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Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, who led the charge for expanding the participation of Self-Defense Force troops in Sunday’s disaster drill by the metropolitan government, urged SDF personnel to take pride and retain confidence as a military force.

He meanwhile dismissed the protests of antiwar groups against the SDF’s participation, calling the protesters “left-wing idiots” and saying their views were being ignored by the general public.

“The weird naming of ‘Self-Defense Forces’ has been used under the Constitution and the forces have been experiencing an awkward presence,” he told SDF personnel gathered along the Edogawa River in eastern Tokyo. “But (the SDF) is indeed a military force and I expect you to work hard in daily training as such.”

During the speech, Ishihara sounded like the chief commander while Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who also addressed the soldiers, joked about the performance of metropolitan officials acting as victims in the drill.

“They played the role so well that I thought they were members of a theater group,” he said at Tokyo Port’s Harumi Pier, where one of the drills was held.

Although Ishihara said he was content the drill was “practical,” defense agency officials admitted the large-scale exercise was more like a public demonstration in nature. “It is still meaningful in terms of raising the awareness of people as well as of ourselves when it comes to potential disasters,” an SDF official said.

Toshiyuki Shikata, special adviser to Gov. Ishihara for antidisaster policy, says such huge exercise is important as it exposes potential problems in the SDF’s real disaster-relief operations.

The former chief commander of the GSDF’s Northern Army noted that an effective simulation of a real disaster can be achieved only by mobilizing troops on a scale at least one-third the size of what would actually be needed in an emergency.

One of the most significant results of the drill for the SDF, however, may have been the fact that it offered a good opportunity for the SDF to get public recognition as “people-friendly” force.

In addition to the various military vehicles, unique rescue tools such as German-made oil-pressured jacks and cutters drew onlooker’s attention. The equipment was introduced as regular SDF disaster relief equipment following the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake.

People made long lines to receive free curry and rice cooked and served by uniformed personnel, fare that one GSDF officer explained was on a grade “a little higher” than that they usually eat.

Riot drill in disguise?

As helicopters hovered in the sky, hundreds of people gathered at Shiba Koen park in Minato Ward on Sunday afternoon to protest a joint civilian-military disaster drill they claim was actually a practice run for controlling the public during civil unrest.

With Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s controversial remarks about illegal immigrants still fresh in mind from an SDF camp in April, speakers at the rally protested the unprecedentedly large number of troops that participated in Sunday’s disaster drill by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

In April, Ishihara warned of the possibility that foreigners illegally staying in Tokyo would stage a riot in the wake a serious natural disaster, and tasked SDF troops with maintaining public security in such an emergency.

The remark drew widespread protest.

“Given Ishihara’s remark in April, it is natural to see (that Sunday’s drill) is designed for (an SDF mission) to maintain public order,” said author Manabu Miyazaki, one of the organizers of the protest rally.

Saman Priyankara, a decade-old Tokyo resident from Sri Lanka, expressed concern that Ishihara’s initiative to deploy so many SDF troops in a disaster drill may reflect a growing tendency among some Japanese leaders to return to the nation’s militaristic past.

Meanwhile, Koichiro Ono, who has supported victims of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, said the way Sunday’s drill was organized suggests government authorities have not learned the lessons of five years ago.

He said the role the SDF can play in a massive earthquake is limited, and that the 300 million yen spent for the drill should have been allotted to support community-level activities, which he said will play a much larger role in saving people’s lives in major disasters.

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