Interview with Masakazu Matsumoto, political philosopher and associate professor at Shimane University

Pacifism and just war theory

Desire to create a forum for dialogue

by Shinsaku Satao, Deputy Editorial Writer

There is no one who does not love peace. But when it comes to pacifism, there is a variety of interpretations, and the just war theory, which permits some wars, can be said to be the global standard. Japan’s relations with its neighbors are strained, and revision of the nation’s Constitution has been debated recently. Is Japan’s pacifism in danger? Or is it still valid? Masakazu Matsumoto, 35, a political philosopher and associate professor at Shimane University, has written a book entitled “Heiwashugi to wa nani ka” (“What Is Pacifism?”) in which he examines these issues. The Chugoku Shimbun talked to Mr. Matsumoto about his book.

According to your book, pacifism can’t be explained in just a few words.
Pacifism, which advocates peace at any price, originated with the teachings of Christ and has been propounded by Leo Tolstoy and others. On the other hand, the peace movement that began in the West following the end of the Napoleonic wars led to the development of “pacificism” in the first half of the 19th Century. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who is known for the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, was a pacificist. This movement also led to the postwar interdependence theory.

Japanese people are not very familiar with these classifications. So, how do you explain them?
It’s not a matter of which is correct. Pacifism represents an individual’s way of living whereas with pacificism non-violence is a political choice. It also argues that colonies must be relinquished and considers whether or not a war will be worth it in the end.

Have there been any politicians in modern-day Japan who could be called pacificists?
Kijuro Shidehara, known for his liberal “Shidehara diplomacy,” and Tanzan Ishibashi, who advocated a “Small Japan Policy” were pacificists. After the First World War in Europe, Shidehara adhered to a policy of international cooperation as a diplomat and as foreign minister. Shortly after World War II he served as prime minister, and at the time of the establishment of the Constitution he gave a speech stating that Japan would be at an advantage over other countries if it had no need for a military budget.

The term “just war theory” appears frequently in your book.
Under the just war theory the thinking is that war is sometimes just and sometimes unjust. After World War II, the just war theory became the norm throughout the world as the result of regret over the acceptance of the rise of Nazi Germany. The Charter of the United Nations recognizes nations’ right of self-defense, which is very close to just war theory and not necessarily in conflict with pacifism.

On the other hand, the Iraq war, which was launched by the administration of President George W. Bush and the neo-conservatives, was criticized by many proponents of the just war theory in the U.S. One reason I wrote my book was to create a forum for dialogue on the issues of pacifism and the just war theory.

Is U.S. President Obama, who has called for a “world without nuclear weapons,” also a proponent of the just war theory?
Yes. In his recent speech in Berlin he talked about reducing strategic nuclear warheads, but he has not gotten away from the notion of nuclear weapons as a deterrent. It’s difficult for a military superpower to readily accept pacifism. Limiting military might within the framework of the just war theory is one option. I don’t deny that.

Among other previous winners of the Nobel Peace Prize there have been advocates of non-violence such as the Rev. Martin Luther King.
In his acceptance speech at the awards ceremony in 2009, Mr. Obama referred to Gandhi and King saying, “I cannot be guided by their examples alone.” In the context it seemed he felt that being ranked with them was an honor but his philosophy was different. That’s how I take it anyway.

In Japan Article 9 of the Constitution is being debated as never before.
While the Liberal Democratic Party’s draft revision keeps the spirit of pacifism in Article 9’s first clause, in the second clause it refers to a national defense force. The aim of this is to renounce wars of aggression while making possible a war in self-defense. This is precisely the just war theory.

So, this means it’s possible that the just war theory will become the norm in Japan.
But both the just war theory and pacifism take the stance that wars of aggression are unacceptable. So, what is unique about Japan’s pacifism? Japan sometimes addresses humanitarian crises in various parts of the world, but I don’t believe it’s necessary for Japan to have a military and be a “normal country” in order to do that.

So there’s no need to revise Article 9 right away.
No. I acknowledge that the Self-Defense Forces serve as a real deterrent, but exercising the right of collective self-defense based on the Japan-U.S. alliance would have costly disadvantages.

But if China proceeds with further expansionism and if Japan considers revising Article 9, how will abuses of the power of the state be restricted? This will have to be clarified. Historically, a military budget is exceptionally easy to spend. The Constitution is based on limiting imperial authority. Based on that, the government must continually move toward strengthening restrictions on authority.

Masakazu Matsumoto
Born in Tokyo in 1978. Holds a doctorate in law with a specialty in political science from the Graduate School of Law at Keio University. Assumed his current post last year. Specializes in political philosophy and political theory. Took an interest in politics after reading Yoshinori Kobayashi’s manga “Gomanism Manifesto” but is critical of Kobayashi’s later style. Other works include “Riberaru na Tabunkashugi” (Liberal Multiculturalism). Resident of Matsue, Shimane Prefecture.

(Originally published on July 10, 2013)