Abe is determined to overrule his country’s constitution and restore its historic rule over the region, writes Kenny Coyle in the Morning Star.
JAPANESE premier Shinzo Abe seems intent on marking the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII with empty gestures of regret, while at the same time stoking Japan’s future military ambitions. As the country marks the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which sealed Japan’s WWII fate, Abe and his allies are pushing through new laws that break the anti-war clauses in Japan’s post-war constitution by allowing Japanese troops to take part in overseas conflicts.
At the core of Abe’s legislation is the proposal to allow the deployment of Japanese forces to support allies (essentially this means the US) engaged in war, even if Japan itself hasn’t been attacked. This is in direct contravention of Japan’s constitution, whose Article 9 states: “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.
“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 recognised.”
In reality, Japan possesses one of the world’s largest and best-equipped armed services comprising land, sea, and air forces. Known as the Japan Self-Defence Force (SDF), it has a permanent strength of around 250,000 personnel and a reserve of a further 50,000. Japan’s military budget is the fifth-largest in the world and its high-tech supply contracts with major Japanese monopolies such as Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Toshiba are worth billions of yen.
The Japanese right is seeking to align itself more fully with the US “pivot to Asia,” essentially a containment strategy to block the rise of China. In addition, the ongoing crises on the Korean peninsula are used as pretexts by Tokyo to step up its militarisation. In some far-right circles, there has been the open call for the country to pursue a nuclear weapons programme. Given the large number of unresolved maritime disputes, several of which directly involve Japan, this is a path to further conflict.
Article 9 has been a thorn in the side of those who wish to see a resurgent Japan militarism but Abe’s move is widely seen as unconstitutional, even among those who sit far from the left of Japanese politics.
On July 16, Abe’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its Komeito ally pushed through the highly controversial military Bills in the House of Representatives, the country’s lower parliamentary chamber, and sent them for confirmation to the upper House of Councillors.
Japanese communist MPs walked out of the chamber in protest at Abe’s tactics, joined by deputies from the right-of-centre Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), a formerly socialist but now a centrist formation. In a rare sign of co-operation, leaders of the JCP and DPJ as well as representatives of the SDP and other groups spoke together in the Diet building, promising to block the Bills in the upper house.
However, if the legislation fails to gain approval there it will automatically be sent back in 60 days to the House of Representatives, which would have the final vote. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and ally Komeito have a total of 326 out of the 475 seats in the country’s lower house, guaranteeing its passage.
Public opinion polls are not on Abe’s side, even if parliamentary arithmetic is. Many organisations affiliated with the National Confederation of Trade Unions (Zenroren), which is close to the JCP, have even threatened strike action against the war bills.
The Komeito, which supports the legislation, is the political arm of the large Buddhist sect Soka Gakkai, but numerous other religious groups have added their voices of opposition — not only Budd-hist ones but also many Christian denominations, such as Baptist and Lutheran federations. Peace and anti-war groups have been mobilising across the country.
JCP leader Kazuo Shii spoke in Tokyo in July at a mass meeting to celebrate the 93rd anniversary of the party’s foundation. He used the occasion to warn of the dangers of Abe’s plans. Shii said: “Japan has never criticised US wars for violating international law. Japan has always supported whatever the US did. It has even opposed or abstained from voting on the past three UN resolutions condemning the US. No matter how much Abe claims Japan will oppose lawless wars, nobody believes him.” Pointing out that previous Japanese governments had ignored Article 9 during major US-led conflicts, Shii said: “It is important for Japan to look into its role during the Vietnam war and the Iraq war because the government of Japan was deeply involved in its support for both wars.”
Shii pointedly noted that: “Japan’s attitude toward history is very dishonest.” This was a reference not only to the post-war era but to the era of militarist expansion in the early 20th century that saw Japan invade and colonise Korea, invade and divide China and finally, with disastrous consequences, challenge the Western powers of Britain, France, the Netherlands and the US for control of colonial possessions in Malaya, Burma, Hong Kong, Indochina, Indonesia and the Philippines.
The communist daily Akahata (Red Flag) has been campaigning against the Abe government’s interference in the choice of history schoolbooks, which has become a major battleground between the militarists and anti-war activists. On April 21 the paper highlighted the most recent campaign: “The Education Ministry earlier this month released screening results of history textbooks for junior high-school students. In the screening process, the ministry complained that one of the candidate textbooks described the so-called comfort women issue in a way that does not adequately comply with the government’s view on the issue. As a result, the publisher of the textbook had to drastically revise the description of the military sex slavery system in order to pass the screening.”
The paper continued: “To make matters worse, the ruling LDP led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to have junior high schools across the country use rightist textbooks that praise the past war as a just war. “These textbooks claim that Japan started the Pacific war in self-defence and for the liberation of Asia, and that the US occupation forces implanted remorse over the war in Japanese people’s minds. These textbooks exhibit a distinct contrast to the rest of the authorised textbooks. “The move to justify the past war of aggression is going side-by-side with the government’s attempt to turn Japan into a war-fighting nation. Public efforts are called for in order to put a stop to this move and to promote history education that faces the past squarely.” In April, three of Abe’s ministers and more than 100 of his LDP MPs visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.
This shrine is designed not as a war memorial but as a means of worshipping the eirei (hero spirits) of 2.4 million war dead, including 14 Class A war criminals. The shrine, which is managed by a foundation close to the LDP, also houses a historical war museum which glorifies Japan’s wartime exploits. The visits have provoked outrage in mainland China, Taiwan, both Korean states and other Asian countries which experienced Japanese occupation. Abe did not visit personally on this occasion but sent a ritual offering instead. At a time when memories of the horror of WWII will be at the forefront of the minds of all Japanese citizens, Abe’s divisive strategy deliberately ignores the role of Japanese militarism and aggression as among its key causes.
The Japanese left and the wider peace movement will, on the contrary, be reaffirming the message that the war was a disaster — not only for the people of Japan but for their neighbours. The current dangerous escalation of military force in Asia Pacific is a warning that the true lessons of August 1945 have still not been learnt.
Source: Communist Party of Britain / RedGlobe