Thursday, 3 May 2012

Article 9 - One Paragraph, Many Views

Make soup, not war? An ad for pro-Article 9 spoons from Japan. (Source: Masatoshi Nagase's Blog)
Today marks the 65th anniversary of the adoption of Japan's postwar constitution (日本国憲法, Nihon-koku Kenpō). The document, which was drafted in a period of less than a week upon orders from General Douglas MacArthur and presented to Japanese officials on February 13, 1946, was created by two senior US officers with legal backgrounds and steered by an entourage of Japanese legal experts and political officials, notably past and future PMs Kijūrō Shidehara and Shigeru Yoshida. It became law upon imperial assent on November 3, 1946 and formally came into effect six months later.

Given the remarkably short window of time assigned to the job (and MacArthur was never one to give out extensions), it's hardly surprising that the postwar document was essentially a rewrite of the old prewar Meiji Constitution. The old constitution, known as the Constitution of the Empire of Japan (大日本帝国憲法, Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kenpō), was ratified in 1889 and based primarily on the Imperial German (Prussian) constitution. The prewar Japanese constitution was in turn used as a model for the 1931 Ethiopian Constitution (which also codified the notion of the 'Divine Emperor'), which remained in place until the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1975.

While the new constitution was essentially superimposed on the old one, it did bring forward a whole barrage of changes. It introduced a whole parade of individual human rights statutes, including separation of church and state (in stark contrast to the State Shinto of the prewar period), freedom of assembly, workers' rights (including the right to unionize), right to due process, prohibition of torture and cruel punishments, prohibition of forced marriage and the right to free compulsory education. It also represented a long overdue victory for Japan's beleaguered feminist movement in its introduction of universal suffrage for the first time in Japanese history.

While the postwar constitution brought about widespread change, the document is largely famous for a single paragraph, namely Article 9. At 132 Japanese characters in length (a Tweet ahead of its time, perhaps), Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution is arguably the most important piece of text in modern Japanese history. The Article reads thusly:
日本国民は、正義と秩序を基調とする国際平和を誠実に希求し、国権の発動たる戦争と、武力による威嚇又は武力の行使は、国際紛争を解決する手段としては、永久にこれを放棄する。二 前項の目的を達するため、陸海空軍その他の戦力は、これを保持しない。国の交戦権は、これを認めない。

Translated into English it reads thusly:


Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, 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. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

There you have it - one of the greatest paradigm shifts of modern times, encapsulated in 71 words. But while the intent of these words remains reasonably clear, the devil is, as always, in the details, and successive generations of Japanese citizens have since contended with what this constitutional clause actually means in practice.

You Say Military, I Say Jietai

It didn't take long for Article 9 to be put to the test. With Mao Zedong's consolidation of power in nearby China in 1949 (and the expulsion of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists to Taiwan) and Cold War tensions mounting between the United States and the Soviet Union, the still-ruling US occupational forces in Japan were already beginning to get cold feet about Japan's newly institutionalized pacifism. And by the time civil war broke out on the Korean peninsula in 1950, it became apparent that some type of military force in Japan was required in order to free up US troops to fight in Korea.

The US forces in Japan under MacArthur's command were also worried about the stubborn popularity of Japan's domestic Marxists. In 1947 the Japanese political scene swung dramatically to the left with the election of the Japan Socialist Party led by Tetsu Katayama, a Christian socialist and staunch pacifist. Meanwhile, many in Japan's radical left contended that the postwar constitution didn't go far enough, namely that the Emperor should have been at the very least removed from his post if not tried for war crimes.

In large part in response to this leftward lurch, the US forces de-purged a number of wartime politicians who promptly repopulated the country's political scene. Among these wartime figures were Ichiro Hatoyama and Nobusuke Kishi, two future prime ministers and founding members of the conservative Liberal Democratic Party that would enjoy nearly uninterrupted rule from 1955 to 2008, as well as Yoshio Kodama, a sinister ultranationalist and professional union-buster who helped engineer the rise of the LDP and foster the emergence of the modern-day yakuza crime syndicates.

Who are you calling an 'army'?
These unreformed wartime politicians were, not surprisingly, not fans of Article 9. Kishi, a former official in Japanese-occupied Manchuria under General Tojo, attempted to revised the article upon becoming PM in 1957, as did his protégé Yasuhiro Nakasone upon his kick at the can in the 1980s. Meanwhile, following the outbreak of the Korean War, it was decided that while the Article prohibited the establishment of a fighting force, it was permissible for Japan to maintain a purely defensive force in order to ensure its own security. This began as the 75,000-strong National Police Reserve (警察予備隊, Keisatsu Yobitai), ultimately becoming the Japan Self-Defence Forces or JSDF (自衛隊, Jieitai), a name that remains today.

The establishment of a de-facto military in postwar Japan without violating the constitution involved some extraordinary linguistic gymnastics. Virtually every piece of military nomenclature needed to be translated into civilian-speak in order to avoid breaching Article 9. Japan's new artillery corps were dubbed 'Special Units'. The infantry corps were referred to as 'Regular Units'. Tanks were rechristened 'Special Vehicles'. The absurdity of this doublespeak was not lost on the Japanese public at the time, as exemplified in the satirical 1952 student protest song 'A Tadpole Is Not A Frog'.

To this day, Japan's 'military' remain official extensions of the national police force. The upshot of this is that Japan still does not officially have a military, in spite of the fact that by 1990 the country had the third largest defence expenditures behind the United States and the Soviet Union and a military force clearly capable of waging war. After having been derided by Washington for refusing to contribute troops to the 1991 Gulf War, change came in the form of Japan's post 9/11 Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law in October 2001, which  broadened the scope of Japan's self-defence purview enough to justify a supportive role in the US invasion of Saddam's Iraq in 2003.

Four years later, then-prime minister Shinzo Abe (Kishi's grandson) commemorated the 60th anniversary of the postwar constitution by calling for a bold review of the document to allow the country to take a larger role in global security. However, popular support for the preservation of Article 9 remains widespread in Japan and Abe's hawkish stance lacked popular support. But Japan has continued to quietly expand the breadth of its military activities. In 2011, Japan established its first post-WWII overseas military installation in Djibouti for the purpose of combatting Somali piracy, while current PM Yoshihiko Noda is revisiting the country's decades-long ban on arms exports.

News photo
Pro-Article 9 Demonstration (Source: Japan Times)
Whither Article 9?

Conservative groups in Japan continue to lobby for the revision of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. On the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the constitution, a citizens' advocacy groups known as Minkan Kenpo Rincho (People's Constitutional Commission) called for a revision of the war-renouncing clause, calling it outdated and a threat to Japan's national security, a position supported by the now-opposition LDP.

Anxiety surrounding national on the part of the Japanese is hardly surprising. The country's close proximity to impoverished but belligerent (and nuclear-armed) North Korea remains foremost among national security concerns, while the dramatic rise of China as a regional economic and military power coupled with Japan's own loss of economic primacy in the region has made a compelling argument for reexamining the country's postwar charter. Moreover, Japan's relations with its longstanding postwar superpower sponsor have been less than smooth in recent years, with contentious issues like the US' continued troop presence in Okinawa adding fuel to the revisionist cause.

And yet, continued public attachment to Japan's antiwar constitutional clause remains widespread. A 2008 poll in the Asahi Shimbun showed that 66 percent of the Japanese public favoured retaining Article 9, with only 23 percent supporting its revision. Popular opposition to Japan's involvement in the 2003 Iraq War resulted in a resurgence of support for the Article and the current backlash against the nuclear energy industry in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown has, to a certain extent, coalesced with the country's longstanding antiwar, anti-nuclear armaments movement.

To many, Article 9 remains a core element of Japan's postwar identity, a rock on which the modern country rests. Author, Nobel laureate and peace activist Kenzaburo Oe contends that “The rebirth of the Japanese people depended on Article 9." Most available polls suggest that the majority of Japanese people agree with him. And while Japan's military clout has steadily expanded within the context of a 'defensive force', continued widespread support for this national commitment to peace and non-aggression indicates that Article 9 has plenty of life left in it.

Happy anniversary, Article 9!

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