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War history lessons ignored

by Jiro Yamaguchi

A ceremony held earlier this month to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings gathered top leaders of countries involved in the Invasion of Normandy in 1944.

While there are few remaining survivors of those who actually took part in the World War II operation, it is still remembered by many as the first step toward the Allied liberation of Europe from fascism.

What was significant is that the ceremony was attended by the top leader of Germany, which was the target of the Allied attacks in the operation. Germany is celebrating the event because it, too, is a beneficiary of the operation that led to liberation from fascist rule.

Also this month, a memorial was held on Saipan Island to mark the 70th year after the Battle of Saipan. In one of the fiercest battles between Japanese and American forces in the Pacific War, large numbers of Japanese civilians on the island took their own lives by jumping off the cliff into the sea when the island fell to U.S. forces.

In Japan, the recounted experiences of war often lead solely to recalling or imagining misery and pain. People pay tribute to the souls of those who died in battle, but it is rarely discussed why the civilians on the island were forced to kill themselves.

Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Given these two episodes, we can imagine that the 70th year after the war’s end will likely be greeted in starkly different ways in Japan and in Europe.

In Asia, the two sides that fought the war may mark the anniversary in a clamor of mutual reproaches and accusations as the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will have pushed his pursuit of “departure from the nation’s postwar regime” even further in the coming year.

It would be a far cry from the 50th anniversary of the war’s end in 1995, when Japan issued a statement by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama apologizing for the “tremendous damage and suffering” that Japan’s “colonial rule and aggression” caused to its Asian neighbors — an attempt to help reconcile with the rest of Asia.

Abe appears obsessed with his pursuit of reinterpreting Article 9 of the Constitution to enable Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense, and is pushing to make a Cabinet decision to change as quickly as possible the long-standing constitutional interpretation that bans the exercise of the right. His attempt in essence means gutting the war-renouncing spirit and principles of the postwar Constitution.

Why has the possession of force by Japan been restricted exclusively to self-defense? It’s nothing less than a product of the outcome of World War II.

Article 9 of the Constitution was written as a part of the postwar settlement and is a component of the postwar international order. The world condoned Japan’s possession of certain military capabilities to defend itself, but did not want Japan to use its military force jointly with other countries. So, Article 9 was established to prevent Japan from doing so.

Abe is ignoring history in two ways as he tries to effectively revise the Constitution. He ignores the operating historical constraints that make it impossible for Japan as a defeated nation to become a full-fledged power.

He also ignores a lesson from Japan’s war history: Once a war gets started, restraint such as “minimum necessary” use of force tends to become totally meaningless.

If Abe is still prime minister on the 70th anniversary of the war’s end, he will most likely pay an emotional tribute to Japan’s war dead. He will also likely proudly declare that Japan is finally shaking off the postwar restrictions on its military activities.

It would be an ignorant and barbaric act to enable the nation to again engage in the use of military force without reflecting on the responsibilities of past political and military elites who pushed the foolish war.

Are we a beneficiary of the liberation from fascism, or were we humiliated by it? It is a question that we need to fully discuss in the next year.

Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University.

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