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From Sword to Chrysanthemum Japan’s Culture of Anti-militarism Thomas U.Berger T h e end of the Cold War and the phenomenal increase in Japan’s economic and technological power put Japan today in the position to become, i f it chooses, a military as well as economic superpower. The diminution of the Soviet threat and the increasing U.S. preoccupation with domestic problems give Japan a latitude for independent action it has not had since the end of World War 11. At the same time the U.S.-Japanese security alliance, which has enabled Japan to adopt a minimalist approach to defense and national security, is being weakened by ideologicallycharged trade and other economicfrictionsand a growing American perception of Japan as a threat to its interests.’ Moreover, in the long run Japan faces the prospect of having to deal with other rising regional powers, most notably the People’s Republicof China. This changing international security environment thus raises question whether Japan, having become an economic rival of the United States, may not in the future become a military competitor as well; whether, afterhaving adopted a pacifist stance for half a century, Japan may choose to unsheathe its sword once again2 Thomas U. Berger is a Fellow at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. He wrote this article while a fellow at the Olin Institute, Harvard University. The author would like to express his appreciation to Masashi Nishihara, SeizaburoSato, and Yoshihide Soeya, as well as to three anonymous readers at International Security, for their helpful comments and suggestions. 1. Among those who see Japan as a threat is the so-called revisionist school of Japan experts, including Chalmers Johnson, “Their Behavior, Our Policy,” The National Interest, No. 17 (Fall 1989);Clyde Prestowitz, Trading Places (New York Basic Books, 1989);JamesFallows, ”Containing Japan,” Atlantic, Vol. 263, No. 5 (May 1989); Karel Van Wolferen, The Enigma of Japanese Power: People and Politics in a Stateless Nation (New York: Knopf, 1990); and Pat Choate, Agents of Inpuence (New York: Knopf, 1990). American public opinion is also moving towards a more negative view of Japan; according to a February 1992 TimeslMirror poll, 31 percent of those surveyed now view Japan as the country that presents the greatest danger to the United States. SeeWilliam Watts, ”JapanFocusof America’s Worst Fears,” TheJapanTimes,July 15, 1992, p. 21, for a review of recent surveys. 2. SeeGeorgeFriedmanand MeredithLebard, TheComing Warwith Japan(NewYork:St. Martin’s Press, 1991). See also Simon Winchester, Pacific Nightmare: A Third World War in the Far East (London: Sidgwick and Hamson, 1992). Such concerns can be seen in the recently leaked Pentagon report which emphasized that the United States must remain actively engaged in International Security, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Spring1993) Q 1993by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the MassachusettsInstitute of Technology. 229 International Security 17:4 I120 In this article I argue that such fears are largely misplaced and that in the short to medium term it is unlikely that Japan will seek to become a major military power, The primary reason for Japan’s reluctance to do so is not to be found in any structural factor, such as a high degree of dependence on trade or the absence of any potential securitythreats, but rather is attributable to Japan’s postwar culture of anti-militarism. This anti-militarism is one of the most strikingfeatures of contemporary Japanesepolitics and has its roots in collective Japanese memories of the militarist takeover in the 1930s and the subsequent disastrous decision to go to war with America. The chief lessonJapanhas drawn from these experiencesis that the military is a dangerous institution that must be constantly restrained and monitored lest it threaten Japan’s postwar democratic order and undermine the peace and prosperity that the nation has enjoyed since 1945. This particular view of the military has become institutionalized in the Japanese political system and not only is supported by Japanese public opinion, but to a surprising degree is shared by large segments of Japan’s political and economic elites as well. Japan’s culture of anti-militarism originally developed under the aegis of a benevolent U.S. hegemon during...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 119-150
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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