Tamogami’s essay: Government must take clear stance

by Kenji Namba, Senior Staff Writer

Toshio Tamogami, chief of staff of the Air Self-Defense Force, was forced to retire last month after claiming in a prize-winning essay: “It is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation.” Following his dismissal, Mr. Tamogami continued to propound his theory to the news media and others, advocating revision of the Constitution and asserting that Japan should consider acquiring nuclear weapons.

The government wasted no time in relieving Mr. Tamogami of his post as chief of staff saying that the views expressed in his essay were clearly incompatible with those of the government, but no effort was made to explain the government’s own views and interpretation of history. Prime Minister Taro Aso, the nation’s commander in chief, merely said that Mr. Tamogami’s essay was “inappropriate.”

But it is precisely at times like these that those in the administration have a duty to outline the government’s philosophy to the public and to clarify the government’s views on Japan’s role in the war and its position with regard to nuclear weapons. If they fail to do so, no national consensus on these issues can be reached and Japan’s position will be misunderstood by other nations.

Silence on revision of Constitution, nuclear weapons

Mr. Tamogami’s essay titled “Was Japan an Aggressor Nation?” won first prize in a contest sponsored by the APA Group, a hotel and condominium developer. The contest, the first of its kind, required contestants to write on the topic of “true perspectives on modern and contemporary history.”

In his essay Mr. Tamogami said Japanese troops were stationed in the Chinese mainland and the Korean peninsula “on the basis of treaties” and that it “was not a unilateral advance without the understanding of those nations.” Other statements made by Mr. Tamogami include: “Our country was a victim, drawn into the Sino-Japanese war by Chiang Kai-shek.” “Japan was caught in Roosevelt’s trap and carried out the attack on Pearl Harbor.” “We need to realize that many Asian countries take a positive view of the Greater East Asia War.” With regard to the status of the SDF, he said, “The SDF cannot even defend its own territory, cannot practice collective self-defense…” He added, “Unless our country is released from this mind control, it will never have a system for protecting itself through its own power.”

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Mr. Tamogami was relieved of his duties because it was “inappropriate for the chief of staff of the Air Self-Defense Force to publicly express views that clearly differ from those of the government.” This refers to a statement made by then Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama in August 1995 on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

In his statement Mr. Murayama said with regard to the war, "During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.” Mr. Murayama clearly acknowledged Japan’s aggression and stated his desire to “express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology.” The government’s position since then has been based on this statement, and Mr. Aso also said that his cabinet would maintain this stance.

The government’s handling of this matter, however, has been half-hearted. Although Mr. Tamogami was relieved of his duties as chief of staff, he was allowed to retire and was paid a full retirement allowance. In a hearing before members of the Upper House Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, although Defense Minister Hamada said Mr. Tamogami’s interpretation of history clearly differed from that put forth in Mr. Murayama’s statement, he refuted the suggestion that Mr. Tamogami’s actions were in violation of Article 99 of the Constitution, which obligates public officials to respect and uphold the Constitution. Thus he failed to acknowledge that Mr. Tamogami’s actions ran counter to the Constitution.

Mr. Aso merely said, “His comments were inappropriate for a person in the position of chief of staff. That’s what this is all about.” He avoided commenting on Mr. Tamogami’s contention that Mr. Murayama’s statement had been revealed as “a tool to suppress free speech” and simply said he did not wish to speak out of turn as Mr. Tamogami had become a private individual upon his retirement.

Although Mr. Aso is the nation’s leader, he seemed to treat the matter as if it were not his problem. It is precisely at times like this that he should behave like the man in charge.

In the hearing before the Upper House committee, the threat to civilian control of the nation was revealed, and the curriculum put into place during Mr. Tamogami’s stint as head of the SDF Joint Staff College was discussed, shedding light on what is taught there.

The Joint Staff College is attended by mid-level officers of the Ground, Maritime, and Air Self-Defense Forces and is a stepping-stone to high-level posts. Mr. Tamogami created a course titled “Perspectives on History and the State,” which included lectures on topics such as “The Proud History of Japan” and “Historical Perspectives on the Great East Asia War.” Most of the lectures were given by guest speakers. Looking at the lineup, one suspects the system was set up to create more Toshio Tamogamis. This course is still being taught.

Mr. Tamogami also stated flatly that the Constitution should be revised. With regard to nuclear weapons, he said things like, “Going nuclear would be the quickest way for Japan to become self-reliant.” The government has said nothing in reply.

Reviewing these recent developments, Kaori Hayashi, an associate professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, said, “The thing that concerns me most is the government’s handling of the matter. They simply said Tamogami has the right to freedom of speech and the matter was settled with his dismissal. That is unsatisfactory. How does the government feel about the problem regarding the perception of the history of World War II and about the role of the Self-Defense Forces? The government must clearly convey its stance on this and work to build a national consensus.”

Every time the notion that Japan should acquire nuclear weapons has come up it has been faulted by Hideo Tsuchiyama, former president of Nagasaki University, and he has taken up the issue. On this occasion he said, “The government has on two occasions researched the issue of nuclear weapons, and both times they have reached the clear conclusion that nuclear weapons would be of no benefit to the nation and should not be acquired.”

He added, “Why does the issue of nuclear weapons come up at every turn? One reason is the ambiguity of the Japanese government’s stance on the issue. No matter how often the government points out that Japan is a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty or that the three non-nuclear principles are national policy, the behavior of politicians and researchers who affirm the possession of nuclear weapons in effect publicly refutes the government’s position. Having given tacit approval to these statements, Japan’s submission of a proposal to the United Nations General Assembly advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons came across as merely an attempt to look good before the international community. It’s no surprise that this is regarded as a fraud by the many citizens who are working hard to abolish nuclear weapons.”

Both Mr. Hayashi and Mr. Tsuchiyama said they hoped the government would make use of the problem of Mr. Tamogami’s essay to present a clear stance to the people of Japan and the world and put this matter to rest once and for all.

An interview with Kaori Hayashi, Associate Professor, University of Tokyo (journalism and media studies)

Work to form a national consensus

At a time like this, when the problem of Tamogami’s essay has arisen, the government must clearly convey to the public its understanding of history with regard to World War II and its stance on the role of the Self-Defense Forces and work to form a national consensus.

Building a consensus requires a great deal of hard work and energy. Once the government’s stance and philosophy have been clearly established and conveyed to the public, they must be debated. I would like to see the government demonstrate a willingness to get the entire nation involved and carry out an intellectual, reasonable debate. At a time like this, it is irresponsible of the government not to do that and to let the matter rest. I also believe the news media have a large role to play.

In Germany, where I lived for seven years, the government was always quick to point out that, “The military’s existence is predicated on the fundamental values of democracy. It does not exist for nationalism.” This was also stated when Germany sent forces to Afghanistan.

There are conflicting viewpoints on history in Germany as well, but if politicians do not exercise their duty and take the initiative to build a democratic nation ruled by reason and address the citizens, they aren’t taken seriously as politicians. The news media also recognize this role and monitor the politicians.

Freedom of speech does not mean the right to say just anything. It is part of the process of conducting a rational debate and building a consensus.

(Originally published December 22, 2008)

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