Interpreted History: Lessons Learned
For Japan, World War II, known as the "Pacific War," was a disaster with lessons that have continuous value. War does not pay, and almost always is a dumb policy choice. International policy centered on the military instrument can lead to domestic militarism which will victimize the Japanese people. Preventing unrewarding involvement in war and military control of society and government require creating and maintaining bulwarks to ensure that: (a) military organizations are subordinate to non-military ones and cannot be used without explicit, specific authorization by the national legislature after extended debate; (b) the business sector does not become so involved with military production or research and development as to make military matters its lifeblood; and (c) national military capabilities and the readiness and authority to use them do not make Japan an immediate and primary threat to other nations.
These "lessons learned" have led to a set of self-restraint commitments which have so far bent to the pressures of the other sets of factors, but have not been revoked. The most general is Article Nine of the postwar "Peace" Constitution which limits Japan to self-defense, and bars it from having a "war potential" or "right of belligerency." Those commitments were augmented throughout subsequent decades by policies of limiting military spending to 1% of GNP; abstaining from arms exports; forgoing nuclear weapons and long-range weapons delivery systems; and denying crisis authority to the head of government to send the military into action.
Other lessons include avoiding a recurrence of the economic situation associated with the Great Depression of the 1930s, which was fertile ground for Japanese militarism and aggression. That situation featured economic miseries inside and outside of Japan, beggar-thy-neighbor trade protectionism against Japan, and eventual foreign interference with critical primary goods imports (most notably energy). These lessons recommend national activism well beyond self-restraint to further: (a) world and Asian economic openness and stability cooperation; (b) foreign economic interdependence with Japan which gives others a stake in its prosperity and security (what a Japanese strategic thinker has called "golden goose deterrence"); (c) economic development successes especially among Japan's Asian neighbors (China, South Korea, Southeast Asia), furthering the two previous objectives and restraining any tendencies to threaten Japan militarily; and (d) industrial and technological emphases which safeguard Japan's access to foreign export markets and investment, and ensure crucial imports. Activism motivated by these lessons has included support for open-economy international arrangements (the World Trade Organization, or WTO, and the Asia Pacific Economic Community, or APEC); large amounts of development aid focused on Asian recipients; and establishing patterns of foreign investment from and within Japan, and trade. International economic integration with Japan, international development financing from Japan, and domestic evolution of advanced industry and technology thus have become major elements of Japan's security strategy.
Yet there have been other lessons, with quite different implications than near-pacifism and economic liberalism and generosity. One is that Japan cannot depend upon the noted policy emphases meant to ensure reasonable treatment and respect for its welfare by others. The years leading up to the Great Depression, the nuclear bombing of Japanese cities (but not of German ones) in World War II, the oil shocks of the 1970s, the American-generated economic shocks of the Nixon administration, the obviously exaggerated American predictions of Japan as a rival superpower in the 1980s, continuing American pressures to drag Japan into Washington selected conflicts, and nuclear threats which China and North Korea could pose in the twenty-first century all provide examples of ill treatment toward Japan. There is the possibility that foreigners will victimize Japan even if it avoids militarism and economic nationalism.