--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 14
EDITORIAL: Thinking about the end of the war; for a better democracy.
A young officer murmurs: "There is never any victory for those who do not progress. The best thing that could happen to us is to be defeated now and thus wake up. When will we be saved if we don't wake up now?"
In the spring of 1945, the Japanese battleship Yamato received orders to embark on a suicide mission.
The young officer's words were written down by a shipmate, Mitsuru Yoshida, in his "Senkan Yamato no Saigo" (Requiem for Battleship Yamato).
His country had effectively forced him to meaningless end, but it seems the young officer still clung to hope.
Yet, did we really achieve progress? Did we wake up? Have we really been saved? Aug. 15 marks the 66th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II.
--When will we wake up, if not now?--
In August, shortly before Japan's defeat, a young trainee officer who was drafted as a student found himself on the Satsuma Peninsula in Kagoshima Prefecture.
He was in command of troops preparing for a final showdown with U.S. forces.
They were defending an area they called "Ichikoro Jinchi" (easily defeated trench).
They had four cannons and only 72 rounds.
In a shooting match, their ammunition would not last even a few minutes.
When he asked his superior officer, "How are we going to fight with this?", the major replied on the spur of the moment, "When it comes to the push, there will be loads and loads of shells."
After the war, the young trainee officer joined the Ministry of Finance and became a so-called elite bureaucrat. 若者は戦後、旧大蔵省に入りエリートと呼ばれる身となる。
Ritsuo Isobe, now 89, once headed the National Tax Agency.
His view of the wartime elite, mainly professional soldiers, is that "they were interested in nothing but their own promotion, and spared no thought about how they should conduct themselves for the sake of their country and the people."
In those days, the country sought additional enemies despite already being caught up in the quagmire of the Sino-Japanese war.
As the United States was Japan's supplier of oil and other resources, it was unthinkable that Japan would dive headlong into the Pacific War against that country.
Yet, it was the military professionals who twisted the narrative, self-servingly calling it a war of survival and a matter of self-defense.
They rallied the country around those slogans. The citizens, whipped up into a frenzy by the early victories, answered the call and rallied around the military men.
Why did they choose the path of self-destruction?
In December, the movie "Isoroku Yamamoto" will be released.
The actor playing the commander-in-chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy's Combined Fleet is Koji Yakusho.
When we asked him his views after having played Yamamoto, Yakusho answered, "This country has a history of the elite running things as they see fit, and thinking that's all right. The same thing is happening now.
And on the other hand, the public is always serious about making money, but tends to forget things that are important."
--A negative structure repeated--
The same pattern was repeated after the war.
In the case of the bubble economy, the responsibility lay with the bureaucrats who left the excessive money supply as it was, and also with the public.
That is because they capitalized on the booming assets by snatching up real estate and stocks, thereby inflating their prices far beyond their actual worth.
As a result, the prices of these assets went into a nosedive, creating a huge amount of bad loans. But the bureaucrats procrastinated about releasing information, which in turn delayed the solution.
"The country was defeated, but there are roads."
Spending on public works projects spun out of control.
Wasteful investments were made one after another, turning farm roads into airstrips, erecting opulent public buildings, and so on.
After the spending spree, we were left with an enormous fiscal deficit.
And now the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Was that not a story caused by overconfidence in the "nuclear village" comprising electric power companies, pro-nuclear bureaucrats and scholars?
Despite being one of the most quake-prone countries on Earth, Japan built 54 nuclear reactors, apparently ignoring the fact that massive tsunami are known to strike.
There were even plans to build at least 14 additional reactors by 2030, and raise our reliance on nuclear energy for electricity generation to 50 percent or higher.
Our excessive reliance on nuclear power was left unchecked and tolerated.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, along with the power companies, closed their eyes to the realities of this quake-prone country.
They released convenient and palatable information, but they hid inconvenient data.
They also staged fake Q&A sessions to manipulate public opinion.
This is just as bad as the wartime "daihonei happyo," or the military wartime propaganda that issued lie after lie about the war situation.
But is this just the nuclear village's fault?
Tatsuhiro Kamisato, a project associate professor at the University of Tokyo, is a member of the Nippon Mae e Iinkai (Japan forward committee) set up by The Asahi Shimbun. He says the true cause of the nuclear crisis lies in the fact that "we failed to carry out a full-fledged democratic debate about nuclear energy," and that both "the closed system of experts" and "the lack of interest among most of the public" were complicit in allowing the accident to happen.
National defense and securing stable energy supplies are vital functions of government.
But the public went so far as to entrust their lives and properties to the bureaucrats and experts, sometimes standing by and just watching, while at other times making frantic efforts to obtain profits.
Perhaps this national habit of dependency and irresponsibility lies at the root of the repetitive failures that our country has experienced.
-- Our intent to protect --
Each and every individual citizen should have the intent to protect their life and property; it is then that citizens can choose the people who will take those intentions and turn them into reality, make them our politicians and have them work for us.
We have no choice but to create a system whereby the public and politicians can check the value and risks of a given issue.
This essentially amounts to reconstructing a better, more decent democracy. We have no other choice.
Information is desperately important.
Alex Kerr, a scholar on East Asian culture, says that bureaucrats and a handful of experts have dominated information, and it was up to them to make the decisions.
By rights, that should be the politicians' and citizens' job, but they have been neglected, he says.
As early as 2002, Kerr already wrote in his book, "Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Modern Japan," how Japan's pork-barrel, bureaucrat-led politics and information manipulation by the nuclear village constituted the dark side of Japan.
He says that this structure has not changed since the war, all the way down to Fukushima. In order to change this, there is no other way but to tear down their monopoly of information, he says.
Healthy, independent journalism bears a heavy responsibility and has a major role to play.
Our role is to prevent the bureaucrats from monopolizing or manipulating information, and make sure that everyone whose lives and assets might be at risk get to share that information.
We seek to fulfill our role without forgetting the history of failures.
Only after having done so can we finally reply to the young officer on the Yamato. "Finally, we will take one step forward so that we can wake up and be saved."