The Asia-Pacific theatre of the Second World War was rife with its own horrors, such as the acts committed by the Japanese Imperial Army across East Asia and the American attacks on Japan, culminating in the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Japanese, exhausted by the war, surrendered to the US and submitted themselves to an American post-war occupation.
Yet under American rule, one small seed of hope was planted that laid out a blueprint for all nations to avoid the scourges of war.
That seed was Article 9 of the then newly written Japanese Constitution. Coming from a nation (UK) that seems to need little prompting to engage in warfare (even within my lifetime during the post-imperial era – witness the Falklands and Gulf War I), I was astonished to discover such a feature in national life as I found in Japan. The country forbids itself from ever going to war again or maintaining a regular army.
What an incredible element to weave into the fabric of a nation! Of course, the sad reality is that Article 9 has been under threat almost since its introduction, with the greatest challenges to it coming now under the current administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Learning about Article 9 and the threats to it compelled me to write the piece found below, in the hope that I could raise further awareness of a tool that could benefit all nations and of the challenges that it faces.
Peace Not War Japan, the organisation I founded in 2004, provides further information about issues relating to peace and Japan, and also has a collection of great peace-related songs by Japanese artists.
Keep the peace, people!
Photo of A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima by Dom Pates
‘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.
In order 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.’
In the journey through life, individuals maintain allegiances to friends, family, lovers, employers and educators for help along the way. A wider bond is often also upheld – that of a sense of belonging to one’s nation. Of just over 6.5 billion humans on Earth, most would consider themselves as being part of at least one of the roughly 190 nations whose territories (‘countries’) cover the planet’s land surfaces. Members of these ‘nations’ are usually distinguished by at least a common identity, and often a common origin such as ancestry.
A nation can simply be a state of mind. A state, however, is much more tangible. Comprised of buildings, hierarchies and officials it is designed to represent both the nation and the country. Given the immense power held over the lives of individuals by ‘the state’, it is crucial to have a system of checks and balances to ensure that the power wielded is not abused. More fundamentally, it is vital for the interests of the people that are represented by that nation, and peoples of other nations too, to have the principles and rules by which they are governed clearly defined and agreed upon.
A constitution is just that, a system that covers the principles and rules by which an organisation is governed. Certain powers are granted to that organisation on the grounds that it abides by what is set out in that constitution. Most commonly, a constitution is a set of rules that define the nature and extent of government.
The Constitution of Japan was established after World War II and was intended to replace the country’s previous imperial system with a form of liberal democracy. Written under close supervision of General MacArthur and the occupation forces, the Meiji Constitution, the demands of Japanese lawyers and the opinions of pacifist political leaders were taken into account and the document came into effect in May 1947.
The implementation of the Japanese Constitution came during an international trend towards the outlawry of war. For example, Article 12 of the Costa Rican Constitution, put into effect in 1949, stipulates that ‘armed forces as a permanent institution is prohibited’. Since then, Costa Rica has never maintained armed forces.
Article 9 is the unique provision within the document whereby Japan both renounces war and is prohibited from maintaining a military force. It was a strong and clear promise by Japan to the world, and particularly people of the Asia-Pacific region that the imperialistic aggressions acted out during WWII would never be repeated. It also served as a brake on Japan’s arms build-up during the post-war era, which has provided a sense of security for the entire region.
It is the main reason why Japan has been able to live through such a long period of peace and stability, with the country having militarily not taken part in a war in over half a century.
It has made a strong contribution towards attempts at the resolution of international problems of disarmament and the abolition of nuclear weapons. A UN General Assembly Special Session on Disarmament in 1978 declared the desire for complete disarmament of nations. The Hague Peace Conference of 1999 stated in its final document that every national parliament should adopt a resolution that renounces war like Article 9.
It is no less than a blueprint for how to save future generations from the scourge of war.
The previous century was the bloodiest and most violent in all of human history. It contained two world wars, three decades of arms-fuelled tensions between the world’s superpowers, and hundreds of genocidal purges, civil wars, armed invasions, military coups, revolutionary struggles, border disputes and localised conflicts, and led to the deaths of over 100 million people. As the new century gets underway, prospects for major downturns in this trend are not looking too good.
Article 9 is under serious pressure and has been since its inception. Even whilst Japan was still under US occupation, moves were made towards creating some sort of military organisation. Thus the creation and development of what became the Japan Self Defense Forces (SDF), which has seen constant court battles between government and critics over its legitimacy. Extensions of Article 9’s ethos, such as Japan’s non-nuclear principles and ban on arms exports, face strong and active opposition from those keen to remilitarise the country.
The US has continued into the 21st Century to encourage Japan to abandon what it adopted after WWII. The Japanese military were dispatched to assist the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and utilised for refuelling U.S. and British warships. In July 2003, Japan’s parliament passed a law authorizing the use of Japan’s SDF in Iraq, as long as they were confined to conducting humanitarian missions.
While some consider the removal of Article 9 as a natural stage in the evolution of post-war Japan, this would undoubtedly have a serious effect on the foreign policies of Asia’s most powerful states. If Japan were to again become a military force to contend with, it would undoubtedly reinvigorate China’s push for a powerful military. Russia could see an increasingly powerful Japan as a possible threat to its territory and interests in East Asia, and North Korea could feel itself backed even further into a corner. Memories of Japanese wartime aggression are still fresh even in South Korea, and the normalisation of good relations still has a long way to go.
As the prospects rise of a future with more wars over ever dwindling energy supplies, a world of environmental refugees fleeing within their own national borders, nuclear proliferation across the planet and the unravelling of the meticulously constructed systems of international law and order, it is vital that the signposts and beacons to a better and more peaceful future that we currently have within our possession are upheld, maintained and built upon. In the interests of a peaceful future for Japan and the rest of the world, for today and long into our distant tomorrow, Article 9 must be maintained and its principles spread.