Sunday, May 25, 2008

John Junkerman on the 2008 Global Article 9 Conference in Tokyo: "The crowds that gathered at Makuhari were diverse, with heavy participation of people in their 20s and 30s..."

The overflow crowd at the Global Article 9 Conference May 4th. (Photo: Stacy Hughes, Peace Boat)

Filmmaker John Junkerman's "The Global Article 9 Conference: Toward the Abolition of War" published at The Asia-Pacific Journal on May 25, 2008:

While much of Japan was enjoying the extended holiday of Golden Week this year, supporters of Article 9, the war-renouncing clause of Japan’s constitution, were hard at work. The first Global Article 9 Conference to Abolish War drew 15,000 people to its plenary session and concert outside of Tokyo on May 4th, while 7,000 gathered on May 5th to participate in a day of symposiums and workshops. The crowds far surpassed the expectations of the organizers, who hastily staged an ad hoc rally in a nearby park for several thousand people who were unable to get into the main arena on the first day.

An affiliated conference in Hiroshima on May 5th drew 1,100 participants, and on May 6th another large arena in Osaka was filled with 8,000 people while 2,500 attended a fourth conference in Sendai. Overall, organizers counted more than 30,000 admissions to the series of events.

The gatherings took place at a time when Article 9 faces the most serious threat of being abandoned since the postwar constitution was enacted in 1947. Prior to leaving office abruptly last September, then-Prime Minister Abe Shinzo—who had made revising the constitution the paramount goal of his administration—pushed a bill through the Diet that provides for national referendums on constitutional changes. The law, which takes effect in May 2010, started the clock ticking toward a showdown...

Partly in backlash against Japan’s first-ever dispatch of the SDF to an overseas combat zone, public support for Article 9 has revived from the postwar lows registered earlier in the decade. In a poll released by the liberal Asahi Shimbun on May 3, 66% of the public favored retaining Article 9, while only 23% supported its revision. This represented a 17% increase in support for Article 9 over a similar poll conducted a year ago...

This renewed support for Article 9 was evident in the spillover crowds that jammed the global conference to celebrate and advocate the renunciation of war. At the same time, the government’s continuing efforts to eviscerate and evade the spirit and substance of the clause, the incongruous reality of Japan’s powerful military forces, and the heavy presence of US military bases on the archipelago were never far from the center of discussion.

The conference aimed to reframe the debate over Article 9 by removing it from the narrow confines of domestic Japanese politics and placing it on an international stage. “The war in Iraq has demonstrated that even the strongest, largest army in the world cannot maintain peace in a single city, Baghdad,” conference organizer Yoshioka Tatsuya noted in his opening remarks. “This tells us that peace cannot be achieved through aggression. The 21st century requires a new system of values, and Article 9 can be Japan’s contribution to the world.”

The conference slogan was “The world has begun to choose Article 9,” and numerous speakers pointed to the examples of Costa Rica and Panama, both of which have constitutions that prohibit standing armies, while more than 20 other, mostly smaller countries around the world likewise have no military forces. Bolivia has drafted a war-renunciation clause in its new constitution, though ratification has been placed on hold during that country’s ongoing political crisis. Meanwhile, Ecuador has drafted an amendment to its constitution that would prohibit the basing of foreign troops on its soil.

“Article 9 continues to inspire many people throughout the world,” declared keynote speaker Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for her efforts to end the conflict in Northern Ireland. “Many of us are concerned to know that there are those who wish to endanger such policies and abandon Japan’s peace constitution. All peace-loving people must unite to oppose such a backward step.”

Mobilization for the conference was boosted by the steady growth of the Article 9 Association (A9A) movement. These grassroots associations, created throughout the country in response to a 2004 appeal by Nobel laureate Oe Kenzaburo and eight other prominent intellectuals, now number more than 7,000. Many of these individual groups (as well as more long-standing groups, such as the Peace Constitution League [9-joren]) were active participants in the global conference, although the A9A network itself has a strict policy of not endorsing activities outside of the network.

The A9A movement itself was launched in part to free the defense of Article 9 from the narrow confines of the opposition Socialist (now the Social Democratic Party) and Communist parties, which historically were the bastions of the peace constitution but have become increasingly marginalized in recent years. While activists from these parties have been involved in forming some of the A9A groups, the movement has achieved a level of penetration that is unprecedented in the postwar history of Japanese citizens’ organizations. Their advocacy and educational efforts are widely credited with swinging public opinion back to support for Article 9. This is despite the fact that mainstream Japanese media has paid very little attention to the movement, from its very inception.

Strategically, the global conference was an effort to shift the movement from simply defending Article 9 to positioning it as a proactive component of the international disarmament campaign. Japanese activists have drawn inspiration from the 1999 Hague Appeal for Peace, the largest international peace conference in history, which set an agenda for the new millennium under the slogan "It is Time to Abolish War."

...The conference also aimed to broaden the base of support for Article 9 among young people, and it was largely successful in this effort. The bedrock of support for Article 9 has traditionally been the generation that experienced the devastation and lack of political liberty during World War II, but with the aging of that generation, the movement to defend Article 9 has struggled to shake the image that it is out of step with the times. But the crowds that gathered at Makuhari were diverse, with heavy participation of people in their 20s and 30s...

Asahi columnist Hayano Toru quoted a pregnant UA on stage: “As one woman, as a mother, as a human being, as a spirit born on this earth, I believe the day will come when we hear the news that all of the wars on this planet have ended.” “Despite the difficulty of their lives,” Hayano commented, “young people, in their own words and ideas, in their own songs, are trying to create a ‘solidarity of kindness.’”

 Asahi editorial board member Kokubo Takashi, in a separate column, commented on the “lithe and natural words and conduct of those who gathered at Makuhari Messe. The constitution’s Article 9 has spread its roots farther and deeper among young people than we political reporters who regularly cover the Diet would ever imagine.”

Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution:

1) Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

2) In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

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