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Essay and Opinion

Was "war renunciation" punishment for war crime?
Historical interpretation of pacifism in Japan's constitution

August 11, 2014

Noriho URABE
(Adviser, Japan Institute of Constitutional Law)

August is a good time to look back on the last war we fought, and to think about the principle on peace in our constitution. Japanese media, including newspaper and TV, talk a lot about war and peace issues on and around the 6th (the atomic bomb memorial day in Hiroshima), the 9th,(that in Nagasaki), and the 15th, (the day Japan surrendered), which helps many people to consider such issues. We should always keep these in our minds. And it"s good to remember them at least once a year. Below is my seasonal reflection on the pacifism in the Constitution of Japan, and on its deep historical meanings.
We must perceive the World War II before trying to understand the historical significance of war renunciation declared in the Constitution of Japan. I often hear many people including "progressives" or "left-wingers" define the WWII as the war against fascism. They regard that the globally united front including the USA, the UK, France and the USSR fought against the evil Axis of Japan, Germany and Italy, in order to stop the Axis' military expansion. Such a notion may result in a positive evaluation of the Allied as morally right, and an absolute accusation against the three fascist nations. Consequently, war renunciation in the Constitution of Japan may be regarded as a form of an apology in which Japan regretted and announced "We shall never misbehave again," after beaten flat by the virtuous Allies.
I refuse to characterize the WWII as a war of justice against the evil. I see it as a war of imperialism, which came in succession of the World War I. By the end of the 19th century, new imperialist powers, including the USA, Germany and Japan, emerged. That broke the order of dividing the world among former European powers, such as the UK, France, Spain and Russia. The WWI broke out when the balance among old powers and their colonial interests were threatened by the new powers which started expansion and invasion. The winners of the WWI, led by the UK, the USA and France, agreed on their new order of global domination. On the other hand, not only Germany and other losers, but also Japan got frustrated. Japan was on the winners' side in the WWI, but it was invading China and other Asian nations, confronting against European powers, and threatening their interests in Asia. The WWII broke out when those frustrated nations challenged the global domination by the WWI winners. In other words, both world wars were nothing else but fights among the imperialists that competed for larger colonies and markets. They were very similar to territorial disputes among underworld yakuza groups in town.
Japan meant to wash its hands and quit the life of a gangster when it renounced war in the constitution. The principle is clearly described in the preface of the Constitution of Japan that "We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want." This statement is significant, because Japan had just been one of those military powers, just like some American and European nations, that denied other peoples' right to live in peace and threw them into utmost fear and hunger. The imperialist powers get into other people's land, use a lot of violence, and take the land and everything. The renunciation of war in the Constitution of Japan means "farewell to the imperialism," an affirmation that Japan quits such invasion, denies any wars and throws away military forces or the tools of wars. In other words, Japan stated that it would behave ethically in the world of the honest citizens, after getting out of the world of armed gangs.
Many Japanese people, including highly officials, hate what they call "self-tormenting historical view." They wonder why only Japan has to apologize for the past wrong-doings. They are right, in that the USA, the UK and many other nations have done a lot of similar things, and that Japan is not the only bad guy. However, their theory is acceptable only among underworld members. Don't they understand that crimes committed by others never justify the same kind of our felonies? How can we say that Japan was right because it did the same things that many European and American nations did? While they call it "self-tormenting," I say we should be proud of our capacity to reflect on our errors in the past. In this world of armed factions, Japan was among the first ones to acknowledge errors in the past and to start striving to realize the world without any looting or armed robbery. Should we call it self-tormenting of masochist behavior? Would you rather mindlessly continue committing crimes? We would not be able to respect ourselves if we would throw away the war renunciation in our constitution, which is a part of our national heritage.
Regrettably, Japan has not wholly quit the life of a gangster. As long as one foot is on the underworld, Japan has to retain enough power to survive, because the Big Brother can not always be kind and powerful enough to protect its subordinate. Abe administration has shamelessly disclosed that point. They are about to go back deeply into the underworld by smashing precious crystals of our self-respect upheld in our constitution. What a tragedy it would be if Japan would go back to the shabby and bloody world, to which it used to belong! I can't stop believing that Japan has a much wiser alternative.