Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
By explaining the role of the Japan Self Defense Forces in disaster relief “Military flexes relief might, gains newfound esteem” (April 15) painted the SDF in a very good light. The esteem is deserved, I think, because I have great respect and gratitude for SDF personnel and others working with dedication to fix broken Japan - especially those working in and near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. After reminding us of the SDF’s shaky start in 1954 in the shadow of the militarist-renouncing Constitution the article goes on to quote military analyst Kazuhisa Ogawa describing how the public has come to appreciate the SDF’s role in emergency service after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake and more so now, in the wake of the March 11 triple disaster.
Limited to just 1% of GDP, Japan’s military budget is one of the largest in the world simply because of the size of the economy. That budget means that it is a well provided, well paid armed force of 240,00. So while priding itself on its pacifist constitution Japan paradoxically maintains one of the largest military forces in the world - currently 28th in size. But in a ruse of semantics, by insisting on calling it the Self Defense Forces Japanese avoid admitting that they even have an army at all.
The obvious question is this: if the military budget was spent on conventional civilian emergency services like the fire department and police instead of the military, then there would be no need at all for a quarter million-large armed force. The country would still be able to boast an impressive emergency relief capacity and at the same time be a more authentic embodiment of its own war-renouncing constitutional principles.
Published on Sunday, April 24, 2011 as “Making best use of the ‘military’.”
Happily the paper repaired an error in my original letter. I mistakenly wrote Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power plant when it should have been the No. 1 nuclear power plant.
My position here is that the argument of any government that its military is justified as a disaster response tool is compromised if one considers that the same emergency response capacity can result from spending the military budget on civilian emergency responders instead. There is no need of an army, and if one uses that disaster response argument then one is using a flawed argument.
In the past I have almost had arguments with adult Japanese students of mine over the matter of Japan’s SDF. They refused to acknowledge that the SDF was a military force when I called it Japan’s “army.” I mean, they denied that Japan had an army, insisted that it was a “self defense” force only, and that that made all the difference, and that in any event I didn’t understand.