The Yomiuri ShimbunThe Reiwa era’s first anniversary of the end of World War II has arrived. How can global peace be secured in this new era? The anniversary day should be used as an opportunity to ponder anew lessons from the war amid the “nation first” strategy that has become stronger around the world.
The government-sponsored national memorial service for the war dead is held at Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, with the Emperor, who was enthroned in May, and the Empress attending.
As many as 3.1 million people lost their lives in the war. Japan has pursued the path of a pacifist nation over the 74 years since the war’s end while seriously accepting the ravages of war. This perception will not change even as the era has changed.
The attendance of the Emperor and the Empress, who do not have direct experience of war, reflects the passing of an era. It can be felt that the era in which those who experienced this war of the Showa era talk about it is coming to an end.
This makes it all the more necessary to make Reiwa an era in which the history of the war continues to be told and research on the war is deepened.
Japan once took a wrong course and recklessly rushed headlong on the path to war, ending up with destruction. The factors contributing to this have been studied from various angles.
In his book “Senzen Nihon no Popyurizumu” (Populism of prewar Japan), Kiyotada Tsutsui focused on populism as one factor that led Japan to go to war with the United States.
Yosuke Matsuoka, a diplomat-turned-politician, declared Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933, accelerating Japan’s isolation from the world. Fumimaro Konoe, who was prime minister when the Japan-China war broke out in 1937, allowed the expansion of battlefronts by the military.
These politicians were populists who worked toward gaining popularity among the people. They played a central role also in the 1940 establishment of the tripartite alliance involving Japan, Germany and Italy. Germany was advancing into other European countries at that time and the atmosphere also prevailing among the populace then was “don’t miss the bus.”
Without being dragged down by populism, it is imperative to analyze international affairs with a cool head based on accurate information and work out a strategy to meet the national interest. It can be said that the importance for this has been conveyed to the present day.
In his book “Keizaigakusha-tachi no Nichibei Kaisen” (Economists and the outbreak of the Japan-U.S. war) that won this year’s Yomiuri Yoshino Sakuzo Prize, Kuniaki Makino presents a new perspective as to reasons why Japan opted to start a war with the United States in 1941.
There was a difference of overwhelming national power between the two countries, so even if Japan could hold out on a short-term basis, it would fall into a difficult situation when it became a prolonged battle over a few years. Japanese leaders also knew this reality. The same analysis was also presented by economists in a report for the Imperial Japanese Army.
Makino’s book pointed out that the reasons for Japan deciding on the war despite these things was not only its spiritualism, but also the human psychology of choosing the possibility of breaking a deadlock even at a low probability rather than maintaining the status quo.
Even if there is accurate information, the right choice will not necessarily be made. This is also a lesson from history.
The postwar international order has been heavily shaken. It has been pointed out that the current situation in which each country prioritizes its own interests is similar to that of the 1930s when the world headed toward WWII.
U.S. President Donald Trump rejects the role of the United States as “the world’s police,” showing his negative attitude toward maintaining multinational cooperation systems.
In Europe, which has been promoting integration since the end of WWII, populism calling for the rejection of immigrants is spreading out of concern about terrorism and instability to people’s livelihoods. Britain has been mired in confusion over Brexit.
The change in major countries that have supported the so-called free world is a large concern for fellow member Japan.
Meanwhile, China has been rapidly rising, posing an increased threat under authoritarian politics, such as by promoting the militarization of the South China Sea. Together with Russia, which annexed Crimea, China has strengthened its stance not to shy away from “changing the status quo by force.”
The administration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, giving no consideration to the Agreement on the Settlement of Problems Concerning Property and Claims and on Economic Cooperation that Japan and South Korea concluded by overcoming the differences in each other’s positions, will not try to stop the worsening bilateral relationship with Japan.
What is sought for Japan is to correctly analyze the constantly changing global situation and make the right choice.
To do so, Japan’s ability to execute its foreign policies is tested more than ever.
Japan’s postwar foreign policies have been based on the Japan-U.S. alliance and centered on the United Nations. To prevent war from happening, it is indispensable to maintain an international cooperation system based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
Sometimes, Japan will be required to take active action, such as by calling on friendly countries, including the United States, and taking the initiative in multinational negotiations.
It is important to create an environment in which countries can mutually trust each other through respect for international law comprising, among other things, treaties, international agreements and common law.