07/27/2015, 00.00
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Battle over peace “reopens old wounds that never healed”

Fr Domenico Vitali, a Jesuit, has been in Japan for more than half a century. He spoke to AsiaNews about Japan’s ongoing debate over constitutional reform. For him,” It is not about being in favour or against war, but about arguments heard before the Second World War” based on nationalist rhetoric and honour. Even within the Church, “various groups have split to take different positions”.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) – After 70 years of constitutionally-mandated pacifism, the constitutional change that would allow Japan to have an aggressive military “reopens old wounds that never healed. It is not about being in favour or against war, but about arguments heard before the Second World War with regards to honour and survival,” said Fr Domenico Vitali, a Jesuit priest with more than 50 years of mission experience in Japan.

For the missionary, who heads the historic parish of St Ignatius in central Tokyo, “The controversy surrounding plans to remove Article 9* from the constitution has reactivated issues that had been kept out of the public debate.”

“My personal impression,” he told AsiaNews, is that the Japanese are revisiting the same question that played such a large role before and during the Second World War, which many here still do not believe to be a war of aggression but one of survival."

This is crucial point to understand the issue. “In the early 20th century, the Japanese Empire needed resources to pursue its race towards modernity. Its leaders saw expansion, not as aggression, but as survival. The same conditions exist today. sino-Japanese rivalry in the region and over disputed areas plays an important role”. This explains Japan’s growing nationalism.

"Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is making the same argument” Fr Vitali said. At the same time, “We should not forget that Abe is the grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, who played a key role in the state of Manchukuo**. Later, he also became prime minister [of Japan]. Shinzo is very attached to his grandfather’s memory, who certainly was not a pacifist."

Abe is at odds though with one of predecessors, Tomiichi Murayama. "On the 50th anniversary of the of end of the war, the then Prime Minister Murayama had the courage to admit Japan’s mistakes. Now that the 70th anniversary is coming up, the current prime minister wants to retract this admission. It is not clear what he will say in his message, but everyone is looking forward to it."

Japanese society is divided over the issue. “For many ordinary Japanese, not enough has been said about it and parliament has not dealt with it sufficiently. For the first time, Abe’s approval ratings have dipped below 40 per cent, which is an interesting point for the future."

The matter also affects the Catholic Church. "The bishops,” he said, “have clearly spoken out in favour of keeping Article 9; however, various groups have split to take different positions and this has caused divisions, which must be mended as soon as possible.”

* Article 9 prohibits Japan from having “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential,” adding that “The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.” Instead, Japan Self-Defence Forces were established.

** Manchukuo was a puppet state set up by the Japanese in Manchuria after they invaded China in 1931.

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