Future of War and Peace at Stake in Streets of Japan

The United States and its European allies have launched wars on the Middle East that have created an enormous refugee crisis. The same nations are threatening Russia. The question of maintaining peace with Iran is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Even in Asia and the Pacific, not to mention Africa, the biggest military buildup is by the United States.

So why does Japan, of all places, have streets full of antiwar demonstrations for the first time since the U.S. war on Vietnam? I don’t mean the usual protests in Okinawa of U.S. bases. I mean Japanese protests of the Japanese government. Why? Who did Japan bomb? And why do I say the future of war and peace in the world is at stake in Japan?

Let’s back up a little. Japan went through a period of relative peace and prosperity between 1614 and 1853. The U.S. military forced Japan open to trade and trained Japan as a junior partner in imperialism, a story told well in James Bradley’s The Imperial Cruise. The junior partner chose not to stay a junior partner, challenging U.S. dominance in World War II.

At the end of World War II, the war’s losers in Japan and Germany were put on trial for an act that had been perfectly legal until 1928, the act of making war. In 1928, the global peace movement, led by the U.S. movement for the Outlawry of War, created the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a treaty that prohibits all war, a treaty to which most nations of the world are party today. This is a story I tell in my book When the World Outlawed War. President Franklin Roosevelt used the Kellogg-Briand Pact to create prosecutions of war.

Now, the general success thus far and in the future of the Kellogg-Briand Pact can be debated. It has prevented wars, it has stigmatized war, it has made war a crime that can be prosecuted in court (at least against losers), and World War III hasn’t happened yet. But wars by wealthy nations against poor ones roll right along. The pact itself was of course never expected to abolish war on its own, a standard to which nobody ever holds any other law.

The Japanese success of the Kellogg-Briand Pact is a different matter. At the end of World War II, long-time Japanese diplomat and peace activist and new prime minister Kijuro Shidehara asked General Douglas MacArthur to outlaw war in a new Japanese constitution. The result was Article Nine of the Japanese Constitution, the wording of which is nearly identical to that of the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

Japan, which had gone centuries without war, would go another 70 years. The U.S. Outlawrists of the 1920s never imagined their work being imposed on a conquered nation by a ruling general. But they might have imagined it being taken up by the Japanese people. If Article Nine was not clearly owned by the Japanese people themselves in 1947, it was in 1950. In that year, the United States asked Japan to throw out Article Nine and join a new war against North Korea. Japan refused.

When the American War (in Vietnam) came along, the United States made the same request of Japan to abandon Article Nine, and Japan again refused. Japan did, however, allow the U.S. to use bases in Japan, despite huge protest by the Japanese people.

Japan refused to join in the First Gulf War, but provided token support, refueling ships, for the war on Afghanistan (which the Japanese prime minister openly said was a matter of conditioning the people of Japan for future war-making). Japan repaired U.S. ships and planes in Japan during the 2003 war on Iraq, although why a ship or plane that could make it from Iraq to Japan and back needed repairs was never explained.

Now, at U.S. urging, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is attempting to formally throw out Article Nine, or to “reinterpret” it to mean its opposite. And the Japanese people, to their everlasting credit, are in the streets defending their constitution and their culture of peace.

Meanwhile, the people of the United States, with some 50% of their popular movie entertainment (by my unscientific estimate) based around a good-and-evil drama of World War II, are not only not in the streets. They’re not even in touch with the world. They have no idea this is going on. And if, 50 years from now, a heavily militarized Japan attacks Hawaii, the people of the United States will continue to have no idea how that happened.

There are peace activists around the world struggling to uphold the idea that a modern nation can live without war. Japan is a leading example, with certain obvious shortcomings, of how that can be done. We cannot afford to lose Japan as a model of peace. We cannot afford to hear from war mongers five years from now that war is proven inevitable by the return of the Japanese to war. We cannot afford to hear the United Nations, ten years from now, credit Japan with the humanitarian service of protecting people by bombing them. We cannot afford, twenty years from now, to hear that the Pentagon must be built up to guard against the evil Japanese.

Now, in fact, not later, but right now, would be a good moment in which to wake up and value what Japan has achieved. Now would be an ideal moment in which to remember that Japan’s Article Nine was already and remains the law of the land in our other nations through the text of the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Let’s start obeying the law.

* Much credit to David Rothauser for his film Article 9 Comes to America, and for being my guest next week on Talk Nation Radio.

* Photo from http://damoncoulter.photoshelter.com

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  • jadan

    It is a wonderful thing that the Japanese people would take to the streets in anti-war demonstrations. Surely they are wise for having been nuked into sub mission and roasted alive in fire bombing. It would seem they are not, though. They have unleashed upon the world an unprecedented nuclear disaster. Fukushima is currently killing off life in the Pacific and the poison is spreading like contagion around the world. The Japanese people do not have much of a future with or without Article 9. Degenerative disease on a massive scale awaits. When the state of denial. orchestrated and enforced by Shinzo Abe et alia finally dissipates, they will understand that Tokyo is not a healthy environment. When the world is permitted to see the true statistical picture of illness and death in Japan, we will have an image of our own probable future to contemplate.

    • Brockland A.T.

      Actually, no, Japan did not gain wisdom by being firebombed and nuked any more than a child raised by daily beatings would learn the value of non-violence.

      Also, the damaged Japanese nuclear reactors were built by the U.S. nuclear industry.

      Its tragic, but the Japanese are not permitted to say no to anything that is to the advantage of their allies and friends in the American aristocracy. Ironically, Fukushima was a centre of the Samurai tradition, a living culture abandoned then bastardized by ‘modernization’.


      • jadan

        Well, the anti-war faction did gain some wisdom…..I drive around in my Toyota and occasionally offer a blessing on the Japanese for making such a fine car….I am mourning for them. But I don’t want to single them out. This is a human death wish, a dysfunction on the species level. It’s not theoretical. Freud’s “thanatos” is in plain view.

        • Brockland A.T.

          Not enough wisdom to win. Its looking like same-old, same-old.


          Left to itself, any large successful society will find a balance favouring eros over thanatos. It takes outside intervention to tip the balance the other way, usually to benefit the intervenor.

          As long as the American occupation of Japan continues via its military bases, thanatos will have Japan. Japan can never reconcile to eros; its in America’s interest that they remain in limbo. Otherwise, China and Japan might have incentive to make a true peace and reconciliation. Instead, they have incentive to friction.


  • Listen American people, you need to listen to what we speak, because you are the very people responsible of our PLIGHT.
    You are abusing us, making a better life over EXPENSE of us second class citizens of the EMPIRE AMERICA, but you have no idea about what YOU ARE DOING.
    This is not acceptable, you need to THINK about us MORE.

    Stop forcing us to join a war for you.
    Stop supporting Japanese Hitler Shinzo Abe.
    Stop aggressing Japan.
    Stop seizing Henoko Shore Okinawa, it is NOT YOURS, but OURS, especially OKINAWANS’.
    Pulling out US force in Japan, you can’t keep occupying Japan anymore, by intimidation of your MILITARY POWER.
    Stop flying a dangerous chopper Osprey over our houses, while you don’t fly it over YOUR houses, as we are not ANIMALS.
    Stop interfering with our business, we are NOT YOUR SERVANTS.
    Stop forcing us to keep running nuclear plant, it is also what Washington forces us to maintain whatsoever.
    You need to know what you are doing to us Japanese for late 70 years, this is an OBVIOUS IFRINGEMENT of HUMAN RIGHTS to us Japanese citizens.

    EARN the money you need ON YOUR OWN, stop squeezing it from Japan.
    Stop seeing Japan like your SECOND PURSE, or FREE PARKING LOT or FREE MOTEL.
    Future Of War & Peace At Stake In YOU Americans, that is why I come here, otherwise there’s no need for me to talk to anyone American, IF this were something that we can take care of by our own.
    THIS IS YOUR FAULT, THIS IS ALL ABOUT YOU AMERICANS, you ignorant citizens of the f*cking EMPIRE.

  • We are not going to join a war for USA.
    Barack Obama, you are doomed, you are a hella warmonger like Bush, nothing liberal.
    You are the worst President to us Japanese citizens, next to Truman.
    Fire Joseph Nye and purge Richard Armitage RIGHT NOW.
    They can’t keep HANDLING Japan so to make us kill people again, or get us killed MORE.
    Barack Obama, how long can you keep giving your support to a Japanese Hitler who’s propped up by Japanese Neo N*zi?
    Is that what your electorate really allow you?

  • Today, Shinzo Abe has become something BEYOND law, as he forced steamrolling while there’s no legal vote process taken in the Committee at all.
    Please take a look at this picture.
    Lawmaker Masahisa Sato(former Jieitai officer who was sent to Iraq) punched another opposition lawmaker.

    Barack Obama, why do you keep supporting a Japanese Hitler?
    Fire Joseph Nye and purde Richard Armitage RIGHT NOW!
    We are not going to have a war for you!