The Corner

Japan and the Coming Age

This week, I have been writing about Germany and Japan and their militaries. Is it time for those countries to beef up? To get off the sidelines and play again? These are momentous questions, of course — freighted with history, tinged with fear. Yesterday, my topic was Germany (here). Today it is Japan (here).

One quick point, here in the Corner: Sometimes Americans complain that Japan is not doing enough. That its military is not big enough, that its spine is not stiff enough — that the Japanese are free-loaders, or free-riders. Okay.

But remember this: We Americans imposed on them their “peace constitution,” in which the Japanese “forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or the use of force as means of settling international disputes.”

Moreover, the constitution demands that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” Never!

Well, then. If Japan is to change — and it will — its constitution will have to change (and it will).

Donald Trump made his feelings plain during the campaign. He told a crowd, “Do you know that if Japan is attacked, we have to get involved probably with World War III, right? If we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to do nothing. They can sit home and watch Sony television. Right? It’s true.”

Not long ago, I was talking with a friend of mine, a historian of long experience. He made some simple statements — such as “History can go backwards, you know.” For a while, liberal democracy was in the ascendant, and it looked like the future. And yet darker, illiberal forces are gaining momentum in Europe and elsewhere.

I think of our dear old United States. Near the end of the general-election campaign, Trump refused to say that he would accept the results of the election. In a column, Pat Buchanan wrote that “the populist-nationalist Right” was “moving beyond the niceties of liberal democracy to save the America they love.”

(Buchanan was Trump before Trump, and Buchananism was Trumpism before Trumpism.)

If liberal democracy is ditched, America is ditched — unsaved rather than saved. That is my view. But others disagree. I am finding that out more and more.

My historian friend said, “When I think of the days that lie ahead of us, especially in Europe, but in the Far East and other places, too, I’m glad I don’t have children.” That was a striking, painful statement. Anyway, I am reminded of an old truth: that human affairs are not on an upward trajectory, perpetually. There is rising and falling. Darker ages and lighter.

And human beings aren’t helpless. They are not merely acted on. There is volition. So — I think I’ll have another Dove bar and ponder this.