Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hawks and Doves - Idle Thoughts On

Former Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō, watching the towers of the World Trade Center fall, understood in an instant that the terms of the Japan-U.S. alliance had been reset. Whatever the Cabinet Legislative Bureau had ever said was or was not constitutional vis-a-vis the use of the Self Defense Forces in service of the alliance was no longer operative.

And Koizumi set about realigning the policies of Japan with the new reality.

Do the various interested parties in the United States understand that the Koizumi shift was conditional, not ideological--and that events since the Afghan War--the new, new reality-- have been resetting the terms of the alliance again?

I sure hope they have.

The United States and other countries (at the urging of the United States) have been asking the Japanese government to increase

a) Japan's military capabilities and

b) its direct participation in international security operations.

One longtime dove argument against such an increase in military capabilities and/or commitment to international security cooperation has been that, in the context of a dependent Japanese alliance with the United States, a more militarily capable Japan would find itself with paradoxically less autonomy than before -- that due to the SDF's greater usefulness, Japan would get dragged into U.S. military adventures.

The U.S. Embassy counterargument was, in grotesque simplification, a lengthy huff:

"Are you saying that you worry that the United States, Japan's ultimate protector, would engage in illegitimate, security-diminishing military adventurism, unthinkingly sacrifice its own blood and treasure, and the blood and treasure of its allies? I' m sorry but you are barking up the wrong tree. The United States is not pre-1945 Japan, sending its soldiers into country after country, chasing after some ever-receding horizon of ultimate security!"

Well, hmmm...

An aside - I hope that the recent mania, particularly the U.S. media's cooperation in the suppression of dissenting views--and the willingness of U.S. elites to surrender their skepticism over a preemptive, non-UN sanctioned invasion of a sovereign nation and the establishment of an intrusive, corner-cutting, torturing, secret police state at home -- finally lets the pre-war citizens of Japan off the war-responsibility hook. Considering what few institutional supports and what little leverage Japanese citizens had under the Meiji Constitution, their record in defense of their freedoms and against the propaganda of the militarists turns out not to have been so poor after all.

The questions in the history courses used to be:

"How could they let this happen? Was there no one to say 'Stop'? Was there some cultural predilection to obedience that made them give up their rights and succumb to war fever?"

The answers turn out to be, in order, "Easily," "No" and "No."
Since it turns out that the United States can gin itself into a war fever and drag its allies into a murky, blood-soaked adventure without clear endpoint or purpose, have we come to a juncture where purported Japanese foot-dragging and self-limitation on security cooperation no longer looks irresponsible but instead looks prudent? Where Japan's emphasis on contributing to world security through leadership on disease control, global warming, combatting poverty...and Japan's basic acceptance of the sovereignty of all nations...has stopped looking merely smart but indeed begins to look...moral?

And do the "Japan specialists" advising the two candidates for the U.S. presidency understand that a post-Iraq, post-Abu Ghraib (and many other things too) Japan-U.S. alliance has the two allies on a different footing than before?

I see evidence of an awareness of the shift--but I do not see an acceptance of it.


Anonymous said...

This is an interesting line of thought. As someone who periodically teaches Japanese history, I have often thought that the civilian population was not only too compliant, it was actively cooperative with the militarist mode. However, now watching a candidate for President of the United States say he will "never, never give up in Iraq", I am starting to think very differently about pre-war Japan. We also see, in the US, a completely compliant military where top brass who dod not agree with the President are simply removed, then he can say he is following the military's advice. Hmmm

Anonymous said...

I guess I would agree that the US government's moral authority to criticize the Japanese government on its war record is open to question.

But it seems like a straw man, given that the Executive has never in fact done this-the recent Comfort Women resolution did not originate in the state or defense departments and never had much to do with them.

And haven't people like John Dower and Yoshida Yutaka made the argument that the US government actively damaged and hindered the pursuit of war responsibility during the occupation?

I don't disagree with your criticism of the Hawk line in the US government-I just don't see what it has to do with the facts of -Japanese- foreign and military policy as they stand. After all, I don't think anyone from the US government has gone out on a limb to criticize, say, Japan's ODA and 'culture' driven foreign policies-correct me if I am wrong.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the tone of discussion I hear from US Navy brass in public statements to Japan is always, 'you had a great and noble military, and I have high hopes for what you have now...but we won the war."

Martin J Frid said...

And in your musings, you don't even mention Iran.

"How could [Americans] let this happen? Was there no one to say 'Stop'? Was there some cultural predilection to obedience that made [Americans] give up their rights and succumb to war fever?"

Let's hope there are people both in the US and Japan (and elsewhere) who will do... yes, what will we do? What exactly can we do?