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From today’s New York Times, the world continues to be… interesting:
TOKYO — The lower house of Japan’s Parliament passed legislation on Thursday that would give the country’s military limited powers to fight in foreign conflicts. […] The bills represent a break from the strictly defensive stance maintained by Japan in the decades since the war, under which it would fight only if directly attacked. Critics, including a majority of Japanese constitutional specialists, say the legislation violates the country’s postwar charter, which renounces war.
[Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo] Abe has spent considerable political capital pushing the bills through. Voters oppose them by a ratio of roughly two to one, according to numerous surveys, and the government’s once-high support ratings fell to around 40 percent in several polls taken this month.
Mr. Abe has presented the package as an unavoidable response to new threats facing Japan, in particular the growing military power of China. He seized on the murder of two Japanese hostages by the Islamic State militant group in January as an example of why Japan needs to loosen restrictions on its military, suggesting that the military might have rescued them had it been free to act.
I’m a little torn on this. On the one hand, Japan is an enormous power whose strategic interests are largely in sync with our own. In much the same way that many of us — self included — are frustrated by Europe’s reliance on the United States for protection and would like to see NATO turn into something closer to an actual alliance than a protectorate, the same could be said of Japan. If you like the Pax Americana, be willing to fight for it.
On the other hand, as our own Victor Davis Hanson has pointed out, it’s impossible to discount the importance that Germany and Japan’s abandonment of martial life has played in the relative peace of the past 70 years. Moreover, Japan’s continuing refusal to speak plainly and honestly about the atrocities its army conducted — which really did give the Nazis a run for their money — makes it all the more worrisome. I don’t exactly think we’re on the verge of another Rape of Nanking, but I can hardly blame the Chinese or Koreans for being concerned.
(Side note: Have we been complicit in this, albeit for our own, likely PC, reasons? There may well be an exception or two I don’t know about, but the Imperial Japanese military are more likely to be portrayed in American popular media as reluctant but honorbound — think of Toshiro Mifune as Admiral Yamamoto in Tora, Tora, Tora! or Ken Wantanabe as General Kuribayashi in Letters From Iwo Jima — than as the monsters they so often were. Even Colonel Saito from Bridge Over The River Kwai is portrayed more as a desperate brute than anything else. If General Tojo has ever been meaningfully portrayed in American film, it’s escaped my notice).
So, are we seeing the rise of a new, powerful military ally or the early awakenings of a sleeping giant?