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Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2003
Dispatch foes grope to find, let alone sway, opinion
OSAKA -- Japanese against the war in Iraq and the dispatch of the Self-Defense Forces troops to help rebuild the nation may not be as vocal as their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe, but they are trying to sway public sentiment in an equally determined manner.
"Shouting in the streets like you see at antiwar demonstrations in London, Paris or Washington won't really work in Japan," said Masao Kinoshita, who represents the Kansai chapter of Block the Road to War, a nationwide group of antiwar protesters. "Instead, we're trying to persuade people in a more quiet manner that the war, and the dispatch of the SDF to Iraq, is wrong."
Since September, the group, whose members range in age from 18 to 80, has been waging a nationwide campaign to collect 1 million signatures in opposition to the SDF dispatch. As of Dec. 1 -- just two days after two Japanese diplomats were assassinated in Iraq -- however, the group had managed to get only 100,000 people to sign.
But Kinoshita said collecting signatures and staging demonstrations are not the main ways the antiwar message is spreading.
Two far more persuasive methods -- both circumventing the mainstream print and broadcast media -- are using the Internet and sponsoring exhibitions of photos of Iraqi citizens who have suffered the consequences of the U.S.-led invasion, he said.
One place on the Internet where people opposed to the war and the SDF dispatch can go is the Japan Independent Media Center. The center, independent of Block the Road to War, is part of a worldwide network of media centers and offers articles in both Japanese and English on the plight of Iraqi citizens.
"We're trying to reach people who feel something is amiss but who may not know there is an alternative press in Japan, or that there are people involved in various social-change movements," said Paul Arenson, a center representative who also teaches at Hitotsubashi University. "The mainstream press here does not do a very good job in this regard.
"The debate on the war is a case in point," he added. "While the dispatch of the SDF is put in terms of the relative safety of doing so, the bigger picture is never touched upon."
Exhibitions by Japanese and foreign photographers who have been to Iraq have been held throughout Japan. One photographer is Masaaki Kozaki, who visited Iraq from February to May.
"My pictures show that the war, fought under the pretext of finding weapons of mass destruction, was a war of invasion and that Iraqis suffer under the American military every day," said Kozaki, whose photographs are currently being shown throughout the Kansai region. "Hopefully, the Japanese who see these photos will think hard about whether we really need to send the SDF to Iraq."
Many people involved in antiwar activities say today's students should be more active in opposing the conflict.
"A number of college students are involved with Block the Road to War. But compared with the protests we saw in the 1960s, today's college students are far less likely to get directly involved," said Kinoshita, who was a student back then. "They are just worried about finding a job."
Arenson, however, said his students, and others, have shown interest in what is happening.
"The students are increasingly frustrated with the mainstream media and are hungry for information," he said.
Kaneko Miura, a teacher at a Kyoto-area college who was involved in organizing protests over the March invasion of Iraq, said one major reason opposition in Japan is less visible among younger people is the lack of popular entertainers who have come out against the war.
"In Britain and America, music groups like The Dixie Chicks and some Hollywood movie stars risk their careers by criticizing the war. In Japan, popular musicians and actors keep silent, because they know they'll never get work again if they say anything politically controversial," she observed.
Those involved with the antiwar movement say they have mixed feelings on the success of their message.
"Many Japanese believe it is inevitable that the SDF will go to Iraq, but the government has to be careful," Kinoshita said. "Many people are opposed to the war and the SDF dispatch. They are relatively quiet now, but they may not be quiet if soldiers start coming home in body bags."