The Japanese government tries to free its soldiers from the pacifist straitjacket
MASAKI TOMIYAMA’s fight seems chimerical. He was happy that his son was joining one of the largest and best equipped armies in the world, but could not accept the idea that he might have to fight. “I was very angry when I heard that my son was trained to kill people,” says Mr. Tomiyama, so angry, in fact, that he decided to sue the Japanese government for violating the constitution. pacifist of the country. “I’ll never allow him to go to war, that’s not what he signed up for.”
The Japanese constitution, cobbled together by the Americans in a few hectic days in 1946, prohibited the maintenance of land, sea or air forces. But at the height of the Cold War it seemed from another world that a wealthy ally of the West, with unresolved territorial disputes with all of its neighbors, had no armed forces, so in 1954 the government set up the “Self-Defense Forces”.
The SDF was to exist “to protect the peace and independence of Japan”. But it was still controversial. For decades, the biggest opposition party wanted it to be abolished. Such was the controversy, recalls Noboru Yamaguchi, a former SDF lieutenant general, as soldiers slipped into civilian clothes before leaving the barracks to avoid public abuse.
The SDF remains one of the strangest armies in the world. He never fired a shot in combat. Its main role, for many Japanese, is disaster relief. However, it has a larger navy than France and Great Britain combined, including four enormous “helicopter carriers”.
Falcon members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have long wanted the SDF to look more like a normal army. In 2015, the government passed several security bills “reinterpreting” the constitution to allow the SDF to engage in what Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, called “proactive pacifism” – participating in security missions. peacekeeping and others. This decision sparked protests and bitter parliamentary quarrels. Mr Abe was acting out of nostalgia for when Japan was a great power, critics said. They predicted that the legislation would drag Japan into foreign wars and spark a stampede in the ranks of the SDF.
Seventeen months later, the force actually increased slightly, to 227,000, but there has been a sharp drop in the proportion of those training to be officers at the Japan National Defense Academy. who end up joining the SDF. Demographics are not on the SDF’s favor: the 18-year-old population has shrunk by one million over the past two decades, making recruitment difficult. The problem, says Alessio Patalano of King’s College London, is not just the number of potential soldiers, but the quality.
The Department of Defense responded with a lavish and sometimes creative promotional campaign, doubling its public relations budget and bringing in cartoon characters, pop stars and schools. Children in a high school even found the local SDS recruiting office number printed on their toilet paper. Much of the campaign explicitly targets a neglected audience: women. Only 6% of SDF employees are women; he wants to increase this figure to 9% by 2030.
The demands for a more muscular homeless man will grow. China’s defense budget has increased 44-fold in three decades, said Yoshitaka Shindo, a PLD hawk. A new article from the Institute for International Policy Studies, a think tank considered close to the LDP, indicates that Japan could be “deeply affected” by Donald Trump’s “America First” policy. He believes Japan should develop its own capabilities, including cruise missiles. “We have to respond to American first-ism with Japan first-ism,” says Masato Inui, editor-in-chief of the journal. Sankei Shimbun, a right-wing newspaper.
But the aversion to anything that smacks of militarism runs deep. Last year, 350 SDF personnel were sent to South Sudan as part of a UN peacekeeping force. The troops are only there to repair the infrastructure and are supposed to be withdrawn if there is fighting between the local militias (so far, according to the government, there have only been “conflicts” which is apparently quite different). But, for the first time, the SDF was allowed to use weapons to defend civilians and UN personnel. Opponents of this policy, including the most widely distributed liberal newspaper in Japan, the Asahi Shimbun, are campaigning for the withdrawal of troops. “We worry about soldiers getting injured,” a recent editorial worried. Mr Abe suggested he would step down if Japanese soldiers were killed.
Young people from the homeless have joined together to help victims of earthquakes and tsunamis, says Norikazu Doro, a former soldier. “They didn’t know they were joining an army that might one day go to war.” Mr. Tomiyama is one of the many parents who have taken the government to court. He says his son got involved to help and defend his country, not to fight the battles of other nations. “The principle was that only if we were attacked would we attack,” he said. “This principle has been canceled.”
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the title “Army Barmy”