The Power of Liberty

Beate Sirota Gordon died at the age of 89 yesterday. She was an amazing woman who singlehandedly changed the destiny of Japanese women by being at the right place at the right time — with the intelligence and confidence to do what only she at the time could do. She was the only woman on General MacArthur’s staff who was assigned to help write a new constitution for Japan at the end of World War II. She wasn’t an expert on constitutional law or a scholar (one has to wonder if that wasn’t a good thing!). She was 22 years old, the only woman in the room, and a talented interpreter who was told to draft articles on women’s rights in just a week. 

It was an extraordinary moment for an extraordinary woman. Informed by the U.S. Constitution and constitutions from countries around the world, she changed the course of Japan’s history and the status of Japanese women from that day onward. In Article 14 of the constitution, she wrote, “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.” Article 24 gave women protections in areas including “choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters.”

This incredible woman worked to free the women of Japan in a way that seemed almost miraculous. The power of that struck me. I thought to myself of all the things Gordon could have written, of all she could have focused on, and yet she knew what had to come first, the foundation had to be laid — equal rights under the law. The feudal system of the monarchy had denied women liberty and rights to their own property for too long, and Beate knew it had to end in order for them to be set free. With a stroke of a pen, she set loose what was already a fundamental truth coursing through their veins.

Some think those of us who advocate individual rights and liberty for all are not sensitive to the everyday plights of women or to the many issues that face them, the pain they endure, the struggles they face. Some think that because we don’t look for a law or policy to fix everything that’s wrong, that somehow we don’t care. And yet that is so far from the truth. We understand the pain and struggle women face. We know the heartache of every woman who feels helpless as she kneels under the weight of an abuser’s heavy hand. We know. We also know the answer is not in what men can give us. It’s in nature’s God, in the rights given to each of us as individuals. It is not in the promises of government or in the decrees of a king. It’s in the fundamental rights of every human being to live freely and to succeed or fail according to their own initiative or even to the seemingly unjust course of life. 

Beate Sirota Gordon did not give the Japanese women free housing, free healthcare, free transportation, free education, or even free birth control. She gave them freedom, and the only reason she could give them that — and the only reason freedom has endured since it was penned in that  constitution in 1946 —  is because it was born of something bigger than Beate Gordon, something bigger than MacArthur and the United States, and something bigger than Emperor Hirohito.

It was born of nature’s God, and as such it can never be taken away. It can be stolen for a while, as it has been on many, many occasions throughout human history. But inevitably it will rise and break the chains that bind us. It will use whatever means are necessary. Those means might come as educated, determined men gather together in a crowded room during hot summer days to form a more perfect union, or it might come from a single 22-year-old woman who knows nothing about laws and constitutions, who is alone in a room full of men, but who is determined to do what is right to set a people free. That is the power of liberty. That is the power of God.

  1. Barkha Herman

    Wow, Denise.  I’ll have to look her up; thanks for sharing.

  2. Roberto

    Over the years I have often been curious regarding the opinion held of Ms. Gordon in Japan and yet whether she is widely admired or widely derided such opinion seems only quietly expressed. Although it is difficult to judge such matters from afar considering how significant a mark she made on that nation it is surprising how she appeared to pass under the radar, she seemed a far larger figure in her own country than the one in which she helped draft the constitution.

  3. Aaron Miller

    Thanks. I did not know that story.

  4. outstripp

    BTW, her middle name (Sirota) sounds Japanese, but it is not.

  5. D.C. McAllister
    C

    Thanks Paul! From Pink Floyd to the Japanese constitution to just about anything. Ricochet is definitely the place to be! Not to mention all the great people!

  6. James Of England
    Cutlass: Seems like an admirable woman.

    Still, this quote troubled me:

    “All of the people are equal under the law andthere shall be no discrimination…..

    Did this provision apply only to the government (“under the law”), or to private interactions (“economic or social relations”) as well? If the later, it seems overly broad and shows little respect for property rights….

    As I recall (although it’s been a while), it was intended to be, and has functioned as, a carbon copy of our 14th Amendment as understood by MacArthur. Most of the Japanese Constitution as it pertains to rights is similarly cut and pasted, with a reversed Second Amendment (because the constitution was being written by an occupying power, the ability to resist was less highly valued).

    I often think that Bush’s biggest mistake was the decision to give Iraq a quasi-Belgian constitution with the result that, like Belgium, Iraq struggles to form governments. We should have been more arrogant, because the American Constitution really is better than others. MacArthur’s occupation saw some terrible decisions, but this was great. Japan was fundamentally transformed in a manner that I have not read of happening anywhere else.

  7. Skyler

    What a shame she wasn’t available to write constitutions for Iraq and Afghanistan.

  8. Severely Ltd.

    A powerfully written post. Thanks.

  9. The Mugwump

    Well said, sister.

    I fear progressives have concluded that Americans will never willingly give up liberty, but we might be swindled out of it given proper inducements.  The left promises “rights” in exchange for liberty in the full knowledge that when liberty is surrendered, “rights” granted by the state can be revoked by the state.  This is how demagogues subvert democracy.  A terrible menace this way comes, and his heart is full of malice.     

  10. Indaba
    Denise McAllister: Indaba–yes she was the only woman in the room literally. It’s also the title of her biography. · 7 hours ago

    My whole career, I have been the only woman in the room, now there are a few more.

    I don’t think that is remarkable. although others often say that to me. I find the woman being alone at home with her children, and being a remarkable mother every day is far more impressive. When no one is looking and there is no recognition and it is self sacrificing. there is not government pension, no award, no salary. There is enormous personal risk as the woman’s husband may leave her or treat her poorly. My greatest achievement is having been the mother in the room with my two babies. It may not make such a great book though!

    Not that I am belittling this fine lady and her hard work and achievements that have benefited so many.

  11. Indaba
    Skyler: What a shame she wasn’t available to write constitutions for Iraq and Afghanistan. · 1 hour ago

    Or Zimbabwe.

  12. Byron Horatio

    What a wonderful story. Contrast this champion of true women’s equality with Hillary Clinton, who pays lip service to vile Islamic regimes that treat women like chattel and mutilate their sexual organs.

  13. Cutlass

    Seems like an admirable woman.

    Still, this quote troubled me:

    “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”

    Did this provision apply only to the government (“under the law”), or to private interactions (“economic or social relations”) as well? If the later, it seems overly broad and shows little respect for property rights. 

    Laws are one thing – for example, our Civil Rights Act regarding employment discrimination, for which I can see being justified by unique historical circumstances (that’s a whole other debate), but to have such broad limitations on individual rights to property and association enshrined in a constitution is quite troubling. 

    The purpose of a constitution is to limit the power of government, not the people.

  14. Brasidas

    Wonderful post, Denise.  I knew none of this.  Thank you for sharing — and welcome to Ricochet.  Nice to have you here.  

  15. Indaba

    At that age, I would not have known what she wrote. “choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile.”

    Was she alone though in a room of men?

    I am often alone in a room of men because most women do not choose to be there, not because men refuse me entrance. If I speak up for myself and make my case firmly, I get my way.

    Women choose and if they choose to accept government housing, contraceptives, etc. I think they are saying I can not provide for myself. 

    I was seated next to an Indian business friend today. He was head of a large financial institution in Toronto, now retired. We both try to get paid seats on Boards of Directors and talked about now we play the diversity game. He said it embarrassed him. 

    I can see why there was the need to state women get to choose their own spouse (or drive a car). So many places in the world the woman is under a body bag and denied these obvious rights. Where are the feminists?

    Byron Horatio: Contrast this champion of true women’s equality with Hillary Clinton · 21 minutes ago

    Disappointing and selfish.

  16. Pseudodionysius
    Denise McAllister: Thanks Paul! From Pink Floyd to the Japanese constitution to just about anything. Ricochet is definitely the place to be! Not to mention all the great people! · 3 hours ago

    And the Piano of Doom, an EJHill/Pseudodionysius joint venture which was directly responsible for the primary surge of Mitt Romney over Newt Gingrich.

  17. Gus Marvinson

    Excellent, Denise. I learned some things and enjoyed the read. It’s good to have you around.

  18. Skyler

    We haven’t conquered Zimbabwe, Indaba.

  19. James Of England
    Skyler: We haven’t conquered Zimbabwe, Indaba. · 19 minutes ago

    I think she meant that it would have been neat if Britain had had her, or someone like her, involved in decolonization.

  20. D.C. McAllister
    C

    Indaba–yes she was the only woman in the room literally. It’s also the title of her biography.

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