Japan at Peace

The Improbable Military Resurgence

A man prays after releasing a paper lantern on the Motoyasu river facing the Atomic Bomb Dome in remembrance of atomic bomb victims on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, western Japan, August 6, 2015. Toru Hanai / Reuters

In 2004, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a case for Japan to restore its military capabilities, writing in his book, Determination to Protect This Country, that “if Japanese don’t shed blood, we cannot have an equal relationship with America.” Since then, Abe has sought to revive the country’s defensive capabilities, mostly toward fortifying its claim over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, an island chain in the East China Sea that Beijing says belongs to China. He has requested a record five trillion yen ($42 billion) defense budget for fiscal year 2016 (if approved, it will be Tokyo’s largest in 14 years) and reinterpreted the constitution to allow Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense. The efforts have provoked growing alarm.

A June 2015 survey found that 57 percent of South Koreans believe that Japan is in a “militaristic state,” and 58 percent said that Tokyo poses a military threat. In comparison, only 38 percent surveyed thought that China was the bigger threat. China, too, is worried. It has repeatedly warned that Abe is leading the country “down a more dangerous path toward militarization.”

Whatever Abe’s intentions, however, Japanese militarism was buried for good in August 1945 and will not likely rise again. The reason: the Japanese people.

Members of Japan's Self-Defence Force's honor guard prepare for a ceremony in Tokyo, June 3, 2015. Toru Hanai / Reuters


After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Emperor Showa, popularly known as Hirohito, gave a radio address explaining to his people that continuing the fight against the Allies would “result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation.”

And so Japan surrendered. Unlike the Germans, though, the Japanese people had no Adolf Hitler or Nazi Party to blame for a war that had killed at least 2.7 million Japanese servicemen and civilians and destroyed 66 major cities. Although the Japanese emperor had been accused of overseeing war crimes—mass rapes and killings in China and Southeast Asia—U.S. General Douglas MacArthur thought it politically expedient to

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