The End of Kamikaze Pacifism? Terror and Japan's Peace Constitution

Although I knew December 7, 2001 marked its 60 th anniversary, I never imagined that the phrase ``Pearl Harbor '' would be heard so often this year. Its repetition began in a prosaic way, with the release of the Disney movie ``Pearl Harbor'' last June. After September 11 th , however, many Americans spoke of the terrorist assaults as ``the first attack against the US since Pearl Harbor.'' One person even told me that, because of those attacks, Japan had received a golden opportunity to clear its name of the stigma of Pearl Harbor. The way to achieve this, it seems, was for Japan to provide military support to the US.

Critics of Japan's defense posture over the years have sometimes been unforgiving. The Economist, indeed, once derided the Japanese as ``kamikaze pacifists.'' The reality is that defense debates within Japan are invariably traumatic, based on sharp memories of the war and the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet, despite this, Japan responded to the terrorist acts of September by passing a new law that allows the country to support American forces in the war against terrorists. The Anti-Terrorism Special Law, passed by Japan's Diet in October, enabled Japan to send its Self-Defense Forces (SDF) overseas to support - through supply, transportation, repair, maintenance, medical services and so on - American forces.

Even though the SDF still cannot participate in combat, the Anti-Terrorism law is the first that allows Japan to dispatch armed forces to join in military operations outside Japanese territory and territorial waters while the shooting war is on. That Japan acted with alacrity after September 11 th reflects the trauma experienced during the Gulf War a decade ago. Although Japan paid much of the costs of that war by raising domestic taxes, its supportive actions went largely unnoticed. Indeed, the word ``Japan'' was nowhere to be seen in the advertisements Kuwait's government published after the war to thank the thirty nations of the international coalition that fought to expel Iraq from Kuwait.

These debates are also traumatic for an institutional reason. Japan's so-called ``Peace Constitution,'' including Article 9 which prohibits the country from possessing ``war potential,'' was created after WWII under strong American pressure, and in atmosphere of deep self-reflection toward the Pacific War. Some of the concepts the Constitution contained were so alien to Japanese tradition that new ideograms had to be created to express them. The Cold War, however, soon made Article 9 seem excessively idealistic, at least to some. Ever since, Japan has witnessed a severe confrontation between Constitutional revisionists and those who want to protect the Peace Constitution as it was written.