After 60 years of obeying the renunciation of war imposed by Article 9 in the U.S. occupation's postwar constitution, Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic (conservative) Party supporters argue that Japan only seeks "normalcy" in today's world. Indeed, it already has a formidable military but must use the term "Self Defense Force" to comply with Article 9. Time to face reality, says Abe and a majority of Japanese.
Accordingly, as well as seeking radical change to Article 9, Abe is making room in his new government for a U.S.-style National Security Agency. He will also undoubtedly seek more Japanese military presence abroad -- Lebanon has been mentioned -- and will be increasingly forceful toward North Korea in response to its July 4 launch of (failed) test missiles.
Yet aside from practical matters, Abe displays sentiments that seem not so much modern, but an echo of Japan's glorification of war and death from its fascist period in the early 1930s to the 1945 defeat in the Pacific War.
In a book he published in July called "Toward a Beautiful Country," Abe wrote: "Yes, your own life is precious. But I wonder if postwar Japanese have ever imagined that there are values to be protected even by sacrificing their lives to defend the homeland."
The reply from young people to this question in the world's second-largest economy, renowned for its super consumer technology, would certainly be a resounding "No." Yet Abe presses on, questioning the "masochistic" history Japan's young people have been taught.
This is a reference to old ghosts from sacred Nippon's imperial past still haunting the present -- the ferocious wars inflicted on Asian neighbors for 14 years, and the millions who died, especially in China, as a result. It is also here that not Abe's past, but that of his distinguished forefather, intrudes in a manner that raises disturbing questions.
Abe is a political blue-blood born to top office, the grandson of former prime minister Nobusuke Kishi, grand-nephew of another premier, and son of a former foreign minister who died before his expected accession to the leadership. Of these distinguished forebears, Abe has made plain, Kishi is the one he still most reveres -- and that's the trouble.
For Kishi, prime minister from 1957-60, was also minister of munitions in Tokyo's wartime fascist government. The U.S. occupation designated him a Class A war criminal, the worst, and imprisoned him until 1948, although charges were not brought. However, Kishi never renounced his extremism.
Abe's ambivalence about this past shows up constantly. Although he recently admitted that Japan caused "great misery and suffering on people in many countries," he then added that in regards to the cause of the war, "That should be left to historians."
This fits perfectly into the neo-nationalist Nippon view that the Pacific War was forced upon it by the United States and Britain, and the Imperial Army fought in self-defense. (Why it was therefore called an "imperial" army is not discussed.)
To Japan's all-important neighbor China, which claims losses of 10 million people in the Japanese war, this is insulting. The hurt was magnified by Abe's predecessor, prime minister Junichiro Koizumi's five annual visits to the militaristic Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo, where 14 of Japan's worst war criminals are honored as divine.
Koizumi's pilgrimages brought Sino-Japanese relations to their lowest point in decades. Abe has yet to declare his intentions for possible Yasukuni visits of his own, but he reportedly did worship there secretly in April.
Now, Abe is making encouraging signals for new talks with Beijing, but one trip to Yasukuni could sabotage everything.
So how can he reconcile his residual nationalism -- and reverence for ancestors such as Kishi -- with reality: the rapidly growing might of China, as well as South Korea, the resentful ex-colony, and the unpredictable Confucian-communists in Pyongyang?
Abe, more than any postwar predecessor, is determined to lead Japan into the "normal" role of an armed but non-aggressive modern nation. If he succeeds the world will be living with a new Japan not seen before.
But past debts to cruelly abused neighbors cannot continue to be ignored. Abe's own family past and its loyalties do not augur well.
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Albion Monitor September
28, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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