Tens of thousands of citizens opposed to the Abe administration’s security bills protested at the Diet on Friday as opposition lawmakers made a failed last-minute bid to prevent the enactment of laws that would allow Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since the war.
With the police on heightened alert, more than 40,000 people angered by the way the Upper House special committee approved the bills the previous day surrounded the Diet building, organizers said.
Similar rallies were also held elsewhere across the nation, including in Sapporo, Nagoya and Osaka.
The government-sponsored bills, which were delivered to the House of Councilors after being approved in July by the House of Representatives amid an opposition walkout, would greatly widen the types of roles playable by the Self-Defense Forces abroad, and bolster Japan’s military alliance with the United States.
But a majority of the nation’s legal scholars say the bill violates the war-renouncing Constitution.
Seiichi Takahashi, a 33-year-old doctoral student, said the ruling camp has been avoiding thorough discussions of the bills and is ignoring the Constitution.
“If such a thing is permitted, the government can just act as it likes,” said Takahashi, who has been protesting for three days straight.
The legislation would allow Japan to engage in collective self-defense, or coming to the aid of an ally under armed attack, even if Japan itself is not under attack. This was long considered banned under Article 9.
“I find it problematic to forcibly go ahead even though a lot of people say the bills are unconstitutional,” said Yukiko Take, a 28-year-old master’s degree student.
“I’m afraid we’ll get involved in wars little by little,” she said.
Even people who didn’t participate in the rallies said they were anxious, including the families of Self-Defense Forces personnel, who will be at higher risk of being sent into combat under the new legislation.
“I’m worried that (my son) will be involved in a U.S. war. (The government) does not seem to have thought about the (SDF) personnel, and is only putting priority on enacting (the legislation),” said the father of a Ground Self-Defense Force member in Hokkaido.
The soldier’s mother concurred.
“I am against the bills. But my son will obey an order to be dispatched.”
Successive governments before Abe’s had interpreted the pacifist Constitution to mean that Japan possesses the right to collective self-defense but cannot exercise it because of Article 9. Abe’s legislation represents a watershed in Japan’s postwar security policy, which had been exclusively defense-oriented.
A former member of the now defunct Imperial Japanese Army expressed strong fears that Abe’s legislation could send young people into the battlefield again.
Shigeru Maruyama, a 90-year-old resident of Kushiro, Hokkaido, said he was worried about the possibility of reviving conscription.
“From now on, even SDF personnel have to express their absolute opposition to war,” he warned.
Meanwhile, five A-bomb survivors’ groups in Nagasaki issued a protest statement to Abe Friday after the bills were approved by the Upper House special panel amid furious protests the previous day.
“Military force can never create peace. ‘Hibakusha’ in Nagasaki will convey wholehearted anger and deep sadness,” the statement said.