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2014年8月16日 (土)

(社説)戦後69年の言葉 祈りと誓いのその先へ

August 15, 2014
EDITORIAL: Japan needs meaningful language, not demagogic words, to discuss Aug. 15
(社説)戦後69年の言葉 祈りと誓いのその先へ

On the first Saturday of August, a demonstration was staged in Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s most vibrant shopping areas, where demonstrators repeatedly shouted, “Senso hantai” (No war), under a blazing sun.

Over the past 69 years, we have been able to safely assume that when Japanese talk about war, they most likely refer to the world war that ended on Aug. 15, 1945, with Japan’s defeat. When that is not the case, we have been able to say that the topic is probably a tragic incident that is happening somewhere outside Japan.

On July 1, however, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe formally decided to change the government’s interpretation of the Constitution to make it possible for Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense. As a result, war is no longer something that happened in the distant past or that can only happen far away from this nation.


There was no national consensus on the radical security policy change. We neither heard the government make a convincing case for supporting the move nor received a request from the government for our opinions about the policy shift.

Japan has been transformed from a country that never fights a war to a country that can go to war. This has been done by a limited number of people who have used far-fetched arguments to unilaterally change the way the government interprets certain words and discusses certain issues.

The speeches Abe delivered on Aug. 6 in Hiroshima and on Aug. 9 in Nagasaki, two special dates and places for Japan and humankind, were almost identical to his addresses at the same occasions last year. Not only that, he gave the cold shoulder to an atomic bomb survivor who told him that his argument for collective self-defense was not convincing. The prime minister bluntly replied, “It’s just a matter of opinion.”

When significant differences in opinions arise about important issues, politicians should provide explanations to narrow the gaps with the public.

Abe, however, failed to make such efforts concerning either the state secrets protection law or the issue of Japan’s collective self-defense. After the decisions were made and the actions were taken, he just repeated that he would make efforts to win public support for these controversial policy initiatives through explanations.

Abe doesn’t even try to conceal his contempt for the people with whom sovereign power resides.

The estimated average life expectancies of Japanese men and women in the year the war ended with Japan’s defeat were 23.9 and 37.5 years, respectively. Now, the various valuable things this nation obtained at huge costs are being threatened.

How has Japan drifted to such a situation?

An essay written by philosopher Shunsuke Tsurumi and published in 1946 offers some insights. It was titled “Kotoba no Omamori-teki Shiyoho ni Tsuite” (About the talismanic use of words).

“As long as politicians try to appeal to popular opinion with speeches and gobbledegook full of talismanic words without explaining their opinions in clear, concrete terms while the people readily adapt themselves to the astute way the politicians use talismanic words without trying to figure out what they really mean in a cool-headed manner, as long as this convention continues, the possibility remains that the kind of shady politics that was seen during the wartime will revive in some years.”


Talismanic words here mean words used by the powers that be in a demagogic manner or by ordinary people to protect themselves. Examples of such words used during the war are “kokutai” (national polity), “hakko ichiu” (the whole world under one roof) and “yokusan” (supporting the imperial rule). After the end of the war, these words were replaced by “democracy” and “freedom,” which were imported from the United States.

Using such words without knowing what they exactly mean is making what Tsurumi called “talismanic use” of words.

Words that are originally intended as mere rhetorical flourishes gradually acquire influence while being frequently used and eventually become so powerful that they can be used effectively to silence criticism. There was, for instance, a situation during the war where the word “kokutai” forced people into tame submission even when their interests were harmed. Talismanic use of words leads people into undesirable situations before they know it.

When Abe began to advocate what he calls “proactive pacifism,” some people must have been unsure about what he meant and suspicious about what he intended to do.

While people felt hesitant about criticizing any form of “pacifism,” Abe advertised this term internationally during his overseas trips. He then started claiming that he had won international support for his “proactive pacifism” in an attempt to create a fait accompli.

As it turned out, this vague concept of “proactive pacifism” was used as a slogan to replace Japan’s three long-established, highly restrictive principles regarding arms exports with the new “three principles concerning transfers of defense equipment.” Not surprisingly, this term is mentioned three times in the Cabinet’s statement endorsing Japan’s use of its right to collective self-defense.

Other examples include “toward a beautiful country,” “a departure from the postwar regime” and “Abenomics.”

How should Japanese people, as sovereign members of society, respond to this administration of “talismanic words?”


During the Aug. 9 ceremony to mark the 1945 atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Miyako Jodai, who delivered a speech as the representative of hibakusha, said, “The initiative to allow Japan to use its right to collective self-defense that is now under way is an outrageous act of trampling on Japan’s Constitution.”


These words, which Jodai uttered on the spur of the moment, reflected her profound anger about what is happening and charged the air at the ceremony, which was proceeding quietly.

Some people were taken aback by her words, while others were offended. There were also people who applauded her in their minds. Her words provoked strong emotions, whether they were sympathy or antipathy, and stood in sharp contrast to the prime minister’s “recycled speech.”

The episode demonstrated the power that words can have.

On the day when the anti-war demonstration was held in Shibuya, people were apparently shaken by what the demonstrators said. A woman glared at the protesters and said in disgust: “I don’t see the point of what you are doing. Just go to vote.” Her friend, who was walking beside her, just shrugged it off with a bitter smile.

There was also a couple who mimicked the “No war” chanting of the demonstrators and rolled about laughing.

The rally at least created a slight crack in daily life.

The only way for us to avoid being hypnotized by talismanic words is to voice our own words based on our own thinking, not those borrowed from others, and make them heard.

We should be able to talk in our own plain language about what kind of society we want to live in and what happiness means to us.

Aug. 15 is supposed to be a day to quietly mourn for the war dead. In recent years, however, it has become a day filled with patriotic utterances.

We need to find our own words to commemorate Aug. 15, which should be neither a day of silence nor a day of noisy demagogy.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 15


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