A MUST-READ FOR JAPANESE WHO TAKE PEACE FOR GRANTED
Early on August 29, North Korea launched yet another ballistic missile, this one traveling over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and landing in the Pacific. Three days earlier, on August 26, Pyongyang fired several missiles into the sea east of the Korean Peninsula. As Pyongyang’s provocation continues, the region’s tension remains high.
Having recently read Vital Importance for Japan: Truths about International Law, the United Nations, and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces by Rikiya Shikama (Good Books; June 2017), I wish to recommend this thought-provoking book as a must-read, especially at this juncture.
Shikama (89) is a former diplomat and the nation’s foremost scholar of the law of war. As a young man he attended military schools and was slated to be an army officer, but the war ended before those plans could come to fruition. He decided instead to become a diplomat, believing that he would “still be able to help defend the nation.”
For many of us in Japan―the only nation in the world that denies itself the right of self-defense―phrases such as “wartime international law” and “the law of war” may not readily ring a bell. After all, Japan in effect remains a protectorate of the US, as the American-written “peace” constitution denies it the right to defend itself when attacked, the very core of a nation’s sovereignty. As Shikama describes it, postwar Japanese have taken peace for granted without nurturing the proper attitude towards national defense and national security.
Shikama painstakingly calls the reader’s attention to the fact that pacifism has universally failed to weather the trials of history. Pacifism has become the very trigger of war, he explains, as it speciously encourages people to regard war as an evil that can be abolished from the face of the earth if only enough people earnestly crave it.
One of the most infamous examples of pacifism having led to a major war was Britain’s conciliatory policy towards Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Britain, where the entire nation was infected by pacifism, government and people alike, continued to maintain a pacifist policy towards Hitler despite his expansionary actions. In March 1936, he marched into the Rhineland, territory that had historically been contested between France and Germany.
Hitler was confident the passive armies of France and Britain would not take military action against his forces. His judgment proved correct. France and Germany did not retaliate militarily, making Hitler’s military adventure into the Rhineland a great triumph. We all know how this turn of events evolved into World War II.
“People Who Long for War”
Similar to the Britain of those days, pacifism is rampant in today’s Japan, particularly in the media, the tendency being particularly strong with NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) and the mass-circulation liberal daily Asahi Shimbun. The Japanese media criticizes the security law passed two years ago and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to revise the constitution as steps “leading to war.”
It does no good, however, to innocently show off self-righteous good intentions, Shikama emphasizes. We must instead come to grips with the inconvenient truths of conflicts and wars—common sense in the rest of the world—particularly at this time when threats from China and North Korea are closing in on Japan. Writes Shikama:
“In civilized society, a recourse to force must by all means be ‘ultima ratio,’ i.e., the last resort. One of the unmistakable signs of civilization is a clear indication that violence is defined as the ultimate measure. Meanwhile, a sure sign of barbarism is the definition of violence as ‘prima ratio,” i.e., the primary measure.”
A recourse to violence, i.e., waging war, is the last resort in a civilized society and the first option in a barbaric society. That is the harsh reality of international relations: in either case, war is inevitable as a measure to resolve problems.
An explanation such as this is not readily accepted in Japan and tends to be misconstrued as the words of “people who long for war.” In point of fact, however, what Shikama attempts to expound is that it is not easy for any nation to not get involved in war and that war is a component firmly incorporated in international politics. A nation can hardly survive without coming to grips with this, he stresses.
Shikama notes that most Japanese misconstrue the United Nations as a world body committed to keeping the world free from wars, noting that it in fact recognizes four categories of war: 1) exercise of force by the UN itself (Article 42, the UN Charter); 2) exercise of the right to individual self-defense by member nations (Article 45); 3) exercise of right to collective self-defense by member nations (Article 51); and 4) exercise of force against former enemy nations under the ‘former enemy clause’ (Article 53).
Shikama explains that 2) and 3) refer to wars of self-defense, but that the parties in a dispute are allowed to determine whether or not their wars are for self-defense. In other words, the UN recognizes the right of any nation to view any war as a war of self-defense.
In sum, it can be said that the UN Charter does indeed recognize all wars. That is why many wars have been fought around the world to date. It is important to heed Shikama’s reminder that, of all the 193 member nations of the UN, only eight including Japan have not resorted to force to resolve international disputes in the seven decades since the end of World War II.
Wars continue on across the globe. Worse still, the danger in the region around Japan is growing. All the more reason for we Japanese to understand how war is viewed in the international community, as well as the rules of war. Modern international society has worked out a variety of rules aimed at limiting the consequences of war. The most important of all these rules is how to end a hostility, according to Shikama.
Ignorance about the Law of War
When a war has been ended with a truce and a ratification of a peace treaty, all issues related to that war are resolved at that point. Both the winners and losers stand at the starting line for a new future. In light of this internationally-recognized practice, it is plainly unjust for both China and Korea to continue to this day to demand wartime compensation from Japan.
Japan fought the last war by conforming to the rules of the international law of that era, performed surrender procedures properly under international law, and solemnly fulfilled all the conditions for its surrender. Therefore, politically and legally, that war is over once and for all.
We should earnestly bear in mind Shikama’s reminder that Japan has been at the mercy of its neighbors because of our mistaken perception of Japan’s wartime conduct under the law of war. We have made ourselves feel small not only towards China and Korea but the global community over our conduct during the Greater East Asia War. Shikama says such a sentiment is attributable to our ignorance of how Japan honored the law of war as it fought the last war.
Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor is one such example. Japan originally intended to hand its ultimatum to the US government 30 minutes before the attack on December 7, 1941. As it turned out, the ultimatum was hand-delivered 40 minutes after the attack began, as the Japanese embassy staff was slow in typing the documents. As a result, Japan is still accused of foul play, but Shikama has this to say about the incident: “Surprise attacks have always been legal under international law; there is no reason for Japan to incur undue disgrace as a result of the attack on Pearl Harbor.”
There have been plenty of surprise attacks in history, such as Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939; Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941; America’s attack on North Vietnam in 1965; the four Arab-Israeli wars fought between 1948 and 1973; and the Korean War of 1950 in which North Korea and later China invaded South Korea. No declaration of war was made before these wars, and no party was blamed for it. Even today, a declaration of war is not mandatory under international law. We Japanese must clearly bear this in mind.
From the perspective of the law of war, Japan “fought the last war honorably and, in a sense, lost the war honorably,” maintains Shikama, adding:
“There is no reason for we Japanese to be servile or dwell unduly on the war. In point of fact, when the war ended we should have made a fresh start towards our new goals fair and square with far greater confidence and pride.” With more knowledge of international law and the realities of international relations and the UN, I believe we can develop a more positive sense of identity.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 768 in the September 7, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)