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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:31 03/09/2007
Debate: Comment (July 11, 2002)

Comment on "Japanese Perceptions and Reactions to Terrorism"

Juli Schwartz (University of Southern California, USA

It is worth pointing out that questions about the precise definition of and appropriate response to terrorism are not just confusing the Japanese these days (if indeed they have not duly labeled members of the Aum cult as terrorists). These issues are being taken up in much more heated fashion on US soil, in no small part due to the quick succession of executive, legislative and judicial shuffles (the latter the most troubling from a civil liberties perspective) that have taken place--at least experimentally--since the September attacks.

Having said that, reality certainly belies the ostensible uniformity of Japanese views on the subject. Recorded public opinion on terrorism may strike Americans as surprisingly nonchalant, but as Mr. McCarty intimates in his article, bubbling just underneath the surface of Japan's smooth social fabric are myriad and diffuse opinions, fears, perspectives, values, etc (a problem Japan observers like Patrick Smith treat with considerable cynicism). Furthermore, many would acknowledge that Japan's social complexion is changing and along with it, norms and sensitivities; depending on one's orientation, these shifts signal either transition or crisis.

With respect to the September attacks specifically, Japan's almost biblical relationship with the US in the postwar period must be read as a subtext to Japanese reactions. America is Japan's friend, ally and protector of course, but she is also an overbearing bully, a competitor and a reminder of past humiliation.

Finally, given the two issues discussed just previously--i.e. social or ideological diversity in Japan and US-Japanese relations, I cannot help but take some issue with the notion that "postwar, pacifist ideology," will not face significant challenges in the future. There are voices in Japan that are calling for a return to "normalcy;" that is, they believe Japan has outgrown the peace constitution foisted upon her by the United States half a century ago, and that like any sovereign nation, she must reclaim responsibility for her own national defense.

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