Japan marked the 50th anniversary of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty on Jan. 19 amid calls for an inquiry into the dispatch of Japanese Self-Defence Forces to Iraq, which critics say was illegal. But in contrast to the fierce debates over the origins and legitimacy of the 2003 Iraq invasion in both the United States and the United Kingdom, there will be no investigation in Japan.

Yuriko Kondo is recalling her surprise that the state’s democratic machinery eventually worked.

Her three-year demand for information on how the Japanese government had spent billions of taxpayers’ yen supporting a “humanitarian mission” in Iraq from January 2004 through to the end of 2008 had been partly answered. And it was worth the wait.

In late September, new Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa unexpectedly authorized the release of a short document under the Freedom of Information Act disclosing that about 67 percent of the 26,000 soldiers transported by the Air Self-Defense Forces between July 2006 and December 2008 wore U.S. uniforms. That is, the ASDF was transporting U.S. forces into and out of combat.

In case anyone missed the point, Kondo, a 60-year-old veteran peace activist from Ogaki in Gifu Prefecture spelled it out: Japan’s Constitution bans the SDF from participating in combat activities or transporting weapons or ammunition in a war zone. For two years, the SDF had “snubbed the law,” she says, and the government concealed the illegality with blacked-out documents and a standard Defense Ministry verbal firewall to the effect that releasing such information would “hamper operations” and “damage Japan’s reputation.”

“It was ludicrous and illegal to have sent the SDF to Iraq,” she says, alluding to Japan’s so-called war-renouncing Constitution. “This document proved that.”

Kondo’s views found support in one landmark legal ruling.

In April 2008, the Nagoya High Court declared that the ASDF airlifting of coalition troops was unconstitutional, violating both the (war-renouncing) Article 9 clause in the Constitution and specifically the hastily written 2003 “law on special measures for assistance to Iraq in its reconstruction” that provided the legal fig leaf for the SDF dispatch — on condition that Japanese forces would operate only in “noncombat” areas.

“In modern warfare, the transport of personnel and supplies constitutes a key part of combat,” concluded Judge Kunio Aoyama.

“The airlift of multinational forces to Baghdad . . . plays a part in the use of force by other countries.”

The then Liberal Democratic Party-led government disagreed, still declaring the ruling to be a victory because it rejected compensation claims by the 1,100 plaintiffs in the group action ruled on at Nagoya High Court.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura shrugged off accusations of illegality, quixotically arguing that Baghdad was “a noncombat zone.” The ASDF crews stayed on in Kuwait until December 2008, and there the issue stood until Kitazawa’s bombshell announcement — a sign, perhaps, that the Democratic Party of Japan that swept into power with a landslide election victory on Aug.30, 2009 is about to reverse years of official mendacity over government policies in Iraq.

Kondo agrees that the announcement was “surprising” and was probably attributable to new DPJ pressure, but she believes that the Defense Ministry simply no longer cares what people think about the SDF.

“It basically figured that the release of this information would not hurt its plans in the future,” she says.

That reasoning, Kondo believes, was adopted because the government had already proved it could disregard popular opposition, flaunt the Constitution and ignore the little media flak the war generated. With the precedent set, the way is paved for more military adventures abroad, she argues. “If the government says in the future that we have done this before, Japanese citizens will accept that.”

Says Hajime Kawaguchi, a lawyer lobbying for a government inquiry into the SDF dispatch: “We have to get to the bottom of this episode in Japan’s history or we will pay the price. But there is no consciousness of the need to challenge the government. Nobody appears interested.”

Kawaguchi believes that the archives could tell more. Were the SDF infantry based at Samawah in southern Iraq only engaged in “humanitarian assistance” to the local population? Were local insurgents, as some believe, paid off to prevent them attacking Japanese forces? And on the financial front, how much did the entire five-year mission cost Japanese taxpayers?

History is rarely written by people like Kondo or Kawaguchi, but nearly seven years after it was launched on March 20, 2003, the popular view of the U.S.-led war in Iraq among Japanese people may be closer to theirs than to that of the leaders who started it.

As everyone now knows, the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) used as the prime justification for the invasion never materialized. Similarly, significant links to al-Qaida were never found, and the nation that was promised democracy and prosperity is now a shattered, sectarian and Balkanized state with ethnic cleansing virtually eliminating the possibility for people of the Sunni and Shiite Muslim faiths to share neighborhoods or cities. More than two million Iraqis have fled abroad, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; perhaps another 2.7 million have resettled elsewhere inside the country; and the most credible total death toll ranges from 100,000 to well over a million.

The impact back in the United States of the wider “war on terror” has also been profound.

That impact includes the legitimization of torture, the spread of government surveillance, the shredding of habeas corpus, Guantanamo, so-called extraordinary rendition, CIA dirty tricks, and the enormous price tag — a staggering $3 trillion for Iraq and Afghanistan, and counting, according to economist Joseph Stiglitz, who points out that ordinary Americans will be paying the price for George W. Bush’s decision to go to war for decades.

But at least in the U.S. and its prime partner in arms, the United Kingdom, athough the war’s prime culprit breezily plays golf in Texas, there has been a reckoning of sorts. Stemming from the continuing public debate, there has been a half-hearted mea culpa on torture and Guantanamo from President Barack Obama and a startling recent admission by Britain’s prime minister at the time of the Iraq invasion, Tony Blair, that he would have invaded Iraq with or without WMDs. And that came ahead of his testimony to the government’s current Iraq Inquiry announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in June 2009, which is due to report in June.

In Japan, although the SDF was finally pulled out of Iraq back in December 2008, there has been no government inquiry, no major excavation of the leadup to the war — and no interest by the mainstream media in digging around what happened, laments Takashi Takeshita, a journalist with Akahata, the Japan Communist Party newspaper.

Takeshita uncovered evidence last year that just 6 percent of the 45,000 people transported by the ASDF between March 2004 and December 2008 worked for the United Nations. The vast bulk were U.S. troops. So much for the “humanitarian and reconstruction assistance” mission on the basis of which the war was sold to the Japanese public, he concludes.

Nobody knows the final price tag for the dispatch, admits senior DPJ lawmaker Shoichi Kondo, who believes a U.K.-style inquiry — which he would support — is unlikely. However, his assessment is that “over half” of his party had problems with the decision to invade Iraq.

“There would be pressure against such an inquiry — ultimately, there are a lot of people who would worry about the impact on U.S.-Japan relations,” he believes.

However, Kondo also says that although senior DPJ members, including Naoto Kan, the party’s former leader (2000-04), and current Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, disagreed with the prosecution of the war in Iraq, the bureaucracy and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty signed up to on Jan. 19, 1960, weigh heavily on the political process.

Last November, DPJ Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano effectively smothered any hope of a postmortem on the Iraq adventure when he declared the SDF dispatch legal, reversing the conclusion of Kan, who, as party leader in 2004, had called it unconstitutional.

“As an opposition party, we could not determine if the area where they were sent was a noncombat zone,” said Hirano. “But as we (now) recognize it is a noncombat zone, we have judged that the SDF activities there were constitutional.”

Peace activist Yuriko Kondo calls that statement “unbelievable” — but she blames journalists as much as politicians.

“The mass media is the reason the government can dodge responsibility. They drop anything that doesn’t make headlines and don’t dig up information or do long-term investigative reporting. This allows Japanese citizens to forget the past,” she observes.

Yuriko Kondo, Takeshita and Kawaguchi, and their neoconservative opponents — such as former ASDF Chief of Staff General Toshio Tamogami — at least agree on one thing: The roots of Japan’s secretive, convoluted defense policies lie in the postwar, U.S.-dominated Allied Occupation, which created the “war-renouncing” Article 9 of the Constitution.

Pacifists cling to Article 9 because it helped construct what appeared to be a new type of modern state: one that explicitly rejected imperialism and war.

Tamogami, who was sacked in 2008 for arguing that Japan was not given sufficient credit for ending white European colonialism in Asia, despises Article 9 for exactly the same reason. “The aim was to weaken Japan,” he says.

“That’s why Japan’s self-defense forces are bound by law and not allowed to move as they wish. That’s why the country cannot exercise collective defense, take offensive action, or export weaponry. That’s why it is bound by three basic nonnuclear principles. Since the Occupation, the country has been bound hand and foot,” he told The Japan Times.

Tamogami is the latest in a long line of political and military figures with views that run counter to the Constitution. In a recent interview, he claimed that “two-thirds” of SDF officers back his views. “I’m also supported by many politicians. I can’t say their names because it would cause them trouble. (On being asked whether former prime ministers Shinzo Abe [2006-07] and Taro Aso [2008-09] were among his supporters, Tamogami indicated they were.)

The U.S. defense establishment has long been ideologically closer to Tamogami and his ilk than to the Japanese pacifists who have fought to preserve the Washington-inspired Article 9. In 1946, almost as soon as the ink was dry on the postwar, U.S.-orchestrated “peace” Constitution, Japan’s new military ally began pressing for rearmament in the face of Chinese and Russian communism. That threat ushered in a vast expansion of U.S. power and military bases throughout the region.

Even Japan’s so-called three nonnuclear principles, outlined by Prime Minister Eisaku Sato in 1967 and formally adopted by the Diet in 1971 — principles that commit Japan to never produce, possess or allow the entry of nuclear weapons into the country — were not safe from the political calculations needed to maintain the facade of pacifism.

As a new government probe launched under Hatoyama will certainly prove, the no-nuke rule was undermined by a backroom deal struck between Washington and Tokyo that was signed by Sato and President Richard Nixon in 1969.

After decades of rumors, that secret pact — allowing nuclear-armed U.S. ships and aircraft to traffic anywhere through or over Japanese territory — was confirmed by a senior Japanese Foreign Ministry bureaucrat last summer. Consequently, it appears uncontestable that the LDP had lied about the existence of the pact for years. Indeed, a team Hatoyama tasked with investigating the secret pact reported last November that it had discovered files at the Foreign Ministry proving its existence.

The deal, agreed during the fraught negotiations to rewrite the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty in 1960, is said to have depended on a “misinterpretation.” Tokyo claimed that it believed it would receive prior consultation before any nuclear-armed dockings or flyovers; Washington had no such understanding.

When the LDP discovered otherwise, it kept quiet — “instead of publicly acknowledging a change in position,” the leading, liberal-leaning Asahi Shimbun newspaper said last year. In fact, LDP politicians repeatedly denied the deal, even after the Japanese parliament officially adopted the no-nuke principles in 1971, and former Prime Minister Sato even won the 1974 Nobel Peace Prize for his “opposition to any plans for a Japanese nuclear-weapons program.”

Today, the official bureaucratic line is still that the pact doesn’t exist.

The origins of this and other deceptions go back to 1946, argues John Junkerman, director of a documentary titled “Japan’s Peace Constitution,” released in 2005 by Siglo Productions (www.cine.co.jp/kenpo/english.html). “The contradiction between Article 9 and the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty almost necessitated this pattern of deception, even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary.”

The contradictions resonate most clearly in Okinawa, reluctant host to the bulk of America’s roughly 47,000 troops in Japan and to about two-thirds of the country’s U.S. bases — bases that occupy roughly a fifth of the main island.

Tokyo and Washington have always denied the existence of a secret pact obliging Japanese taxpayers to compensate Okinawa landowners in the leadup to its reversion back to Japanese rule in 1972. However, in June 1971, writing in the popular Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, one of its political reporters, Takichi Nishiyama, famously revealed the existence of just such a deal — and the information that Tokyo had secretly offered to pay $4 billion to Washington as a sweetener. His reward was to be convicted of violating state secrets, and he was drummed out of his profession. He has spent most of his life since then working in his family’s fruit-selling business in Kyushu.

“Twice, in 2000 and 2002, diplomatic documents uncovered in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration proved the existence of the Okinawa secret deal,” he recalls.

The deal, confirmed in the memoirs of Kei Wakaizumi, a former professor at Kyoto Sangyo University, referred to the financial sweetener and to American nuclear “rights” in the prefecture.

For example, Wakaizumi reveals the minutes of a communique between Nixon and Sato. The communique insists that the U.S. intends to remove all nuclear weapons from Okinawa by the time of the reversion (in 1972), but adds: “However, in order to discharge effectively the international obligations assumed by the United States for the defense of countries in the Far East including Japan, in time of great emergency the United States Government will require the re-entry of nuclear weapons and transit rights in Okinawa with prior consultation with the Government of Japan.”

Wakaizumi notes as well that the U.S. also demanded the retention and emergency activation . . . “of existing nuclear storage locations in Okinawa: Kadena, Naha, Henoko, and Nike Hercules units.”

According to the reporter Nishiyama: “Government ministers and bureaucrats continued to deny it. And Japanese newspapers never did a thing to uncover it. I’ve never heard of a request from a journalist demanding information on what happened.”

In an essay for the Tokyo-based Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan published two years ago, Nishiyama wrote: “The reversion of Okinawa was a cause for celebration, but it was also about the U.S. desire to secure a territory that they have used as a strategic base for the past 25 years, at a cost borne by the Japanese government.”

Adding that the U.S. has retained its bases while being freed of much of the burden of running Okinawa (which eats up a huge chunk of the total ¥192.8 billion [in fiscal year 2009] Japanese contribution to the cost of hosting the U.S. military), he calls the deal the “tip of the iceberg.”

“There is so much still unknown about that period: How many nuclear weapons were allowed on Japanese territory? What financial deals were struck? What did they agree to do during an emergency? Japanese people have a right to know these things,” Nishiyama argues. The same is all the more true for Okinawans.

A fter half a century of virtually unbroken, conservative-led, LDP bureaucratic rule, the key question for Nishiyama and other LDP critics is, whither the new government? Can the DPJ expose decades of official duplicity and perhaps even begin to untangle the formidable contradictions created by the Occupation?

It seems a propitious time. Abe, Aso and other neo-conservatives are out of office, and, despite Tamogami’s apparent popularity, they seem for now a spent political force. The DPJ has ridden into power promising to assert control over the bureaucracy and to strike a more independent defense stance after decades of what Hatoyama has termed “subservience” to the U.S.

However, the rawest point in the friction between the old and the new is, predictably, Okinawa, where plans to construct a U.S. Marine Corps air base off the pristine, ecologically important coastline of Heneko have thrown old perceived certainties about the U.S.-Japan relationship into doubt.

Washington has pushed hard for Japan to “honor” an agreement made with the former LDP government promising to replace the aging U.S. Marine Corps base in Futenma with the high-tech Heneko facility. Whatever the final outcome of the dispute, says long-time Japan resident and commentator Gavan McCormack in a submission to the online journal Japan Focus, “the Hatoyama government has so far withstood the most sustained barrage of U.S. pressure, intimidation, insult, ultimatum and threat, and has decided, at least for the present, to say: ‘No.’ “

But a wider debate on the Constitution seems unlikely. Learning from Abe, who bet then lost much of his meager political capital trying to revise Article 9, Hatoyama is taking no chances, relegating discussion on the Constitution almost to an afterthought on the back page of last year’s DPJ election manifesto. The economy is the clear priority for now.

In the absence of a formal inquiry into the SDF dispatch and its aftermath, it is left to Japan’s grassroots movements to strive to fill the void. Nagoya was the scene of one of 13 lawsuits at 11 district courts across the country funded and driven by antiwar activists such as Kondo.

Toshiharu Kamata, a retired bureaucrat from the Kanagawa prefectural office, leads a group of about 80 people who refuse to pay their taxes in protest at military spending. Hitoshi Nagaiwa, a Saitama company worker, leads a lawsuit demanding that the treaty be declared null and void on constitutional grounds. “Japan’s entire postwar military system is based on falsehoods and secrets,” he says. Nagaiwa is conducting his own legal proceedings against the state with a total budget of less than $1,000.

These challenges seem destined to fail, but the campaigning lawyer Kawaguchi believes they perform a crucial public service: preventing the Iraq episode from slipping down the plughole of history.

“We went along with the SDF dispatch because of pressure from the Americans. It harmed our reputation abroad and potentially involves us in an endless war against terrorism. We have to take responsibility for that and admit it was illegal,” he insists.

“This whole episode was against the national interest, and we have to say that.”

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