Rethinking Japanese Public Opinion and Security: From Pacifism to Realism?

By Paul Midford | Go to book overview

3
Views on the Utility of Military Force
and America’s Use of Force

Robert Kagan famously observed that “Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus.”1 Japanese are Venusians at least to the same extent as Europeans. Across several dimensions, the world Japanese citizens see is very different from the one their American counterparts perceive. This is not to say that Japanese public opinion is pacifist. The Japanese public is on the same planet as the American public when it comes to defending national territory: Both share a belief in the utility of military force for homeland defense. Nonetheless, Japanese public opinion has very different attitudes about the utility of strategically offensive military force and about the U.S. role in the world.

Whereas Americans have been optimistic about the potential for strategically offensive military power to suppress terrorism and WMD proliferation, and to some extent to promote democracy and human rights, Japanese have been consistently skeptical about the utility of military force for accomplishing these objectives. This skepticism, as discussed elsewhere in this book, has its roots in Japan’s ultimately disastrous use of offensive military power to promote foreign policy goals in China and elsewhere in East Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. Nothing that has happened since has provided sufficient counterevidence to undo the lessons learned then. Japanese also remain far more skeptical about the utility of possessing nuclear weapons than Americans do, a position that has consolidated over time rather than diminished, despite the growing North Korean nuclear threat.

Whereas Americans overwhelmingly view their country as a force for international peace and stability, the Japanese public, while appreciative of the U.S. alliance and its value for ensuring the defense of Japanese territory, are skeptical about the nature of U.S. global influence. The Japanese public’s skepticism about the utility of strategic offensive military power has led them to be very dubious about numerous American military conflicts, from the Taiwan Straits crises of the 1950s to the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 1970s, and again during the Gulf War and especially the 2003 Iraq invasion. Beyond doubting the utility of strategic military power, the Japanese public has also

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