Washington has complained that Japan's refusal to rearm has put virtually the entire load of defending the Pacific basin on the United States, adding billions of dollars to America's deficit and giving Japanese industry a low tax rate and a natural advantage in the world's markets.
The Japanese constitution contains a clause prohibiting rearmament. The primary architect of that clause was Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the head of the American occupation following the defeat of Japan. Until recently, indications were that there was a solid wall of resistance to any change away from the arms prohibition. In recent months, however, public opinion seems to be spread across at least three groups.
One sector in industry and government has no reluctance to rearm as long as someone else pays for it. Arms manufacture is regarded as uneconomic because it is a burden on the domestic economy and creates a national debt that runs counter to the health of capitalism. However, if other nations see a benefit in having Japan produce weapons, then it is felt that these nations should share in the costs.
Similarly, this group believes that Japan should be willing to turn its vaunted production capabilities to the manufacture of arms if the world market is ready to buy its weapons. Selling sophisticated equipment to the United States for its "Star Wars" program would come under this heading. To the extent that the "peace clause" blocks such activity, this group believes that the clause ought to be either modified or revoked.
Another sector, not confined to industry, sees an opportunity for Japan to resume its historic quest for predominance in the Far East and beyond. An indication of this group's growing strength is the appearance of changes in new schoolbooks away from criticism of Japan's aggressive military policies in the 1930s. China has strongly protested those changes.
Finally, there are the Japanese who see great danger for Japan and, indeed, for the world in the revival of Japanese militarism, which they believe would be the most certain result of a departure from the clause in the Japanese constitution renouncing war and the means of war. This group is profoundly disturbed by what it regards as shortsightedness in the American advocacy of Japanese rearmament. Japan came very close to crushing the United States in World War II. National pride is a primary characteristic of the Japanese people. An opportunity to reverse its defeat in the war lies deep in the minds of Japanese who still feel the humiliation of defeat.
It may be a serious error for Americans to ignore the growing trend away from the design that was drawn up by the United States after the war. MacArthur took special pride in his role in persuading Japan to be the first nation in history to adopt a constitution renouncing war and the means of war.
MacArthur believed that the advent of atomic weapons had completely changed effective strategies of defense. Nothing was more important, he said, than to recognize that the only effective defense for any nation in an atomic age is an organized peace. He saw no protection for Japan through rearmament, which he equated with remilitarization.
Japan, MacArthur said, could go in one of two directions in the postwar world. It could put its high intelligence, remarkable zeal and abundant energies into creating a great and peaceful society that would achieve high industrial prosperity, or it could bide its time and wait for the opportunity to resume its drive for world preeminence through military strength.
Subsequently he expressed the opinion that nothing would be more irresponsible than to strengthen the elements in Japan that had dreams of military glory and believed that they could manipulate industrial and military sources in the United States for the restoration of Japanese power.
Getting Japan involved in the Star Wars act could be a powerful entering wedge against the peace clause contained in the Japanese constitution. The notion that Japanese rearmament could improve America's chances to compete with Japan in the world's markets while at the same time reducing America's own military burden may be attractive to those who think only of short-term advantages. MacArthur would be the first to remind us that we would be inviting the gravest of long-term dangers.
A visitor to Japan these days is struck by the tendency of the Japanese to regard the human brain as their primary asset. It is a nation largely devoid of raw materials. It is severely confined in geography, but has discovered and put to work history's greatest truth--that the primary resource is the human mind. At a time when the United States is cutting back on its support of higher education, Japan is giving the highest priority to the development of human potentiality.
MacArthur as well as Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower urged Americans to recognize that the health of their society as a whole and an understanding of the need for institutionalized world order are vital to their national security. A rearmed Japan would not serve that cause.