Tag Archives: PNWJ

LYRICS // Endgame (2007)

Back in 2004 and with the London march against the invasion of Iraq still fresh in my mind, I made an approach to UK music organisation Peace Not War (PNW), to offer them a track for their then pending ‘Volume Two’ of pro-peace/anti-war music. Upon informing one of the founders of the project that I was living in Japan, he asked me if I could help them to get their CDs some exposure over there.

Although I was based in Tokyo at the time, I’d spent most of my free time travelling around the country and had no contacts in either the Japanese music industry or peace movement. Reluctant to even consider the idea at first, so daunting a task did it seem, I shelved the idea for some time. 

The Control K tune that I offered never did end up on one of their CDs, but I did get rather more deeply involved with them instead. His request ultimately seemed too good an opportunity for combining two of my interests (music and peace) and building a new network in my adopted country to turn down. A few months later, I got started on what was to become Peace Not War Japan (PNWJ), an organisation that has continued following my departure from the country.

By the time that the first PNWJ CD was released, I already had my own band (Shelf Life), who performed covers of rock ‘n’ roll standards in a local bar. When rumour filtered through the PNW network that London was thinking of producing a Volume Three, I went to the band and suggested that we should write a song for it – one that we could really pour our efforts into and make too good for them to turn down. My songwriting partner Cheryo and I set ourselves the task of writing a new ‘peace anthem’.

In many of my previous sets of lyrics, I’d tended to take the Dylanesque route of using obscure imagery to conjure up word pictures. If this new song was going to have a chance of sticking in peoples’ minds, I was going to have to keep things simpler this time around. I kept my eyes open for scraps of lines that could fit in, or be adapted, to a simple and effective anthemic song for peace. We were aiming along the lines of ‘Hey Jude‘ or ‘We Are The World‘ (very popular in Japan) in terms of hooks and build.

The opening line was borrowed from Atticus Finch (or Harper Lee, to be more precise) in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird‘, one of fiction’s great lawyers. The next line, added myself, was on the same theme and encourages looking at a situation from another person’s perspective. One of the benefits to an independent, unaffiliated third party attempting to resolve a conflict between two sides (as, for example, Norway has tried to do with different factions in the Sri Lankan civil war) is that they can bring an approach that takes both points of view into account. War and conflict is almost never one-sided. The song asks listeners to think about things from the other side too.

As I became more involved with the Japanese peace movement, I met many interesting and sometimes extremely brave people that in my line as an English Teacher in suburban Tokyo I would never have had an opportunity to do. One such person, whom this song was mostly inspired by, was a young Iraqi engineer that I went to see speak and later shared a meal with. I’d never met somebody from that devastated and desperate country before and was eager to hear his story, particularly when the Western media so dehumanises the inhabitants of Iraq.

His was a tale that was tough to swallow, yet also deeply inspiring and gave me a little more faith in the human spirit to overcome the worst possible things that can be thrown at it. According to him, life under Saddam wasn’t great but it did have its positive aspects too. Criticism of Hussein was a strict no-go, but if you came from a poor background (as he did), you were entitled to a free University education and Iraq’s universities were considered to be amongst the best in the Middle East. He got himself an engineering degree. Then, the invasion of 2003 came and like all young Iraqi men, he got the call-up to fight (not an option he could refuse).

During the early days of the occupation/insurgency (delete according to perspective), he went through all manner of horrors – the deaths of many of his friends and family, kidnap and capture by jihadists, imprisonment by US forces, and the destruction of most of his town. It would seem natural for someone who went through such things to be filled with hatred for the causes of such things and initially he was. However, something happened that put him on a different path.

When some Japanese journalists were captured in Iraq by ‘al-Qaeda’, he was held captive with them. The female journalist he was with encouraged him to look the situation from other perspectives and to think more about peace than revenge, an approach he took on board. Such can be the power of words and talking things through. This story inspired the second verse of the song.

In the chorus, the line ‘I am what I am…’ was borrowed from the Ubuntu free operating system, whose name comes from the Zulu aphorism which articulates a basic respect and compassion for others. The operating system aims to ‘underpin the concept of an open society’, which seemed like a suitable sentiment for the song and also sat quite comfortably with Gandhi‘s famous line about ‘an eye for an eye’ in this song.

The other chorus lines of ‘we are the ones…’ was picked up from New Internationalist magazine, in a special issue on positive stories from the Majority World. It’s a line I’ve seen used much more widely in recent times too. The verse about the ‘silence of our friends’ was adapted from a quote by that other famous peacemaker, Martin Luther King.


To seek ‘peace of mind’ is, I believe, inherent in most people. However, it is our fears and suspicions that lead us to build walls around us rather than bridges between us. These only serve to enforce differences between people rather than encouraging a search for similarities.

‘Peace Not War: Volume Three’ didn’t happen in the end, and PNW themselves seem to be largely inactive these days. Never mind, the potential of being on that album prompted me to write the song that I am probably most proud of. 

In the spirit of the song, when the band perform it live we usually invite members of the audience or other bands that we play with to come on stage and join in with the chorus. We also made a promo video to go with it too, my first one, where an audience does the same thing. The video was certainly a lot of fun to make, although it did give me a bit of an idea of the amount of time that people who do this kind of thing for a living have to spend waiting around! The video can be seen at the top of this posting.


The song, titled ‘Endgame’ in reference to the games that world powers play with peoples lives in their war-making, ended up as the final track on our first CD release ‘Best Before End’. It is available for download through Shelf Life - Best Before End - Endgame, as a single track or as part of the album. 

Peace out.

 

Endgame

You’ll never know a man,
Until you step into his shoes.
Won’t see what’s goin’ on,
Unless you look through another’s eyes.

A friend of mine,
Told me of soldiers on his streets.
Home and family gone,
Yet he learned not to hate.

I am what I am,
Because of who we all are.
An eye for an eye,
Will make the whole world blind – so blind.

We all seek,
Yet rarely find our peace of mind.
We’re still building walls,
We should be building bridges instead.

In the end,
It’s not the words of our enemies,
We remember,
But the silence of our friends.

I am what I am,
Because of who we all are.
We are the ones,
That we’ve been waiting for – so long.

I am what I am,
Because of who we all are.
We are the ones,
That we’ve been waiting for – so long.

(You’ll never know)
(Without standing in his shoes)
(You’ll never see)
(Better look through another’s eyes)

(Yes, he told me)
(‘Bout the soldiers on his streets)
(His family was gone)
(He turned his hate around)

(All looking for)
(That little peace of mind)
(Newer, higher walls)
(But a bridge brings us together)

(It’s not the words)
(Of our enemies that last)
(But the silence)
(Of our friends, so shout it loud)

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Filed under 2007, Lyrics, Shelf Life

ARTICLES // Revolution # 9 (2006)

What does mankind gain from conditions such as war and occupation? It is rare indeed to find occurrences in human history where something positive can be found in the aftermath.

WWI begat WWII, which in turn begat the Israel/Palestine issue. The French occupations of Algeria and Indochina (Vietnam) led to violent and bloody resistance movements, blowing up into an even bigger conflict involving neighbouring states (Cambodia, Laos) and an international superpower (US) in the case of Vietnam. The Korean War led to the partition of the peninsula and one of the most heavily landmined places on Earth. British occupation of India may have produced a largely nonviolent resistance movement, but independence led to further wars and the division of the subcontinent. Issues still remain here, including the Kashmir question and the ongoing rise and fall of the standoffs between nuclear armed India and Pakistan.

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.

The article was first published online here and an edited version later appeared in the Canadian quarterly ‘Peace Magazine’.

The Japanese NGO Peace Boat is co-ordinating a global campaign to raise further awareness of Article 9 and the threats posed to it. The campaign site can be found here.

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


Revolution # 9

‘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.’

(Article 9, Japanese Constitution)

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.

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Filed under 2006, Articles, Features