My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column 88: “U.S. green-lights Japan’s march back to militarism”, on America’s historical amnesia in US-Japan Relations, June 1, 2015


lenderbieBooks, Books, and more from Dr. ARUDOU, Debito (click on icon):
Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free
“LIKE” US on Facebook at
If you like what you read and discuss on, please consider helping us stop hackers and defray maintenance costs with a little donation via my webhoster:
Donate towards my web hosting bill!
All donations go towards website costs only. Thanks for your support!

Hi Blog. My monthly Japan Times columns have moved to the first Monday of the month.  This time I’m talking about the geopolitics and historical amnesia behind PM Abe’s April visit to the United States, and what all the misdirected fanfare means not only for Asia as a region, but also NJ residents in Japan. Please have a read and feel free to comment below.


U.S. green-lights Japan’s march back to militarism
By Dr. ARUDOU, Debito, The Japan Times, June 1, 2015
JUST BE CAUSE Column 88 for The Japan Times Community Page

As I’ve often written, I’m a big proponent of the historical record — if for no other reason, so we can look back at the past and learn from our mistakes.

That has been a major issue for the current Japanese government. As hundreds of historians have publicly stated, the Shinzo Abe administration has been systematically working to deny (or in Abe-speak, “beautify”) Japan’s worst wartime ugliness, on an increasingly obvious quest to reconfigure Japan as a military power. In other words, the right is marching the country back to the Japan that nearly annihilated itself 70 years ago.

But I’m even more disappointed with the historical amnesia of the Americans. Abe’s standing-ovation tour of the United States in April, during which the two allies established the new Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation, has basically helped Abe further destabilize the region.

That’s awful news. The U.S., Japan’s strongest ally and chaperone for most of its foreign policy, is, given Japan’s powerless leftist opposition, basically the only one who can stop this. The U.S. has great sway over Japan due, again, to history. After World War II, America did an outstanding job of enabling Japan to get rich — thanks in part to its provision of advantageous trade and exchange-rate agreements and a subsidized security umbrella.

As the Asian extension of America’s Marshall Plan (a means to keep European countries from warring again by making them economically integrated, interdependent and successful, rather than leaving them to exact wartime reparations and revenge), Japan’s economic success is still seen amongst Washington’s foreign policy wonks as proof of their ability to foster democracy worldwide.

But the U.S., now assuming the post-Cold War mantle of world’s policeman, is undermining that goal by continuing to meddle in Japan’s politics.

We first saw this happen in the “reverse course” of 1947, when it was clear that China was going communist. Back then, Washington feared that labor unions might gather enough strength to force Japan into a similar leftist lurch (as seen in Italy, where the Americans also intervened and set Italian politics back into an unstable, corrupt funk that lasted decades).

So, in the name of “containing communism” at the dawn of the Cold War, the U.S. released the Japanese war criminals they hadn’t executed, who then went on to become prominent politicians, businessmen, organized-crime figures — even a prime minister.

It also basically handed back the levers of power to Japan’s prewar governing elites — for example, by reviving the zaibatsu industrial war-machine conglomerates (as keiretsu cartels), overlooking the domination of the education system by historical revisionists and blood-nationalists (the education ministry has since steadily reinstituted prewar traditions of suppressing history and enforcing patriotism), forgiving egregious war misdeeds (through the overgenerous Treaty of San Francisco in 1952), and allowing the re-creation of Japan’s military (as “Self-Defense Forces”) soon after the U.S. Occupation ended.

The blowback, however, is that America has been constantly snake-charmed by those elites. Their professional “gaijin handlers” (see “Japan brings out big guns to sell remilitarization in the U.S.,” Just Be Cause, Nov. 6, 2013) have decades of experience of playing the anticommunism card to suppress their mortal enemies — Japan’s leftists.

Even as Japan embarked on the road to recovery, the U.S. made sure that “our bastards” (to paraphrase at least one American president) remained in power, creating a shadowy electoral slush account for the Liberal Democratic Party called the “M-Fund,” and fostering a one-party state that lasted several decades.

Then came the infamous U.S.-Japan Security Treaty amendments in 1960, forced upon the Japanese electorate without due process, causing enormous public opposition, riots and social damage, both in terms of property and political polarization.

This overt circumvention of Japan’s democratic institutions stunted the political maturation of Japan’s civil society: Japan never had, for example, the healthy subsequent antiwar grass-roots activism that unseated leaders worldwide in the late 1960s and beyond. As prominent American analysts themselves put it, Japan became an economic giant but a political pygmy.

Fast-forward to April 2015 and Abe’s U.S. tour. Despite years of media and academic attention on Abe’s revisionism, the U.S. bestowed upon him honors that no other Japanese PM has enjoyed, essentially legitimizing Abe’s campaigns worldwide.

Contrast this with how non-LDP left-leaning prime ministers have been treated: President Bill Clinton publicly humiliated Morihiro Hosokawa in 1994, and Washington hobbled Yukio Hatoyama five years ago (see “Futenma is undermining Japanese democracy,” JBC, June 2, 2010) on trade, military-base issues and reordered relations with China. Both PMs were so discredited that they were soon swept away by LDP re-elections, with reenergized conservatives on the rebound making reforms that set the stage for Japan’s recidivism today.

Why are the Americans resuscitating these toxic security guidelines? Simple: to contain China. But, to return to my original point, has Washington learned nothing from history? Can’t they see that the Cold War has been over for decades, and replacing the Soviet Union with China is a bad fit?

Granted, one can make a convincing case that China’s attitude towards democratic institutions ill-befits the Pax Americana. But the PRC is not the USSR — if anything, it’s precisely what the Marshall Planners would have wanted to happen to China.

China’s rapid economic growth and heavy integration into the world market, both as its factory and lender of last resort, indicates that it shall not (and should not) be so easily contained. Containment strategies drawn up by George Kennan 68 years ago are clearly obsolete.

Unfortunately, Washington seems eager to start Cold War II, with Japan again acting as America’s “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in Asia. Except this time, it does not have an American at the steering wheel in Tokyo, and the blood-nationalist in charge is a descendant of the ruthless right, bent on settling old personal scores and putting Japanese weapons and military forces overseas.

I don’t think the Americans are fully aware of what they are encouraging. Abe will erode the very democratic institutions (including the pacifist Constitution) the U.S. established to “cure” Japan’s war-like tendencies in the first place.

Abe has already enacted the means to engineer public opinion through media censorship, half-truths and big lies, as well as to intimidate critics and punish whistle-blowers.

Now, freshly emboldened after his trip to Washington (he even recently sent his “liberal” wife to visit war-celebrating Yasukuni Shrine), Abe will soon legally reconstitute the mythological version of Japan — the one that made so many Japanese support total war and carry out continent-wide genocide.

If you think I’m exaggerating, look again at history. Japan has swung back from liberalism before, after the “Taisho Democracy” of the 1920s. The flowering of democratic institutions, moderate tolerance of dissent and unprecedented prosperity did happen, but it only lasted about 15 years before the ruthless right took over.

This time it lasted much longer, but Japanese society has numerous bad habits that foster a reverse-engineering into militarism. Five years ago I thought remilitarization inconceivable after generations of a pacifist narrative, but seeing now how fast Japan has snapped back is cause for great alarm. This will be confirmed beyond doubt once we see the revival of prewar politics by assassination, the natural progression from the current trends of intimidation and death threats.

This will certainly abet Japan’s domestic conversion from a mild police state into a much harsher one. And then what? If the past 15 years are any guide, Japanese society’s latent suspicion of outsiders will manifest itself in the targeting of its non-Japanese residents with even more force.

Why? Because it can. They’re here and subject to our laws. If they don’t like it, they should leave. Because Japan is for the Japanese, as the blood-nationalists would define them.

Look out, non-Japanese residents, you’re going to attract even more attention now — as lab rats for Japan’s nascent foreign policy. Nice work, America, “Arsenal of Democracy.” History shows that once again, you’ve encouraged more arsenal than democracy.


Debito’s own 20-year-old historical archive of life and human rights in Japan is at Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears in print on the first Monday of the month. Comments and story ideas:


9 comments on “My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column 88: “U.S. green-lights Japan’s march back to militarism”, on America’s historical amnesia in US-Japan Relations, June 1, 2015

  • Debito,

    I don’t know if I should agreed or disagreed with you on this article. But not everyone in USA are happy with Japan’s historical revision. Scholars at Stanford University did called on Japan to apologize when PM Abe came to the US:

    Even in Japan, 16 Japanese association of historical/academics scholars have called on Japan to stop whitewashing history. I hope nothing bad will happen to them (like right wing groups intimidating or sending death threat to the historians, or if PM Abe took this up to the next level: arrest the members that release the statements and using trump up/false charge to silence them):

    I’ll quote the KBS World radio article:

    KBS World-Japanese Historians Condemn Tokyo for Denying Sex Slavery

    The Historical Science Society of Japan, the Japanese Historical Council and 14 other renowned groups of historians and educators in Japan have urged Japanese politicians to stop distorting facts about the nation’s wartime sex slavery.

    In a joint statement Monday, the groups noted that Japanese politicians and mass media argue that there is no evidence women were forced to serve at Japanese military brothels during the war.

    The scholars said the continued denial is “unjust,” stressing that the existence of forced sex slavery has been proven through surveys and historical records.

    The groups also said if some politicians and media continue to take an irresponsible attitude, it will send a message to the international community that Japan does not respect human rights.

    *end of article*

    This statement released by the 16 Japanese groups has gotten praised from the US:

    I’ll quote the article linked above:

    KBS World-US Scholar Applauds Japanese Historians for Statement on Sex Slavery

    A U.S. scholar has said a statement by Japanese historians urging the nation’s politicians to stop distortions about Japan’s wartime sex slavery is evidence that a minority of Japanese deny history.

    University of Connecticut history professor Alexis Dudden said Tuesday that the strong minority is committing a “pernicious aberration.”

    She said the statement by Japanese historians creates a meaningful and necessary advancement and is recovering a much-needed vibrant and open intellectuality in Japanese society.

    Almost 500 historians from around the world have signed an open statement issued by Dudden to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling for Tokyo to recognize Japan’s sexual slavery and other wartime wrongdoings.

    *article end here*

    Three days ago, I saw this picture from Yonhap News:

    A Japanese professor traveled to Seoul to apologize to a former comfort women.

    — Thanks for the links, but you haven’t read my article — it’s not even out yet! Wait and then please comment on that in specific.

  • The American political elite are not asking the right question. The one question they need to ask is “Would Japan remain a US ally if it had a military as big as America’s?” The answer to which is no, because as Abe et al have consistently shown, they see themselves as the master race who need to rule over the lesser races like the Chinese with their “criminal DNA” and Westerners because their “blond hair and blue eyes make them no-hopers in Middle Eastern peace talks.” Unless, of course, said Americans “still think we can control them”, while the Hitler youth sing Tomorrow Belongs to Me in the background.

  • Devin Lenda says:

    The U.S. isn’t “legitimizing Japan’s march back to militarism,” Obama’s Asia plan is to push Japan to push on China. No reluctance there. Second thing, you make it sound like American power players have some interest in historical accuracy for its own sake. You could say they should but then you’re asking for something historically unprecedented.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Excellent article Dr. Debito!

    So much irony, where to start? How about with this….

    ‘Liberal’ Obama is seen as a ‘soft touch’ by Abe for giving him so much free reign to roll back Japanese democracy and human rights to the 1930’s (and make no mistake, Abe is pandering to the machismo of old men of the Ishihara vein by talking about Japan being more militarily active ‘in the world’, but the reality is that he is using this as a cover to stamp out hated western ideas of human rights and democracy imposed on Japan after Japan lost the war).

    Obama needs his ‘pivot to Asia’ to quieten voices that feel threatened by China’s economic rise (make no mistake, if the US ever tried to militarily force China to do anything, China would dump all of the US debt it bought (that allowed the US to finance the War on Terror- and flood the market with USD, crashing the dollar’s value. In the collapse, investors rush to get out of dollars would end US economic- and therefore political and military power- for a generation at least). So really, the US administration knows that the ‘pivot to Asia’ is really just a face-saving move for the benefit of the domestic audience and asian allies.

    Abe undoubtedly understands this, and is taking advantage of this (in his opinion) weak US president who is suffering from the risk of being called out on his ’emperors new clothes’ foreign policy and who is also desperate to get Abe to sign up to TPP. Abe must be laughing all the way to Yasakuni. He knows that Obama needs something from him, and Abe knows that Obama knows he can’t really take on China.

    Oh, the irony! Under illiberal neo-con W. Bush, Abe (during his first tenure) was kept on a super short leash, and was dragged to Washington to apologize for denying Korean sex-slaves, and ultimately forced out of office by the Bush administrations annoyance with him.

    Obama’s making a typical liberal mistake; extending the benefits of liberal freedom to exactly those forces whose agenda is to destroy liberal societies.

  • Hi Debito, thanks for the response but one thing:

    you wrote: “but you haven’t read my article — it’s not even out yet! Wait and then please comment on that in specific.”

    Actually the purpose of that is in case if you want to do last-minute changes to the article you’re writing for Japan Times. You can use the links I send you to say not everyone in USA agree with this Japan’s history whitewash.

    Also back in March, another person in US congress called on Japan to set history right:

    Just today, I saw this on Yonhap News that Katsuya Okada, Japan’s opposition leader has urge Abe to face history:

    I’ll quote the whole article:

    TOKYO, May 31 (Yonhap) — Japan’s opposition leader called on Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Sunday to admit historical facts to help resolve conflicts with South Korea.

    “If I were in the prime minister’s shoes, I would, of course, make a statement,” including an expression of remorse and an apology over Japan’s wartime atrocities, Katsuya Okada, leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.

    He was referring to Abe’s plan to deliver a major speech in August on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

    Addressing the U.S. Congress in April, Abe did not offer his own apology for Japan’s past wrongdoing, including the sexual enslavement of Korean, Chinese and other Asian women.

    Okada said doubts have grown at home and abroad over Abe’s push for expanding the role of Japanese troops because he has not clarified his view on aggression.

    It’s important to face history in a candid manner, he stressed.

    “There would be no genuine reconciliation if (Japan) does not clearly admit (historical) facts,” he added.

    He also said the Japanese government needs to acknowledge the history of slave labor at its early industrial sites.

    Tens of thousands of Koreans forcibly worked and died at the facilities while Japan colonized Korea from 1910-45.

    The Abe administration has been campaigning to win UNESCO’s world heritage status for several related industrial sites, irking Koreans.

    “In having the facilities registered as world heritage sites, (Japan) can admit that there was such a story at one time and I hope South Korea will vote (for Japan’s move at UNESCO),” he said.

    He also urged South Korea and Japan to hold summit talks as early as possible, citing huge losses from political and diplomatic tensions between the two sides.

    “There is no reason for neighboring countries to hold summit talks. The leaders of the two nations need to meet without any preconditions,” he said.

    *article end here*

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    The situation is not the same as it was 70 years ago, but clearly US post-realism is highly responsible for producing skewed ideology on international security in Asia-Pacific. Even though George Kennan’s foreign policy is a thing of the past, his dark legacy–i.e., distrust of the public, exaggerating sense of domestic crisis, has a significant influence on elitist, scientific discourse of America’s international relations. Obviously, US diplomatic elitists do not have as much concern over the body politics of their ally as they did in the pre-war period anymore, since the US successfully converted their former enemy into obedient subject–without dismantling the entire body of intelligence for the sake of post-war foreign policy. I doubt that the elitists would really care about the impact of revising the Article 9, per se, unless Abe regime makes a radical exclusive resolution that would give the National Diet the power to initiate military intervention to foreign soil under the circumstance that goes beyond limited condition of emergency–without consent to US or foreign allies. Japan is a lesser evil in their vision, thanks to subservient position in international diplomacy and sympathetic attitude toward struggling national economy. They see China more threatening due to constant display of military agitation stemming from ‘fear toward external territory’ that translates into emotional outburst toward historical nemesis (both Japan and the US). That quite resonates with America’s foreign policy in the Cold War and Vietnam.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Following the back and forth in the comments section over at JT, it’s alarming that there are people who believe that re-militarizing Japan would make Japanese men somehow ‘more masculine’, and therefore able to stand up to empowered women, thus (!) fixing the declining birthrate problem.

    I find this idea that Japanese men need to subvert women through the ability to apply physical violence abhorrent.
    I am repelled by the idea that Japanese men need to be more aggressive with women in order to make babies (after all, isn’t Abe denying Japanese army sex-slaves?).

    The more they deny they are going back to the 1930’s, the more they use examples of the 1930’s as goals to aim for. Appalling.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @JDG, #8

    That’s pretty much schizophrenic as George Kennan’s cold war policy! Speaking of demophobia.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>