Meanwhile in Japan…

 

1072px-Flag_of_JSDF.svgFrom 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.

More:

[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?

Published in Foreign Policy, General
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  1. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    I’m triggered by this naval ensign.

    • #1
  2. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I hate to quote the Biden, but this is a big [expletive] deal.

    There is some irony that those who caused so much instability are about the only ones we can count on now to help maintain the peace.

    • #2
  3. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: 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.

    There may be historical completeness involved in that, but nothing more.  The Japan that did those things doesn’t exist, anymore than the Germany that did its part in WWII exists.  Both were utterly destroyed and wholly replaced.

    It’s time the nations so wrapped up in their blood feud pseudo-honor nonsense put that aside and figure out who their friends are and who their enemies are.

    It’s entirely likely that Japan’s Constitution will need to be changed–Article 9 seems clear–and that’s going to be a hard thing to do given the population’s apparent attitude toward arming up and toward Abe’s parliamentary moves, but there it is.

    In the meantime, the government of the PRC is laughing up its collective sleeve as it keeps successfully stirring this pot.

    Eric Hines

    • #3
  4. user_989554 Inactive
    user_989554
    @MattWood

    Fricosis Guy:I’m triggered by this naval ensign.

    Wow how do I have absolutely no idea what this is from?

    • #4
  5. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    I think this is all smoke and mirrors. I will care when they triple their military budget and revive their navy. It one thing to say you will go fight, but if you don’t have the weapons to do it it doesn’t make a difference.

    • #5
  6. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    Matt Wood:

    Fricosis Guy:I’m triggered by this naval ensign.

    Wow how do I have absolutely no idea what this is from?

    1941. Weird movie.

    • #6
  7. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    I’m not remotely concerned about this.  Japanese culture doesn’t even resemble it’s 1940’s self.  This is a positive development as it acts as a check on future Chinese aggression.

    Good for Japan.

    • #7
  8. user_989554 Inactive
    user_989554
    @MattWood

    Where are the biggest implications of this gonna be abroad? Will the military be used primarily as the quoted article indicated in an anti-terrorist/special forces rescue capacity? Or will they expect a little more say in the region or want us to move along from our Pacific bases?

    • #8
  9. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    I think that we’re complicit in Japan’s refusal to admit their past is a good observation.  My judgement is that Japan has now permanently evolved to a nation of decency and deserve the obligation of self-defense.  I say “deserve” quite consciously because self-defense provides a nation with dignity.  Plus, given the huge population and future power of China, we need Japan to help us in the Pacific.

    • #9
  10. user_137118 Member
    user_137118
    @DeanMurphy

    I think it is eminently practical of them and wondered why they hadn’t done it sooner.

    • #10
  11. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Frank Soto: I’m not remotely concerned about this.  Japanese culture doesn’t even resemble it’s 1940′s self.  This is a positive development as it acts as a check on future Chinese aggression.

    That’s my initial reaction and — on balance — my main one. I want good, grown-up countries who share our interests to be armed and on our side.

    At the same time, I can’t write “Hey, let’s rearm the Japanese!” without hearing it in the tones of a blonde co-ed who thinks it’s a good idea to go all the way with her boyfriend at his parents’ cabin, despite there being a serial killer on the loose.

    • #11
  12. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Valiuth:I think this is all smoke and mirrors. I will care when they triple their military budget and revive their navy. It one thing to say you will go fight, but if you don’t have the weapons to do it it doesn’t make a difference.

    Japan has a very large military already. You have not been following things.

    • #12
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    It feels like the sort of thing that shouldn’t be achievable by a simple statute, but does Japan’s constitution even include an amendment formula?

    Are there any experts on Japanese constitutional law out there amongst the Ricochetoisie who can weigh in on this question?

    • #13
  14. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    Isn’t this the right time to stir up the Japanese people’s historical sense of martial vigor and against external threats? Most countries like to have an excuse to arm up and defend themselves. When did Japan go soft? It’s time to tell them that they have shown themselves to be good guys for long enough and time to ease up on the post-war defense limits and that it’s time to stand up and defend themselves, cuz we are broke and can’t carry the load. Time for Japan and South Korea to carry more of the defense of SE Asia.

    • #14
  15. Frozen Chosen Inactive
    Frozen Chosen
    @FrozenChosen

    Given all that is happening in the world today, I think that Japan is the least of our worries.

    • #15
  16. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    If the Japanese are moving beyond self-defense in the narrowest sense of that phrase, it is China’s doing.

    This bill will allow them to make a defensive alliance with other states bordering the South China sea that the Chinese are trying to bully. It will allow them to reconfigure their military with the needs of such allies in mind.

    That military is already formidable. If there were a confrontation at sea tomorrow over the disputed islands, the Japanese would win hands down.

    What they do not yet have, however, is the capacity to retaliate if the Chinese were to make a missile assault on Japan itself.

    Their acquisition of that capacity is, I suspect, quietly underway.

    • #16
  17. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Frank Soto:I’m not remotely concerned about this. Japanese culture doesn’t even resemble it’s 1940′s self. This is a positive development as it acts as a check on future Chinese aggression.

    Good for Japan.

    While I think it’s past time Japan put on its big boy pants again, I think the “peaceful” Japanese culture is a thin veneer on top of traditional Japanese society that is only constrained because of the United States. Japan didn’t change, it just adapted. Now Germany, on the other hand… I think we well and truly neutered them. We crushed their whole culture. And we were going to do even worse to them before Truman nixed the Morgenthau Plan. But I think Germany is just a nation of car makers and bankers now, not a martial bone in it’s body. If the Russians ever rolled on them, it’d be a quick fight.

    • #17
  18. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Frank Soto:I’m not remotely concerned about this. Japanese culture doesn’t even resemble it’s 1940′s self. This is a positive development as it acts as a check on future Chinese aggression.

    It’s good that countries like Korea or the Philippines can now ask Japan for assistance if necessary, but it could (hypothetically) also be used by Japan for more strategic pursuits, like declaring Japanese sovereignty over islands that China has been building in the South China Sea, or even worse over territory already claimed by other countries.

    I’m not afraid of Japan reverting to its 1930s/40s self, but it wouldn’t have to go that far for things to get out of hand. All it would take would be a dispute over some uninhabited rock, kinda like the dispute between Canada and Denmark over Hans Island.

    It’s cute when countries like Canada and Denmark have a “war of flag-planting”, because they’re never going to have a hot war over the issue (being NATO allies, and all). When the parties are bigger, badder, and not members of the same military alliance, disputes over uninhabited rocks can get out of hand a wee bit more readily.

    The devil will be in the details.

    • #18
  19. Stu In Tokyo Inactive
    Stu In Tokyo
    @StuInTokyo

    So Japan loses the war, the US writes their new constitution for them, and forevermore Japan has to follow what the US wrote for them…..?

    Can anyone give me another example in world history where this happened? Germany wrote their own constitution, well West Germany did in the early 1950’s if I recall correctly, so why is it that Japan cannot alter a constitution forced down their throats at gunpoint 70 years ago?

    Really can you name another country in Asia that you would trust more?

    The Japanese people are a bunch of spoiled rotten children that refuse to put on their big boy pants and become adults, they are like the star player on a hockey team that never fights their own fights, they have some goon (you guys in the US) who will step in and take the punches and also give the punches. Now Abe sees that the goon has become a wimp and does not wish to take the punches or strike back, so he is thinking maybe it is time to brush up on some martial arts and learn to defend itself.

    Much ado about nothing, the Japanese should really worry about their kids not moving out EVER and not getting married and not having the next generation to support them in their old age, that is a MUCH larger problem.

    Domo

    • #19
  20. Stu In Tokyo Inactive
    Stu In Tokyo
    @StuInTokyo

    While I think it’s past time Japan put on its big boy pants again, I think the “peaceful” Japanese culture is a thin veneer on top of traditional Japanese society that is only constrained because of the United States. Japan didn’t change, it just adapted. Now Germany, on the other hand… I think we well and truly neutered them. We crushed their whole culture. And we were going to do even worse to them before Truman nixed the Morgenthau Plan. But I think Germany is just a nation of car makers and bankers now, not a martial bone in it’s body. If the Russians ever rolled on them, it’d be a quick fight.

    I have to really disagree with you on this one, the Japanese culture has been beaten down to a pulp, they are such a nation of limp wristed do nothings, the young men are even too afraid to ask the young women out on a date. I see it all the time, at my shop, these young guys come in and they are just a bunch of spoiled doughy wimps, they really amaze me. Look at their sports, the non-Japanese Sumo wrestlers are starting to really dominate the sport, the martial arts too, I am involved with a martial art called Aikido, the world HQ is in my area, the top students of almost any teacher is almost always NOT Japanese, the Japanese guys just don’t train hard enough.

    • #20
  21. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Stu In Tokyo: Germany wrote their own constitution, well West Germany did in the early 1950′s if I recall correctly, so why is it that Japan cannot alter a constitution forced down their throats at gunpoint 70 years ago?

    They surely can, but without a formal amendment formula there’s sorta an unwritten rule that a constitution shouldn’t be amended by simple statute. If it can be so amended then it’s really not worth much. Abe probably would have been wise to, at the very least, put the question to the Japanese people.

    • #21
  22. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Stu In Tokyo: Now Germany, on the other hand… I think we well and truly neutered them. We crushed their whole culture.

    Orrrr, Germany was convinced that they could achieve their goal of dominating Europe by diplomatic and economic means…

    • #22
  23. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Frank Soto:I’m not remotely concerned about this. Japanese culture doesn’t even resemble it’s 1940′s self. This is a positive development as it acts as a check on future Chinese aggression.

    Good for Japan.

    Makes sense for an American.

    The view in East Asia is much, much different. Go to the Phillipines, Thailand, Malaysia, S. Korea and ask who they are more afraid of – the answer, unequivocally is that they fear a resurgent Japan and not a currently belligerent China.

    Shocking, I know – I actually had to look into this because it was unbelievable to me.

    • #23
  24. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Valiuth:I think this is all smoke and mirrors. I will care when they triple their military budget and revive their navy. It one thing to say you will go fight, but if you don’t have the weapons to do it it doesn’t make a difference.

    Val,

    We need to get moving on the our Navy right now. The Japanese will be forced to rearm if they are going to watch Obama fritter away our foreign policy any longer. The whole region is threatened and requires immediate action.

    On the other hand we could deny them even a compass from a box of cracker jacks.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #24
  25. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Douglas:

     Japan didn’t change, it just adapted. Now Germany, on the other hand… I think we well and truly neutered them. We crushed their whole culture.

    Nope, Japan became pacifist too – no country that has a significant portion of its male population identifying as “Herbivore Man” could be said to be militaristic.

    • #25
  26. Eric Hines Inactive
    Eric Hines
    @EricHines

    Misthiocracy:It feels like the sort of thing that shouldn’t be achievable by a simple statute, but does Japan’s constitution even include an amendment formula?

    Are there any experts on Japanese constitutional law out there amongst the Ricochetoisie who can weigh in on this question?

    I’m not a Japanese constitutional law expert, or even dilettante, but there’s this:

    AMENDMENTS
    Article 96.    Amendments to this Constitution shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House and shall thereupon be submitted to the people for ratification, which shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast thereon, at a special referendum or at such election as the Diet shall specify.
    Amendments when so ratified shall immediately be promulgated by the Emperor in the name of the people, as an integral part of this Constitution.

    Eric Hines

    • #26
  27. user_891102 Member
    user_891102
    @DannyAlexander

    I’m with Stu in Tokyo on this.

    (As a bit of “Japan bona-fides” explication:

    While I’m not currently a Tokyo resident, I have been off-and-on for several multi-year stints from 1988 through 2010, working in both Japanese-owned/run corporations and US subsidiaries there. I’ve also been speaking (and reading/writing) the language since 1986 and am deemed near-bilingual-level fluent by Japanese-national colleagues and friends.)

    If the Japanese public starts to really clamor for Abe to step down over these developments, then fine, but 自業自得, they made their electoral bed (twice) and must lie in it.

    With Abe, the public has known full well whom it is getting:  The PM’s personal idol is his maternal grandfather Kishi Nobusuke; this is the ex-Imperial bureaucrat who ran the wartime Manchukuo colony and the munitions industry, barely escaped prosecution as a war criminal, and in the immediate postwar decades solidified the domestic Japanese political order as a parliamentarian along with the US-Japan security alliance as Prime Minister.

    (Of course, few senior parliamentarians in Japan are free of disturbing Imperial/war-era family connections.)

    The whole situation is a pain in the fundament:

    On the one hand, Japan really must take a more active regional defense role; on the other, it is well past time for Japan to reconcile its postwar PR image with its inner moral conscience.

    But delay in the latter endeavor does not portend danger in the former.

    • #27
  28. Aaron Miller Inactive
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Is Japanese culture not still today exceptionally ethnocentric; even racist? I have often read that immigrants cannot become Japanese as one might become an American or even a Frenchman. And the population remains 98.5% Japanese ethnically.

    A Japanese military is necessary to counter-balance the Chinese. And I don’t doubt Stu’s claim that the Japanese have largely lost their martial culture, having been infantilized by affluence like its Western trading partners. If this legislation was generally supported by Japanese citizens, I’d say it’s probably a good development.

    But we shouldn’t be complacent about the growing strength of a tribal nation that looks on rival peoples with disdain. They might not be war-minded right now, but that might change as Chinese threats incite bravado and the demographic imbalance between young and old tempts the young to seek adventurous alternatives to changing adult diapers.

    • #28
  29. user_88846 Member
    user_88846
    @MikeHubbard

    Not sure that the Abe government will last.  First, Japan’s economy is struggling.  Abenomics has been good for the Nikkei but not so much for ordinary people.  Ordinary Japanese are pessimistic.

    Second, expanding the military is extremely unpopular.  Hayao Miyazaki has pointedly come out against revising the constitution.  In American terms, that would be like Walt Disney telling Ronald Reagan he was out of line.

    So what we have right now is an unpopular government pushing an initiative that’s both unpopular with its own people and unpopular with its neighbors.  Something’s going to give.  I’d expect a new Prime Minister sooner rather than later.

    • #29
  30. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Eric Hines:

    Misthiocracy:It feels like the sort of thing that shouldn’t be achievable by a simple statute, but does Japan’s constitution even include an amendment formula?

    Are there any experts on Japanese constitutional law out there amongst the Ricochetoisie who can weigh in on this question?

    I’m not a Japanese constitutional law expert, or even dilettante, but there’s this:

    AMENDMENTS Article 96. Amendments to this Constitution shall be initiated by the Diet, through a concurring vote of two-thirds or more of all the members of each House and shall thereupon be submitted to the people for ratification, which shall require the affirmative vote of a majority of all votes cast thereon, at a special referendum or at such election as the Diet shall specify. Amendments when so ratified shall immediately be promulgated by the Emperor in the name of the people, as an integral part of this Constitution.

    Eric Hines

    Thank you kindly for enabling my own laziness by doing the search for me. ;-)

    But seriously, this seems to confirm my suspicion that Japan isn’t forced to accept a US-written constitution in perpetuity, since they do have a mechanism for amending their own constitution.

    Abe should probably abide by his country’s constitution.

    • #30
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