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Komeito’s Problem with Wartime History

SNA (Tokyo) — The issue of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s fringe views on wartime history has become a global topic whenever contemporary Japanese diplomacy is discussed, but the problem of selective, self-serving narratives of the past has also infected his coalition partner, Komeito.

Komeito, of course, is the party backed by the Buddhist movement Soka Gakkai, and throughout its history it has been deeply attached to the Peace Constitution and the pacifist values of postwar Japan. However, sixteen years of alliance with an increasingly revisionist Liberal Democratic Party has clearly stretched this party’s pacifist principles well beyond the point that they can still be seen as authentic defenders of Article Nine.

At a press conference held yesterday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi laid out a view of Article Nine and its reinterpretation that was ideologically indistinguishable from what might be said by a mainstream LDP lawmaker. There was no notable trace of Komeito’s former pacifist ideals.

Yamaguchi Stare

Natsuo Yamaguchi

Mr. Yamaguchi spent most of the Q&A session giving vague non-answers to the rather specific questions posed to him by the working press.

Komeito’s own problem with history appeared in connection with the question Mr. Yamaguchi fielded about Japan’s support for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. If the government’s new legislation will allow military action only when Japan faces an “imminent and existential attack” from a foreign power, then isn’t this the very time to come clean about that other supposed “existential” threat from a dozen years ago—Saddam Husain’s vast arsenal of weapons of mass destruction?

Mr. Yamaguchi’s answer almost couldn’t have been more disingenuous and disappointing.

First of all, he did not answer the question of whether or not a full and independent investigation of Japan’s policymaking process leading up to its support of the Iraq War should be conducted. Reading between the lines, it’s safe to assume that he opposes any serious investigation, especially as it was the same LDP-Komeito coalition that was in power at that time as well.

But then he went on in the course of his answer to say two things that are clearly at sharp variance with the historical facts.

First of all, Mr. Yamaguchi stated: “At the time the thinking was not whether or not to support the Iraq War, but rather Japan made a decision based on a resolution passed by the United Nations to help offer support for humanitarian and reconstruction in Iraq.”

This is pure myth-making. The question he was asked regarded the launching of the war in March 2003, when the United Nations, following the Security Council veto of the government of France, refused to endorse the US attack.

Compare Mr. Yamaguchi’s statement yesterday to what then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in a national press conference on March 18, 2003: “If the United States is obliged to resort to the use of force in cooperation with the United Kingdom and other countries, the Japanese government will support this decision.”

Komeito, of course, was a governing party in March 2003.

Mr. Yamaguchi’s second misrepresentation of the historical record came just moments later when he stated: “I would like to make it very clear that Japan did not take part in any kind of armed conflict in Iraq and it did not provide any sort of logistical or rear-area support for the armed forces there.”

Mr. Yamaguchi referenced the GSDF mission in Samawa, and of course he is correct that this mission was focused on reconstruction and did not assist US or “Coalition of the Willing” forces. (In fact, if anything it was a burden in practical terms on the Coalition rather than a support).

However, what Mr. Yamaguchi glided over is the ASDF transport mission between Kuwait and Baghdad, which did provide logistical and rear-area support to combat forces, prompting the obiter dictum by High Court Judge Kunio Aoyama in April 2008, which observed: “ASDF airlifts of armed soldiers in the multinational force to the Baghdad combat zone were acts that could be identified as being involved in the use of force by other nations and the ASDF could be said to have conducted use-of-force actions itself.”

So, again, Mr. Yamaguchi’s portrayal of what occurred in the Iraq War is another example of myth-making that relies on the public’s fading memories and a mainstream media that systematically fails to remind its readers or viewers of the actual historical record.

If some are concerned about what the Japanese government might do in the future with newfound military powers, the selective memories of the recent past give solid grounds to worry about the degree of accountability that truly exists within the Japanese political system. There will be little to stop Tokyo from exaggerating future threats in same way they exaggerated a “threat” to Japan from Saddam Husain’s Iraq which essentially did not exist at all.

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