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.
In order 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.
— Article 9, the Constitution of Japan
Since the end of World War II, Article 9 of Japan's Constitution has shaped Japan's foreign policy, guided its active engagement in efforts to reduce the global trade in weapons, and prohibited the possession, production, and introduction of nuclear weapons on Japanese territory. Though conceived by the victors, it has been embraced by most Japanese people. Few more powerful examples exist of national policy committed to pacifism and nonviolence.
But a disturbing and dangerous effort to revise Article 9 is gaining momentum. In 2004, a contingent of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Forces was sent to support the U.S. in Iraq—the first time since World War II that Japanese troops have been dispatched to a conflict situation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the support and encouragement of the Bush administration, has campaigned to revise Article 9, permitting Japan to maintain de jure military forces to be dispatched anywhere in the world and enabling Japan to take a proactive military role in the U.S. Asia-Pacific security strategy as part of the global "war on terror."
Religious leaders in Japan, including the Japanese Catholic Bishops' Conference, say such a revision of Article 9 would have profound reverberations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
"Japan already has one of the largest military budgets in the world, and without constitutional limits, Japan could pose a serious threat to neighboring Asian countries," said Joseph M. Takami, Catholic Archbishop of Nagasaki. "A new arms race could emerge. In fact, last fall, a ranking Japanese political figure even suggested that Japan should consider possessing nuclear weapons."
That the United States, having dropped atomic bombs on two of Japan's most beautiful cities, could help undercut the foundation of policies that prohibit the production or deployment of such weapons on Japanese territory is unthinkable. But bilateral agreements reached last year have, according to Archbishop Takami, "transformed the Japanese military into a subsidiary of the global U.S. military presence."
In response to what the U.S. government calls the "Arc of Instability" that runs from Korea to the Middle East, U.S. forces in the Pacific and Asia are being realigned and regional alliances strengthened. The global headquarters of the U.S. First Army Corps will move from Washington state to Camp Zama near Tokyo, where it will command the global operations of the U.S. Army expeditionary task forces. The headquarters of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force's Central Readiness Force Command will also be located at Camp Zama.
In mid-May, with the debate over Article 9 in full swing, I visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine and War Museum, with its glorification of Japan's often savage imperialism. This rewritten, sanitized history of militarism is one example of an increasingly influential perspective in Japanese society with which Prime Minister Abe seems to be sympathetic. Still, the shrine also helps focus resistance to any remilitarization, among many Japanese citizens and those in the region who were victims of Japanese aggression.
I also visited Hiroshima, both a reminder of what is at stake and a source of hope: Peace Park near ground zero is a monument, a museum, a tribute, a plea. Scattered across the park are thousands of memorial stones placed there by families and groups and individuals to remember loved ones and what happened to them.
But in Hiroshima death did not have the last word. Like one of the "phoenix trees" in Peace Park that carry deep wounds from the atomic bombing, hope for peace is still alive, protecting its wounded trunk, putting out new, strong shoots again this year. Japan's Article 9 has been wholly owned by a people who have cried out over and over, "Never again!" To lose the hope it represents would be a tragedy of immense consequence for all of us.
Marie Dennis is director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.