Japanese Lawmakers Pass Two Laws That Shift The Nation Away From Its Postwar Pacifism info
New York Times
December 16, 2006
By Norimitsu Onishi
TOKYO, Dec. 15 — Japan broke two postwar taboos on Friday as the upper house of Parliament approved laws that would officially bring patriotism back into the classroom and upgrade the status of its Defense Agency.
The new education law revises the country’s 1947 Fundamental Law of Education, which had been drafted during the American occupation to prevent a revival of prewar nationalism and avoid encouraging patriotism. The new law stresses “love of country,” “public spirit” and “tradition” while handing greater control over schools to politicians.
The upper house, controlled by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, also passed laws turning the country’s Defense Agency into a full-fledged ministry and defining overseas missions as a main duty. The lower house had already enacted the bills.
The laws were passed in keeping with Mr. Abe’s drive to instill pride of country among Japanese and claim a larger role for Japan in the world. But to critics, especially of the education law, the moves take Japan further from its postwar pacifist ideals while harking back to vaguely defined, prewar Japanese values.
The bills were enacted despite a motion of no confidence by opposition parties against Mr. Abe’s administration, two days after a government report revealed that the government had routinely staged town meetings since 2001 to manipulate public opinion. The government had paid people to ask questions and make statements supportive of its policies, including the revision of the education law.
The meetings took place under Mr. Abe’s predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi. But Mr. Abe had organized them as chief cabinet secretary, and he had championed rewriting the education law as a pillar of his conservative agenda, which also includes revising the pacifist Constitution.
Japanese conservatives had long contended that the 1947 education law put too much emphasis individual rights over the public good, with negative results ranging from the erosion of communities to the rise in juvenile crime.
Across the country, conservative politicians have been leading efforts to bring patriotism into the classroom. Tokyo’s nationalist governor, Shintaro Ishihara, has punished hundreds of teachers for failing to force their students to sing the national anthem and stand before the national flag during school ceremonies. Other school districts have started grading students on their patriotism.
“Based on the spirit of the education law, we will drive to revive our education to build a respectful, beautiful nation,” Mr. Abe said in a statement. Mr. Abe’s approval ratings have fallen sharply because he has backpedaled on Mr. Koizumi’s political and economic changes.
The new laws related to the Defense Agency continue to solidify the role of the Self-Defense Forces, which are still exclusively defensive and governed by strict rules of engagement. Conservatives have sought to upgrade the agency’s status almost since it was created in 1954, but an aversion to the military remained strong until recently.
The change to ministry status is largely symbolic. But it will now allow the Defense Ministry to submit legislation to Parliament and make budget requests directly.
“We will have to deal with other countries as not just an agency, but as a ministry that can discuss policy and the country’s security,” Fumio Kyuma, the Defense Agency director, who will become defense minister next month, told the Japanese news media.
Government officials have indicated that they want to expand the Self-Defense Forces’ role further by pressing for a permanent law that would allow them to be deployed overseas and to exercise the right to collective self-defense.