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Turning Japan Back toward Militarism

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Cross-posted from Consortium News

U.S. politicians are displaying a rare bipartisanship as they back policies to override Japan's longstanding opposition to militarism and thus make Japan a potent ally of the U.S. strategy for containing China politically, economically and militarily.
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Tim Shorrock, who grew up in Japan and has written extensively about its post-World War II history, strongly opposes the policy of remilitarizing Japan and is deeply concerned that it will have a devastating impact on Japan and its people. Shorrock, whose most recent book is Spies for Hire, was interviewed by Dennis J Bernstein on Pacifica's "Flashpoints" program.

DB: The wires are reporting that "Japan takes historic step from post-war pacifism." And it talks about Japan's willingness to join this new strategic alliance. It is of great concern to folks, like you, who have been watching Japan over the years. You want to talk about what's going on here, sort of set the scene? Give us a little thumbnail sketch of the history behind this?

TS: Well, this is a real tragedy from my perspective. I grew up in Japan in the 50's and 60's, and always appreciated the fact that they had adopted this peace constitution under the U.S. occupation which kept them from taking up arms ever again. They were responsible for a terrible war in Asia, occupying China and Korea, Philippines, many other countries. And no one in Japan after that war wanted a return to militarism.

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Unfortunately, during the Cold War, the U.S. moved away from helping them, pushing them to adopting democratic institutions. And during the Cold War, they [U.S. officials] began this military alliance which continues to this day, and began incorporating Japan into the U.S. military framework in East Asia. Japan supplied the U.S. materials and weapons during the Korean War, during the Vietnam War, same thing.

The Japanese ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party, ruled for most of the post-war period. There were brief periods of times when they've been out. But they've been the U.S.'s best friends in Japan. They're a very far-right party. And this Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe comes from this very right-wing faction of a very right-wing party who have wanted to restore Japan's place in the world as it was during World War II, but under the alliance of the United States.

And so this is something the far right in Japan has been pushing for years. And, of course, it has been pushed in the United States, too, by both Democrats and Republicans. It's been a bipartisan policy to push them [the Japanese] into re-militarization, basically. Now, they can use their military, overseas. And this is a huge step, and it's very sad to see it happen.

DB: Let's talk a little bit more about that strategic operation. The United States foresees the China Century, if you will. And, U.S. security interests are busy sort of creating a security ring around China. And Japan can play a key role in that, right?

TS: Well, yeah! We have a massive naval presence in Japan at Yokosuka and a couple of other bases. We practically control the entire island of Okinawa, which is a major Marine base, a forward basing platform for U.S. Marines. And all of this is integrated in U.S. bases in South Korea and, of course, we have just reopened bases in the Philippines, and are building another Marine base in Australia.

So, it's the biggest U.S. military build-up in Asia since the Vietnam War. And Japan can play a critical role in this. During the last 15 years or so, under the LDP [Liberal Democratic Party] government, they were doing things like escorting ships that were U.S. ships that were going to Afghanistan and Iraq and things like that. ...

Now, this could expand into much greater expansive military cooperation with the United States. They're using China as the kind of excuse for this. But it's been long in the planning, and, of course, our bases remain there after they were supposed to be encircling the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed, and nothing changed. The U.S. bases remain there. There was never any kind of cut back in that base structure.

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DB: We're talking about significant moves by the Japanese government to re-militarize in a large way in concert with the United States and, I guess you have to say, NATO.

You grew up in Japan. What was the impact, say, of the base at Okinawa? How did that impact on the local life, and the politics of Japan?

TS: You know, Okinawa, a huge percentage of the island is controlled by the U.S. military. And there's this one Marine base there right now. The city goes right up to the edge of the base. And planes fly over the neighborhoods, all the time. There's a terrible footprint, as they like to call it. And Okinawaans have to live with constant noise, the possibility of plane crashes and, of course, the behavior of U.S. troops -- rape, drunkenness and that kind of thing. And they have been putting up with it, for almost 60 years now.

When I was growing up, some of the biggest demonstrations I ever saw in my life were against the U.S. bases in Japan, being used for Vietnam, as a launching pad to bomb Vietnam. And there was a huge Japanese citizens movement at the time. They actually managed to force the U.S. to stop using Okinawa, as a base for B52s to bomb Vietnam. And those were removed to Guam.

But Japanese have had to put up with this militarism, and these U.S. bases for a long time. And they've been now kind of consolidated in Okinawa, with the exception of a few major bases on the mainland. And so in some ways, a lot of the Japanese people are like, "Well, that's down in Okinawa. Okinawa, it doesn't affect us so much."

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Dennis J Bernstein is the host and executive producer of Flashpoints, a daily news magazine broadcast on Pacifica Radio. He is an award-winning investigative reporter, essayist and poet. His articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Nation, and (more...)

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