The Irony about Japan's Support for the War Effort in Afghanistan
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
Ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, Japan's name has been used over and over again in analogous terms as Americans desperately try to draw some kind of connection between painful experiences of the past and the present day tragedy. Immediately after the attack comparisons with Pearl Harbor were drawn and memories of this attack flooded the headlines. The latest comparison involving Japan was put forth by famous American military historian Stephen Ambrose who was quoted in the Washington Post on October 12 comparing the fighting in Afghanistan with the battles for Iwojima and Okinawa. He described how Japanese soldiers endured American bombardments in 1945 by hiding in the caves and tunnels created by volcanoes. "We hit those islands with the biggest bombardment ever, we just blasted them so there wasn't a blade of grass standing," he said. "But it had virtually no effect on the Japanese defenders. That is going to be one of the characteristics of whatever combat we're going to get into in Afghanistan."
Whether appropriate or not, such analogies do little to help Japan overcome its wartime past and tend to overshadow the extreme lengths to which it is going in order to be able to contribute in a visible fashion to the US military campaign. Nevertheless, Japanese politicians continued relentlessly this week in their effort to 'show the flag' and convince the world that Japan is a serious and dependable ally in times of war. As LDP diet members continued to try and push through the anti-terrorism bill introduced last week that aims to send armed Japanese SDF overseas for the first time since WWII, PM Koizumi was busy convincing China that it would act responsibly. According to the Singapore Strait Times (Mary Kwang, October 10) Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji gave subtle endorsement for Japan's provision of non-combatant support, however, warned that "any expansion by the Japanese defense forces should be considered in a circumspect manner."
Japan also pledged another 240 million yen ($2 billion) in emergency aid to Tajikistan on Friday (October 12, Reuters), to help it cope with Afghan refugees fleeing US bombardment. This was in addition to the $40 million dollars it gave to Pakistan for agreeing to host US troops attacking its neighbor. In the meantime Japanese ships and supplies reached their destinations and have now become active contributors to the US led war effort.
Ironically, on October 11th as bombs continued to drop on Afghanistan, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, stood high and accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace on behalf of his organization. Ironic because this was the very organization, that in close cooperation with Japan, sponsored peace negotiations between warring Afghani parties during 1998 and 2000. Until recently Japan assailed itself as a neutral actor and was intensely engaged in the Afghani peace effort. In fact, between March 9-19 it hosted Taliban and anti-Taliban factions to discuss a wide-range of issues including terrorism (more details can be found on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs web page www.mofa.go.jp). However, over the past month not one word has been said about such peace initiatives, nothing about their failures or their achievements. In their stead, the Japanese government has endorsed US attacks and has eagerly sought to participate in the military option. Meanwhile UN diplomats have collected their peace prize.
- Mary Qwang, " TO CHINA WAR VICTIMS: Koizumi Says Sorry," Singapore Straits Times, October 10, 2001
- "Japan pledges $2 million in aid to Tajikistan," Reuters, October 12, 2001
- "Government to provide 240 million yen worth of aid to Tajikistan," Daily Yomiuri, October 12, 2001
- The Associated Press, "Historian Compares Battles to War," The Washington Post, October 12, 2001