Japanese Troops in Iraq

“We, the Japanese people, acting through our duly elected representatives in the National Diet, determined that we shall secure for ourselves and our posterity the fruits of peaceful cooperation with all nations and the blessings of liberty throughout this land, and resolved that never again shall we be visited with the horrors of war through the action of government, do proclaim that sovereign power resides with the people and do firmly establish this Constitution. Government is a sacred trust of the people, the authority for which is derived from the people, the powers of which are exercised by the representatives of the people, and the benefits of which are enjoyed by the people. This is a universal principle of mankind upon which this Constitution is founded. We reject and revoke all constitutions, laws ordinances, and rescripts in conflict herewith. We, the Japanese people, desire peace for all time and are deeply conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship and we have determined to preserve our security and existence, trusting in the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world. We desire to occupy an honored place in an international society striving for the preservation of peace, and the banishment of tyranny and slavery, oppression and intolerance for all time from the earth. We recognize that all peoples of the world have the right to live in peace, free from fear and want. We believe that no nation is responsible to itself alone, but that laws of political morality are universal; and that obedience to such laws is incumbent upon all nations who would sustain their own sovereignty and justify their sovereign relationship with other nations. We, the Japanese people, pledge our national honor to accomplish these high ideals and purposes with all our resources.

– Greatly-debated preface of The Constitution of Japan
(emphasis is mine)

“Today, based on the Law Concerning Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq, the Cabinet has decided to dispatch the Self Defense Forces (SDF) to Iraq, in order to engage in humanitarian and reconstruction assistance activities in Iraq.”

– Junichiro Koizumi, Prime Minister of Japan
(from press conference on Dec. 9th, 2003 )

It’s hard to imagine the kind of weight riding on the shoulders of the advance party for the JGSDF (Japan Ground Self-Defense Force), as well as the troops that will follow them – there’s just so much controversy and media coverage (more here). Ironically, the tight-lipped policy of the GSDF may be fueling speculation and demand for fresh info regarding the troops. I wish them well. Whether you are for or against the decision to send them, I hope you can wish for their success and well-being. Because there are people who definitely want them to fail.
From the coverage I’ve seen on the Japanese news channels, it seems there are a lot of those who want to yank the troops if they suffer any casualties at all. The sheer idiocy of this thinking is beyond commenting on and Shigeru Ishiba, chief of the Defense Agency recently stated that the troops would not be pulled if targeted by terrorists. This is because self-defense against terrorist attack is not considered an act of war and is therefore compliant with the Humanitarian Relief and Iraqi Reconstruction Special Measures Law .
Chief Ishiba’s announcement is comforting because one of the the worst possible scenarios in my mind is if the mission were hobbled by beaurocracy from the start. Yes, this is a controversial subject and the first deployment of Japanese troops to a warzone since WWII probably stirs up mixed feelings in everybody, regardless of political orientation. I for one initially felt kind of strange seeing the Hinomaru (rising sun) badges on armed soldiers in a foreign land. The dark, shameful parts of Japan’s past history are to blame for these feelings. The Japanese people around me say much the same, and perhaps there are unspoken feelings of shame to the extent that I have never personally met an outspoken supporter of this troop deployment. If so, this is a shame, but I can understand it in this cultural context. (For those who do not know my background, I am an American working at a major electronics manufacturer in Japan.) I have asked around my workplace and the general consensus here is that the Japanese support the troop deployment but there are many reservations regarding the safety of the troops, as well as the political motivation behind the deployment.
The first concern, regarding safety, is of course valid. These are soldiers going to assist in potentially hostile areas, and I suspect they will seem like soft targets to terrorists. And let us not forget the brave souls who have already sacrificed their lives for the greater good there (BTW, their murderers are still unknown). Rules of engagement to be followed by GSDF troops are a concern and have not been made clear, although there are interesting bits here (very unspecific regarding this point but worth reading) and here (suspicious source but comments are interesting). While there is undeniable risk in this troop deployment, I think the benefits to be gained by this action greatly outweigh them. I say this because there will be positive effects for US-Japan relations, (and in time, perhaps for the collective Japanese psyche or national identity as well) as a direct result of Japan putting troops on the ground.
Regarding the political motivation, I profess my ignorance, but I always get the feeling that Koizumi can see the world stage quite clearly while many of his contemporaries don’t even try.
I’d like to share some more interesting links on this issue:
– An Outline of the Basic Plan regarding Response Measures Based on the Law Concerning the Special Measures on Humanitarian and Reconstruction Assistance in Iraq
The Basic Plan in full, PDF format (right click to save to disk) – The outline I linked above is rather anemic and the full version contains figures and specifics that are well worth reading (for example, main GSDF troop force will be limited to 600 men and 200 vehicles – I personally want to see some GSDFMegacruisers lined up with US Army Hummers)
– A statement by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (regarding the Basic Plan)
– The Japan Defense Agency statement regarding the future of Iraq and recent “peace and cooperation” duties performed in the Middle East as well as other major humanitarian relief and reconstruction works
– An announcement regarding Emergency Grant Assistance for Iraq’s Reconstruction (My tax money paying for Iraqi cop cars… That’s much better than it being used to prop up dying Japanese banks!)
(Credit: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

1 thought on “Japanese Troops in Iraq

  1. This morning I had the same strange mix of emotions as I looked at the GSDF soldiers on the front page of the Daily Yomiuri. Best of luck to those doing their duties in Iraq, for it is hard to keep up one’s morale while fellow countrymen talk shit and cling for dear life to poorly thought out ideas and the generic meaningless rhetoric. Like it or not, we’re in a war, and we had better finish what we started or things will be a lot worse for everyone involved (yes, that would make the loss of life in Iraq truly meaningless). BTW, spent a good hour looking at Orson Scott Card’s essays last night- thanks for the link.

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