Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » July 2004 » The law of unintended consequences kicks in....

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07/23/2004: The law of unintended consequences kicks in....

One unintended consequence of both Bush the Elder's and Bush the Lesser's Iraq adventures: the notion of a "pacifist" Japan may be no more. And that may not be a good thing:

In the immediate aftermath of the Pacific War, the Supreme Command of the Allied Powers (SCAP) was determined to ensure not only that Japan was really defeated, but that it would never rise again as an aggressive military power to challenge the American-dominated order in the Pacific. One of the main instruments that SCAP used to enforce its policy was Japan’s “Peace Constitution.” The Preface of the Constitution noted that the Japanese people were “resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government.” The crucial Article Nine of the Constitution continued on as follows:

1) 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.

2) 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.

However, with the onset of the Cold War, the priorities of the U.S. government began to change, and the Eisenhower Administration began to pressure the newly-sovereign Japanese government to take more “responsibility” for Japan’s own military defense. As a result, in 1954 the “Self-Defense Forces” (SDF) were created to help fulfill the perceived need for the defense of the Japanese home islands.

For decades afterwards, Japan’s opposition parties argued convincingly that the very existence of the SDF was a violation of the Constitution. However, as a practical matter the SDF received public acceptance so long as the “spirit” of the Constitution was maintained. The SDF was kept at home and kept quiet.


It was the Persian Gulf Crisis of 1990-1991 that upset the equilibrium. At that time, the first President Bush was eager to assemble as broad a coalition as possible to challenge the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Japan responded quickly with sanctions and its traditional offers of financial support, but soon found itself reeling under a barrage of American criticism for engaging in “checkbook diplomacy” and avoiding the “dirty work” of military action. Major U.S. newspapers like the New York Times assaulted Japan’s dilatory performance and Congress even made open threats aimed at Tokyo. Japanese elites were stung deeply by this kind of criticism, but their hands were tied by the constitutional restrictions and by the fact that a large majority of the Japanese public was simply opposed to any major expansion of Japan’s military role. In the end, Japan paid about US$13 billion and sent minesweepers to the postwar Persian Gulf.

The Japanese government’s reaction to September 11 has stood in sharp contrast to that of the Persian Gulf War. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is far more popular and politically secure than Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, his Gulf War predecessor. He is also among the most determined of Japan’s leaders to restore the full legality and acceptance of Japan’s military service. His appointee as head of the Defense Agency was the rightwing military buff Shigeru Ishiba. Furthermore, his main foreign policy advisor on Iraq policy has been, until recently, Yukio Okamoto, a strong proponent of strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance and establishing “responsible pacifism” (which is far more concerned with “responsibility” than “pacifism”).


The Bush Administration and the Japanese Right have thus succeeded in bringing about a sea change in Japanese politics. Japan’s age of “irresponsible pacifism” and avoiding the “dirty work” of war is clearly at an end. However, before U.S. leaders uncork the champagne, there are yet a few unsavory points to take into account:

1) Japan has been effectively ruled by a single right-leaning political party for almost half a century with only one short lapse in the early 1990s. In other words, Japan is not a very mature democratic country in spite of its free elections.

2) Real power in Japan tends to lie with a bureaucracy that is not accountable to the public and tends in fact to operate above the law. The infrastructure of a genuine civil society remains weak in Japan.

3) The SDF is already showing signs of discomfort with civilian political control. In late 2001, Japanese officers secretly asked the Pentagon to pressure their own government to allow them to send Aegis warships to the Indian Ocean. Also, Admiral Koichi Furusho in early June 2004 requested that the new position of Joint Chief of Staff not be under the authority of any civilian in the Defense Agency. The Constitution hasn’t even been revised yet and already the old military-civilian conflict that plagued prewar Japan is beginning to reappear.
We may yet regret this....

Len on 07.23.04 @ 12:47 PM CST

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