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

By Paul Midford | Go to book overview
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Reassessing Public Opinion during the Cold War

This chapter traces the evolution of the Japanese public’s attitudes toward security from the end of the Pacific War through the Cold War and considers the influence that public opinion had during this period. It begins by identifying several dimensions of antimilitarist distrust of the state and the military and shows how antimilitarist distrust gradually diminished over time. Next, this chapter considers the public’s fear of entrapment in American wars, perceptions of alignment and America’s international role, and how public concern about the American ally declined in the mid-1970s following the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, thereby easing the way for greater security cooperation. The next section presents evidence pointing to the Japanese public’s nascent defensive realist attitude regarding the utility of military force despite continued strong antimilitarist distrust. The following section looks at opinion toward overseas dispatch of the SDF for noncombat operations, opinion that changed as the public’s antimilitarist distrust gradually declined. The final section examines the influence of public opinion and points to several key cases where public opinion exercised influence over security policy.

Regarding this chapter’s counterfactual benchmarks, if the public had essentially been pacifist, Japan would have not established the SDF in the 1950s and would have limited itself to maintaining a police force plus a paramilitary police force sufficient for maintaining domestic law and order and basic security at important domestic installations; the paramilitary force would resemble the lightly armed Police Reserve, or Keisatsu Yobitai, established in 1950. Japan would also maintain a coast guard sufficient for dealing with piracy, illegal fishing, or other law-and-order issues in its territorial waters but insufficient to deter, much less defend against, a foreign navy. Japan would not allow U.S. bases on its territory and would probably not maintain a U.S. alliance, preferring neutrality.

If Japanese opinion was characterized by attitudinal offensive realism, or if it was uninfluential and hawks therefore had free reign, Japan would have agreed in the late 1950s, while renegotiating the U.S.—Japan treaty of


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