History, like time, doesn’t end; it rolls on, inexorably. Sometimes, history repeats itself, to the dismay and even great consternation of nations and peoples on the receiving end of historical folly and madness.
Since Maidan, fascists and neo-fascists in some parts of Europe, particularly Ukraine, have come out of the closets and woodworks. In Asia, fascism in Japan has bestirred itself and reared its ugly head again after Abe returned to the apex of power as prime minister in 2012. His first term had ended after only one year in 2007, when his party lost control of the upper house for the first time in 52 years.
In February this year, a video of toddlers in an Osaka kindergarten reciting the Imperial Rescript scandalized the entire nation. The Rescript, which behooves Japanese to die for the emperor, was used to promote militarism in the 1930s and 1940s. Young Kamikaze or suicide pilots who crashed their planes into Allied warships in WW2 epitomized such militarism, much like Islamist suicide bombers today.
The Rescript was banned by the American occupation authority after Japan’s defeat and surrender in WW2. That the Rescript should re-enter the playrooms in a kindergarten after a 72-year absence, and with Abe’s wife looking on approvingly and heaping praises on the toddlers reciting it, has sent alarm bells ringing across Japan. Despite considerable public disquiet over the video, Abe’s government still pressed ahead and approved chanting of the Rescript as part of the school curriculum.
Barely two months after the controversy surrounding the Imperial Rescript, another furore erupted. This time, it was the Japanese cabinet’s approval of Hitler’s Mein Kampf as “appropriate” teaching material in schools. This isn’t just politically incorrect; it’s sheer defiance of international norms against racial supremacy.
Japanese acquired a sense of superiority as a result of advances in various fields during the Meiji Restoration. They felt it their divine duty to rule over peoples they aconsidered inferior to themselves in East Asia, especially Korea and China. Thus, their propaganda of a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere during WW2 by invading and occupying China and other countries in SE Asia under the guise of chasing off European colonists. Through Mein Kampf, Abe also telegraphs his intention to make Japan the foremost military power in Asia, seeking to achieve what his maternal grandfather had failed to do in WW2, and emulating what Hitler had done after the defeat of Germany in WW1.
Those two incidents are not isolated or pure coincidences. They are parts of the concerted plans by Abe and the radical right-wing group Nippon Kaigi to systematically condition the young so that they are willing to be the cannon fodder in wars of aggression to be waged by a new fascist Japan in future. Such spectres of past Japanese fascism have raised red flags from Bangkok to Beijing.
As Abe forges ahead with inculcating young, innocuous minds with militarism, he had earlier stifled dissenting and incongruent voices from the media. Critics of his policies and move toward militarism were forced off TV shows. A major daily, Asahi Shimbun, came under ferocious government attack for its reporting on sensitive issues. The liberal paper capitulated by cutting back on critical, investigative reporting. The government’s arm-twisting and public tongue-lashing have a chilling effect on the media. Many rolled over and now exercises self-censorship to fall in line with the official narrative. Abe’s clamp-down on the media seeks to smooth his way to rewriting the Peace Constitution. A big casualty of Abe’s War on the Media is a precipitous fall in press freedom, from 11th down to 72nd in just 5 years to 2015, as ranked by the Reporters without Borders.
In 2013, two years before his crusade against the media, Abe’s government had bulldozed through the Parliament (aka Diet) a draconian pre-war law criminalizing disclosure and reporting of vaguely defined state secrets. The law gives government officials a carte blanche to block release of information indefinitely and deny the right of the public to know. During WW2, that law was used to arrest and imprison political opponents and dissidents. With disclosure of information vastly restricted and whistle-blowing deterred, the public is kept in the dark and unable to scrutinize the affairs and conduct of the state. The government has a free rein in doing what it wants with little or no regard to public interest. That is a major hallmark of a fascist state.
All these manoeuvres lead to one goal: Rewriting the Peace Constitution imposed by the American occupation force that forbids a standing army and waging of wars. Over the years, the prohibition on having a defense force has been whittled down by a series of Cabinet interpretations such that Japan now has a de facto defense force. Last year, another Cabinet interpretation allows Japan’s “Self Defense Force” to come to the defense of an ally even when Japan itself is not under attack. This move was encouraged and urged by America which wants to co-opt Japan in containing China.
Abe isn’t satisfied with such piecemeal, constrained moves to get round the Constitution that stops him from warring abroad. He wants a de jure army, and the legal backing to make wars. To amend Article 9 that is an impediment to war-making, he needs to have a two-thirds majority in both the lower and upper Houses of Parliament or Diet, and ratified by a simple majority in a public referendum. His party and coalition partner, Buddhist-backed Komeito, together have more than two thirds of the seats in both the chambers of the Diet. The fly in the ointment is that Komeito is dead set against rewriting the Peace Constitution. So Abe is back to the drawing board.
A de tour Abe has embarked on is to first amend Article 96 of the Constitution which requires that any amendment to the Constitution must be approved by a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of the Diet. He wants Article 96 to be amended to require a simple majority vote. Both the Opposition and his coalition partner Komeito have stood firm against such revision . Abe’s goal remains beyond reach.
Abe’s single-minded pursuit of reviving and reinvigorating militarism and fascism in Japan has eroded significantly press freedom and the right of the public to know. He has re-instituted pre-war indoctrination of young children in the ways of militarism. What is standing in the way of his final goal is the requirement for a two-thirds majority vote to amend the Peace Constitution. Question is whether such bulwark against militarism or fascism will continue to withstand Abe’s relentless assaults and machinations. Ordinary Japanese, as well as people in East Asia, hope and pray it will, so that a train wreck with Abe as the reckless driver can be averted.