Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Self-Righteousness in the Name of Goodwill – Hostage Incident Highlights Absence of Logical Reasoning
HAKAMADA Shigeki / Professor, Aoyama Gakuin University

May 20, 2004
Three Japanese civilians were taken hostage in Iraq by terrorists demanding the withdrawal of the Self Defense Forces sent to assist that country's reconstruction. Family members of the hostages strongly requested the government to place top priority on saving lives, including the possibility of pulling back the Self Defense Forces. It goes without saying that terrorists are a despicable lot. I choose nevertheless to point out a problem inherent on the part of the three hostages and their families that government officials and commentators alike have abstained from doing out of diffidence. I do so only because it is a problem that is intricately linked with the political perception of the Japanese in the post-World War II era.

In today's Iraq, virtually no national authority exists to enforce order, leading to frequent incidents of terrorism and kidnapping. To make matters worse, the region is also home to international terrorist groups that have singled out Japan as their targets. In light of these developments, since last year the Japanese government has issued more than 20 evacuation notices to Japanese nationals in Iraq.

The three Japanese knew Iraq was an extremely dangerous region and entered the country in defiance of the repeated notices issued by the government, and as such are fully responsible for their own safety. In this sense, their circumstances differ completely from victims of kidnappings perpetrated by North Korea. The incident could have been foreseen, and individuals without means of protecting themselves should not enter Iraq. Because once you are involved in an incident - regardless of whether you yourself are prepared for the worst - your family, along with the sympathetic general public, will demand that government place priority on saving lives, even at the expense of bending its basic principles. In other words, your action will cause immense inconvenience to your country and countrymen, and deal a significant blow to the international community’s battle against terrorism. Expecting to get away with each and every action based on goodwill is more self-serving than it is naïve. While it may sound harsh, most Japanese are far too ignorant and self-righteous on issues concerning international conflicts and terrorism.

There was an incident in the past when a Chechen militarist group took a British reporter hostage and demanded a ransom of several million dollars to the British government. Although the amount was insignificant for a country, with consent from the family the British government refused to meet their demands. The incident ended in tragedy, but this response had the effect of declaring to the world that terrorists will gain nothing by kidnapping British nationals. Thus British nationals were made safe from terrorists worldwide.

Similarly in Russia, more than 800 spectators at a theater were taken hostage by Chechen terrorists. In that incident, the terrorists demanded that Russian forces withdraw from the Republic of Chechnya. The Russian government turned down the demand and took a determined response that resulted in the deaths of 130 innocent people. Even so, not only did the Russian people accept this distressful result but governments around the world showed their support and gratitude for the response taken by the Russian government. Bracing for the possible sacrifice in human lives and upholding the cardinal rule of the international community, the Russian government averted the recurrence of similar incidents not only in its own country but in the world at large.

Considering that the British government refused to pay a ransom of only a few million dollars, it is out of the question for the Japanese government to surrender to terrorism and bend its national policy by pulling the Self Defense Forces out of Iraq. Needless to say, every possible avenue should be explored in an effort to free the hostages without giving in to terrorism.

If Japan buckled under and agreed to compromise, many more Japanese around the world become targets of terrorism in the future. While a compromise may seem humanitarian at first glance, it would on the contrary generate victims numbering several times more in magnitude and is in fact far more inhuman.

It was precisely because they were aware of this cold reasoning that both the British and Russian governments made their agonizing decision not to succumb to terrorism and the families of hostages went along, albeit with gut-wrenching feelings. It is very difficult for the Japanese to respond likewise. We are prone to respond to the situation at hand only at an emotional level, and lack the realistic logical reasoning and imagination needed to consider the true nature of humanitarianism. This is a problem that is not limited to the hostage issue but is deeply related to the international perception and awareness of national security demonstrated by the Japanese in the post-World War II era.

While hoping with all sincerity that the three Japanese hostages will be saved, I have made points that are seldom expressed in the hope that it may prevent a recurrence and provoke the Japanese into giving serious thought to basic political issues.

The writer is Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University. The commentary first appeared in the Sankei Shimbun newspaper on April 14, before the hostages were freed.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

袴田茂樹 / 青山学院大学教授

2004年 5月 20日









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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Self-Righteousness in the Name of Goodwill – Hostage Incident Highlights Absence of Logical Reasoning