Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Okinawa Dreams #5: Number 9

A reception was held on the first day of the conference to welcome the activists from Okinawa and Japan and also celebrate the presence of the overseas delegates from the Pacific. As part of this reception, there was food, music, and gifts were exchanged. During one particularly touching exchange, we all received beautiful Article 9 folders. The gift came from the daughter of a very famous communist community leader in Okinawa. He had been the Naha city mayor in the 1950's and later a member of the Diet. He was imprisoned for two years prior to becoming a politician for hiding two suspected communists who were supposed to leave Okinawa. He came to prominence at a time when the island was part of Japan, but governed by the US military after World War II. He had been instrumental in getting the island returned to Japanese control in 1972.

I apologize for not posting an image of the folder now, I'll be sure to take one later.

After receiving these gifts we all joined hands and formed a large circle around the room and sang a song which was catchy and uplifting for sure, even if we weren’t sure what we were swaying back and forth to. During the singing, at certain points everyone would raise a fist high and yell out “Kaya say!” Different Japanese activists ended up explaining as best they could the meaning of the song to us clueless delegates who could only pick out the word “Okinawa” from the lyrics. We were joined in the singing of a famous Okinawan protest song, that demanded the US military give back Okinawa to the Japanese. The refrain that everyone yelled out excitedly meant “give it back!”

The significance of the artwork and the #9 might be unfamiliar to some of you. It does not refer to any of the movies that have 9 in the title, nor does it refer to the 9 levels of hell. Amongst peace activists in Japan the number 9 has an almost sacred quality. It refers to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which was unique and revolutionary when it was drafted in the ashes of World War II. Here is the text:

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) 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.

In the struggle over whether the world is defined through war or peace, Article 9 is a key weapon or tool, depending on which metaphor you’d rather choose. Although any nation who had this article as part of their constitution, Japan included, might seek to find ways around it, especially as they grow in power, it is still an unbelievable critical point of departure for peaceful exchanges between powerful nations. Offensive wars or even offensive wars masked as defensive or humanitarian wars become much more difficult to proctor. If peace is embedded in your constitution, each nation must then develop convoluted and tenuous means of trying to get around it. If you accept peace as the norm, war becomes the aberration and much more difficult to justify.

The difficulty in wielding this weapon of peace is getting already existing nations, with constitutions written long ago, and already existing militaries, to accept changing the nature of their forces, in addition to their foreign policy. Even for Japan itself, the presence of this Peace article in their Constitution leads the government to consistently seek ways around it. For example, although Artilce 9 is a clear point for peace, it can also be used to justify the use of Japanese lands and lives for war. With Japan limited in the types of armies that it can create to protect itself in this dangerous world, this actually becomes a perfect justification for becoming subservient or dependent upon another for your defense. Article 9 is meant to prevent Japan from mounting imperial ventures as it did in the past, but it also allows for Japan to be used for the machinations of other nations, who have no Article 9 and no qualms about offensive forces or wars.

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