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Japan needs a strong intellect that doesn’t yield to terrorism

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I expect that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will use the murders of two Japanese hostages by Islamic State terrorists as a trigger to accelerate departure from what he calls Japan’s “postwar regime” — an agenda he has pushed for the past several years. Right after the Islamic State incident, he said “Japan has changed. From now on, I won’t let (terrorists) lay a finger on the Japanese.”

Before Abe began pushing his agenda, Japan was a country that, under the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, prohibited the use of force overseas except as a means of self-defense. It was a country that sought negotiated solutions to terrorist incidents targeting Japanese citizens, based on the idea that human lives outweigh the Earth.

I believe that Abe had actually wanted to declare that from now on Japan would not hesitate to use force if necessary to protect Japanese citizens and would be ready to accept the loss of lives as a consequence.

Practically speaking, it would be impossible to stop criminals and terrorists from laying a finger on Japanese citizens. Therefore Abe’s words should be viewed as a reflection of his excited state of mind. I think that he felt that way because the terrorist incident provided him an opportunity to eliminate the restraints imposed by the Constitution and turn Japan into a full-fledged power capable of using military force.

As if to follow up on the prime minister’s statement, the conservative Sankei Shimbun carried a column saying to the effect that Article 9 must be changed to avenge the murder of the two Japanese hostages, in a tone that smacked of a speech by a rightist.

It would be impossible, however, to turn a country that has disavowed the use of military force for nearly 70 years after the war overnight into a power like the United States, Britain and France that is capable of using military power as a diplomatic tool. Nor should the nation in the midst of shock over the terrorist incident make such a change through an arbitrary decision by the prime minister.

Before making any such decision, we need to look back on what policy line we have followed, and carefully consider and discuss whether we need to change our course and what risks and dangers such a change would bring.

It will be especially indispensable for us to thoroughly debate whether we would retain or abandon the philosophy behind Article 9 — that the use of force does not solve problems. Seeing how the Iraq War resulted in the destruction of that region’s political order and has given rise to various extremist and terrorist groups, I strongly feel that we cannot ignore the fact that the use of military force often creates more problems than it solves.

Bold talk by politicians can put a nation at risk. For the purpose of looking back on the path that took Japan to its destructive defeat in World War II, I am reading a diary kept by the late novelist Kafu Nagai. There is an interesting entry on Feb. 11, 1929 — two years before the 1931 Manchurian Incident.

Observing a right-wingers’ demonstration commemorating what is today’s National Founding Day, Nagai wrote, “On the surface, it looks like nationalism is at its height, but in reality it only demonstrates that the nation’s foundation is increasingly in peril as days go by. Whatever the matter may be, it’s already doomed when people try to make its appearance look good and give extra importance to pretending that they are in high spirits. To cope with life today, however, the best way is to chant loyalty and patriotism whatever the situation may be.”

Even in the wake of an incident in which Japanese citizens fell victim to terrorism, we need to continue to conduct cool-headed and substantive discussions. We must not repeat the same mistakes. That is the way for a strong intellect that does not give in to terrorism.

Professor Jiro Yamaguchi teaches political science at Hosei University and is the author of “Hitting Back Populism.”

  • Chris Carino

    Jiro Kawaguchi fail to realize that terrorism doesn’t play the same rules. The current interpretation of the constitution only reflect the situations in the past. To remain belligerent in the face of a nameless threat is reckless and irresponsible. The Japanese need to realize times are changing. Changing the language in the constitution does not mean Japan has to initiate an armed conflict, but gives the SDF the legal means to use maximum force as a response to an attack on its citizens living or working overseas, or to even protect its foreign interests instead of waiting for America to respond…

    • Frido

      The so-called superpowers showed that they were not able to exert their full capabilities in view of the strategy the IS runs. The US military could not prevent that American hostages were murdered by the IS despite its overwhelming superiority. The principle to use military power to enforce decisions does not work in a system that is prepared to provoke a total war. Therefore, the claim to engage in military actions as a response would only support the strategy of the IS whose members believe to enter paradise when they are killed in a “holy war”. Japan would only fall for the line of the IS if military force is believed to be a reasonable solution.

      • Chris Carino

        current strategy calls for minimal or no collateral damage if the enemy hides behind civilian population and the enemy exploits that… You know, there’s a thing called “rules of engagement”.. If the military reverts back to the old ways of engaging the enemy through carpet bombing, this war would have been long over….

        However, I am referring to the current Japanese scenario that the SDF could not act in response to an attack outside the home waters due to the restrictions in the constitution…. They aren’t even allowed retaliatory strikes or put boots on the ground to rescue citizens in duress…. They can only safeguard once the hostages are already out of danger, but as far as initiating a rescue operation, they are forbidden to conduct such… That is the limitation….