Standing on crossroads

Remilitarazing of Japan and gendered reconstruction of HistoryVoir l’article de Lisa Yoneyama publié dans le numéro 13 de Multitudes :

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—-We shall never again allow Japan to exercise state control over our bodies or over bodies of people in others countries.

We shall not let the state ignore or forget its crimes from the past war.

We shall not close our eyes, as Japan participates in the US-led war and invasion.

We refuse to stay silent.

———–
A part of statement of Women in Black-Tokyo on 8/15/2003, the 58th anniversaire of the end of the Pacific War with defeat of the former military regime of Japan.

In june 2003, the wartime législations passed the National Diet of Japan, which would enable the state to mobilise military forces as well as civil sectors such as transportation and médical services for military actions headed by the US in any part of the world. Those législations that would involve Japan deeply and actively in global military rule of the United Statesd are without doubt a violation of the Article 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits governement from externally exercizingsing military forces, and a major departure from the past foreign policy based on multilateral cooperation. With those legislations, remilitarization process of Japan that proceeded throughout the Cold War era has come to close to completion. What is left may now may only be a procedure to officially abolish the pacifist provisions of the Article 9.
In remilitariser process of Japan that was disarmed 60 years ago after the atrocious Pacific War, the US’ geopolitical strategy has always played a crucial role, while japanese governement also reevaluted use of military forces as a polical tool in seeking for maximizing power. However it was never easy for Japanese government and the US to overcome widely supported post-war Constitutional regime that has restricted external use of military forces and mobilization of citizens for that purpose. I would discuss that reconstruction of national history of pre-war impérial regime as well as post-war democratization was inevitable to make Japan again a state that can make wars. This is a gendered project, as nationalists’massive attack against feminists suggests.

Remilitarization of Japan in the Cold War

It would be useful to briefly review how Japan was demilitarized and remilitarized half a century ago. The Japanese imperial regime that invaded and colonized large part of Asia was disarmed and democratized by the US occupa tion in 1945. The democratic constitution, which had one of most progressive provisions of civil rights including women’s suffrage, was prepared under the US occupation and eagerly supported by Japanese people. Tired of long years of wars, overwhelming majority also welcomed the pacifism of the Article 9 of the constitution to abolish all the military forces and the state’s right to déclare wars as a way to adress international conflicts, which had no precedent in the world history. However the US soon disappointed democratic parties when it replaced this idéalism with relenteless power politics of the Cold War. Japan was quickly integrated into the liberalist military block, and the « Self-Defense Forces (SDF) » that contradicts with the Constitution was set up under the US occupation, as East Asia was fought over between the two super-powers.

However the major military role of Japan in the block was to provide military bases for the US, and the SDF remained as non-combating army. The major reason for this was that many Asian countries as well as Japanese citizens and politicians remained strongly cautious of revival of pre-war millitarism. While many Asian countries were already in stable economic relationships with Japan, their suspicion towards Japan never fully adress the past war responsability was strong enough to prevent Japanese government from actively expanding its military forces even though the US urged it to do so.

The end of the ColdWar and various projects of reconstructions of histories

The end of the Cold War put major challenge to pacifism of the Constitution, of which direct tgrigger was the Gulf War in 1991. Requested to cooperate with the allied forces, Japan made economic contribution instead of sending troops, which was codly accepted by the United States. Suffered from the self-image of « castrated economic giant », many Japanese politicians came to regard the Article 9 as a burden undermining opportunity for Japan to maximise state power by activily participating in collective military opérations, including the UN Peace Keeping Operations. While many conservatives were frustrated with Asian countries that were cautious of Japan’s military ambitions, liberalists who sought for international leadership through multilateral cooperation under the United Nations systems were rather positive toward atoning for the past war responsibility, as long as it would ease Asian Countries’ concern and clear the way for Japan to be credited as a member of international gentlemen’s club.
At the same time, the conventional national discourse of the past history came under attak from other parties too. One of the major challenges came from hundred of old women in Korea and many other Asian countries who identified themselves as ex-« confort women ». Their demand for justice gave a grave shock to Japanese society, not only for inhumanity of the sexual slavery system officially and massively conducted by the former imperial army, but also for the fact that « others » excluded from the national history that was constructed around the honour of male Japanese soldiers appeared breaking 50 years of silence. Their demand for justice posed a major challenge to the dominant discourse that Japanese people are major victims of the handfull leaders of the pre-war military régime who abused the power and that their sacrifices are the corner stones of the post-war prosperity of the nation. Feminist and other progressive people who supported those survivors’ demand for state reparations tried to push the limit of liberalists’ « washing hands » project of clearing the past, in order to hold the state accountable to individual victimes from the perspective of human rights. One of such attempts was the International Women’s Tribunal organized in 2000 by the international women committee to bring justice to the sexual slavery in light of international laws, which was a part of international struggle to reconstruct the conventionnal international order that was state-oriented and male-oriented.
On the other hand, however, a strong counter-movement of revision of history was organized by a group of academics, back up by mass media, business and politicians. Calling the « ex-comfort women » as « liar prostitutes », those neo-nationalists justified past colonization, invasions and sexual violence against women, constructiong ethno-centric and anti-feminist discourse of national history. Thus the 1990s saw different ideological camps competing each other over reconstruction of history as well as over legal and political order of Japan in the post-Cold War era.

Accelerating remilitarization and War against feminism

Having failed to effectively respond to structural challenges posed by globalization en 1990s, Japan slipped off from the seat of economic hegemony. As people got increasing afraid of consequences of economic structural reforms, demographic and societal changes, and frustrated with ineffective political systems, neo-nationalists increasingly penetrated into state power. As a result, remilitarization of the state is acceleratedin active involvement in the US-led military actions, state control over citizens, justification of the past state crimes, and massive attacks against feminists.
The governement concluded bilateral military treaty between the US in 1999, enforced the wartime legislations, and now it is preparing for sending troops to Iraq, which effectively undermine the Article 9 of the Constitution and involve Japan deeply in the United States’ post 9/11 global military order. External deployment of the SDF is justified, not in terms of participation in multilateral peace keeping opérations under the UN as it was a decade ago, but for bilatéral alignment with the United States that denies any authorities of international laws and the UN.
At the same time a number of legislations to strengthen state control over the population have been enforced, which indicates that militarization of a state is a process to allow control and mobilization of a civil sector as well as military forces. Those législations include introduction of unified information nertwork that would enable the state to monitor individual citizens, state intervention in media and civil activities, and strengthen state control over public education, of which an exemple is that forceful enforcement of hanging the national flag and singing the anthem at public schools which are inseparable from the tradition of the pre-war imperial rule, against strong protest of the Teachers Union, one of the biggest trade unions in Japan.
In justifying those policies, politicians and mass media are often violently inflaming ethno-nationalism and suppression on ethnic minorities and women. Abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea, which is called the 9/17 for the date it is revealed in 2002, was immédiately used to justify militarization, abuse of Japanese Koreans and the past colonisation. As there are increasing fear about the breakdown of the conventional communities and family systems and particularly about the consequence of sharp decrease in the birth rate, nationalists often publicly justify patriarchic domination over women. Gender equality policies that were introduced after the Beijing conference in 1995 are now under harsh attack from the right wings and conservative politicians as destroying family values. There are some big-name politicians who openly stated that women who don’t give birth got no right to receive public pensions, or women who don’t have reproductive ability are not even worth to live. Many nationalists regard feminists as public enemy, just like communists in the cold
war era.

Conclusion

In those recent political and social changes, we see Japan’s deeper intergration into the US-led global military order, as well as blunt attack on basic political values of human rights, freedom of speech and gender equality, which are principles of post-war democratic regime that are manifested in the Constitution. These values are under relentless attack because of the role they played in hampering remilitarization of Japan in the last 60 years together with externat non-war policy of the Article 9, while substantial realisation of these values have always been questioned. We are especially concerned that ethno-nationalism and anti-feminism inflamed by some right wing groups and part of mass media seems to be increasingly institutionalised by state power.
Women in Black Tokyo and other feminist groups have been trying to adress and challenge this gendered process of remilitarization of Japan by issuing statements and publications, organizing protests, streeet vigils, the International Women’s Tribunal and other events. Yet our efforts are not successful enough to have major political impacts so far. One of our challenges should be to strenghten cooperation with Japannese Korean and other ethnic groups in Japan who haver been excluded from state provisions of civil rights. We would appreciate suggestions and support from sisters of Women in Black in the world in our struggle against militarization, nationalism and patriarchy.