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

On My Mind - Seventy Years Since World War II
TOMODA Seki / Former Director, Japan Institute of International Affairs

July 20, 2015
Seventy years ago in August 1945, Japan was literally reborn as a liberal democratic country upon its defeat in the Pacific War. For over a decade up to that point, the country had been ruled by a totalitarian and authoritarian regime of hardline militarists, and had embarked on an expansionist adventure symbolized by its invasion of mainland China, which culminated in its showdown with the United States and ultimate defeat. The reborn Japan no longer has the will, nor does it have the capacity, to seek expansion beyond its borders or revert to authoritarian rule within.

Freedom and democracy took root in Japan for two major reasons. One, because it was occupied after its defeat by America, a country that had steadfastly maintained these values since its founding. During the same period after World War II, East Europe and the northern half of the Korean Peninsula were occupied by the Soviet Union and became part of the Communist Bloc, where freedom and individual rights were severely limited.

The second reason, which has gone mostly unrecognized outside Japan, was that the vast majority of Japanese had experienced a sense of liberation in their country’s defeat.

During the war, the militarist regime demanded complete obedience to the government, placed its people under surveillance, and silenced any opposition. The scarcity of food left many Japanese to starve, while much of the resources for daily necessities were sacrificed for the war effort. Moreover, as the U.S. Forces stepped up their air raids across the mainland towards the end of the war, many cities, both large and small, were reduced to dust. The most extreme of these cases were the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As a ten year old who had been evacuated from Tokyo to Hiroshima at the time, I saw with my own eyes the tremendous destruction wrought by mankind’s first use of a nuclear bomb.

While it may have been in the form of defeat, the end of the war came as a relief for most Japanese people. It was amid this sense of liberation that they actively embraced the policies laid out by the U.S. occupational forces that championed freedom and democracy, which were in stark contrast to the oppression they had experienced under the militarist regime.

As it started anew as a democratic nation, Japan decided to focus most of its energy on economic development, instead of building its military power. It kept the ratio of military spending below 1% of GDP – the lowest level in the world – more or less consistently throughout the past seventy years. Japan also developed an earnest interest in contributing to the world as it sought a new sense of national identity. Once its economic development got under way, it poured its resources into Official Development Aid to strengthen the foundations of economic strength among Asian countries. The annual amount of Japanese aid remained at the top of the world until 2000.

Beyond this milestone year marking the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II, Japan will be confronted with many difficult issues arising from the changing international environment, which can be summarized into two major developments - the relative decline in the global influence of the United States and the contrasting rapid rise in Chinese might. China is a colossal country that claims one-fifth of the global population as its own that once wielded overwhelming influence throughout Asia. It is disconcerting to see this country pursuing an apparent quest to reclaim its hegemony in Asia by taking advantage of the gaps created by waning U.S. influence.

In response to these changes in the international environment, Japan must simultaneously meet two requirements. On one hand, it must protect the values of freedom and democracy it has treasured over the past seventy years by avoiding the path of militarization and firmly staying its course as a peace seeker. On the other hand, it must also prevent an expansion in Chinese hegemony, especially its maritime hegemony, which is posing a new threat to Japan’s national security. The most realistic course would be to construct a new, mutually beneficial mechanism incorporating the strength of its ally, the United States.

The Japan-U.S. alliance that was forged after Japan’s defeat seventy years’ ago was sustained by a mechanism in which Japan provided bases for the U.S. Forces while the U.S. provided protection for Japan. And it was maintained under the international environment of a Cold War between East and West. Today, the very nature of this mechanism appears to have reached a turning point.

Seki Tomoda is former Director of the Japan Institute of International Affairs.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

友田 錫 / 元日本国際問題研究所所長 

2015年 7月 20日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > On My Mind - Seventy Years Since World War II