Cumings' Japan Alarmism and Article 9 in U.S.-Japan Ties

Bruce Cumings, the distinguished Korea historian at University of Chicago, had some pretty harsh and not particularly well defended criticism of Japan in a recent OhMyNews interview. I can’t get it to load right now, but from what Occidentalism posted, it seems like he’s lost his temper with the Japanese nationalists.

For a long time — I have to admit decades — I discounted alarmist stories of Japan moving to the right and wanting to revise the constitution. Generally those forces weren’t important 10 or 20 years ago, but they’re very important now. They’ve been moving closer to the Bush administration, particularly Rumsfeld when he in office, and Cheney and what they want Japan to do.

After calling earlier Japan-fearers “alarmist,” you might expect him to justify his alarm with evidence. Alas, he appeals to presumed negative sentiments toward the Bush administration to paint Japan as closer to the belligerent United States than to its constitutional pacifism. He goes on to say that “Japan” (not its leaders) is playing a “dangerous game,” and that even though he thinks it’s unlikely the right will get enough support to revise the constitution, we should be worried that they’re even trying.

I must say this is a thoroughly odd series of statements from a well-respected historian, and it may show that he’s out of practice talking about the future instead of the past. (Jonathan Spence seems much more careful, and I do allow that Cumings might significantly revise his statements if given the chance.)

But let’s look at the embedded assumptions here. By arguing that Japan is not doing well by getting closer to the Bush administration, he implies disapproval of U.S. actions (by no means an unreasonable position) and underlines the hazard for Japan of getting closer to a problematic United States. But if the Japanese constitution were revised, giving Japan the sovereign right to use force in international relations, Japan would be much more free to act independently of the United States.

Japanese rightism does not innately imply alignment with the United States. Indeed, as I’m sure Cumings knows, Ishihara Shintaro, one of the most prominent Japanese rightists, made his first international political splash with the book「NO」と言える日本 (The Japan That Can Say No), a nationalist argument for a Japan more independent from the United States in economic and foreign policy. Article 9 revision would give Japan the ability to be a more equal military partner with the United States, but it would also increase its ability to stand alone. It’s likely Prime Minister Abe will not be in power when the constitutional referendum comes up in 2011, so it’s quite hard to predict what geopolitical changes would result.





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