move to expand the role of its armed forces has left both veterans and
fighting families uneasy in a pacifist country unsure whether a military
that has never fired a bullet in anger is ready for combat.
Since the carnage of World War II, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF)
have been banned from waging any kind of combat beyond defence of the
nation thanks to a US-imposed 1947 constitution.
As a result, Japan’s post war troops have never shot a bullet at an
enemy, or been felled by one in a foreign land -- a track record many
are proud of.
But in September the government of nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
rammed through legislation allowing the nation’s troops to fight abroad.
It caused significant uproar both at home and overseas, especially among
regional neighbours, including China and Korea, which suffered under
Japan’s wartime aggression.
The legislation will give the government the power to send the military
into overseas conflicts to defend allies, even if Japan itself is not
Abe sees an increasingly muscular and flexible military as necessary to
protect against an increasingly powerful China and unpredictable North
But opponents fear the vague wording could see Japan dragged into
far-flung foreign conflicts similar to the US invasions of Iraq or
Afghanistan while regional neighbours who suffered under Japanese
occupation, particularly China and Korea, are incensed.
"When I talked about the issue with my husband, he said he would have to
go wherever if an order was issued. But for family members, it’s an
extremely worrisome development," she added, asking AFP not to use her
name for fear of any backlash.
It would also, she said, embolden Japanese soldiers to protect
themselves if they came under fire during peacekeeping operations.
That means Japanese troops "may have to be deployed close to
battlefields," thereby increasing the risk of losing their lives or
killing others even if they are on logistical support missions, he said.
Whether a sceptical Japanese public -- or the military themselves --
would accept coffins returning home draped in white and red flags
remains to be seen.
"My former colleagues tend to say they can’t simply die for an uncertain
amount of compensation for their families and...for ambiguous causes
with public opinion divided," Takao Izutsu, a 45-year-old former ground
SDF ranger, told AFP.