one percent of the gross national product. And there has been no call for nuclear weapons.”

Still, Miyazaki and a group of other law professors are pushing the government to adopt a law making the often-stated commitment not to possesss nuclear weapons, make them or bring them into the country official and binding.

And there are several developments they are watching with concern:

  • Since the days of the Vietnam War, there has been increasing pressure from the United States for Japan to expand its military capability as American forces in the area are reduced.

  • China, which now sees the Soviet Union as its main enemy, would like to see Japan militarily stronger, so the Soviets would pay more attention to Japan and less to China.

  • The Soviet Union recentiy completed a military base on one of the islands just north of Japan. This increases public sentiment in favor of an expanded Japanese military because most Japanese regard those islands as part of Japanese territory, held illegally by the Soviets since the end of World War II.

  • Defense Agency chief Ganri Yamashita paid an official call on his South Korean counterpart earlier this summer. This fed fears that if a war breaks out on the Korean peninsula, Japan could be drawn in.

  • In July, memorial services were held at the former site of the Sugamo Prison in Tokyo, where wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo and six other war criminals were imprisoned and later executed.

No one is suggesting that Japan is on the verge of launching a fresh military adventure beyond its borders. But scholars like Miyazaki and the many people who have worked for 34 years to make the public aware of the harsh realities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are keeping a close watch on developments.

They, more than anyone, want to be sure Japan continues to pursue a peaceful policy toward her neigh bors.

Photo copyright © 1979 John Spragens, Jr.
Text copyright © 1979 Corsicana Daily Sun
Reporting for this series was supported by a grant from the Hiroshima International Cultural Foundation.

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