The Japanese public has been thrown into an emotionally higher level of agitation than was expected, in the light of what their political leaders had painted. They have been sent a rude reminder that there is indeed a war raging in Iraq; one in which innocent civilians from all sides can suffer.
The shock came when Al-Jazeera footage was reported on NHK News, on April 8, indicating that three of their most innocent civilians, an aid worker, a recent high school graduate and a journalist, had been taken hostage by a group previously unknown, called Saraya al-Mujahedeen (Mujahedeen Brigades). The hostage-takers were demanding that the Japanese government withdraw its Self Defense Forces from Iraq, with the added note that, “You [the Japanese] used to be our friends. But now you are helping the invasion armies that are killing us.” The kidnappers gave the Japanese government three days to announce their withdrawal, or else they would burn their hostages alive.
The outrage has been particularly keen. Especially since, during the buildup to the Japanese dispatch of armed forces to Iraq, whenever Prime Minister Koizumi, or any of his cabinet members, talked about their upcoming reentry into colonial ventures, they would consistently, and verbatim, repeat this formulation: “We are part of an international community and as such we have obligations. We are obligated to help with the reconstruction of Iraq, and to help in the international fight against terrorism.” And the government’s response to the kidnappings, almost immediately after the news, was consistent. “Since our Self-Defense Forces are providing reconstruction support for Iraqi people, we have no reason for withdrawal,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a news conference.
The Japanese ruling classes are very particular about their semantics. They don’t mince words. They mince meanings. The ‘fight against terrorism’ being obligatory, and almost inaudible these days from the force of repetition, speaks little to the Japanese public beyond a vague phrase, even if they have seen their own homegrown varieties, in the form of the Red Army’s past expeditions in the 1970s, or the Aum Shinrikyo’s subway sarin attack in Tokyo in 1995. But, the Japanese are far more conducive to empathy with volunteer efforts, which is manifest in the high percentage of ordinary citizens putting aside up to years of their lives to volunteer whatever help they can provide to communities they deem needy. So, from the very beginning, the humanitarian face of the armed capabilities of the nation were highlighted and emphasized. Reconstruction became the key word. Who could object to that? Who wouldn’t resonate with that, especially in this land of ever-Keynesian constructions?
In all the reportage leading up to the dispatch of the armed forces, there never was a word of surprise or a hint of curiosity from a single reporter covering (rather too well) this ‘story’ that surely reconstruction cannot begin while a war is ongoing. But the usage of the word ‘war’ was strictly and successfully purged from any discussion to do with the dispatch of the Self Defense Forces. Not a whisper of that rude ‘W’ word indicating too much confusion and animosity; not even when a Japanese diplomat and his aide were assassinated in Tikrit, late last November, in a clear message from the Iraqi insurgents to the Japanese government not to get involved.
(Incidentally, to this day, nobody has asked the painfully obvious: What are the Self Defense Forces defending themselves against, in a country that has never attacked Japan, never intended to, and indeed had fantastic economic relations with Japan?)
The legal cover that Koizumi sought in his effort to join the colonialist bandwagon, came as a very quiet, technical, purely ‘superficial’, almost-executive order type of legislation that allowed the Japanese Self Defense Forces to be stationed off the coast of Pakistan on a carrier ship, to perform humanitarian/medical backup functions in the invasion of Afghanistan. To this, another, this time more-noticed, piece of legislation was attached more than a year later to provide the legal cover to send ‘humanitarian assistance’, this time to Iraq for reconstruction work, and not for engaging in any form of fighting, nor for any ‘carrying of lethal power’ for the Americans. This latter part was later watered down (under US pressure no doubt) so that under certain conditions, some types of ‘carrying lethal power’ (ammunition, fuel, supplies, etc.) for the US forces were deemed OK.
From very early on, the Japanese Self Defense Forces were said to be destined only for ‘quiet’ areas, where no fighting was ongoing, and would do their best to stay out of harm’s way so that they could fulfill their humanitarian obligations. The media obeyed very discreetly all the rhetoric coming out of Chief Cabinet Secretary Fukuda’s mouth, and dutifully repeated it word for word. It was emphasized that the situation in Iraq (this was back in December 2003, when things had not yet totally unhinged) was not too bad, and of course, there had been some ‘incidents’ induced by ‘extremists’ or ‘remnants of Saddam’s regime’ or ‘foreign terrorists’ (the Holy Trinity of the enemy). But, ‘Our boys will stay way clear of that.’
When push came to shove a majority of commentators, as well as ordinary citizens with enough political knowledge of their society, would say that the Japanese government had no choice, that the US power of decision over other issues vital to Japanese economy, trade, etc. outweighed any symbolic gesture the Japanese government could have brought to bear on the crazy Americans. So, they did the best they could in a bad situation by going into Iraq with a humanitarian helping hand, to reconstruct, to help the poor, to bring them clean drinking water, and bring them hope.
This does not really explain the total picture, though it may soothe the likely nagging that is tugging at one’s conscience. It paints a simplistic and fatalistic picture which has a therapeutic effect, since it absolves individuals of taking responsibility for showing overt and organized outrage. It is the easiest form of conservatism practiced daily and by millions, especially in the lands designated as First World. Most nations have catchy phrases for it. The Japanese phrase puts it aptly as, “Shiyou ga nai!” (roughly, ‘there’s no other way’).
But, the truly astute, and there are many, see the rising militarism for what it is. In response to the news of the kidnappings, nearly 2000 people joined a candlelight vigil on April 9, in the heart of Tokyo’s political district, demanding the return of the troops, while three thousand more demonstrated at nearby Hibiya Park. The peace movement in Japan may not be huge in numbers, but it is much more consistent than, say, its American counterpart, which tends to take long vacations. And every one of the members of the Japanese peace movement fears nothing more than the consequences of their ruling classes’ lust for militarism.
We are told that the Koizumi government is a ‘reformist’ one, which to an innocent ear should sound great. In the context of Japanese history since World War II, however, the reformists’ agenda has been to turn the historical and constitutional clock back to the pre-WW-II Imperial constitution. So, ironically, the reformists in Japan are the most active of the most reactionary of the ruling class’s representatives in the state.
This explains the mindset behind Koizumi’s repeated visits in an official capacity to the infamous Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, which, along with honoring the remains of two and a half million Japanese dead from numerous wars, honors the diligent services of convicted war criminals. These visits were recently ruled unconstitutional by a Fukuoka District Court, which said in ruling on a claim for damages Wednesday that Koizumi’s visits were political in nature and therefore unconstitutional (AP, Wednesday, April 7, 2004). The Japanese parliament has now been thrown into slight turmoil as to what action to take vis a vis this ruling, and whether to include the issue of visits to Yasukuni Shrine in the deliberations of the bi-cameral committees set up to look into constitutional revisions necessary to further reform and modernize Japan.
The same not-so-neo colonial ambitions are at the heart of the rise in patriotism demanded by the government in the form of legislation (passed by the Diet in late 1999) to make it mandatory to respect the recognized national flag and the national anthem during school ceremonies. Teachers or students who do not rise to the flag and refuse to sing the national anthem can be legally punished (The Japan Times, Wednesday, March 31, 2004; Guardian, April 7, 2004). In fact, the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education issued a warning before this year’s graduation ceremonies, that it would punish teachers at public high schools in the capital who refused to stand up and sing ‘Kimigayo’ (the national anthem) at graduation ceremonies, usually held in late March.
The overt demand placed on the public to salute the flag and love the anthem or else, goes naturally hand in hand with the plans of the Japanese government to get involved with the current colonial ventures on offer. In spite of a pacifist constitution, Koizumi sought and by force of the majority that his Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has held in the Diet for the past fifty (give or take a few) years, created a completely legal cover to join a war of aggression that can hardly be more naked an act of aggression.
The Self Defense Forces, thus sent to the quiet town of Samawa, have dispensed water and have, for the most part, managed to stay out of harm’s way. But in the land of the invaded a war rages on every soul, so without the firepower to get to the soldiers, you do unto others as they do unto you. Some defenseless volunteer workers and a journalist who were there to help have become the sacrificial lambs who are paying the price. One of the three, eighteen year old Imai-san, had just graduated from high school, and was there to collect information about the use of uranium depleted shells and their effects on the civilians.
The Bush Administration, much like any possible Democrat administration that may replace it, knows that they are onto something good (for them). They have rediscovered imperialism, but now with a ‘democratic’, ‘consensus-based’ adage. When Bush, or Condi, or Dick ‘The Boss’ Chain-me (who is in Japan right now), or any of the myriad commentators of the ‘mainstream’ media in the US say something like, ‘Our coalition partners number in the thirties to forties’, they are attempting feebly yet successfully to legitimize their rape and pillage (the irony may be lost to Americans, but not to us living the consequences of past US interventions) . The logic being, the larger the posse, the more normal-looking the lynching. And for this they need as big a posse as they can buy. Never mind that many members of the ‘coalition’ are so tiny as to pale in significance before any of the big US corporations who would have budgets bigger than half of the coalition partners put together.
And therein lies the significance of symbolism. The Japanese, as well as the British and numerous other weasel-states taking part in this latest chapter of history, know that it is exactly symbolism that Uncle Sam is demanding of them. And for a symbolic gesture Uncle Sam is prepared to pay a good price these days.
It is perhaps a foregone conclusion that, short of some late intervention by Iranians, Syrians, or local religious leaders to safeguard the release of the three Japanese citizens being held captive, they will be sacrificed to the hungry wolves of war. But, regardless, Koizumi, his cabinet members and his parliamentary majority can ‘keep’ face because before the official dispatch of the Self Defense Forces, they ‘told’ their people of possible terrorist attacks! And in the mandatory language, what are you supposed to do when facing ‘senseless terrorism by extremists and crazies’? Why, of course, nothing short of ‘staying the course’!
It is neither so comical nor very ironic, but painfully sardonic that people, who, in their own country, are defending themselves against an invading army are ‘extremists’ and ‘terrorists’, while the people who have invaded and are spreading so much terror are nothing short of sensibleness incarnate, with angelic intentions to boot.
All major and minor participants in the ‘coalition’ are thirsty, giddy about getting a share as well as hungry for getting more. And they are hopeful too. Hopeful that enough fawning at the foot of the emperor may bring about expansion of their turf. The Japanese generals are smiling, nodding in agreement as they sharpen their swords, as they practice by slicing brimstone, as the public is made to rise to the flag and sing the anthem. Should the three defenseless Japanese citizens be killed by their Iraqi captors, the general-industrialists will doubtless use it to stoke the fires of their plans for a more openly militaristic involvement and self-projection into world affairs. And in this they are getting plenty of help from the Koizumi government.
REZA FIYOUZAT can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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