Tokyo Lets Loose Lapdogs of War

Japan may have regained its sovereignty in 1952, but the decision to dispatch Japanese troops to Iraq earlier this month has reminded many of its citizens just how little independence the country really has -- and just how much control the United States retains.

If British Prime Minister Tony Blair is President Bush’s poodle, then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is his cocker spaniel.

“We are still occupied by the American military,” said an acquaintance of mine who is a former official of Japan’s Ministry of Education and now a university president. “We are a satellite. Our foreign policy revolves entirely around the wishes of Washington.”


Like many other Japanese, he believes that Koizumi ordered Japan’s first military sortie into an active combat zone since World War II because he was too weak to stand up to President Bush.

According to a recent Japan Broadcasting Corp. poll, 51% of the country opposes getting involved in Washington’s war against Iraq, while only 42% supports Koizumi’s decision. What’s more, 82% of those polled said they did not trust the prime minister’s explanations for marching into the Iraqi quagmire. Most believe that Koizumi had to go along with Bush or risk damaging the alliance with the U.S.

There’s no question that the U.S. takes Japan for granted. The Bush administration likes to boast about how successful the U.S. Army was in democratizing Japan after World War II, and it likes to suggest that it will accomplish the same feat in Iraq. But it fails to note that the U.S. military kept the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa as a Pentagon colony for more than 25 years -- until 1972 -- and that the U.S. still has 38 military bases on that small island.

Okinawa is home to 1.3 million Japanese citizens who since 1945 have repeatedly had to bear the burdens of violent crimes by American soldiers, continuous environmental and noise pollution, hit-and-run accidents, bar brawls and behavior that would never be tolerated in the U.S. or the mainland of Japan.

The Washington official charged with keeping Japan in the U.S. orbit is Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. His name probably appears in the Japanese press more frequently than any other U.S. government figure. Armitage has been hammering Koizumi for more than a year “not to miss the boat” this time, referring to Japan’s failure to support the United States militarily in the 1991 war against Iraq. (He has apparently forgotten that Tokyo bankrolled operations to the tune of $13 billion.)

After his reelection as prime minister in September, Koizumi railroaded a vote through the Japanese Parliament endorsing the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces troops to Iraq, even though he acknowledged that this was probably a violation of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution.

Article 9, a key part of Japan’s post-World War II constitution, prohibits Japan from using force in the conduct of its foreign relations. Koizumi tried to get around this by endorsing future efforts to amend the constitution and by claiming that the Japanese army would undertake “only humanitarian and reconstruction work” in Iraq.

But this is hardly a risk-free operation -- militarily or politically. Domestic critics charge that sending the troops before amending the constitution suggests that Japan does not believe in the rule of law. Two former secretaries-general of Koizumi’s Liberal Democratic Party, Koichi Kato and Makoto Koga, and the party’s former policy chief, Shizuka Kamei, declined to vote for the troop deployment.

The first of about 1,000 Japanese troops arrived Feb. 8 in Samawah, 168 miles south of Baghdad. Four days later, they came under mortar attack. They’ve also been threatened by Al Qaeda for joining the U.S.-led coalition -- and given that Al Qaeda delivered painful blows to the Turks in Istanbul after issuing similar warnings, Japan should be braced for military and civilian casualties.

Perhaps even more serious for the Japanese, Samawah was hit by U.S. depleted-uranium ammunition in both 1991 and 2003. A Japanese journalist, Mamoru Toyoda, equipped with a Geiger counter found radiation levels in the town 300 times greater than normal. The Dutch troops also based there have refused to remove or go near any of the radioactive debris in the area. Death and disability because of radiation sickness is a particular horror for all Japanese after Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The British and Australian governments ignored their populations to join Bush’s might-makes-right adventure, when they could have stood aside like France and Germany. It is too bad that Japan has now done the same thing, permanently destroying the idealism behind its antiwar constitution.

Chalmers Johnson is president of the Japan Policy Research Institute and author of “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic” (Metropolitan Books, 2004).