DEFINING THE DEBATE
On Constitutional Revision
FROM KJ 72, BY SUSAN PAVLOSKA & JOHN EINARSEN
JOHN EINARSEN: What is the nature of the debate on Article 9 in Japan today?
MURATA KOJI: Two quite different views have existed. You know, if you look at Article 9, you may have the impression that Japan cannot conduct any kind of warfare — either offensive or defensive — nor possess any kind of war potential on land, air, or sea. So in this sense maintaining the Self Defense Forces (SDF) and the security alliance with the United States is unconstitutional. Some people think: “We have to maintain the so-called Peace Constitution because it is the reason why Japan has not been involved in direct military operations and has been relatively safe and at peace.” Others think the Constitution just prohibits offensive military operations: each sovereignty, as a member of the UN, has the right to protect itself, so even under the Japanese Constitution, Japan has the right to possess a limited amount of war potential… people who think so would like to revise the Constitution to make this clear. As I said, two different views.
But recently, from five or six years ago, the number of those who support revising the Constitution has been increasing, although after Prime Minister Abe’s terrible stepping down, these forces have been weakened. My personal view is that Article 9 should be revised, but realistically speaking, it is quite inconceivable in the current Japanese political situation So those who talk about revising the Constitution are idealists.
JE: It seems that factions break down along generational lines: the older generation, people from their 60s to 80s, who are very anti-war, and the next generation, maybe 40s-60s, and a new younger generation. From your research, how do these different generations view the Constitution and Article 9?
Based on my experience — I have not conducted any scientific surveys — the older generation, those who experienced WWII directly, fall into two groups. One is characterized by strong anti-military, anti-war sentiment: “We have to maintain the Peace Constitution; never again such a terrible war.” Others believe that WWII was a kind of defensive war… the U.S. and European countries were colonialist, and Japan liberated the Asian nations. Of course I do not agree, but it is unfair for only Japan to be identified as an expansionist, in-vading country. According to this view, Japan was forced to have an unfair Constitution during the Occupation period. Some older people believe so. So the older generation is divided.
Those from 40–60 were educated after WWII, when public education fell under the very strong influence of the Teacher’s Union, which is, frankly speaking, very leftist. They are not liberal: they are illiberal. Under their influence, this generation believes that we have to keep the Constitution because it protects Japan. Not the U.S. alliance, not the SDF; they believe that this abstract Constitution keeps Japan’s peace.
As for the younger generation…I guess that probably the experience of the Gulf War [GW] in 1990-91 was significant. Prior to this, many Japanese had a dichotomous view toward warfare — as either defensive or offensive. Japan conducted offensive warfare during WWII, invading neighboring countries. That was very wrong. After WWII, because of the Japanese Constitution, because of the SDF, Japan can only conduct defen-sive military operations. In the GW, however, Iraq invaded Kuwait. From a Japanese perspective, the GW was not a defensive war, because we were not invaded. But we did not invade Kuwait, so it was not an offensive war either. So the dichotomous view between offensive and defensive warfare no longer worked. As one of the largest economies in the world, as a mature democracy, how should Japan cooperate with international security affairs, such as peacekeeping operations under UN authority? This was a serious new question for the Japanese people. After the GW, the younger generation felt more proactive about Japan conducting international security and peacekeeping operations, and if, because of the Constitution, Japan cannot conduct international peacekeeping operations under UN authority, then the Constitution can be seen as restricting Japan from fulfilling its international responsibilities. That is why — not to justify an offensive military capability, but to become pro-active to international security issues including peacekeeping operations— Japan should revise the Constitution. That is a big change.
SUSAN PAVLOSKA: But do you think Japan can really play a role in world affairs in proportion to its economic power without giving an honest account of its activities during WWII?
That is a good question. But are you saying that Asian countries would never allow Japan to revise its Constitution? If you conduct a world-wide public survey. I guess many Asian countries, many people, would accept Japan’s revising of its Constitution. This is a very old-fashioned stereotype. You can’t over-generalize about Asian countries; Chinese and South Korean and Southeast Asian reactions are quite different. We have to look at their reactions more carefully and systematically. Otherwise we easily fall into a prejudice. That is very dangerous for either side.
In terms of war criminals, we held the Tokyo Military Tribunals, and many people were found guilty. My own position is that Japan was guilty of many activities during the 1930s and 40s. Not in all cases, but certain Japanese soldiers, generals, and administrators were guilty, and my personal view is that Japanese political leaders should not visit Yasukuni Shrine. But at the same time, some Japanese hate the generalization that what the Japanese did was the same as the Germans. Germany committed genocide: they tried to extinguish the Jewish people systematically. The Japanese, of course, conducted inhuman acts, but the government did not plan to extinguish any particular race systematically. So what Germans and what Japanese did was different. Some Japanese would like to make this distinction. Also, after WWII Japan did not experience any kind of military dictatorship. Comparing the prewar and the post-war experience does not make sense to me.
SP: Some scholars say that the trials were less chanto (legally rigorous) or unbiased than the Nuremburg trials for many reasons.
Of course you can argue so and you may be right. But what does it mean — “chanto”? Under which conditions can we agree on was this “legally rigorous”? This is almost impossible. Whatever Japan does, someone will say it is not complete enough. Somebody will complain. History is so complex. It is impossible to achieve consensus over this issue. That is why we have a legal system. More than 50 countries signed and ratified the San Francisco Peace Treaty, including Japan.1 Japan’s war crimes issue was then over legally. Then Japan admitted guilt; Japanese politicians and Japanese generals were sentenced to die. Then the Japanese people accepted these judgments and Japan paid compensation to the Asian countries. Then it is over. That is kind of a mature, adult attitude.
Yet some Japanese claim that many innocent soldiers were killed after WWII as B-class war criminals — they didn’t do anything! They were tried simply because they were Japanese and wore the Imperial uniform. Some conservatives ask what about their lives? If we talk about a “rigorous” consensus for everybody, it is open-ing a Pandora’s Box: somebody will be frustrated under whatever the conditions.
SP: Except that China wasn’t invited to attend the Peace Conference…
But in 1972 China officially, legally, abandoned its right to make further claims for Japanese war activities, so legally it was settled.
SP: Well, now in Germany, if you deny the Holocaust, you can be thrown in jail. It is actually a jailable offense. But here in Japan it is quite possible to deny the Nanking Massacre, and there are actually people in respected orders of government who regularly do so, most recently General Tamogami.2 So I don’t think there is quite a mature understanding of Japan’s wartime past.
Well again, I would say what Germany did and what Japanese did in Nanking — of course, I have no intention of justifying their actions — are probably quite different in quality and scale. And what really happened in Nanking, even among objective scholars, is debatable. I guess it is healthy to have an objective and aca-demic debate about what happened there. And if you say that the people who deny the Nanking Massacre are prejudiced, then people who believed the international Tokyo Military Tribunal decision was true history are also prejudiced. The tribunals were based on distorted information after WWII, a very confused period, and one-sided testimony.
JE: How are Article 9 and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty interrelated? Is Japan safe because of Article 9 or because of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty?
My answer is both. Substantially, the U.S. Security Treaty has protected Japan’s position in international security, but at the same time, because we have kept the Peace Constitution, Japan didn’t have to expand its military organizations, or send its troops abroad until the 1990s in a PKO operation. In some sense, the Peace Constitution gave us a kind of moral power for our diplomacy. So, a combination of both the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, substantially, and — spiritually or psychologically — the Constitution, gave us moral power.
Ironically, the Constitutional restriction also gave us the freedom not to engage in diplomacy. I do not deny the importance of military [alliances], but economic and environmental cooperation, technological, cultural and human exchanges are necessary. The issues and actors are so diversified. Military alliances alone cannot protect. That view is quite outdated, but at the same time, if you believe that Article 9 is really a universal idea, that this idea will spread all over the world and then the world shall be safe, that is also outdated, a nineteenth-century idea. If Article 9 is so universal, why has no other country followed suit after WWII? Some say there is Costa Rica (which also has a Peace Constitution), but frankly speaking it is a very tiny country. Has any country with a population of more than ten or twenty million and a substantial GDP adopted such a Peace Constitution? If this idea is really so universal, and more than 60 years have passed and no other major country has imitated it, then you have to reflect upon it seriously. Otherwise you are lazy.
SP: You said that people who are in favor of revising Article 9 in Japan are idealists, that they are a small group, and facing reality is different. I know it is always dangerous to make predictions, but if you could predict the future of Article 9 in Japan what would you say it will be?
In the near future I don’t think Article 9 will be revised. When Kishi Nobusuke was Prime Minister in the early 1960s he wanted to do three things: first, revise the Constitution; second, revise the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which was quite unfair; and third, have full-fledged armed forces. Logically speaking, the priority among these objectives should have been revising the Constitution. Then Japan would have been able to legally possess full-fledged armed forces, and then Japan could have asked the United States to revise the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. That was the logic. But what Kishi did achieve was revising the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. Then the Japanese people lost their motivation to revise the Constitu-tion. The situation continues. What is more, the current interpretation is unnatural. If, for example, terrorists attack the Dutch PKO, the Japanese PKO cannot help them. The Dutch can help the Japanese, but the Japan-ese cannot help the Dutch, even under the same authority of the PKO operation. If pirates attack a Dutch or Thai or Italian ship in Somalia and a Japanese ship is nearby, the Japanese ship cannot help.3 I do not think this is a moral attitude. But this is the current interpretation under Article 9. Each time [a PKO situation arises], the government has to figure out an excuse to revise the interpretation. And this is a risk. Another risk is that average Japanese, especially young people, university or high school students, looking at the Constitution without any particular knowledge or political consideration, look at Article 9 and see it says that Japan cannot conduct a war, or possess any war potential. But we have the SDF. We sent them to Iraq and may send them to Afghanistan, and we have the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. For the average young person, what the Constitution says and what reality presents are quite different. One answer is to change reality, since the Constitution is the standard. But if you ask the people to change the reality, which means abolishing the SDF and the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, the absolute majority will say, “No. We need the SDF, we need the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.” Then, would you like to change the Constitution? “Oh, it costs a lot and takes a lot of time; we don’t need to change the Constitution.” If this situation continues, the Japanese people will become absurd. Or very apathetic about politics. It gradually destroys our sense of democracy. That is the danger. If we have to change either side, my view is to change the Constitution.
JE: It is my understanding that the SDF is provisional. It gives up some sovereignty in favor of a just international order. And when this order comes into being and has binding laws, the SDF will be done away with.
It is debatable. The first paragraph of Article 9 says something like the use of armed of forces as a means of settling international disputes shall forever be renounced. “International disputes” — this expression originally comes from the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. It made offensive warfare illegal, not defensive warfare. It was an incomplete treaty because it has just one article and never defined what offensive warfare is. So the first paragraph of Article 9 means that Japan cannot use the threat of armed forces as a means of offensive warfare, and also “international disputes” means that if Japan is one of the parties of the international dispute, then Japan cannot use armed forces. But in PKO cases… for example, I am Japan and you are Somalia and you are a neighboring country. If you have a dispute and I am not a party but participate in a PKO to stop this international dispute it is not unconstitutional. But if I have a dispute with Somalia, then I cannot use armed force. We need knowledge to understand the Constitution correctly. The average Japanese does not have such knowledge. This situation is unhealthy.
Also you mentioned an “international order and justice.” The Constitution’s preamble has a logical problem. It says something like “we,” meaning the Japanese people, decide to rely on peace-loving people and international cooperation promoting peace and justice. I understand what they wanted to say. The Constitution is the basis of the legal system in every country. Criminal law’s basic assumption is that humans will kill others. Civic law’s basic assumption is that humans will steal from each other. Humans will lie to each other. But the basic assumption of the Constitution is that peace-loving people will never make war. This is illogical. If you are Japanese you might kill me, steal from me, or lie to me. But between Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Somalians, we are peace-loving people. We will not make warfare. These assumptions are wrong.
JE: So how would you change the Constitution?
Well, not only Article 9, but also Article 1, which says that the Emperor is a symbol of Japan and the sovereign people of Japan, must be revised. Japan is a democracy. The Constitution says that we are sovereign only in the context of the emperor’s role. Article 1 must be revised to say something like, “we, the Japanese people possess entire sovereignty in Japan.” Article 2 or 3, I don’t know, would say the emperor shall be based on the consensus of the Japanese as a sovereign people. The emperor would be a symbol of Japan and the Japanese people. Currently, Article 1 is a definition of the role of the emperor, and indirectly, the sovereignty of the Japanese people is mentioned. That is not fair.
And there are new kinds of rights — environmental rights, the right to access information or rights of privacy — these new rights were not assumed when the Constitution was drafted in 1946. These may be incorporated into the Constitution. And among these issues, Article 9 must be clarified. Japan should not conduct any kind of offensive military activity, that is clear, but as a sovereign nation Japan can possess a reasonable scale of armed forces to protect its territory, people, and property, and Japan can conduct international peacekeeping operations, and Japan must maintain very strict civilian control over its military — it should be made much more clear. It is unhealthy to talk about Article 9 alone; we have to look at the entire Constitution.
Another important thing was the Japanese Constitution was originally drafted in English and then translated into Japanese. The Japanese of the Constitution is a bit weird. If we have a chance, our Constitution must be drafted in Japanese by Japanese.
SP: Didn’t the Mainichi Shimbun do that once?
Yes, and the Yomiuri did too.
SP: They used normal language. Instead of saying, “No one shall take away the people’s rights,” it said the “people’s rights should be protected.” It didn’t sound like the Constitution was protecting the people from the government. When do you think this can happen? Is the older generation is going to have to disappear?
Again, my frank impression is that neighboring countries are not opposed to Japan revising its Constitution. The Chinese are realists and know the importance of the Sino-Japanese relationship. China knows it cannot stop it. Allow me to use the expression “enemy.” If an enemy exists inside Japan — they are, as you mentioned, people like General Tamogami. These kinds of extremely hawkish people or radical history revisionists are the obstacle to revising the Constitution.
SP: They are actually helping the Article 9 supporters.
As long as Article 9 exists they can always complain. And any contradiction or policy mistakes can be seen as the result of Article 9. It’s easy. I feel the same thing about the so-called abduction or North Korean issues. You know the expression Pareto Optimum4? It means some balance is achieved, and if you change something the balance will disappear.
JE: What do you think Japan’s role should be in the world today?
In terms of peacekeeping opera-tions, Japan first dispatched the SDF to Cambodia in 1992. That was the peak. It has decreased ever since. Nowadays there are only forty SDF personnel abroad as PKO members. China sent 2,000 people, including engineers, [to Cambodia].5 And Japan would like to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council — it is impossible. You can say that PKOs alone are not Japan’s only contribution to the international com-munity and you would be right. In the 1990s Japan was the largest ODA donor in the world.6 Now it is fifth, and because of budget constraints, next year maybe it will be sixth or seventh. So forty PKO personnel and fifth as an ODA donor — is this enough for Japan’s economic size? I don’t think so. It is unsatisfactory.
1. The San Francisco Treaty was signed on September 8th, 1951 between Japan and the Allied forces to normalize relations and promote cooperation.
2. Tamogami Toshio, the chief of staff of Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force, was dismissed from his post on October 31st, 2008 after an essay he wrote defending Japan’s actions during WWII was posted on a website. In his essay he wrote that “Even now, there are many people who think that our country’s ‘aggression’ caused unbearable suffering to the countries of Asia during the Greater East Asia War…But we need to realise that many Asian countries take a positive view of the Greater East Asia War. It is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation.”
3. Two SDF navy ships were dispatched to Somalia in March on an antipiracy mission. The decision remains controversial.
4. The Pareto Optimum, named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, describes a situation in economics or the social sciences when a group of individuals reach an optimum balance in which everyone is benefitting.
5. According to the China Daily, “The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has sent 11,063 military personnel to participate in 18 UN peacekeeping operations since 1990.”
6. Japan led the world in ODA from 1991 to 2001.