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Sunday, Aug. 1, 2004

MEDIA MIX

Koizumi: Robot? Dummy? Dictator? All three?


A comedy troupe called The Newspaper has recently been lampooning Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's performance at the last G-8 summit. According to the weekly magazine Aera, in one skit, a member dressed as Koizumi explains why he committed Japanese troops to a multinational force without first consulting the Diet. "President Bush said something to me, but I couldn't understand, so I just said 'OK.' When I found out I'd agreed to commit troops, I was as shocked as you were."

The real Koizumi's explanation is no less strange. He said that he couldn't possibly tell the president of the United States that he would have to go back to Japan and check with the Diet before he gave him his answer. In other words, he had to give the appearance of being decisive, even if it meant breaking faith with the people he served.

It is this "light" (karui) attitude that is said to have hurt Koizumi and the Liberal Democratic Party in this month's election. In addition to the summit faux pas (there was more than one), Koizumi offended many people when, during last spring's Pension Follies, he dismissed as unimportant the fact that he had joined a company pension program in the '70s without actually working for the company. "There are many kinds of company employees," he said, paraphrasing a line from a famous pop song in a joking manner. The line would be used against him by his opponents, who cited it as proof that he didn't take anything seriously. This attitude has since morphed into defiance. Koizumi has increasingly used the line in speeches, emphasizing the fact that he doesn't care what anyone thinks.

Some believe his demeanor represents a drift toward authoritarianism. That, in fact, is the theme of two small publications which have become very topical this summer. One, a Japanese translation of Franck Pavlov's "Matin Brun (Brown Morning)," was even cited on TV by an official of the Democratic Party of Japan when he complained about Koizumi's automatic commitment to a multinational force.

In Pavlov's allegory, originally published in France in 2001, the fictional Brown Party takes over and slowly begins to change the laws, counting on the "comfortable lives" of the people to establish autocratic rule. All pets have to be brown. Any others must be put down.

The book suggests that once people accept certain laws, it becomes easier to take them one step further; in the story's case, persecuting people who used to have black pets. The whole debate about the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces to Iraq was based on whether or not the dispatch violated the war-renouncing Article 9 of Japan's Constitution, but now that the dispatch is a done deal Koizumi thinks he can commit to a multinational force without a debate.

Something similar happened after the LDP made the Hinomaru the national flag and "Kimigayo" the national anthem in 1999. It dismissed anxieties about freedom of conscience by saying that the laws were only formalities, but since then local governments have compelled teachers and students to stand for the flag and sing the anthem in school assemblies.

In a similar way, the LDP is trying to create an environment that will make it easier to change Article 9. That is the idea behind the other publication, a 300 yen booklet titled "Senso no Tsukurikata (What Happens Before War)," which was compiled by a group of people who connected on the Internet. The booklet is aimed at schoolchildren who have no real idea of Japan's experience in World War II.

"The country is changing its system gradually," says the booklet. "Though it has renounced war, it is slowly becoming a country that can wage war." The text explains the concept of pre-emption, the government's definition of "good" and "bad" citizens, new laws that allow the government to commandeer your property, and media compliance. All of these elements combine to make the waging of war a possibility.

As everyone knows, Article 9, along with the entire Constitution, was imposed on Japan by the postwar American occupation. According to scholars, the Americans never thought the Japanese would keep it. They figured Japan would eventually amend the document, but history has shown that Japan is averse to change while also being rather "light" about the law, so instead of amending Article 9 the government has allowed it to stand and simply gone around it.

Now the LDP seeks to change it formally, but they want to make it seem as if it's inevitable. The July 21 "personal comment" by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to the LDP's Hidenao Nakagawa that Article 9 is an obstacle to Japan-U.S. ties was first revealed to the press by Nakagawa himself.

The ruling party claims that Article 9 is no longer relevant given Japan's global status, and its desire to amend it is shared by the DPJ. Surveys have shown that public sentiment is slowly moving in the same direction. In May, Asahi Shimbun found that 31 percent of respondents approve of changing Article 9, whereas a similar survey found that only 17 percent approved in 2001.

Most of the respondents who favor change are young people who know little about WWII. To older citizens, Article 9 represents a mandated commitment to peace and dialogue that is unique in the world. As such, it is a much more powerful "symbol of the State" than the one designated in Article 1: Nowadays, the Emperor doesn't seem relevant to anything.

The latest edition of "Senso no Tsukurikata" includes an English translation. For more information, see www.magazine.co.jp


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