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

On My Mind - Seventy Years Since World War II
HIRAYAMA Kentaro / Journalist

October 6, 2015
Seventy years have passed since Japan surrendered to the Allies, thus ending World War II. And in the space of these seventy years, Japan has not fought a single war. This can be attributed to the good fortune that the "deterrence" – nuclear umbrella – provided by the US under the Japan-US Security Treaty, and Japan's war-renouncing pacifist pledge exemplified by Article 9 of its Constitution, functioned as two sides of the same coin, or through the skillful use of one or the other depending on the circumstances.

However, the past seventy years have been nothing but a peaceful period for the world. The "Cold War" between the US and the Soviet Union, which began almost as soon as the world war had ended, was maintained through a "balance of terror" based on nuclear weapons and never flared up into a "hot war." Instead, there was prolonged warfare in Korea and Vietnam that took on the character of a proxy war between the two superpowers, followed by an unending series of armed conflict in Africa and the Middle East caused by various factors, of which some have continued to this day. Beginning with the Vietnam War, I covered many of those battlefields as a TV correspondent.

In mid-July, only a day after a multilateral accord on restricting Iranian nuclear development was announced, the government of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo forced a vote on the national security bills through parliament, which has become the topic of heated debate. Allow me to make a sudden change of course here, and turn the clock back to 1980, the halfway point in time in the "seventy years after World War II." It was the year in which western nations including Japan boycotted the Moscow Olympics and Saddam Hussein's Iraq launched a surprise attack against Iran in a war that would drag on for the next eight years.

The boycott of the Olympics was explained as a protest against Soviet intervention in the civil war in Afghanistan that began at the end of the previous year. Meanwhile, the main motive behind the Iraqi attack on Iran lay in Saddam's fear that the rise to power of radical Shi'ite political factions under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Iran could spill over to Iraq and lead to a revolt by its Shia majority. America severed its diplomatic ties with Iran following a hostage crisis in Tehran in which the US embassy was besieged by a group of radical Islamists that held diplomatic staff hostage for 444 days. When seen in this context, we could say that both the Iraqi attack on Iran and Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan were triggered by the Iranian Revolution and the subsequent "power vacuum" created by the downfall of the US-backed Pahlavi dynasty, which once boasted of being the "Guardian of the Persian Gulf."

The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan lasted nine years and became known as the "Soviet Union's Vietnam War," draining its national resources and sapping morale, and ultimately leading to the end of the Cold War and the unraveling of the USSR itself. In the Iran-Iraq War, US and French support for Iraq became conspicuous toward the end, resulting in frequent terrorist incidents in Lebanon such as suicide bombings and kidnappings by Shi'ite groups targeting the military staff and civilians of these two powers. There was a time when Islamist terrorism was almost exclusively associated with Shi'ites. I think we should give greater recognition to the fact that apart from military attacks against Israel by Lebanon's Hezbollah, Shi'ite terrorism of this kind have all but disappeared since the end of the Iran-Iraq War. Keeping within the limits of revenge against violations of their domain is a characteristic of Shi'ite terrorism. On the other hand, "volunteer soldiers" from Sunni nations who took part in anti-Soviet guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan at the time received CIA support, and in the wake of the Gulf War of 1991, some of them have gone on to become core members of Al Qaeda and Islamic State (IS).

While guerrilla warfare and terrorist attacks during the first half of the "seventy years after World War II” were founded on ultra-leftist "ideology" and radical "nationalism," in the latter half, they were inspired by the "Islamic Jihadist movement" that transcends nationality and ethnicity, and have characteristically spread through the use of information technology. Let me offer some words on the course Japan should take and on aspects that require care, specifically with respect to these issues.

On July 14, the five UN Security Council member countries and Germany reached a final agreement with Iran on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action aimed at limiting Iranian nuclear development and lifting economic sanctions. Japan should recognize this achievement and offer its cooperation in attaining its goals. To be sure, there are plenty of outstanding issues by the standards of advanced western countries, such as the enormous authority - including the right to veto - held by supreme religious leader Ali Khamenei, and strict limitations placed on freedom of speech and association. However, Iran's national integrity remains intact, and it shares much with western countries in its stance against the Islamic State (IS). Paying due respect to US President Barack Obama's somewhat apologetic explanation to the effect that the accord was "not built on trust, but on verification," I will be carefully following his negotiations with Congress, which is expected to take a winding path. I would also like to express my understanding and support for Mr. Obama's unspoken hope of seeking Middle East peace and a peaceful resolution to the Syrian situation, and of mitigating the conflict between Sunnis and Shi'ites throughout the Middle East and the Gulf region by improving America's relationship with Iran.

As expected, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the US Republican Party, which is opposed to President Obama's policies, have reacted by criticizing the accord as the "worst possible deal." They have taken the stance of vociferously claiming Iran to be a threat, while forcefully expanding the exploitation of land and construction of settlements in Israeli-occupied territory in disregard of international law. Even Jewish voters in the US have grown increasingly critical of this stance. The Japanese government should firmly maintain its position of supporting the self-determination of the Palestinian people and the creation of a self-sustaining Palestinian state. When Prime Minister Abe spoke out on the issue of the Japanese journalist who was kidnapped by the IS and who eventually died a tragic death, he did so during his visit to Israel, appealing to the TV cameras for the need to combat terrorism as he stood beside Prime Minister Netanyahu. Although the timing and location may have been coincidental, I was disturbed by the poor judgment. In the upcoming discussion on defense, I hope he pays closer attention to the context, particularly when making references to the Hormuz Strait.

Kentaro Hirayama is a member of the Editorial Staff of “The Arab” quarterly magazine, and former NHK Executive Commentator.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

平山 健太郎 / ジャーナリスト

2015年 10月 6日








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