Everybody has climbed onto bandwagon of constitutional debate now, but expectations for changes remain low

Saturday, February 05 2005 @ 12:48 PM JST

Contributed by: Y.Yamamoto

One of my new year's resolutions for this weblog was, "Stay away from constitutional debates as far as I can." I am neither pro- nor anti-amendment, in particular. But certainly I don't want to be part of it in the interest of either camp because the debates now being fanned by the government and the media are somewhat reminiscent of the Mao Zedong's Hundred Flowers movement. Flowers are now in full blossom with different people from every corner of the nation chirping nonstop for or against the amendment. But aren't they just trying to smoke out those minority people who harbor ideas heretical to this homogeneous culture?

My Hundred Flowers campaign analogy here may not be very precise because I don't foresee a fierce anti-leftist campaign will follow the ongoing constitutional debates, just like a savage anti-rightist campaign ensued after Mao, in 1957, ordered to wind up the movement he himself had launched the year before, let alone a merciless blood purge on those hundred flowers, i.e., millions of framed/smoked-out intellectuals. And for better or for worse, there is no prominent leader like Mao in today's Japan. And yet I cannot but see a certain similarity between China in the mid-1950s and today's Japan which cannot emancipate itself from the system masterminded half a century ago by Nobusuke Kishi, one of the Class-A war criminals. It is fairly likely that when the constitutional debates are declared over, we will find ourselves in an even more monolithic, closed, conformist and groupist society.

For quite some time now, the Liberal Democratic Party has made it clear that this year will be the right timing for constitutional amendment because 2005 falls on the 50th anniversary of the 1955 System, while the Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition, has eyed the next year for revising the post-WWII "pacifist" Constitution because 2006 falls on its 60th anniversary. In this context the media solemnly declared at the turn of the year that 2005 and 2006 are going to be the years of nation-wide great debates over the amendment issue. Obviously I should have bought myself a pair of earplugs as a precaution, but it's too late now. Only a little more than one-twelfth into the first year of the national deliberation, we've already had more than enough. That's why I said to myself: "Why not dump all I have to say, just for once, and then clam up?"

Summarized below are why I don't like the way the Constitution issues are discussed among my fellow countrymen and how I view their specific points of contention:

(Whether to amend is no issue)
In this nation an issue is debatable only where a tacit agreement has been reached beforehand. This seems to apply to the constitutional debates as well. In other words, the pro-amendment camp has won the game before it started. Even as to specifics such as which articles to change and how, the final consensus is pretty much predictable because it's been there from the beginning. That makes most of the nation-wide deliberation more or less ceremonial.

("Political sandmen" make believe constitutional amendment can be a change agent)
In Japan lawmakers have two different missions, i.e., a) pork-barreling and b) making and revising one law after another. But as to their second mission, it holds true that a legislative measure in Japan, more often than not, is meant to serve as an alibi exercise for the government's inaction. The most recent examples included the penal code revision to ward off the international accusation against Japan as a hotbed of human trafficking and the legislation that "enabled" economic sanctions against North Korea. And that's where the media's mission kicks in. They are always supposed to try insinuating their audience and readership into believing things will automatically change just by enacting or amending laws. Moreover, changing a law is considered the most effective way to resist the necessary change in this country. Most of the time a legislative measure is instrumental to further cement the status quo. Unfortunately, the same is true with the constitutional amendment. The media's false message about the revision of the Constitution comes down to this: Changing the fundamental law will automatically lead to a fundamental transformation of this nation that's been facing an impasse for quite some time now. However, a revision of the Constitution will, instead, further solidify or even eternalize the essential problems all inherent to the 1955 System coupled with the Imperial System which is, in turn, lined with the myth of homogeneity.

(Chapter I remains a sacred cow)
It's basically a taboo to discuss Chapter I that defines the Emperor as the symbol of national unity. Most right-wing pro-amendment advocates have insisted that the post-WWII pacifist Constitution lacks "legitimacy" simply because it was imposed on the Japanese, the people that General Douglas MacArthur thought were all "12-year-olds", by the occupation forces he headed 59 years ago. (See October 7, 2004, TFP story titled "'Constitution lacks legitimacy' - So what?".) Despite their own legitimacy argument, these advocates seem to think the legitimacy of Chapter I is a different story. The truth with those mainstreamers in the pro-amendment camp, such as Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara and Professor Emeritus at Sophia University Shoichi Watanabe, is that they use a double-standard simply because they don't have the guts to peer into the abyss where they would certainly find the dark secret about the imperial institution that dates back to the Meiji Restoration of the 19th century, or even beyond. Maybe a more politically correct way of referring to "the dark secret" is "the art of surviving a national catastrophe". As we have discussed in the Oct.14, 2004, TFP story titled "It's about time to wake up to the nuclear reality", Professor Emeritus at Tokyo University Keiichiro Kobori argued on August 14 in a Sankei Shimbun column that it's a gross misperception that Japan complied with the demand by the 1945 Cairo Declaration for an unconditional surrender. According to Kobori, then-Prime Minister Kanichro Suzuki, in June that year, said in his address at the 87th extraordinary imperial diet session to the effect that hundred million Japanese people would choose to die rather than surrender. The Professor Emeritus went on to say that the Suzuki's "coded message" got through to then-U.S. Undersecretary of State Joseph Grew in an unprecedented "diplomatic success" and that that's how Japan could avoid a total dismantlement of the statehood and keep the imperial institution intact. What Kobori forgot to mention, however, is the other side of the coin; the fact that thanks to Suzuki's diplomatic success, an extra hundreds of thousands of people had to be victimized by the A-bombs. Even the Japan Communist Party, the only party that used to have the guts to question the imperial system, has recently retracted the particular part of its party platform "for the time being."

("Article 9 is the sole issue")
On the contrary, the war-renouncing Article 9 of Chapter II is where all the eligible participants in the debates are preconditioned to see the single most important flaw in the current Constitution. Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone (in office from July 1986 through November 1987) has been among the most ardent advocates of a revision of Article 9. But you must have been taken aback to know there was absolutely nothing new if you read his "private proposal" for a draft constitution released earlier this year by the Institution for International Policy Studies chaired by the ex-PM.
In post-WWII Japan, keisatsu yobitai, or National Police Reserve, was founded in 1950 at MacArthur's order as he thought the responsibility for domestic security had to be handed over to the Japanese in the wake of the Korean War. Then in 1954, after a tentative renaming of the organization in charge of domestic security and a lot of debates over the semantics about "defensive defense," the NPR was transformed into jiei-tai, or the Japan Self-Defense Forces, once again against the backdrop of a strategic shift the U.S. was about to initiate in this region. And now, five decades later, Nakasone is saying to the effect that although the very war-renouncing part of Article 9 is quite OK to him, the JSDF should be renamed something like kokubo-gun, or National Defense Forces, to confirm the Japan's right to defend itself more explicitly. In short all this fuss over the revision of Article 9 that lasted almost half a century has boiled down to the renaming of the JSDF to clarify and confirm the status-quo.
Ever-growing threats from international terrorism and nuclear proliferation are someone else's headache. On January 24, former Defense Agency chief Shigeru Ishiba gave an interview to the Japan Times. In the interview Ishiba revealed that while in office he "mulled buying Tomahawk cruise missiles to preempt possible ballistic missile attacks." According to Ishiba, the idea of becoming adequately equipped for preemptive attacks was turned down by the Koizumi Cabinet on the grounds that "(We) cannot change the policy of relying on the United States for striking power."

(The real problem lies with Chapter III - Who are "the people"?)
I am not going to say Chapter III should be thoroughly rewritten, because as I said, just enacting or amending laws doesn't mean a thing in this nation. I am just suggesting that the essence of this chapter, its Articles 10 and 14 in particular, be clarified so as not to allow arbitrary or opportunistic interpretations. Current Article 14 goes like this:
QUOTE: All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin. Peers and peerage shall not be recognized. No privilege shall accompany any award of honor, decoration or any distinction, nor shall any such award be valid beyond the lifetime of the individual who now holds or hereafter may receive it. UNQUOTE
My question No.1 in this respect is: "Who are the people?" - Am I entitled to claim to be one of them, by any chance? Question No.2: "What about the Emperor's status?" - Six decades ago, when an extra hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to save the statehood and the imperial system, the demigod transformed itself into the symbol of national unity. I am at a loss over where to classify this monster that claims to be a deity-turned-symbol. I haven't heard thus far a single pro-amendment, or anti-amendment, advocate question the way Chapter III defines "the people." Actually Article 10 of this chapter just stipulates: "The conditions necessary for being a Japanese national shall be determined by law." This means that these lawmakers at all levels, who are invariably under the spell of the myth of homogeneity, can define, arbitrarily or opportunistically, who exactly are entitled to be treated equally under the law, and who are not. But one thing is for sure: Underlying all the malaise this nation is suffering is the undeniable fact that the entire Chapter has increasingly become an empty promise in the last couple of decades. Maybe we will be a little better off with Chapter III somehow reworded. But again, still that will not solve our problem like a lemon drop quickly melting in your mouth.

(We will see the world's greatest Preamble at the end of the exercise)
Since the turn of the year, an intra-party committee of the Liberal Democratic Party headed by former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori (in office from April 2000 through July 2000) has become active in drafting every article of the new Constitution. In order to expedite the process of coming up with a draft Constitution, the committee decided on January 24 to split up into 10 sub-committees, each of which is to be devoted to an assigned chapter of the current Constitution to complete a new wording by the end of March. At least Mori put the right person in the right sub-committee when he assigned his distant predecessor Nakasone to chair the Preamble team. Mori must have studied beforehand the IIPS version of Nakasone's draft Constitution and said, "This is it," when he read its Preamble part because of the author's magnificent and grandiose style. In fact Nakasone's preamble is too wordy and filled with a lot of worn-out, empty rhetoric so much that it resembles a poem, albeit a cheap one written by a third-rate poet. And yet Irving Berlin, who wrote the lyrics for his own tune, "God Bless America," would pale beside Nakasone. I personally prefer the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution because the 52-character long sentences written by the "Committee of Style" in 1787 are crisp, blunt and humble. But still I believe Mori has picked the right person to work on the introductory part of a new Constitution because it's no harm to let the old politician toy with the Preamble.
Let me just point out one thing here: Quite predictably, in his somewhat childish composition, Nakasone stresses "uniqueness" of the Japanese people and culture. And as you are already aware, our obsession with uniqueness from other peoples sits back to back with our obsession with sameness among ourselves. And where there is a national obsession with sameness, there are no humanrights no matter how you rewrite Chapter III.

As of today we can already tell what the new Constitution will look like. The new fundamental law we will end up with after the referendum will be something totally irrelevant to the reality of the 21st century despite the assertion from the pro-amendment camp that all the malaise Japan has been suffering due to the illegitimacy of the current Constitution will be overcome when we are through with the amendment process. These pro-amendment advocates, and anti-amendment voices alike, all look to the past, not the future. It's no wonder that Yoshiro Mori, in his opening speech at the Jan. 24 session of the intra-party committee, said that "instituting our own Constitution has been one of the LDP's primary goals since its foundation (in 1955)."

All in all they do not want the System to change. They just want the Constitution to change. This once again confirms that even after the 6-decade-old "problem" is settled at long last, Japan will still be unable to transform itself, on its own, into a sound and viable system. The only way this nation will possibly undergo something that deserves to be called a change is by leveraging from an external force such as overwhelming gaiatsu or more barbaric attacks from the neighboring rogue nations.

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