The twentieth century was a century of unprecedented progress and development. The technological progress alone was staggering. In travel, we invented both the first airplane and also the first spaceship to land on the moon. Our standard of living rose phenomenally as we moved from agricultural production to industrial, postindustrial, and now computer-driven production. Information that spread through radio, television and telephone now travels through the Internet. In the world of medicine, fatal diseases became curable, and short life expectancy became longevity.
But the twentieth century is also remembered as the bloodiest century in human history. Why? Because we experienced two major world wars. World War II especially was a "total war," with both military and civilians involved, and everybody affected. The technological advance that helped to prolong our lives also helped create effective weaponry that killed tens of millions of lives.
World War II was a war of monstrous scale. The total casualties reached sixty million people. Of them, twenty-five million were Soviets, fifteen million were Chinese, six million were Poles and six million were Jews. Furthermore, four million Germans died, as well as two million Japanese, four hundred thousand British, and two hundred thousand Americans. What happens after an extraordinary war like this? How do people come to terms with this monumental carnage? How does the experience of war affect a nation's identity, self-image, and sense of responsibility?
In an international survey by the NHK-BCRI that compares people's attitudes toward war in five countries, people in Japan, Germany, the United States, the United Kingdom and South Korea were asked, "What would you do if their country were attacked or invaded? Would you volunteer to fight to defend your country?" Over half of Americans, Koreans and British said absolutely yes, they would volunteer to defend their country, but the answers were very much lower in Japan and Germany. In these two countries defeated in World War II, those who said they would voluntarily take up arms to defend their country comprised only ten to twenty percent. For them, the prospect of fighting a war is obviously more problematic than for others.
This is the legacy of defeat, the legacy of having been responsible for starting the war, for having caused the enormous human and physical destruction, and the unspeakably brutal and diabolical massacres.
Does this mean that the experience of WWII has turned a defeated country like Japan to a pacifist, anti-militarist, peace-loving nation? Let's look at the Japanese case. First, we find that the Japanese take enormous pride in Article 9 of the Constitution, which renounced the right to wage war:
Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
Second, there is also a deliberate discourse of peace in Japan that is common and central to its national self-definition. Preambles in the various documents that represent Japan describe the nation as a "peace nation" or a "peace-loving" nation (heiwa kokka). This rhetoric of peace tends to dominate Japan, in the Constitution, in the media, in public policy, and in school textbooks.