- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 16, 2006

TOKYO — Japan’s conservative government chipped away at the country’s postwar pacifism yesterday by requiring schools to teach patriotism and upgrading the Defense Agency to a full ministry for the first time since World War II.

The measures, enacted in a vote by parliament’s upper house, are key elements of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to bolster Japan’s international military role, build up national pride and distance the country from its post-1945 war guilt.

The votes were important victories for Mr. Abe’s government, which has seen sharp drops in popularity polls since taking office in September over the perception that he has not paid enough attention to domestic issues.

The education reform bill triggered controversy, both because of its sensitive content and because of disclosures this week that the government had planted officials posing as ordinary citizens at “town meetings” discussing the measure.

The scandal and other issues inspired a spate of no-confidence motions against Mr. Abe and some members of his Cabinet, but they were crushed in parliament, which is dominated by the ruling party coalition.

The upgrading of the Defense Agency to a full ministry passed parliament without significant opposition and propelled by deep concern over North Korean missile and nuclear weapons development.

The upgrade, which takes effect early next year, gives Japan’s generals greater budgetary powers and prestige — a reversal for a military establishment that has kept a low profile since being discredited by Japan’s disastrous wartime defeat.

The education measure, the first change to Japan’s main education law since 1947, calls on schools to “to cultivate an attitude that respects tradition and culture, that loves the nation and home country.”

The reform reflected concerns voiced by Mr. Abe and Education Minister Bunmei Ibuki that Japan’s long stretch of economic prosperity has eroded the morals and cooperative spirit of prewar Japanese.

“The new education law will allow children to acquire a good understanding of their heritage and become intelligent and dignified Japanese,” ruling party lawmaker Hiroo Nakashima said during the upper house debate.

Critics, however, attacked the move as harkening back to Japan’s war-era education system, in which children were instructed to support the country’s imperialist military and sacrifice themselves for the emperor and nation.

Opponents voiced fears yesterday that the changes could lead to schools grading students on their patriotic fervor — possibly as a prelude to making Japan an aggressive nation again.

“The government is putting the future of Japanese children at risk and turning Japan into a country that wages war abroad,” said Ikuko Ishii, a Communist Party lawmaker.

The call for more patriotism in the schools coincides with a push by some local governments to crack down on teachers and students who refuse to stand for the national flag or sing an anthem to the emperor at school ceremonies.

The revision also gives parents “the primary responsibility for a child’s education” — reflecting the belief among some government officials that disciplinary problems in Japanese schools stem from lack of parental control and oversight.

Postwar Japan has been solidly pacifist under the 1947 U.S.-drafted constitution, which foreswears Japan from using force to settle international disputes, and Tokyo maintains fighting forces only for self-defense. The U.S. keeps about 50,000 troops in Japan under a security alliance.

That pacifist stance, however, has eroded with the end of the Cold War, U.S. demands that Japan cooperate more in military matters and the North Korean threat. Japan dispatched noncombat troops to Iraq during 2004-2006, and Mr. Abe has expressed interest in joining more missions.

Yesterday’s enactment also established the defense forces’ overseas peacekeeping activities as a part of its regular duties, along with defense and disaster relief at home.

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