There is probably no better method of predicting what people and institutions might do in the future than to have an accurate understanding of their behavior in the past. So much of what is popularly taken as surprising and “unpredictable” might easily have been foreseen by a better knowledge of the contexts, experiences, and the previous actions of the players involved in the construction of an event. When powerholders attempt to suppress the records of official behavior, it is therefore not simply the concern of a handful of cloistered intellectuals, but a matter that can be expected to have real-world impact on future policymaking and the fate of ordinary citizens.
In case anyone is wondering how Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pulled off his coup against the postwar Japanese Constitution in just two-and-a-half years in power—and thus fulfilling his lifelong dream of restoring Japan as a nation with pride—here’s the process in seven simple steps.
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.
The group sometimes called the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) murdered freelance journalist Kenji Goto and his friend Haruna Yukawa. The various messages that ISIL sent through Goto’s voice to the world demonstrate clearly that they are listening to the debates in the world’s media, and we therefore can understand that ISIL murdered Mr. Goto in full knowledge of the humanitarian nature of his work and the fact that he personally bore no enmity toward Muslims or their causes.
Japan is taking a major step in its military strategy, conducting a large-scale amphibious drill designed to put on display its ability to conquer an island. This follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s repeated references to the Falklands in his speeches, a polite and indirect, yet unequivocal way, of warning China that an “invasion” of the Senkaku-Diaoyu Islands would be met with an amphibious counterstrike.
It is not exactly an unknown technique in politics, but the Abe administration is using it in several high-profile cases, and some people, at least, have noticed. The technique is to establish supposedly “independent” panels or organizations, but appointing people to serve on those panels or in those organizations whose opinions and conclusions are already known in advance.
The run up to the House of Councillors election in Japan, when opinion polls were already pointing to a victory by the ruling party, saw widespread speculation over a more robust foreign and defense policy by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This included the possibility of amending Article 9 of the Constitution. News of the election results only served to prompt renewed speculation. However, Abe’s first overseas trip after the polls — to Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines — seemed to confirm that Tokyo would proceed with a gradual and pragmatic “normalization,” rather than embark on radical change.
The debate on the meaning of Article 9 of the Constitution is once again making headlines. Beyond the proposals for reinterpretation, and even formal amendment, we can observe yet again practical policy moves crossing its boundaries. In part, these moves reflect the always difficult distinction between defense and offense. Another line which may be shifting is that between self-defense and collective defense.