Written by Susumu Imaizumi* and Translated by Aki Tanaka**
What Could Happen in Africa
The primary victims of the Japanese government’s recently adopted “right to collective self-defense” will be neither Japanese nor people of East Asian countries. I explained in Part Two of this article the reasons behind my observation regarding this matter. In fact, within the framework of the law there is a high probability that African civilians will be killed at the hands of Japanese armed forces, possibly because of East Asian politics. Is this acceptable? If the political tension had not escalated among East Asian countries, Japan would not have developed this law in the first place (e.g. Swenson-Wright, 2014), and now these regional politics are influencing the African continent.
According to Taylor and Walsh (2014), the Japanese government needed some way to maintain and develop their armed forces and chose the option of international peace operations to gain public support. However, there is a major problem: Japan and its people have not fully realized how this involvement could lead to national and international chaos. As long as the Japanese Defense Forces are deployed to foreign lands, especially under an ambiguous national law, there is always a possibility of “humanitarian war crimes” (Global Research, 2009) or humanitarian violence. Militaristic violence in the name of humanitarian ethics implies the violence is acceptable when it is not (Atanosoki, 2013).
The problem is that the culture of humanitarianism in 21st century Japan has mostly been one-sided and passive (Gray, 2011). Awareness and knowledge of non-Western matters mostly comes from Western or international societies, and are passed down to the national level, then the information and interpretations are transmitted to the Japanese public from the government. That is why the public often overlooks diverse ways to understand local occurrences, and has no choice but to accept perspectives provided by others. Passivity and ambiguity in one’s stance often bring about a sense of otherness in people, accompanied by borrowed modest heroism that may not even help the local conditions in non-western countries, in this case Africa. Furthermore, otherness can easily lead to discrimination or an escalation of violence. Abuses of human rights, ironically protected by the ethics of humanitarianism, leave people with more confusion and result in violent uprising and more (e.g. Mahar, 2014).
If Japanese residents have accurate knowledge of what their government and its defense forces are carrying out in foreign lands, there will be a way to monitor and avoid humanitarian war crimes, at least some levels. Japanese war crimes during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II should have taught Japanese residents, including the generations born after those conflicts, a sense of responsibility in national actions. These past wars may be central to the Japanese residents’ decision to distance themselves from the government in the first place. However, disconnecting themselves more or less completely from their national past, present, and future does not bring about anything but repetition of painful history. Next time, it could be of global magnitude, considering the situation in Africa. During World War II, many local residents and organizations suffered emotionally from being unable to stop the war and the war crimes. We should not repeat that same mistake.
The passing of Theodore Van Kirk at the age of 93 in July reminds us that people who can personally speak of the history of WWII are leaving this world (Chawkins, 2014). This may be the reason why the present international society, surely including Japan, is repeating its power conflicts and the history of violence. Van Kirk was the last surviving member of the B-29 crew which dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, three days before one was dropped on Nagasaki. It is now up to us, the offspring, to remember the painful past and move forward as much as we can. For that, a willingness to know and learn the reality of foreign lands becomes essential. Every country and culture seeks international recognition, and some people choose violence to achieve such results because they find their existence and identities are in extreme danger. Violence never sets violence free, in my opinion, and only respect, understanding, and communication can engender lasting co-existence.
Unfortunately, the involvement of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in African countries is growing day by day. As I described earlier, the deployment of Japanese troops to South Sudan and Somalia makes the reality of Japan’s deeper and more reckless involvement in African affairs more imminent (e.g. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 2014a, 2014b). Furthermore, the Japanese government’s peace operations could also target North African countries because post-revolutionary terrorism has frequently occurred there. In Egypt, the youth who encouraged the 2011 Egyptian revolution “are now jailed for defending democracy and human rights,” says Mahar (2014). Therefore, the community is once again unstable and in a confused situation.
In recent times, the extreme use or misinterpretation of jihad and dawah has spread in North Africa, according to Gartenstein-Ross (2013). Jihad in Islam generally means “struggles,” which can be interpreted that Muslims may encounter hardships by being surrounded by other believers. However, extremists understand the word as the need for increasing missionary preaching, dawah, or fighting non-Muslims by exploiting violence. An example of so-called religious violence has also been found in Tunisia, the birthplace of the so-called Arab Spring (Wolf, 2014). Chokri Belaid, a left-wing politician, was assassinated on February 6, 2013.
North African countries are not the only locations affected; but Nigeria in West Africa has also been in the news frequently because of the previously described Boko Haram terrorist activities (Imaizumi, 2014a). Growing tension and actions have started to awaken Japanese interests in African issues (e.g. Imaizumi, 2014); however, is Japan ready to ease into such matters without fully learning the local realities?
Once again, if Japanese citizens are not attentive to their government’s performance, they will realize too late that they have once again become involved with national bloodshed, as happened in East Asia before. Then, their general consideration of Africa as “a far away continent” will not adequately justify it. There is an urgent need to rethink and understand the Japanese government’s involvement in Africa.
Being an undergraduate student in African Studies, I still have much to learn. Nevertheless, I cannot overlook the possibility of Japanese armed forces taking African lives, and I cannot quietly let go of this possibility of violence and slaughter. Within global dynamics, Africans have historically been the most oppressed and marginalized of people. The people on the periphery are always the ones who are directly impacted by the bitterness of the world’s wrongdoings and tragedies.
Once again, African countries can easily be listed as Japanese deployment zones, partly from lack of information and knowledge about the continent on the part of the Japanese. We all know how dangerous this situation can turn out to be. As the past in Asia has shown us, the culture of misjudgment, discrimination, and war can develop quickly and deeply when people’s willingness to know is not nurtured. The recent implementation of the Special Secrecy Law in Japan even makes us think that national and international administrations intend to use public unawareness to establish a much more firm chain of command worldwide. People at the local level turning a blind eye to national, international, and global matters will lead to tragedy, and the residents of Japan should know better.
It is heartbreaking to think that the Japanese “right to collective self-defense” will, first of all, take soldiers from the social periphery of their own country. Second, it will put people’s lives in danger, especially if the armed forces and the public do not fully understand the reality of the deployment zones. Moreover, globally marginalized and historically oppressed populations will account for the largest number of victims. That is why it is extremely important to engage in discussions about the recent political shifts in Japan and assess their potential impact on African security and stability.
The field of worldwide peace education also needs adjustments. We, as the second and third generations after World War II, should look harder at the facts in the past, correctly learn their history, and create alternatives by seeing and learning about the world. Collaborating with people instead of opposing each other is also essential. Cultural and historical understandings are the key to finding alternatives. Quickly judging a situation and fighting against it will further complicate world politics. Who suffers the most? It is the people.
This edited article was written by Susumu Imaizumi, primarily for a Japanese audience. It was first published in the Huffington Post in association with the Asahi Shimbun on July 4, 2014, from a reprinted piece of Imaizumi’s personal blog and travelogue, Africa Saruku Kikou.
*Susumu Imaizumi is a columnist for the Nagasaki Newspaper and a student at Osaka University School of Foreign Studies. He is majoring in African History and Swahili. His present research is on African slavery in Nagasaki, Japan, during the Edo Period (1603-1868).
**Aki Tanaka is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership at Ohio University. She has a master’s degree in African Studies, focusing on anthropology.
Acknowledgement: The BLF editorial team, Andrea Johannes and Patricia Black.
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Taylor, J., & Walsh, M. E. (2014, January 7). UN operations in Africa provide a mechanism for Japan’s military normalization agenda. The National Bureau of Asian Research. Retrieved from http://www.nbr.org/research/activity.aspx?id=392
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 This terminology was used for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. “More than 80 % of NATO’s bombardments were directed at civilian targets, residential areas, work places, clinics and schools,” according to Global Research: Centre for Research on Globalization (2009, para. 1). There is no assurance that humanitarian and peacekeeping missions performed by the Japanese Defense Forces would be different.