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.”