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Saturday, Dec. 20, 2003

Iraq and Japan's far right

If you think Japan's right wing is inevitably pro-American then think again. Over policy on Iraq and the Middle East, the gap between the conservative rightwingers, who support the United States, and their ideological kin on the extreme right is about as wide as it can get.

I have before me a book recently published by some extreme rightists. The cover says "Struggle On (Ganbare), Saddam Hussein." It carries a photo of the former Iraqi leader flashing a sword, samurai-style.

Splashed alongside is the book title "Kichiku Eibei," literally "Devil Animals, England and America," the slogan Japan's wartime militarists once used to show their contempt for the West. Al-Qaeda would be proud to have a slogan like that.

Many other extreme or far-right magazines in Japan express the same views. Some are simply gangsterish rants. But some such as the monthly Nippon carry a wealth of interesting, even if biased, historical material.

Contributors to the 175-page "Kichiku Eibei" book include not just the usual collection of Japanese ultranationalists. Several mainstream commentators have lent their names, together with some rightwing Russian and West European politicians.

Underlying the anti-Americanism of this seemingly grotesque alliance with the Butcher of Baghdad is a view that says Japan was the victim rather than the aggressor in its pre-1945 wars in Asia and the Pacific. It seeks to right what it sees as the injustices of the past.

Over Iraq, the extreme right sees the phoniness and illegality of the U.S.-British pretexts for the attack there as an extension of past Western intrigues in Asia, going back to the Opium War of China in the mid-19th century, as well as of current intrigues said to have caused the collapse of the Japanese economy. Perfidious Albion has been joined by devious Washington. The hope today is that the Islamic militants will provide the lesson that pre-1945 Japan failed to deliver.

Many on the conservative right have shared some of these views, if not the conclusions. Hiroshima rankles. They have liked to talk openly about how pre-1945 Japan, for all its mistakes, liberated Asia from Western colonialism. They have been reluctant to apologize properly for wartime atrocities as a result.

Many have believed they were lured and manipulated by a cunning U.S. into the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. Far from embracing defeat, they have tolerated it, reluctantly.

Many still harbor a latent anti-Americanism, even if some are genuinely grateful for U.S. help to Japan in the postwar years. As well, quite a few are less than impressed by the way U.S. bankers and hedge funds have been manipulating the Japanese stock market and plundering bankrupt firms.

If the conservative right seems so willing to join with the U.S. over Iraq, this is mainly because it sees this as a golden opportunity to raise the prestige of Japan's morale-starved Self-Defense Forces, or SDF, and to legitimize their role as a regular army able to operate outside Japan's borders. Close military cooperation with the U.S. to counter China's growing strength and prestige in Asia and to help assert a Japanese presence in the area is another goal.

The position of ex-author, former senior LDP politician and now Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara in all this is interesting, and important. He straddles the gap between the conservative right and the extreme right. He is an active and very willing participant in the national foreign policy debate. Many hope he will go back into central-government politics and provide the strong leadership they crave for Japan.

But Ishihara's views are more complex than most realize. For example, he is not the extreme nationalist many in the West assume him to be; he is very much a victim of the Western media propensity for sloppiness and misquotation in coverage of Japan.

Apart from anything else, he has often said that Japan is a zasshu minzoku (mongrel nation could be one translation) and should welcome immigration, including Asian immigration -- hardly a sign of rabid racism. As a member of several Tokyo policy committees, I get to see him close up. He has a sensible, eclectic approach to most practical problems. Only when the talk turns to ideology do the shutters come down.

His dislike and distrust of the U.S. is visceral. One reason I find myself on his committees is because he likes my research proving Washington's responsibility for Japan's loss to the former Soviet Union of the so-called Northern Territories (some others on the conservative right, the Bungei Shunju stable of publications especially, share this view).

Ishihara also seems to have inherited prewar Japan's blind hatreds for communism and contempt for the left. Moderates in Japan's Foreign Ministry are equally despised.

In his almost paranoiac dislike of Beijing, Ishihara comes closest to the extreme right. He shares their view that Chinese leftwingers and communists lured Japan into the attack on China that followed the 1937 Marco Polo Bridge incident, and which led ultimately to Japan's 1945 defeat.

Adding salt to the wound is the belief that China today deliberately exaggerates the atrocities of Japan's invasion, in a bid to force an undeserved guilt complex on present-day Japanese. The extraordinary efforts by Ishihara and his friends on the extreme right to deny the realities of the 1937-38 Nanking massacre are one result.

But for the moment Ishihara would go along with the conservatives who favor military alliance with the U.S. Like many on the right, he sees hardline U.S. pressure for the dismemberment of China -- first Taiwan, then Tibet and Sinkiang, outer Mongolia and maybe Manchuria or south China -- as the only answer to China's rising power.

If the Russian Far East can also be detached, so much the better.

In the meantime, and again like many on the right, he welcomes every chance to boost the role of Japan's military. Exaggerated calls for an SDF role in mobilizing civilians to cope with mythical fears of internal disturbances and outside attack are part of that effort.

Ishihara also goes along with hardline calls for military action against North Korea. But while most on the right assume this can only happen in cooperation with the U.S., and are busily escalating the abduction issue in order to assist U.S. hawks in blocking any nuclear agreement with Pyongyang, Ishihara wants a strong military that can operate independently from the U.S.

Gregory Clark is a former Australian diplomat and honorary president of Tama University. A translation of this and previous articles will appear at www.gregoryclark.net

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