Yesterday in Tokyo, 3,000 people protested against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to remilitarize the country. Abe’s right-wing government is moving to change the constitution in order to do away with pacifism and give a more active role to the military. But not everyone in Japan wants to see rearmament.
For some time now, Abe has been targeting Article 9 of Japan’s constitution, which contains the famous line, “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” As Japan’s relations with China and North Korea grow more tense, Abe’s administration has argued that Japan needs to “reinterpret” this clause to permit “collective defense,” allowing Japan, for example, to send military aid to an embattled ally. The clause has been interpreted to mean that Japan can’t respond militarily unless it is directly attacked.
A new poll by the Asahi Shimbun suggests that Abe and the Japanese electorate don’t see eye to eye on this question: 63 percent oppose the concept of collective defense, up from 56 percent last year, while just 29 percent support it. Kenzaburo Oe, a Nobel Prize laureate in literature, told the rally in Tokyo yesterday: “By exercising the collective self-defense, Japan will directly participate in a war…. I’m afraid that Japan’s spirit is approaching the most dangerous stage over the past 100 years.”
The tension between pacifism and remilitarization in Japanese society is becoming more apparent. Japan’s upper house of parliament passed a bill yesterday that will give the government greater control over schools’ selection of textbooks. This is worrisome because government-supported textbooks whitewash the brutality of Japan’s military occupations during World War II. One schoolteacher told the BBC in an interview, “They are stirring up nationalism, stirring up feelings against China, saying that’s why we need a strong military. They want to use the textbooks to condition our children to the idea of a strong military.”