The Abe administration is rushing to amend pieces of security-related legislation and expand the scope of Self-Defense Forces’ activities overseas.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is eager to change the nature of postwar Japan — which has been characterized as a pacifist nation or even as a merchant country — and join the ranks of samurai warriors in the international community. But other countries would not take Japan seriously and would not allow it to be a member of their group if it merely asks to join the “samurai” ranks so that it can use force overseas. Therefore, Japan would need a good cause to do so. That is the background as to why this administration talks much more about values than its predecessors.
Massacres, liquidation of political enemies or dissenters, and discrimination by those in power as done in the past are repudiated as absolute evil today.
Among advanced democracies, being committed to basic values such as human dignity and freedom is an absolute necessity if politicians expect to be counted as members of a civilized society.
In that respect, Japan, 70 years after its last war, has not been able to create an ethos under which politicians share basic values that serve as the foundations of politics even though they may differ on ideas and policies.
The reason that statements by Abe that his administration shares basic values of democracy and human rights don’t sound serious to the audience is that there is a huge gap between what he says about these values and what he does.
Recently author Ayako Sono wrote a newspaper column in which she effectively sanctioned racial segregation by citing the example of the abolished apartheid policy of South Africa.
If asked what they think of apartheid, all politicians would no doubt denounce it. Yet, placing a person who would make a statement taken as sanctioning apartheid on a key government advisory panel is tantamount to condoning the apartheid policy.
Every nation has people who endorse discrimination, but such people should be regarded as deviants who should not be given a proper place in politics.
In Japan, such deviants can have positions close to power and exert certain influence. That’s why Japan’s politicians may be seen as not being serious about the value of human dignity.
Abe’s statement to be issued this summer to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will likely reflect his own values.
Shinichi Kitaoka, who serves as deputy chief of a private panel to advise the prime minister on the text, has stated that the wars waged by Japan in the 1930s and 1940s were clearly those of aggression.
Kitaoka presumably is saying that Japan should share global standards with regard to the perception of modern history and then build a solid alliance with the United States on the foundations of shared values.
I understand that Kitaoka is trying to convey to Abe the harsh reality that Japan should not attempt to justify its past wars if it wants to join the ranks of the samurai states in the international community.
By putting values at the forefront, Abe is in fact creating a huge risk for himself. If he is a capable politician with the intelligence and tact to distinguish between his personal beliefs and his role as the leader of Japan, he will accept Kitaoka’s advice and issue a statement that is quite unlike his past statements.
But if he clings to his personal beliefs and honestly spells out values that are incompatible with the common sense of the world, such behavior will invite distrust of Japan and thereby shake the very foundation of his power.
Clinging to his values and turning that into a political issue will mean setting the stage for a test of his own intellectual capacity as a politician.
Jiro Yamaguchi is a professor of political science at Hosei University.