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Wednesday, May 9, 2007

CHARTER TURNS 60

Revision risks freedoms, U.S. academic warns


Staff writer

OSAKA — For some in the mainstream media and conservative political movements, constitutional revision is a means of fashioning a state not unlike early 20th century Japan, says Douglas Lummis, a longtime Japan-based American political scientist.

News photo
Douglas Lummis

"Japan's mass media are trying to create an atmosphere in which supporting the (current) Constitution is an outlandish idea, and amending it is simple common sense," Lummis, a former professor at Tsuda College in Tokyo and a staunch supporter of the current Constitution, said via e-mail. "But a large portion of the public is not buying that, as opinion polls show the percentage of people supporting Article 9 is increasing."

Article 9 renounces war.

Lummis first came to Okinawa with the U.S. Marine Corps in 1960. He later became a leading opponent of the Vietnam War. A veteran of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley, Calif., in the mid-1960s, he returned to Japan and formed the group Gaijin Beheiren, which was associated with Beheiren, the nationwide movement that author Makoto Oda founded to help American soldiers who did not want to go to Vietnam.

Gaijin Beheiren's activities included participating in Beheiren's rallies, producing pamphlets and leaflets in English that were passed out to antiwar GIs, and protesting the war at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

Now living in Okinawa, Lummis said that the push in certain media and political circles to revise the Constitution has had little effect in molding public opinion.

"Perhaps the memory of the horror of World War II has reached the postwar generation after all. Or perhaps the prospect, should Japan become 'a country that can make war,' of being dragged off into America's generally failing imperial adventures doesn't look so good after all to most people," he said.

On the other hand, Lummis is particularly disturbed by the fact that many people are ignorant of the changes to the Constitution the Liberal Democratic Party proposed in 2005.

"It's a mistake to focus the constitutional revision debate entirely on Article 9. The LDP's proposed new Constitution is radically different from the current one," he said.

For Lummis, the great fear is that if the LDP's proposed Constitution were to actually replace the current one, the freedom of individuals to protest would be greatly curtailed.

Under the LDP draft, human rights clauses have been reworded more in the fashion of the prewar Meiji Constitution, he said.

Its Articles 12 and 13 say the people's rights may be exercised "so long as they do not interfere with the national interest or with public order." Thus, they have been changed from "inalienable rights" in the current charter to "conditional rights," he said.

"Everybody knows that demonstrations, sit-ins, etc. 'disrupt public order.' For Gandhi, Martin Luther King and for the 1960 anti-Ampo (Japan-U.S. Security Treaty) demonstrators, disrupting public order was what got them notice. So you can see what kind of a country is envisioned in this new Constitution," Lummis warned.

The United States has long desired that Japan revise its Constitution, specifically Article 9, to allow it to participate more actively with the U.S. military in missions far beyond Japan's shores.

Lummis deplored the fact that those who are quick to oppose any revision of Article 9 usually remain silent on the issue of Japan's military relations with the U.S.

While there are reportedly over 6,000 groups nationwide supporting Article 9, the number of people willing to raise their voice against the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is small, he said.

"Mostly, they are veterans of the struggles in 1960 and 1970 against the treaty. It's disturbing to think there are lots of people out there for whom 'support the Constitution' doesn't mean 'no war, no military' but 'let somebody else do the wars; we'll stay home and enjoy the peace,' " Lummis said.

He believes the LDP would prefer the kind of society Japan was in the years immediately before the war.

For example, he noted the present Constitution doesn't have a specific clause protecting "the right to be uninterested" in the political process but that it does, in practice, protect that right.

Under the Meiji Constitution, however, there was no such right in society. During the prewar period, Japan was organized from top to bottom into government-supported societies. Neighborhoods watched over each other. If there was a local political meeting, an individual could not avoid attending.

The LDP's draft also says nothing about a citizen's right to be uninterested, so it might lead to increased social pressure on people to become even more conformist, Lummis said, adding that such prewar social notions may be an "ideal political situation" for the LDP.

"Think of the atmosphere of a school graduation ceremony today, an atmosphere of vague fear," Lummis said.

In Tokyo and a few prefectures, boards of education order public school teachers to stand up and face the Hinomaru national flag and sing the "Kimigayo" national anthem during school ceremonies and punish those who disobey.

"I think the LDP hopes an atmosphere of fear will spread out into the society generally so that it will take great courage and maybe entail real risk, not to sing the government's song," Lummis said.

"Thus, it seems pretty clear the LDP's proposed Constitution is aimed at legally reclaiming (as much as possible) that kind of prewar society to create their ideal political situation. So those of you who are nonpolitical, watch out!" he warned.



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