If you can call South Sudan “stable,” you can call anything stable. You can call anything anything.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada’s sunny assessment of this infant African nation in the throes of civil war followed her whirlwind tour last month. What did she see? Stability, obviously. She saw more of that in seven hours than veteran aid worker Takaki Imai of the Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC) has seen in the nine years he’s been posted there. Inada saw what she wanted to see, Imai tells Weekly Playboy magazine.
She has her reasons. The government is eager to expand the scope of Japan’s participation in a U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan. The Self-Defense Forces (SDF) have been part of this mission since 2012. Japan’s pacifist Constitution limits them to nonmilitary functions like building roads. Such a modest role is unworthy of a great nation, say those determined to make Japan a great nation. Security legislation rammed through the Diet last year would in effect re-militarize Japan’s military and arm its peacekeepers — in South Sudan to start with, elsewhere once the precedent has been set.
With Japan’s future course and its place in the world at stake, Inada could hardly have come home to her skeptical and peace-loving constituents with descriptions of South Sudan as Imai sees it.
“Children were being slaughtered like chickens, with axes, one after another,” he tells Weekly Playboy, describing an outbreak in July of simmering tribal and political hatred.
That was in a remote region. Inada didn’t go there. She stayed in Juba, the capital, which is relatively, precariously calm — for now; though it wasn’t in July, when mob violence, apparently abetted by government troops, overwhelmed a hotel frequented by foreign journalists and aid workers.
That hardly exhausts the short, tragic history of South Sudan, which broke away from Sudan in 2011. There’s its 600 percent inflation rate, whose impact Inada failed to observe; the grim life in refugee camps she did not visit; and so on.
When truth subverts a higher cause, it may seem only right to veil the truth with words like “stable.” The higher cause in this case is convincing Japanese voters that a radical policy departure into a potential maelstrom is more or less business as usual under “stable” conditions.
Japan’s weekly magazines, the prime sources for this column, rarely venture abroad. Japan is big enough for them and, compared to some other places, decidedly stable. At least it seems to be, natural disasters aside. Might appearances be deceptive? A headline in the weekly Shukan Gendai reads, “At this rate (Japan’s) banks will collapse.”
“This rate” refers to the failure — despite the drastic monetary easing that is the crux of the economic stimulus package known as Abenomics — of money to adequately circulate through the banking system to entrepreneurs and consumers.
“There are too many banks in this country,” Shukan Gendai quotes Nobuchika Mori, commissioner of the government’s Financial Services Agency, as writing in a September report. “They lack imagination and wisdom. They’re not doing their job, which is why Japan doesn’t spawn innovative companies like Apple. If all that these idiotic financial institutions can think about is protecting themselves, Japan will fall apart.”
Not like South Sudan is falling apart, but still.
Japan’s defense minister looks at South Sudan and sees stability. A top finance official looks at banks in the world’s third largest economy and sees instability. Marriage counselor Shuichi Shimoki looks at marriage in Japan and sees a curious fact, which he shares with Shukan Josei magazine: “Seventy percent of the wives who come to me because their husbands want to divorce them say, ‘Until yesterday everything was fine!’ “
Stable, in other words.
The point, of course, is that until yesterday everything wasn’t fine, it only seemed that way. If your country is not at war, if you’re not wracked by a deadly disease, if national or personal economic failure isn’t driving you into abject poverty, arguably the worst thing that can happen to you is a soured marriage.
“For 16 years I’ve been a slave!” cried the husband of one of Shimoki’s clients. To the wife this came out of the blue. She gaped at him, dumbfounded. A slave? She’d had no idea he was even unhappy. But he was — bitterly, and maybe the more so because he knew she didn’t know.
If she loved him, wouldn’t she know? At least suspect? Therefore she didn’t love him, never had. His work was futile, his sacrifices were pointless, his life meant nothing.
All this is very melodramatic and may mean no more, Shimoki says, than a desire for a husband to be loved by his wife as he had been loved by his mother in childhood. How stupid, how puerile. But our deepest feelings don’t yield to name-calling. They can’t be driven away so easily. Is marriage an insult to our deepest feelings?
There’s the suggestive fact that one-third of recent Japanese marriages end in divorce. Love mutates into hate as easily as stability does into instability. “Living with you is like living with a stalker!” is a typical complaint Shukan Josei hears. Others concern disgust with malodorous and flabby bodies, real and imaginary infidelities, real and imaginary insults, slights, what have you, the gamut. A failed marriage is like a failed state: Two people become two tribes who have lived together so long they no longer know or care why they hate each other.
A South Sudanese seeing Japanese people in the throes of their little domestic hells could hardly be blamed for being more envious than sympathetic. They have larger hells to cope with. When “stability” comes, things will be different.
Michael Hoffman is the author of “In the Land of the Kami: A Journey into the Hearts of Japan” and “Other Worlds.”
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