Beate Sirota Gordon

by Noritaka Egusa, Chief Editorial Writer

It was truly a “silent homecoming” for the employees of a Japanese company who were attacked by militants in the far-off Sahara Desert. Seeing the coffins of the victims lined up at Haneda Airport on the news yesterday, I was speechless.

It is impossible to imagine the despair and grief of the families of the victims, who will never again hear the voices of their loved ones.

The recent reports of the deaths of several people have made me wish I could have heard more from them: the acerbic film director Nagisa Oshima, Toyo Shibata, who continued to write poems conveying warmth, and the American Beate Sirota Gordon.

Ms. Gordon spent her childhood in Japan and participated in the drafting of the Constitution while on the staff of the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces (GHQ) when she was only 22 years old. Much of what she wrote on human rights was cut, but her sentiments live on in Article 24.

The first paragraph states: “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.”

Every time I read this, the phrase “through mutual cooperation” gives me a start.

In her later years Ms. Gordon often visited Japan and gave speeches throughout the country. Ten years ago she gave a talk in Hiroshima in which she praised the present Constitution saying, “It’s better than the U.S. Constitution. It is the product of the wisdom of history.”

It has been quite a while since the Constitution was criticized as having been forced on Japan by GHQ. In the current political climate, momentum is gathering for debate on revising the Constitution.

But first we need to take another look around. Are we building families in which there is mutual respect? Is the spirit of the Constitution, including equal rights for men and women, ingrained in our lives?

Ms. Gordon described Article 9 of the Constitution as “a pearl born of the war.” In Hiroshima she said of Article 9, “It is a model for the world. Other countries should emulate it.”

I will never again hear Ms. Gordon’s voice. But I will remember what she said.

(Originally published on January 26, 2013)