Prime minister raises possibility of exercising right of collective defense: A-bomb survivors, citizens’ groups protest

Others cite international situation

Local atomic bomb survivors and citizens’ groups in the Chugoku Region have spoken out against a move by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reinterpret the Constitution in an effort to authorize the exercise of the right of collective defense. The prime minister’s announcement on May 15 sparked protests against possible involvement in other nations’ wars and subversion of the ideals of the pacifist Constitution. Meanwhile others said such a move is fitting in light of the international situation. People on both sides of the issue noted that there has been insufficient national debate on the matter.

Members of Himitsuho Haishi Hiroshima Network, a group that advocates abolishing the nation’s Special Secrecy Law, conducted a sit-in in front of the A-bomb dome in downtown Hiroshima. A member of the group read out their protest, which demanded that Japan not be allowed to go to war abroad, sparking applause from the group of about 70 people who had gathered there.

Retiree Masahiko Motonaga, 79, was taking a walk in Peace Memorial Park, which is near his home. “Our pacifist Constitution is one of a kind and must be preserved,” he said. “The government should take a little more time and get the public involved in the debate.” On the other hand, Shigehiro Doi, 43, a doctor who was walking through the Hondori shopping area, said, “Individual countries acting alone can’t preserve peace. It’s only natural to recognize the right of collective defense.”

Atomic bomb survivors have personally experienced the horrors of war. Toshiyuki Mimaki, 72, secretary-general of the faction of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations chaired by Sunao Tsuboi, said, “We may go back to social conditions like those before the war.” Kazuo Okoshi, 74, secretary-general of the other group of the same name, which is chaired by Kazushi Kaneko, expressed similar concerns. “Article 9 [of the Constitution] came about as the result of the loss of life in the war,” he said. “The government talks about limiting the use of force to the minimum required, but there won’t be any way to keep it in check.”

Prime Minister Abe denied that Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) would participate in multinational forces, but he stressed the need for Japan to actively participate in United Nations peacekeeping forces.

The prime minister’s announcement made an impact in nearby military towns as well. Kanji Yamashita, 61, executive director of the Kure Maritime SDF Cooperation Council, said he approves of authorizing the exercise of the right of collective defense. “In these times countries are expected to make international contributions,” he said. “Japan can’t just stay out of harm’s way and act like it doesn’t know what’s going on in the rest of the world.” But he also expressed concern about members of the SDF being exposed to danger.

In Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, site of a U.S. Marine Corps Air Station, Kiyoshi Okawa, 56, chairs a citizens’ group that is asking the government to recognize the results of a referendum opposing the transfer of U.S. Navy carrier air wing from the Atsugi Naval Air Station to Iwakuni. “The functions of the air station may be strengthened, and Iwakuni could get caught up in an American war,” he said.

Satoshi Hashimura, 21, a senior at Hiroshima University, expressed concern saying, “This move may lead to even more military buildups by other nations. What sort of nation will Japan become? I’d like the prime minister to recognize the seriousness of reinterpreting the Constitution.”

Michihiro Hide, 56, a professor at Hiroshima University’s graduate school, stated his approval of the move. “Authorizing the exercise [of the right of collective defense] will mean even stronger deterrence against war,” he said. He also noted, however, that the public has not been convinced of the need for the move and said the government must fulfill its responsibility to provide a full explanation.

(Originally published on May 16, 2014)