The Japanese Peace Clause

The peace clause in the Japanese constitution, Article 9, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in April this year. No doubt some will ask why a Japanese constitutional clause is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Colors of Peace. Japanese children all over the country create these little crane birds of paper in memory of Sadako Sasaki. Sadako and the paper crane birds became a symbol for world peace in Japan after her death in 1955.  Photo from Flickr: Vincent van der Pas.

An unconventional great power

Japan is an unconventional great power with the world’s third largest gross domestic product and a military budget that is comparable to the United Kingdom. In spite of this and due to the military restrictions enshrined in Article 9, Japan has a military they cannot use in war, even in UN sanctioned peacekeeping operations. In addition to the restrictions it imposes on military operations, Article 9 plays a fundamental, albeit passive, role in ensuring peace in Northeast Asia. This role has been of decisive importance for stabilizing the security situation in the region. I will argue that the peace clause and the Japanese who wish its continued existence both nationally and regionally are worthy candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Article 9

Article 9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. 

It is important to understand how essential Article 9 is for the security situation in Northeast Asia. During World War II, Japan committed numerous atrocities in the countries it occupied. Since Japan has neither been through a similar self-reflection as that of post-war Germany, nor witnessed a symbolic apology on a par with Willy Brandt falling to his knees in the Warsaw ghetto, these atrocities are still very much on the agenda in Northeast Asia. This is further exacerbated with Japan’s revisionist interpretations of its wartime history, with conclusions diverging from the international consensus.

In lieu of an apology: both symbolic and actual significance

It is exceptionally rare for a constitutional clause to have both a symbolic and an actual international significance. Article 9 is such a clause. There are those amongst Japan’s neighbors and wartime victims that have interpreted the clause as the apology they believe Japan has failed to make. The Japanese government has never issued an official apology for the country’s actions during the war. This however does not mean that Japan and the Japanese have not apologized. There have been several genuine apologies by politicians, organizations, and other parties wanting to make amends for the war. Yet, for the victims of Japan, these have not been deemed sufficient. This is because a unified Diet, in its official capacity as the highest body representing Japan, has neither apologized nor passed a resolution to commemorate those who perished under Japanese occupation as Germany has done. This inability to officially apologize for the war, coupled with the victims’ demands for an official apology, in light of the apologies given, has led to apology fatigue for many Japanese. Furthermore, rather than contemplating an apology, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stated that those convicted by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal are not criminals under Japanese law. Considering the actions taken by leading politicians in Japan, it is clear that for the apologies that have been given, a significant reflection on past wrongs by those running the country has yet to occur. An apology is an action that should only be given if the gravity of  what it represents is fully appreciated. To the contrary, Japanese politicians, including Prime Minister Abe, make pilgrimages to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo. This shrine honors, amongst others, Hideki Tojo, Japan’s prime minister during World War II. Tojo was one of 14 others convicted as Class A war criminals by the Tokyo Trials. He was hanged in 1948. The Japanese politicians visit the shrine to pray for “peace.” How would Europe react if German chancellors were to pray for peace by honoring Hitler’s memory? Since certain Japanese politicians fail to recognize such conduct as offensive to Japan’s neighboring countries, Article 9 can be seen as a social contract and a guarantee of peace.

Mechanism for securing peace

Accordingly, Article 9 is an important mechanism for securing peace in Northeast Asia. It is understandable that China and South Korea would doubt Japan’s international intentions if the country were to amend or abolish the peace

A watch at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. It shows 8:15 AM, when time stopped on August 6, 1945 as the atom-bomb Little Boy detonated over Hiroshima. More than 100.000 people died in an instant. Only their shadows remain. Article 9 is the embodiment of absolute human security in the nuclear age. Photo: Gunnar Rekvig

clause. Japan has not undergone the same kind of national and political post-war transformation as Germany. Scarcely any European country is opposed to German participation in international military operations. In Northeast Asia the situation is completely the opposite. The amendment or abolition of Article 9 by Japan would be a defeat for all who suffered under Japanese occupation. It is crucial for moderating Japan’s international engagements in relation to the use of actual force. Japan’s neighbors are all skeptical about the idea of a Japan unfettered by the military restrictions set forth in the peace clause.

Sensitive topics: Sex slaves and attitude

Apart from the region specific impact of the peace clause, there are two particularly sensitive topics that give continued life to conflicts between Japan and the formerly occupied countries in Northeast Asia. One is Japan’s use of sex slaves during the war. In particular, China and South Korea are angered by Japan’s attitude to former sex slaves. Around 200,000 so-called “comfort women” were held in Japanese military brothels in the occupied territories. These women, who were brutally raped, tortured and in some cases killed, have not received any reparations from Japan beyond an acknowledgement of their existence. Prime minister Abe has stated on several occasions that the women provided sexual services voluntarily and were not coerced into sexual slavery.

The second topic relates to the general attitude Japan has to the well documented wartime atrocities. One of the worst was the massacre in Nanjing, China. During the six weeks after the city fell to the Japanese, hundreds of thousands of people were murdered and tens of thousands of women were raped. Many in Japan believe that this historical event is fabricated, in the same way as some in the West deny that the Holocaust occurred. Whereas those who spread doubt about the veracity of the Holocaust are viewed with outrage and contempt, and in several European countries may be liable to imprisonment, in Japan, people who deny that the Nanjing Massacre took place are central in the country’s mainstream discourse. They form part of a social elite who believe that the Nanjing Massacre, along with other wartime atrocities, could not have taken place because Japan’s aim was to liberate its neighbors from Western influence. According to this elite, Japan had lofty ideals for peace in the region and wished to establish the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, a vision based on similar ideas to those advanced by the Nazis in Germany’s Third Reich.

A boost for the Peace Clause

Currently there are demonstrations in Japanese cities and in front of the Japanese parliament. On July 1, the government decided – without political process or holding a referendum – that Japan could exercise “collective self-defense.” This illegal declaration amounts to a de facto invalidation of Article 9. The Peace Prize would give Article 9 international status, giving it an authority that could contribute to peaceful co-existence in Northeast Asia. This is in line with China and South Korea requesting Japan to keep the peace clause. If Article 9 were to win the Nobel Peace prize, this would not only revitalize, but would give an epoch-making start to Northeast Asia’s quest for a positive peace. 67 years have passed since Japan gained its post-war constitution. If the Nobel Committee were to honor Japan’s constitution with the Peace Prize, this would have great significance for promoting peace in Northeast Asia, particularly in view of the rekindled territorial conflicts that threaten co-existence in the region. In addition, the award of the Peace Prize would boost Japanese pride in the peace clause. This would increase the political significance of the clause domestically. Retrospectively, Japan has not been involved in any armed conflicts since the end of World War II.

See also Article 9 and the East Asian Peace on this blog.

This text was first published in Norwegian in Klassekampen 24 September 2014.

Translation from Norwegian: Fidotext

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