« “Civil Society and Postwar Pacific Basin Reconciliation: Wounds, Scars and Healing” (Yasuko Claremont, ed, Routledge 2018) – Book Launch | Blog home

[See here for the first half of this book launch / review.]

Part 3 of Dr Claremont’s book contemplates “the aftermath of Hiroshima”. For example, Yuko Shibata explains how Occupation forces and then the Japanese government highlighted parallels between the nuclear bombs and conventional weaponry, downplaying the radiation after-effects, and she argues that this impacted on early post-War literature about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This view also paved the way to the development of nuclear power facilities in Japan – and perhaps the “safety myth” that partly explains the 2011 Fukushima disaster (which Dr Claremont kindly wrote about in my 2014 book on “Asia-Pacific Disaster Management”).

Part 4 is on “establishing civil society”. Yasuko’s own chapter is on “civil resistance in Japan in response to political domination”, especially through “cultural activism”. She lists as examples of domination the “suppression of all information concerning the atomic bomb”, ignoring the Constitution’s peace clause since the Korean War, “the plight of Okinawa” (with US bases covering 40% of its arable land until reversion to Japan in 1972) and revisions to the Japan-US Security Treaty pushed through in 1960. She also mentions the Beheiren: 400 small groups that pursued pacifism by protesting against the Vietnam War, and indeed helping US deserters (as further detailed in the ensuing chapter by Roman Rosenblaum).

Yasuko further contrasts the principled objections against the Abe government’s recent reinterpretation of the peace clause, to allow for collective security responses, with the government’s view that she sees as based on “political expedience” (p 125). However, I would acknowledge that there are some good arguments for interpreting the Constitution in light of international law principles (including collective security), and even generally in favour of some types of informal constitutional amendment. Nonetheless, the criteria for legitimate informal amendment are probably not satisfied in this case, as explored in symposium at UNSW two years ago, so the Abe government probably should have sought a constitutional amendment (or clarification) to Article 9 before legislating to provide for collective security.

The last chapter in this Part deals is sub-titled “two faces of grassroots action in Japan”, by Tessa Morris-Suzuki. She outlines three types of non- or semi-state approaches to post-War reconciliation: semi-official (joint academic) reconciliation projects, intellectual reconciliation projects (adding journalists, writers and others to seek shared understandings of history) and grassroots reconciliation action (exemplified by Dr Claremont’s previous book on Citizen Power, but also the mock “International Women’s War Crimes Tribunal” held in Tokyo in 2000 – which aimed to fill gaps in the work of the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, itself of enduring interest to jurists).

Morris-Suzuki then contrasts “the other face of civil society” (p 159). As an example of neo-revisionist Japanese groups, she describes a campaign run successfully to protest a request to Strathfield Council from some Korean and Chinese residents, in 2014, to support a public statue commemorating war-time “comfort women”. She uncovers the links of this “anti-reconciliation” group in Australia with far-right politicians or revisionists in Japan. She concludes that “civil society groups of all sorts are embedded in a broader political landscape, including formal political institutions, political parties and mass media” … but differences include “the relative power of their backers and the extent to which their political connections are concealed from public view” (p 164).

The key, for me, is to allow transparent debate over socio-political issues. Australia and Japan, as (more or less!) functioning democracies, are lucky to have spaces for this at both local and central government levels. It is a particular responsibility for universities, with their mandate of creating and disseminating knowledge, to promote such informed debate even where (or perhaps especially where) there can be strong divisions in views, as Princeton Professor Keith Whittington recently argued in his elegant book entitled “Speak Freely”.

Lastly, Part 5 of Dr Claremont’s book concludes with three chapters providing more purely literary perspectives on post-War reconciliation, with themes ranging from nostalgia to anti-war activism. They complement many of the topics and perspectives in earlier chapters, which also weave together Japanese literature and society.

Overall, I found this book fascinating and enlightening, deserving a wide readership among anyone interested in Japan’s literature, society, politics, legal system or its international relations, as well as peace studies more generally. I congratulate Dr Claremont and the contributors for a fine achievement, and Routledge for restoring some diversity in its book covers.

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context