Wednesday, December 19, 2007

How long is forever?

I have always felt an intense annoyance at the use of the word "forever" (永久に) in Article 9 of the Constitution. It is nonsensical excess verbiage--no person living today can make a promise on behalf of generations not yet born. The best anyone can do is speak for the present, leaving to future generations the choice over whether or not to renew the pledge*.

Nevertheless, I am suddenly interested in how long forever might last. Explanations I have read of the Yoshida Doctrine have emphasized its limited mandate--that the crafters of the Doctrine felt a focus on economic development was a temporary measure. Eventually, Japan would return to strength, become a normal country again and ally itself with the winning side--just as it did so successfully during the first two decades of the 20th century. The "forever" in Article 9 was a contingency, a convenient interim falsehood.

What the liberal, internationalist crafters of the Doctrine and the conservatives who acquiesced to it did not and could not imagine was that the Doctrine would outlive Japan's devastated state. Under the wing of the United States military and in a zone of largely free trade, Japan's economy zipped past medium power status right into superpower status before a political adjustment could take place. The upward economic march furthermore lasted long enough for two entire generations to grow up indoctrinated in an official creed arguing that Japan's prosperity's was the result of an unwillingness to go to war. That extremely militarized societies in South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore somehow enjoyed even faster spurts of economic growth managed to have--and still manages to have--zero impact on the thinking of most Japanese as to the relationship between prosperity and military preparedness.

Japan is now crossing a further Rubicon. Having become the world's number #2 economy without reestablishing a function for the military in its external relations, Japan must now grapple with the spillover effects of becoming the first society of the elderly, redoubling the difficulty of shifting out of the passive, cautious, and dependent Yoshida formulation.

Hence my wondering about the word "forever" in Article 9. Rather than indicating the depth of sincerity of a voluntary pledge--which I believe was the intent of the original drafters of the Constitution--has "forever" become an inescapable fact? Is "forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes" not just the default mode but instead Japan's ineluctable fate? And when you promise to do something forever that you cannot avoid, is it a promise at all?


* For certain hopeless situations "forever" is apt. Chief Joseph's surrender speech is an example.

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