Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Future Under Abe

It is an interesting time to be living in Japan---perhaps even more interesting than to be here during the "bubble economy" years as Japan began to believe the popular US myth that it really was destined to become the top economic power in the world and started to act with the arrogance than goes with that position. (Arrogance increased even more by the fact that Japan is a hierarchical society in which those of lower status must bow to their superiors. Or at least grovel a little.)

As we can see, nationalist sentiment is increasing and has been for years. The difference is that it is no longer hidden beneath the surface. It's pretty obvious to anyone living here and paying attention to what is really going on (not believing the sugarcoated version of Japan).

Shinzo Abe, probably the most nationalistic PM that Japan has had for years---possibly since WWII is poised to become prime minister. Abe plans to rewrite the Japanese constitution to allow a more assertive use of military force, has supported Koizumi's visits to Yasukuni shrine, suggested a pre-emptive strike against North Korea was legal, has supported schools texts which play down Japanese atrocities during WWII, denies that Japanese troops forced women into sexual slavery during the war, and seems to follow the rightwingers down the line.

Obviously, Japan has to join the real world and admit to having a military and give its military the legal authority to act as a military. It has to become involved in diplomacy in ways other than simply "buying" its way through every crisis. It has to quit leeching off of the US for its own good and certainly for the good of the USA. (Why are we keeping so many troops here again? If there were a war and Americans were dying in battle to defend Japan, the Japanese military is very restricted in any assistance it could give American troops. US ship sinking in combat? The Japanese Navy cannot come to its aid legally.)

The real question is, after seeing Japan's great diplomatic success of the last few years of angering all of its neighbors over Yasukuni for no obvious reason other than self-centered self-righteousness, where will Abe lead this aging society? And how? Where is the money for the military going to come from as social programs become more stressed, and the work force ages? Will Japan continue to anger and alienate simply to pretend it did no wrong in WWII (while claiming it has sincerely apologized) and to insist that its prime minister's visits to a Swhinto shrine which houses convicted war criminals is an internal issue? (Abe doesn't seem to accept verdicts of the Tokyo war crimes trial anyway. In fact, he seems to believe Japans actions in WWII benefited Asia.)

Peaceful Japan, its military defense provided by Uncle Sam, (which allowed it to be "peaceful" and keep a pacifist constitution) its diplomacy handled by the US, or at least cover given to it by the US, is quickly disappearing. We have heard for decades on how the war years were just a diversion from Japan's march to democracy, how Japan suddenly, completely changed into a different country with different peaceful, passive beliefs (well, all the "good" traditions remained") and now we will get to see how true this stuff was.

NPR audio here.

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