Martin Halpern: Japan Should Not Send Troops to Iraq

Roundup: Historians' Take

Martin Halpern, writing in Japan Times (Dec. 13, 2003):

A recent New York Times carried the story that Japan will send 600 ground troops to southeastern Iraq. I read this news with sadness as I prepared to lead a discussion in my upper level class in 20th-century U.S. history on the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan's role as voice for peace and nuclear disarmament is at stake.

The New York Times account rightly stressed that the meaning of Japan's pacifist Constitution is also at stake. Does anyone believe that the so-called Self-Defense Forces are on anything other than a military mission and acting as a combat army when they carry antitank weapons and drive armored vehicles into a war zone?

The subject of the dropping of the bomb is a highly personal one for me. I was born on Aug. 9, 1945, the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. I developed an understanding as I grew up of the great wrong committed by my government, and traveled to Hiroshima to visit the Peace Museum when I was a Fulbright lecturer five years ago at Tohoku University.

The New York Times account emphasized that the peace Constitution was imposed by the U.S. on Japan, but it failed to note the strong desire of the Japanese people after the war to break with the militarism and aggression that had brought enormous harm and suffering to Japan's neighbors and disaster to Japan itself. I learned from my time in Japan that strong sentiments for peace and opposition against nuclear arms persist to this day.

Long a critic of the nuclear-arms race, I was struck on my visit to the Peace Museum by the documentation of the many times my government has threatened to use nuclear weapons and of the continuing advocacy of nuclear disarmament by the citizens and leaders of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At a time when a neoconservative clique seeking world hegemony plays a leading role in U.S. foreign policy formation, we hear U.S. President George W. Bush speaking frequently about the determination to stop other countries from obtaining nuclear weapons but not a word about taking steps toward nuclear disarmament called for in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Japan's antinuclear advocacy is needed now more than ever.

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