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I am an angry man

By Kenzaburo Oe

I am an old man, and an angry one. This is because I feel responsible for the current situation in my country, a situation I very much regret. Prime Minister Jinichiro Koizumi was recently re-elected and is preparing to send Japanese soldiers to Iraq.

Many journalists have been asking the prime minister about this and his responses are always vague. Since the beginning of the war in Iraq the Japanese prime minister has seemed to be in agreement with the policy of United States President George W. Bush. "The war is just," he keeps repeating. France and Germany have adopted positions different from that of the Untied States. Japan has definitely not. The impression is that no matter what is happening in Iraq, Japan is acting as though its positions and decisions were dictated in advance.

From the start of the war it has been expected that Japan would send soldiers to Iraq, from the moment Prime Minister Koizumi decided that "Japan unreservedly agrees with President Bush."

When American Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Japan, Koizumi reiterated that Japan intends to send soldiers to Iraq. Here is proof, if any more proof were necessary, that Japan is subordinate to the defense policy of the Untied States. My country obeys. This is why I am angry. This is why I am always angry.

Sending Japanese soldiers to Iraq is a strange decision. In the entire world, apart from Britain, the majority of countries have come out against the war. It seems to me that the Japanese prime minister is one of the few to have missed the point. He agrees entirely with the policy of the United States. And most Japanese intellectuals and journalists are incapable of contradicting him.

During the recent parliamentary elections, the left-wing parties that opposed this policy lost half their seats. Why? Because Japan no longer has critical powers. The prime minister is free to do whatever he wants. He never criticizes President Bush, who can therefore behave as if he is acting with Japan's agreement.

It could be said that ever since the end of World War II nearly 60 years ago, Japan has never been so obedient. My friend Edward Said, who passed away, sadly, not long ago in New York, wrote in "Culture and Imperialism" that if there are a state and a nation that are submissive to the domination of the United States on the political level and in international relations, these are definitely Japan and the Japanese.

As a child I grew up until the age of 10 in the horrors of World War II. I knew Japan's ultra-nationalism. After the war, democracy and the democratic idea were imported to Japan by the best of all democracies - American democracy. Japan, in turn, itself became a democracy, with a constitution and a basic code of education.

Since then the Japanese have been influenced by popular American culture, its cinema and its music. There is nothing wrong with this. The Japanese did not lose their identity because of this.

But I argue that there used to be intellectuals who were very influenced by Europe. My teacher Kazuo Watanabe was the Japanese specialist on Rabelais and French humanism. It was he who made the word "tolerance" popular in Japan. He wanted "the new Japanese" to be tolerant. Another intellectual, Masao Maruyama, asked himself what Japan's new identity could be after its years of imperialism and its former role the aggressor state of Asia. He created the idea of Japan as a "community of repentance." At that time, Masao Maruyama was against Japan's war of aggression in Asia.

When the Swedish Nobel Prize Committee awarded me the Nobel Prize for Literature (in 1994) it said that I wrote "to exorcise a ghost." I definitely adopt this expression. The writer is like an African shaman who exorcises ghosts. I wanted to keep on writing, that is, to pray like such a doctor and magician - but impotently. If there is a demon against which we must act, this is the demon of violence. There are two major forms of violence today - nuclear weaponry and international terror.

Therefore we must succeed in eventually getting rid of nuclear armaments. At least within the next 30 years. Nuclear weaponry cannot serve as a "means of violence" for any country in the world, no matter which and no matter what its reasons may be. This is why we cannot tolerate that Iraq today, Iran and North Korea tomorrow, could have nuclear weapons. But we must be prudent. Did Iraq have the means to obtain nuclear weapons rapidly? President George W. Bush himself knew that this was not the case.

It is necessary to fight international terrorism. The large capitals, Paris, New York, Tokyo and other cities are vulnerable to terrorism, as September 11, 2001 showed. Today Tokyo in turn must be prevented from becoming the target of a terror attack.

What should Japan's role in Iraq be? It must first provide food and medical aid to the Iraqi population and help the children of Iraq. Japan can also increase its financial support. The war George Bush decided to wage against Iraq was an error. We must never cooperate with this type of war.

Japan must not send troops to Iraq. If soldiers of the Jitei - the Japanese army, known as the Japanese Defense Forces - are stationed there, the risk of seeing Japan become the target of terrorism will become serious. The mission of prime minister of Japan is to prevent this from becoming the case.

Prime Minister Koizumi thinks that by sending Japanese troops to Iraq he is fighting terror. He is mistaken. This is rather the mission and the province of the United States. The prime minister of Japan must, however, adopt a critical stance and provide Iraq only with humanitarian aid.

Autor jest Japońskim pisarzem, utytułowanym nagrodą Nobla w dziedzinie literatury. Pierwotnie artykuł wydrukowany został we francuskim "Liberation".

15 grudzień 2003

 

  

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