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Switching a National Psyche from War to Peace -- Japanese Style

Ann Wright

I've been speaking throughout Japan for the past 14 days on issues of war and peace and the Japanese constitution. That constitution was imposed by the United States after World War II and mandated that the Japanese government and people abandon war. Article 9 of their Constitution says:

ARTICLE 9. 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. (2) 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.

On my last evening in Japan, I spoke in Nago, Okinawa, Japan, the southernmost island of Japan and the most US militarized. After the talk, in contrast to most evening meals, Hisae Ogawa (the organizer of my visit) and I had dinner with five men, all my age, 61 or so, Vietnam veteran age -- except they were not Vietnam veterans, nor veterans of any war.

After World War II, Japanese men (and women) have been spared the obligation of serving in any wars. Because their constitution (written by Americans) says that war is not the Japanese national doctrine for resolving international disputes or for ensuring their national security, the Japanese people have been given 60 years of peace.

I was struck by the questions of the Japanese men -- only one generation removed from their fathers who fought to expand economic resources for the Japanese emperor and empire in the late 1930s and 1940s.

These men questioned why young men and women of the United States would join the US military when it was fighting a war for economic resources (oil -- their words) and a war based on lies (their words.) The Japanese men were amazed by the levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (80%) in Iraq war veterans and were astounded by the Veteran Administration's cover up of the number of suicides by veterans (18 per month, or 216 per year, and 12,000 per year attempting suicide). They also questioned why any woman would join the military when statistics reveal that one in three women in the military will be raped by fellow service members during their enlistment.

I responded that, despite an unpopular war, some young men and women find the US military their only option for jobs and future education. Military recruiters flood high schools and there are few other options for many with marginal grades, much less a criminal record.

The Japanese society has moved from one of the most militaristic and warlike in the 1930s and 1940s to now, a nation at peace despite the Bush administration's pressure on the Japanese government hard for military and financial contributions for the war on Iraq and the "war on terror."

Some will say the reason the Japanese people have not had to go to war is because the United States has taken on the role of defending Japan from attack. Yet, most Japanese would ask pointedly: "Attack from whom? From those the United States threatens?" They say, "Let us live in peace and our example will hopefully make the entire world more peaceful."

I wonder if it will take a series of disastrous events such as what the Japanese people endured when they were led by civilian and military leaders into successive invasions and brutal occupations (known for rape and torture of local citizens) of other countries, before Americans will decide that aggressive wars of choice, invasions and occupations known for rape and torture of local citizens are not the answer to world problems.

Japanese are very protective of their right to a peaceful country.

Will American ever strive for a different world -- one of peace, not violence?

Ann Wright is a retired US Army Reserves Colonel with 29 years of military service. She also was a US diplomat who served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. She was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan in December, 2001. She resigned from the US diplomatic corps in March, 2003 in opposition to the Bush administration's decision to invade and occupy Iraq. She is the co-author of "Dissent: Voices of Conscience," profiles of government insiders who have spoken and acted on their concerns of their governments' policies.

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