As a child, late on the afternoon of December 7th 1941, I was sitting with my father in the balcony of a movie theatre called the Brooklyn Paramount. It had a large ornate interior much like the Paramount movie theatre then on Broadway. The movie we were watching was “One Foot in Heaven”. It was a period piece set in 1917, and I believe the star was Fredric March, as the head of a happy family. I recall I was thinking that afterward I wanted to go to the Horn and Hardat restaurant for their apple pie when suddenly, the picture on the screen started to flutter and stop. The house lights went on and a man in (to the best of my recollection) an army uniform walked out to the middle of the stage, looked into the audience, and told us that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. He told all the service men that they must return to their base immediately. The lights went off, the movie flickered on, and the characters on the screen were celebrating the end of WW I. I began to cry, thinking that my father, although not in the army, would leave us.
In September of 1945, I saw, I believe in Life Magazine, the historic picture of the signing of the unconditional surrender of Japanese forces. A cloth covered mess table had been placed on the deck of the battle ship the USS Missouri (which then was the last battleship commissioned into the United States Navy), anchored in Tokyo Bay, along with over two hundred other allied warships but no aircraft carriers. There were four or five men in uniform (Japanese and allied) standing on opposite sides of the table, signing. Thus began five and half years of American occupation of Japan.
On 27th September of that year, in a photograph, the towering figure of General Douglas MacArthur (hero of the Pacific war) is shown standing next to the Japanese Emperor Hirohito, for their first meeting. MacArthur has his hands in his pockets and the Emperor, ramrod stiff, in formal attire.
MacArthur’s title was Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, and to the world he was the leading figure in all that took place in the ensuing years, until he was “fired” by President Truman. MacArthur forgot (or ignored the fact) that there was a Commander-in-Chief of American forces who also happened to be the President of the United States. He never diminished the growing impression that whatever flowed from his office in Tokyo had its inception under his direct command. What I learned, only recently, was that there was concentrated planning in Washington for the eventual defeat of Japan and its “rehabilitation” two years prior to its actual defeat and occupation.
By 1946, the Japanese government, under U.S. military occupation, thought it was MacArthur’s intention that they draft a new constitution for the emerging postwar, post occupation nation. Upon review by MacArthur’s team, it was immediately rejected and MacArthur ordered (without consultation with any of the US Allies) a government section of his occupying forces to draft a constitution, to be ready for submission within a matter of weeks.
Two items of the new constitution, adopted in 1947, are of particular importance today. The first is that the Emperor, under the newly proposed constitution, would lose the position of ultimate authority, although remaining as head of state. In essence, what real political power he previously exercised would be abolished, and the rights of peerage would be abolished. In principal, Japan became a constitutional monarchy. The second element, Article 9 of the Constitution, is presently in the forefront of a political challenge for modern day Japan. Historically, not one coma in their Constitution has been changed in over 70 years, and the constitutional challenge for Japan and its people has international implications.
Article 9 of the Japanese constitution is commonly known as the “peace clause”. The clause requires that Japan relinquish and abandon any right to wage war or to maintain a “war potential” military force. Its military might is limited to defensive measures only. As we enter 2019, Japan’s regional neighbors are clearly more hostile than the world order was at the time the constitution was formally adopted in 1947. Today, Japan’s partnership with the U.S. in that region is crucial to the national security of both nations. Russia’s submarines are increasing their patrols in the seas north of Japan. North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and expansion creates a dangerous and hostile environment. China’s military program, its cyberwar, and stealing foreign held trade secrets is producing an unacceptable security setting in that enlarging geographic area.
To modify Article 9, the Emperor, similar to the Queen of England, is a mere bystander. That task falls to the elected members of both houses of the Diet, their legislative branch of government. The Prime Minister views Article 9 as an impediment to Japan enlarging its military forces, so that they have the ability to play a more proactive role in regional security and on the world stage.
In an excellent article by Adam P. Liff and Ko Maeda, they contend that it will be next to impossible for the Prime Minister to effect change for at least two reasons. The first is the procedural process, which is very difficult. It requires a two-thirds majority vote by both houses of the Diet and then a national referendum. Second is the population of Japan, whose position on the issue of modifying their constitution runs from “pacifisms to the fear of being entrapped in a U.S. war far from home” Let me propose a third almost unspoken position. I have met Japanese, who although not born at the time of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have said they have no desire to bring a child into a world that has the potential for the use of an atomic bomb. That memory gets passed down through generations of Japanese.
American military might is stretched thin. It can no longer effectively fight on more fronts than it is now engaged. We need the military power of the Japanese to be at the ready and to be aggressive, when necessary, if China, North Korea or Russia threatens regional or world order. I think of Kosovo, when there was a genuine humanitarian crisis, and the U.S. led intervention. We need able and willing partners throughout the world, not just in the far Pacific, not just in the mid-East but as unanticipated events occur that demand our moral, political and military attention.
Richard Allan — Editor: P.S. — As I began my final edit and posting of this Commentary, ISIS supporters threaten attack during the holiday, and the President abruptly announced, against the advice of the military and members of his own party, the withdrawal of 2000 American troops from Syria. David Sanger wrote in a front page article for the NYT that what we have learned through the hard lessons brought home in the post 9/11 years “…that deployed forces are key to stopping terrorists before they reach American shores and vital to maintaining the alliances that keep the world safe.” The Kurds, if abandoned by the U.S., responded that they will release 3200 ISIS in their prisons. And then the resignation of General J. Mattis. President Trump’s tax break has fizzled, his tariffs are pounding Middle America and the stock and bond markets are flashing red lights as the Feds see an economic downturn next year. Mr. Trumps is impeding our ability to maintain our security at home and abroad. RA