For the first time in more than half a century, the postwar Constitution came up for formal and substantial discussion in the Diet on Thursday. To begin, the Constitutional Review Council solicited expert opinions from two constitutional scholars and examined how the current Constitution came into being.

To no one’s surprise, the witnesses solicited by the governing parties — Professor Osamu Nishi of Komazawa University and Professor Takenori Aoyama of Nihon University — argued to the effect that the current Constitution had been “imposed” on Japan under pressure from the Allied Forces, and that the roles played by the GHQ and Gen. Douglas MacArthur apparently violated the 1945 Potsdam Declaration’s stipulation that the Japanese people should decide Japan’s political system.

Members of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party followed their parties’ lines, which take the position that the national charter should be rewritten because it has “defects.” A member of New Komeito, yet another coalition partner, emphasized the significance of the war-renouncing clause (Article 9). A Liberal Party member pointed to the futility in discussing whether the Constitution had been “imposed” or not. Members of the Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party argued that the document itself should be adapted to fit the ideals of the Constitution.

More witnesses are expected to offer expert views on various aspects of the basic law by mid-March. Therefore, it is premature to try to predict how the council’s debate will develop in the three years leading up to the conclusion of the council’s task. But Thursday’s session carried an undertone: The council’s debates and studies seem intended to set the nation on the path toward revising the Constitution.

It is widely known that the Constitution was drafted in English by the GHQ and translated into Japanese by the Japanese side. But in the 1946 constitutional assembly, some of the best brains in Japan at that time conducted a vigorous debate on the nation’s first democratic charter. This is an important fact that should not be overshadowed by the notion of a “translated constitution.”

It should be noted that the Liberal Democrats — particularly hardline conservatives — have an ulterior motive: to play up the fact that Japan at the time, having accepted the demand for unconditional surrender under the Potsdam Declaration, had no choice but to swallow the GHQ draft of the Constitution. They argue that the Japanese people had virtually no freedom during the Occupation and that a constitution established in that kind of situation cannot be said to represent the will of the people.

At first glance, that sounds reasonable. In fact, it is a myopic argument that overlooks the historical fact that even under foreign occupation, popular demands for freedom remained vibrant and important documents were written without the intervention of authorities in power. This is also true of other countries that have in the past been ruled by foreign powers.

Japanese leaders who played a role in the drafting process all had fervent aspirations for peace, freedom and democracy. Explaining the war-renouncing Article 9, a key subject of debate in the constitutional assembly, they described it as “an ideal of humanity for freedom and peace,” “the royal road to justice,” “the beacon for peace-loving organizations” and “an idea that cherishes moral principles.”

These are their own words, not those borrowed from someone else. Indeed, they epitomize the beliefs of State Minister (without portfolio) Kijuro Shidehara, who is said to have been the original drafter of Article 9. The spirit of these words also underscored the animated debates between then-Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida and leading constitutional scholars and political scientists of that time, including the late Kenzo Takayanagi, who headed the Cabinet’s constitutional research panel. In addition, every article in the draft was carefully studied by a select panel of legislators and, as a result, a couple of new articles — one on the people’s right to “wholesome and cultured living” and the other on the right to rest as well as work — were inserted.

All this makes it clear that Shidehara and others who steered Japan through its most difficult period searched their souls rigorously and humbly about the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the unconditional surrender that followed. As the legislators begin their examination of the postwar process of constitutional drafting, this is an opportune time to remember how the founding fathers of postwar Japan thought of the nation’s modern past, of the wars it had waged, and of its emerging shape as a democratic, peace-loving nation.

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