Last Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took part in a ceremony marking the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, an event which, combined with the following atomic bombing of Nagasaki, compelled Japan to surrender nine days later on August 15, ending the Second World War.
Also on Tuesday last week, Japan
launched its largest warship since the war. The vessel was launched at
Yokohama, where Commodore Mathew Perry came with his US Asiatic fleet in
1853 to open Japan to the West. The 250-meter-long Izumo looks like an
aircraft carrier, though officially it is a destroyer. Well, it's a
flat-top super-destroyer that carries 14 helicopters with a flight deck
where combat aircraft that can vertically take off and land can be
accommodated. The new vessel shares the same name as the famed Japanese
cruiser which played a pivotal part in the Shanghai War of 1937,
withstanding repeated Chinese attacks.
In May, Abe offended China and South Korea by tacitly denying Japan's imperialist aggression toward
its Asian neighbours. The Japanese leader stated that there is no
established definition of invasion, either academically or
Around the same time, he posed for a photo in the
cockpit of a military training jet fighter emblazoned with the number
731, the unit number of an infamous Imperial Army group that conducted
lethal chemical and biological wartime experiments on Chinese civilians.
Moreover, Abe has reportedly moved to permit the use of the rising sun
banner, a symbol of horror to Asian victims of Japanese colonial
On top of all this, Abe's Liberal Democratic Party,
buoyed by its landslide victory in the elections of the Upper House of
the Diet, is planning to send practically all its parliamentarians on
Thursday to the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo to pay homage to the war dead,
including General Hideki Tojo and other Class A war criminals. Plans are
afoot to revise Japan's postwar peace constitution to assert its right
to declare war and rename the self-defence forces as the national
“defence forces”, the dropping of “self-defence” implying the forces may
be engaged in action other than genuine self-defence.
consequence of these new developments is the serious concern China,
South Korea and even the United States are showing for a possible return
of militarism in an increasingly nationalistic Japan. They fear that a
militaristic Japan is likely to turn imperialistic and invade its Asian
But their fear is totally unnecessary. The
Liberal Democrats may all become ultranationalists like Abe and his
mentor, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, but that does not mean
they will turn militaristic. Militarism isn't imperialism. Japan turned
militaristic after the Taisho democracy because of the rise of
ultranationalism, which held Western democracy as the source of all
evils during the Great Depression. In this period the military was
viewed as the only stabilising power.
The militarists became
imperialists after they were convinced that the West was purposely
choking Japan's economic lebensraum in Asia. Moreover, the Japanese
militarists had an excellent role model in Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.
has changed. There isn't another Great Depression that may trigger the
turning of the Japanese toward ultranationalism, no matter how hard the
Liberal Democratic Party and populistic Toru Hashimoto's Japan
Restoration Party may try. The military isn't the stabilising power
anymore. People have been taught not to blindly obey the powers that be.
Besides, what Abe and his Liberal Democrats want is what a “normal
state” enjoys under its “non-peace constitution.”
All Abe and
company are trying to achieve is to show that Japan is strong enough
militarily to resist pressure, diplomatic or otherwise, from China and
Uncle Sam in order to win more votes and continue ruling Japan. Koizumi
tried to do so, but failed before he had to step down as prime minister.
There was a backlash. The Democratic Party of Japan saw its almost
half-century rule of Japan end.
Abe defeated the Democrats last
year. He is picking up where Koizumi left off. The Japanese leaders may
be ultranationalists, but never will they turn militaristic and start
the aggression of a renascent Japanese empire.
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