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A thoughtful article in Asia Nikkei the other day called for Japan to disavow pacifism and step up defense-wise. The authors are correct on the second point – Japan does need to get serious about its defense, and fast. But Japan doesn’t need to disavow ‘pacifism’.

Why’s that? Post-war Japan has never been pacifist.

To the extent some people claim otherwise, Japanese pacifism has always been a curious sort of pacifism.

You see, while certain Japanese sometimes preen that Japan is a peace-loving nation, they are also glad to have American forces close at hand to slaughter anyone threatening Japan. Some pacifism.

Not wanting to start a war – which describes nearly all Japanese (if not most civilized humans) is not the same as being unwilling to defend oneself as a matter of principle.

The general Japanese public rightly developed a dislike of wars of conquest after the horrific experiences of the 1930’s and 1940’s – brought about by a nasty militarist government: 3 million dead, Japanese cities in ashes, starvation, and foreign occupation.

This writer’s Japanese friend had three aunts. All were married. All husbands killed in the war. And that was nothing unusual.

But despite this history, the Japanese public at large is supportive of defense.

Note how Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) ‘open base’ days, military ceremonies and exhibitions such as the Fuji Firepower demonstration in Japan are wildly popular and over-subscribed. ‘Open’ days for U.S. bases in Japan are equally popular.

The public at large (which still reads newspapers) understands the need for an upgraded defense and a more energetic defense policy – when matters are properly explained to them.

But Japanese governments have rarely, if ever, made the case – even in recent times.  The reasons? They are afraid of noisy anti-war, anti-American critics such as the Asahi Shimbun and a chunk of academia and the political opposition. And anyway, the Yankees will always take care of things.

Beyond the general public, it is also worth noting that a large slice of Japan’s ‘ruling’ and elite class regrets the war – but only the way it ended.  Go visit the museum at Yasukuni Shrine and it will put pacifist Japan in a different perspective.

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