Japanese split over Iraq mission

Chalmers Johnson, for the L.A. Times
February 23, 2004, Minneapolis Star Tribune


Japan may have regained its sovereignty in 1952, but the
decision to dispatch Japanese troops to Iraq earlier this
month has reminded many of its citizens just how little
independence the country really has — and just how much
control the United States retains.

If British Prime Minister Tony Blair is President Bush’s
poodle, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is his cocker

“We are still occupied by the American military,” said an
acquaintance of mine who is a former official of Japan’s
Ministry of Education and now a university president. “We
are a satellite. Our foreign policy revolves entirely around
the wishes of Washington.”

Like many other Japanese, he believes that Koizumi ordered
Japan’s first military sortie into an active combat zone
since World War II because he was too weak to stand up to Bush.

According to a recent Japan Broadcasting Corp. poll, 51
percent of the country opposes getting involved in
Washington’s war against Iraq, while only 42 percent
supports Koizumi’s decision. What’s more, 82 percent of
those polled said they did not trust the prime minister’s
explanations for marching into the Iraqi quagmire. Most
believe that Koizumi had to go along with Bush or risk
damaging the alliance with the United States.

There’s no question that the United States takes Japan for
granted. The Bush administration likes to boast about how
successful the U.S. Army was in democratizing Japan after
World War II, and it likes to suggest that it will
accomplish the same feat in Iraq. But it fails to note that
the U.S. military kept the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa as
a Pentagon colony for more than 25 years — until 1972 —
and that the United States still has 38 military bases on
that small island.

Okinawa is home to 1.3 million Japanese citizens who since
1945 have repeatedly had to bear the burdens of violent
crimes by American soldiers, continuous environmental and
noise pollution, hit-and-run accidents, bar brawls and
behavior that would never be tolerated in the United States
or the mainland of Japan.

The Washington official charged with keeping Japan in the
U.S. orbit is Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.
His name probably appears in the Japanese media more
frequently than any other U.S. government figure. Armitage
has been hammering Koizumi for more than a year “not to miss
the boat” this time, referring to Japan’s failure to support
the United States militarily in the 1991 war against Iraq.
(He has apparently forgotten that Tokyo bankrolled
operations to the tune of $13 billion.)

After his reelection as prime minister in September, Koizumi
railroaded a vote through the Japanese Parliament endorsing
the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces troops to Iraq, even
though he acknowledged that this was probably a violation of
Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.

Article 9, a key part of Japan’s post-World War II
constitution, prohibits Japan from using force in the
conduct of its foreign relations. Koizumi tried to get
around this by endorsing future efforts to amend the
constitution and by claiming that the Japanese army would
undertake “only humanitarian and reconstruction work” in Iraq.

But this is hardly a risk-free operation — militarily or
politically. Domestic critics charge that sending the troops
before amending the constitution suggests that Japan does
not believe in the rule of law. Two former
secretaries-general of Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party,
Koichi Kato and Makoto Koga, and the party’s former policy
chief, Shizuka Kamei, declined to vote for the troop deployment.

The first of about 1,000 Japanese troops arrived Feb. 8 in
Samawah, 168 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq. Four days later,
they came under mortar attack. They’ve also been threatened
by Al-Qaida for joining the U.S.-led coalition — and given
that Al-Qaida delivered painful blows to the Turks in
Istanbul after issuing similar warnings, Japan should be
braced for military and civilian casualties.

Perhaps even more serious for the Japanese, Samawah was hit
by U.S. depleted-uranium ammunition in both 1991 and 2003.
Japanese journalist Mamoru Toyoda, equipped with a Geiger
counter, found radiation levels in the town 300 times
greater than normal. The Dutch troops also based there have
refused to remove or go near any of the radioactive debris
in the area. Death and disability because of radiation
sickness is a particular horror for all Japanese after the
World War II bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The British and Australian governments ignored their
populations to join Bush’s might-makes-right adventure, when
they could have stood aside like France and Germany. It is
too bad that Japan has now done the same thing, permanently
destroying the idealism behind its antiwar constitution.

Chalmers Johnson, president of the Japan Policy Research
Institute and author of “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism,
Secrecy, and the End of the Republic,” wrote this article
for the Los Angeles Times.

Posted for educational and research purposes only,
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