If you’re a pacifist, it helps if everyone else is too
That’s the hard lesson Japan’s Prime Minister is learning:
When Islamic State militants posted a video over the weekend showing the grisly killing of a Japanese journalist, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reacted with outrage, promising “to make the terrorists pay the price.”
Such vows of retribution may be common in the West when leaders face extremist violence, but they have been unheard of in confrontation-averse Japan — until now. The prime minister’s call for revenge after the killings of the journalist, Kenji Goto, and another hostage, Haruna Yukawa, raised eyebrows even in the military establishment, adding to a growing awareness here that the crisis could be a watershed for this long pacifist country.
“Japan has not seen this Western-style expression in its diplomacy before,” Akihisa Nagashima, a former vice minister of defense, wrote on Twitter. “Does he intend to give Japan the capability to back up his words?”
Japan has been a pacifist country by declaration, pretty much forced into that position by the United States after WWII. But Japan, if its history is any indication, isn’t a pacifist country by tradition.
And, of course, it is easier to be a “pacifist” nation when you’re essentially protected by GreatPower. Japan has enjoyed that luxury for almost 70 years.
That’s enough time to begin to believe you can be a pacifist nation and survive. But, as the title indicates, that’s a dream reality won’t support unless certain unlikely conditions are sought. It’s a bit like demanding that guns be banned with the belief that if law abiding citizens are prohibited from carrying weapons, criminals too will refrain from using them. Or unilateral nuclear disarmament. If you destroy your nukes, well, the other guy has an huge bit of leverage hasn’t he?
No country today can afford to be “pacifist” in this world. Those organizations and countries like ISIS would love that. It would be like a homeowner putting a sign in their window that says “this is a gun free house”. Why not send an engraved invitation to those who look for situations like that to criminally exploit?
Like most ideals, while nice to contemplate and certainly wonderful to wish for, reality simply doesn’t look kindly on unrealistic ideals nor does it deal gently with those who try to practice them foolishly.
Japan is emerging from a long sleep in which they were able to indulge themselves in their dream. But with China rattling sabers and looking at least regionally expansionist, North Korea in the hands of a mad man and the US showing little or no leadership nor inclination to back Japan like it has in the past — dreamtime is over.
It’s time for them to embrace the suck and do what is necessary to survive and thrive in it.