Japan split over revision to pacifist constitution
By Mari Yamaguchi ,AP
May 4, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
TOKYO -- Japan marked the 67th anniversary of its postwar constitution Saturday with growing debate over whether to revise the war-renouncing charter in line with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push for an expanded role for the military.
The ruling conservative party has long advocated revision but been unable to sway public opinion. Now Abe is proposing that the government reinterpret the constitution to give the military more prominence without having to win public approval for the revisions.
His push, backed by the U.S. which wants Japan to bear a greater burden of its own defense, has upset the liberals who see it as undermining the constitution and democratic processes.
Hundreds of people gathered at a Tokyo rally commemorating Constitution Day, a national holiday.
Japan's pacifist charter is at stake, organizer Ken Takada said: “We citizens must stand up, take action and raise our voice to stop Abe, or this country could return to a Japan that wages war with Asia as it has done before.”
Written under U.S. direction after World War II, the 1947 constitution says the Japanese people “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation” and that “land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”
That ban has been relaxed over the years, with U.S. encouragement as the Cold War unfolded and America sought allies in Asia, allowing Japan to have a military to defend itself, dubbed a Self-Defense Force.
The ruling Liberal-Democratic Party has long denounced the postwar constitution as one imposed by the U.S., which occupied Japan from the end of World War II until 1952. Abe's grandfather and role model Nobusuke Kishi — who was arrested as a suspected war criminal but never charged and later became prime minister — was among vocal opponents of the constitution.
Abe advocates a “breakaway from the postwar regime” as a way to overcome the humiliation — symbolically, the constitution — as well as education system, social values and historical views set by the occupation.
A 2012 draft revision proposed by the Liberal Democratic Party promotes a conformist Japan and traditional patriarchal values, placing family units above individuals and elevates the emperor to head of state from the current “symbol.” Civil liberties such as freedom of speech and expression can be restricted if considered harmful to public interest.
Official visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines war victims including convicted war criminals, would be legalized, and the war renouncing Article 9 of the constitution reduced to a mere policy, allowing a full-fledged military.