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 internationally.
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 aggression.
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.
One 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 neighbours again.
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.
Time 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. The China Post/ANN, Taipei, Taiwan