Does Japan’s leadership want to relive its imperial past? The first hints of this possibility came when Tokyo sent troops to Iraq. The more frightful and historically reminiscent hint came over the weekend, when Japan’s defense minister suggested that Tokyo should attack northern Korea. If I were Korean–northern or southern, this statement would have angered me more than it does anyhow. After all, the history between the two countries is anything but pretty. Japan’s legacy in Korea is one of invasion, occupation, exploitation and slavery. Underlying it all is a dynamic very similar to the dynamic that underlies many of Washington’s dealings with non-white peoples. In a word, Japan perceives itself to be superior to Korea. Although many white skinned folks can not tell the difference between a Korean and a native of Japan, there is a form of racism present in the Asian countries that is no less ugly than that found in the US. It is based less on skin tone and more on other cultural and historical differences.
Japan has invaded the Korean peninsula a number of times. Each time its armies occupied the countryside and took many prisoners. Often these prisoners were enslaved. This occurred most recently during the Second World War. The first recorded invasion of Korea by Japan was in 1692. These attacks continued for six years. More recent antagonisms between the two states began at the end of the 19th century, as Japan expanded into mainland Asia, defeating China and Russia in two wars fought between 1895 and 1905. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea and made it a colony. Korea was ruled by Japan for thirty-five years. Koreans were not allowed to speak their own language or to learn about their history during this time in an effort to obliterate the Korean culture. Japan plundered land and food. On March 1, 1919 many Koreans were killed or put in prison nationwide as as they protested the colonial rule. This day is remembered as a day of resistance and patriotism by most Koreans. Another form of resistance can be seen in Korea’s insistence on maintaining its cultural heritage and language.
During World War Two, Japan used Korean labor and stole Korean women to serve as prostitutes for members of the Japanese military in Korea and Japan. When the Japanese were finally defeated and Korea was temporarily divided by Washington and Moscow, Washington used Japanese troops and Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese occupiers as security forces in the southern sector. This naturally intensified the already existing enmity between the Koreans and Japanese.
After World War Two, the Japanese military was stripped of most of its powers and a new constitution was written that forbade Japan from using its military to resolve issues. Despite this ban, however, the country’s military strength currently stands at approximately 180,000. This is a small number when compared to the nearly 2 million military members that the United States currently deploys, and certainly adds a bit of fuel to the argument that should Japan decide to stage a pre-emptive attack on northern Korea to destroy its missiles, the US military would be right behind the Japanese. Indeed, there is a security agreement in place that guarantees a US armed response should Japan be attacked by a force that it could not repel. It seems safe to assume that should Japan attack northern Korea that any response by Pyongyang would be of such a magnitude.
Japan has always walked a line between its independence from Washington and its dependence on the same. Even when governments were in power that wanted US troops off Japanese territories (esp. Okinawa), the likelihood of that happening was minimal. The current government of Junichiro Koizumi is a right wing government that has sent troops to Iraq, antagonized Koreans and Chinese by its support of revisionist history books in Japan’s schools and by Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine–a memorial to Japan’s war dead. These visits in particular have angered China and Korea because of the number of convicted Japanese war criminals buried there–men who were convicted of the deaths of thousands. Although Koizumi has stated that Japan will never take the path to war, the deploying of troops to Washington’s disastrous endeavor in Iraq and the current attempts to redefine the nature of self-defense to allow a pre-emptive strike on Pyongyang’s missile sites belie this statement. The shrine visits, especially, worsened relations with China and South Korea, two important trading partners, and caused the cancellation of a series of bilateral meetings in late 2005. His party also canceled plans for the building of a neutral, non-militaristic shrine that might have stemmed criticism. There are those to the right of Koizumi (in his party and other smaller groups) that would like to remove Article 9 –the article that states “The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized”.–from the Japanese constitution entirely. These elements, perhaps seeing a new Japanese empire, are also interested in seeing Japan develop an independent military policy.
Whether or not the desire of some in the Japanese government and military will succeed in their drive for an offensive Japanese military capability remains to be seen. If they do, not only will it require an interpretation of self-defense based on Washington’s interpretation of that term in its dealings with the world, it will also signify the intensification of a festering arms race in Asia. This arms race, already joined by India, Pakistan, China, and Iran, is a direct result of Washington’s policy of war and duplicitous diplomacy. If the Clinton administration had kept true to the promises it made to Pyongyang back in 1993 nuclear “crisis,” it is less likely that Pyongyang would have test-launched those missiles in early July. If George Bush had not called Iran and northern Korea members of an “axis of evil,” and invaded Iraq, it is unlikely that Tehran would be enriching uranium with a possible plan to develop nuclear weaponry. If Washington was not the belligerent capital that it is, more nations might be considering the inclusion of their own “article 9” in the laws of their countries.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org