Rethinking Japanese Public Opinion and Security: From Pacifism to Realism?

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Rethinking Japanese Public Opinion and Security: From Pacifism to Realism? (Studies in Asian Security)
By Paul Midford
Stanford University Press, 2011
272 pp. $24.95
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Midford challenges two pieces of conventional wisdom about Japan: that the public is pacifistic and that the elites are nonetheless moving the country toward the offensive use of force. According to his research of public opinion polls since the 1950s, the public has been consistent: it believes in the use of force for defensive purposes but distrusts the military’s ability to act wisely in the national interest, and it fears entrapment by the U.S. alliance in wars of the United States’ making but favors the use of the military for beneficent missions such as disaster relief. In Japan’s democratic system, public opinion matters. At crucial moments, it has limited the ability of what Midford calls “hawkish elites” to join Washington in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although North Korean belligerence and the rise of China have increased public support for territorial defense, they have not increased support for intervention. The book does not explore variations in attitudes across categories of respondents, which might have provided insight into politically salient cleavages.