Open Fire: Understanding Global Gun Cultures

By Charles Fruehling Springwood | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
The Celebration of Violence: A Live-fire Demonstration
Carried Out by Japan's Contemporary Military1

Eyal Ben-Ari and Sabine Frühstück

Bombers dropping lethal loads near Tokyo? Tanks shelling targets on the Kanto plain? Infantry soldiers capturing lookout posts and shooting at objectives along the foothills of Mt Fuji? No, these are not part of some imaginary movie depicting a new war in contemporary Japan. All of these activities take place in an annual live-fire exercise carried out by Japan's contemporary military, the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF). Held during the first weekend of each September at one of the SDF's major training camps, this event presents the main armaments and capabilities of different units, enacts simplified combat scenarios involving ground and air forces, and entails an exhibition of helicopters, tanks and artillery pieces. Attended by tens of thousands of spectators, reports about the exercise are often broadcast on Japan's major television channels that evening and printed in the major newspapers the following day. Yet what is remarkable in regard to this event is not the use of live fire, since the SDF like all militaries, regularly carries out maneuvers and training. Rather what is significant about the exercise is its context.

The SDF exists in a context marked by powerful constitutional limits, a strong anti-militaristic culture, active pacifist movements and the suspicion constantly voiced by the country's Asian neighbors about Japan's potential for remilitarization (Berger 1998; Hanami 1996: 238). The Japanese public blamed the country's defeat in the Second World War on the “generals,” and part of the legacy of that defeat is that the word military became synonymous with subjugation, destruction, and disaster. This attitude was magnified by the effects of the atomic bomb which, aside from the sheer misery its use caused hundreds of thousands of people, resulted in a sense of victimhood at the hands both the US and Japan's aggressive wartime military regime. As reflected regularly in opinion polls (Halloran 1994: 13), the experience of the Second World War has led to the emergence of a strong anti-militaristic ethos set against Japan acquiring a large military establishment. One of the most important features of these circumstances has been the institution of strong legal limits—Article 9 of the country's

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