US abets Japanese remilitarization —and revisionism

Well well, look who’s running for the Diet. An almost perfect analogy to the vile Alessandra Mussolini in Italy. She was (officially) “shunned” by the “post-Fascist” National Alliance—even as doing so only helped legitimize and mainstream the party whose roots go straight back Il Duce. Japan’s ruling LDP does not have roots in the fascist era, but it is leading a propaganda drive to rehabilitate Japan’s World War II role—and a political drive to remilitarize the country. This revealing July 26 USA Today report is rather understatedly entitled “Nationalism gains strength in Japan”:

TOKYO — Yuko Tojo remembers her grandfather, Hideki Tojo, as a gentle man who wrote loving letters to his family and allowed her to tear through the garden with the servants’ children. History remembers him as a war criminal, the World War II prime minister responsible for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Yuko Tojo, 68, seeks a seat in the upper house of Japan’s parliament to clear her grandfather’s name. In elections Sunday, she is running as an independent, shunned by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that shares many of her revisionist views on Japan’s wartime past. Even she is skeptical about her chances, and polls suggest that the LDP, led by unpopular Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is headed for defeat, too.

Whatever happens Sunday, the nationalistic ideas that Yuko Tojo and the LDP champion are likely to survive. Their platform once languished outside the mainstream: They want Japan to revise the anti-war constitution imposed by the United States after World War II. They want Japan to rearm its military and rewrite history, erasing bits about sneak attacks and massacres and replacing them with odes to patriotism and honor.

Such ideas were heretical in postwar Japan but have gathered public support in recent years as China has launched a rapid military buildup and North Korea has tested missiles and nuclear devices. The United States, which has borne the burden for Japan’s defense, has encouraged it to rearm.

“No matter who wins the election, nationalism will grow in Japan,” says Yan Xuetong, foreign policy professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University.

Tokyo political commentator Yoshiko Sakurai agrees: A victory Sunday by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) might slow the trend, she says, but won’t stop it. Why:

•The LDP, controlled by a nationalist faction, will keep its grip on parliament’s lower House of Representatives, which picks the prime minister.

•The LDP has pushed through parts of Abe’s nationalist agenda, expanding the role of Japan’s armed forces by sending troops to help in Iraq and Afghanistan, passing legislation intended to set the stage for revising the constitution, and approving school policies that stress “patriotic” education.

•Shintaro Ishihara, a nationalist who is governor of Tokyo, punishes teachers who won’t follow the patriotic line in the classroom.

Even the opposition DPJ calls for Japan to build its defensive capability and to play a bolder role in world affairs by joining United Nations peacekeeping operations — regarded by past Japanese governments as flirting with constitutional restrictions on war.

The drive to revise the constitution dismays many Japanese, proud of their country’s pacifist postwar record. “We have to protect” the constitution, says Hayato Uemura, 51, who sells software. “We shouldn’t start war.”

Japanese forces invaded and occupied China and South Korea before and during World War II. Right-leaning commentators such as Sakurai deny or downplay documented wartime atrocities such as the Nanking massacre, in which Japanese troops butchered thousands of Chinese civilians.

In 2001, Abe, then the LDP’s acting secretary general, pressured national broadcaster NHK to censor a program on the Japanese military’s wartime use of sex slaves (known as “comfort women”), according to the Asahi newspaper.

“We did terrible things during the war to foreigners and our own people. This is a fact,” says left-leaning political commentator Minoru Morita. “We lost 3.1 million people and a third of our national wealth. It took us 25 years to recover. We learned we have to get along with the United States and China. Some of our politicians don’t realize that.”

Hundreds of Japanese teachers have refused to cooperate with what they see as coercive attempts to instill patriotism in youngsters and with the revision of Japan’s history.

In Tokyo alone, 320 teachers have been punished — some docked pay or suspended — for refusing to salute the flag or stand for the national anthem, according to the Tokyo school board. Akira Suzuki of the school system’s personnel department says the board is enforcing the rules, not political orthodoxy.

Tokyo middle school teacher Kimiko Nezu has been suspended so often that she expects to earn less than $17,000 of her $58,000 salary this year.

She says she’s been punished for refusing to stand for the national anthem and for teaching her students about comfort women, despite repeated warnings to stay away from the taboo topic.

Nezu, 56, says nationalist pressure began in 1994 and intensified after Ishihara became governor of Tokyo in 1999. “I never imagined it would get this bad so quickly,” she says. She was transferred this year to a school for the disabled in what she views as punishment. She expects to lose her job before her lawsuit against the school board is decided next year. “This is my way of being a patriot,” she says.

Yuko Tojo has a different view of patriotism. She says she believes history, written by World War II’s winners, needs to be revised to salvage the reputation of her country — and her grandfather. He was hanged in 1948 after being convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal. Her view: Japan invaded its neighbors and attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941 because the United States was smothering Japan with economic sanctions. “It was a war of self-defense,” she says. “Japan’s history has been distorted.”

A former housewife, Tojo has no gripe against the United States. Her 29-year-old daughter, who married an American and settled in Seattle, was upset when her husband left his job and joined the U.S. Air Force after the 9/11 attacks. “I told her this is the time his country needs him,” Yuko Tojo says. “I told her his act was splendid.”

How ironically telling that Tojo has “no gripe” against the nation that hanged her revered grandfather. As we have noted, the US is paradoxically complicit with Japan’s drive for re-armament—in part because of Bush’s desperation for allies in the Iraq adventure. A July 22 story in the New York Times, “Bomb by Bomb, Japan Sheds Military Restraints,” noted:

In Iraq, in accordance with a special law to aid in reconstruction, a symbolic ground force was first deployed to a relatively peaceful, noncombat area in southern Iraq to engage in relief activities. After the troops left last year, though, three Japanese planes began regularly transporting American troops and cargo from Kuwait to Baghdad.

The Japanese authorities refuse to say whether the planes have transported weapons besides those carried by soldiers. Concerned about public opposition, defense officers have spied on antiwar activists and journalists perceived as critical, the Defense Ministry acknowledged after incriminating documents were recently obtained by the Communist Party in Japan.

Mr. [Yukio] Hatoyama of the [opposition] Democratic Party said that transporting armed American troops contravened Japan’s pacifist Constitution.

“Instead of engaging in humanitarian assistance, they are basically assisting American troops,” he said. “American troops and the Air Self-Defense Forces are working as one, just as they are training as one in Guam.”

This was a reference to annual exercises with the US Air Force last month, in which Japanese F-2 warplanes—the first developed jointly by Japan and the US, and the first to be able to fly the 1,700 miles from Japan to Guam in a “straight shot”—practiced dropping 500-pound live bombs on Farallon de Medinilla, a small island off Guam. A few years ago, this would have been unthinkable. Writes the Times:

The incremental changes, especially since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, amount to the most significant transformation in Japan’s military since World War II, one that has brought it ever closer operationally to America’s military while rattling nerves throughout northeast Asia.


Japan is America’s biggest partner in developing and financing a missile defense shield in Asia. Some Japanese ground and air force commands are also moving inside American bases in Japan so that the two forces will become, in military jargon, “interoperable.”

See our last posts on Japan, the missile shield and the struggle for the legacy of World War II.

  1. Fujimori runs for office… in Japan!
    Stranger and stranger. This is his best trick since Fuji-Cola. From AFP, July 29:

    TOKYO: Among the candidates running for seats in Japan’s parliament this weekend is the former president of another country who is under house arrest on the other side of the world.

    Peru’s ex-president Alberto Fujimori, who holds Japanese nationality thanks to his ancestry but cannot leave a house in Santiago, Chile, is believed to be the first former head of state ever to seek national office in another country.

    While his candidacy is highly unusual, he is just one of a number of high-profile figures whom Japanese political parties have tapped in hopes of bringing out voters in Sunday’s election for the upper house of parliament.

    Other candidates in the election — expected to deliver a rebuke to conservative prime minister Shinzo Abe — include a former adviser to the Dalai Lama, the father of a young golf star and a television anchorwoman.

    Fujimori was drafted by the People’s New Party, a small conservative opposition group which is polling at less than one per cent. It is difficult to predict if he will win due to Japan’s complex election system.

    Fujimori, who on Saturday was celebrating his 69th birthday, has borrowed his slogan from a Tom Cruise film, calling himself The Last Samurai, who can restore Japanese traditional values of hard work and humility. “I will stake my life for the samurai nation of Japan!” the exiled leader said in a campaign video from Chile, speaking Japanese with a Spanish accent.

    The former president remains a controversial figure in Peru. Proponents credit the US-educated academic with saving the economy and crushing a Maoist rebellion over his 10-year tenure, but critics accuse him of trampling human rights.

    He fled to Tokyo in 2000 amid a corruption probe and faxed his resignation from a hotel. He stayed in exile in Japan for five years before he flew to Chile in an apparent bid to return to Peru. He was arrested and put under house arrest as Chile examines requests from Peru to extradite him to face charges.

    But Fujimori enjoys wide sympathy among Japanese conservatives. In 1997, he ordered elite troops to break a four-month siege by leftist guerrillas of the Japanese ambassador’s residence in Lima. Seventy-one hostages were saved, many of them Japanese. Fourteen militants were killed, along with one hostage and two soldiers.

    See our last posts on Peru and the indefatigable Fujimori.