Histories of the Present: Japan’s Constitution & Active vs. Passive Peacemaking

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.

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.

These paragraphs from Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution were endorsed by the Japanese Diet on 3 November 1946 and came in to effect on 3 May 1947 with the promulgation of the Constitution. Although the Constitution was drafted by the US during the Allied occupation, the Allied Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur claimed that Prime Minister Shidehara Kijūrō suggested its inclusion (this has been disputed by some commentators). Whatever the case may have actually been, Article 9 presents to the world a legal document that promotes the concept of peacemaking as an active political statement, with the absence of conflict as a written part of the most fundamental definitions of the nation-state. The military industry in Japan is subsequently a limited one, as its defense does not require equipment utilized for offensive purposes (such as long range missiles).

But the peaceful ideals of the constitution were very quickly challenged in prac-tice by political forces in the US as well as in Japan. Following the outbreak of the Korean War, MacArthur approved the creation of a “National Police Reserve” (NPR), which was seen by leading politicians in Japan as a fledgling army. Japanese were also sent to the Korean War zone in a number of quasi-military roles, including minesweeping. Some refused to obey US commands, claiming that these violated the new constitution. In 1954 the NPR was renamed the Self Defense Force (SDF). The SDF has often been challenged as unconstitutional but this has been countered by arguments that the SDF is not a military but a national police force and that self-defense is the right of every nation.


Article 9 has enjoyed strong domestic support with approval ratings between the 1960s to the 1980s reaching 70 to 90 percent. This strong public support has not, however, prevented successive governments from seeking to review the Constitution and the tenet of Article 9. Increasing public financial support for the SDF in the 1980s meant that by the end of the decade Japan was ranked third in the world in defense expenditure. Japan’s close relationship with the US has also led to increased pressure for an active role in regional defense at odds with the provisions of Article 9. This pressure has been most marked at various points of conflict over the past few decades: the Gulf War, 9/11 and the War in Iraq. On 26 April 1991 the SDF was deployed for the first time overseas, sending minesweepers to the Persian Gulf. On 19 August the following year SDF troops were sent on a peacekeeping mission to Cambodia. In 2001, as a result of the 9/11 attacks in the US, Japan passed the Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law which placed further pressure on notions of ‘self-defense’ leading to the dispatch of SDF maritime self defense ships. In January 2004, the then Prime Minister Koizumi Junichirō, sent 9,600 SDF ground personnel to Iraq under the Iraq War Law.

In July this year Prime Minister Abe Shinzōskirted constitutional amendment procedures to endorse a ‘reinterpretation’ of Article 9. This has led to increased powers for the SDF to allow the exercise of collective defense to aide allies if war is declared against them. A variety of media responses have followed, ranging from condemnation (mostly from Asia), to dispassionate observation and mild surprise. One article by David Welch of Canada’s Waterloo University argues that the protests over the constitutional reinterpretation are “hysterical”, and claims that Prime Minister Abe “has never said or done anything to indicate that he would like to rewind the clock 80 years”. Such statements are built on a very simple dichotomy between war and peace, and between past and present. They assume that, if that Japanese government of today does not resemble the military governments of the late 1930s and early 1940s, Japan is not remilitarising; and that, if Japan is not engaged in actual armed conflict, it is “peaceful”.

A very different perspective comes from the group of Japanese citizens (among them Nobel laureate Ōe Kenzaburō) who nominated the “Japanese people who conserve Article 9” for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Although their chances of winning the prize are small, the point they make is a vital one. Peace-making is an active process, not just an absence of war.

For decades, grassroots groups of citizens who support Japan’s peace constitution have been engaged in small-scale but valuable activities to build peace between Japan and its neighbours. These have included creating museums that preserve the memory of Japanese aggression in Asia, and educate children to develop visions of a peaceful future – like the Grassroots House Peace Museum in the southern Japanese city of Kochi. Numerous Japanese citizens have also built memorials to the victims of Japan’s wartime aggression, or developed cross border reconciliation projects, in their own local towns and villages.

Under the Abe administration, which seeks to eradicate what it calls the “masochistic” view of Japanese history, these grassroots peace-building initiatives are under threat. Local authorities in Gunma Prefecture have recently ordered the removal of a monument erected by local citizens to Korean wartime forced labourers, and similar local projects elsewhere are also under fierce attack from nationalist groups. Critical references to the wartime past are rapidly fading from school curricula and from the mass media as the nationalist tide both within and outside government rises.

The Japanese group who have nominated Article 9 and its supporters for the Nobel Peace Prize are not simply seeking recognition for a historical act of constitution making. They are asking the rest of the world to rethink our assumptions about the nature of national constitutions, war and peace-making. Whether or not Article 9 receives the prize, this is a challenge to which we should respond with enthusiasm.

Dave Chapman is Associate Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Queensland; Tessa Morris-Suzuki is Professor of Japanese History at the Australian National University; and Carolyn Stevens is Professor of Japanese Studies and Director of the Japanese Studies Centre at Monash University. Together with other concerned academics and citizens, they have formed the campaign group Active Peacemaking in Australia and Japan.

Radical Objects: The Bearded Man and the Bomb

Image L0076639: Correspondence regarding MCANW publication of "Nuclear Emergencies: A GP's Guide", 1991. From the Medact archive, ref: SA/MED/K/1/12/11.

Image L0076639: Correspondence regarding MCANW publication of “Nuclear Emergencies: A GP’s Guide”, 1991. From the Medact archive, ref: SA/MED/K/1/12/11.


It sounds like a set-up for a joke: a bearded man creeps into the office of the Medical Campaign against Nuclear Weapons, nervously asks for a copy of their latest publication on the medical consequences of nuclear warfare, and then quietly slips out. He is a civil servant, working in defence.

But aside from the amusing image of this tiptoeing bearded chap, the letter unveils some interesting truths about a period of intense hostility between East and West. It demonstrates the air of secrecy surrounding nuclear issues, the lack of concrete information publically available on the grave implications of a nuclear accident or attack, and the outspoken position of doctors in this fight against the proliferation of weapons.
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Why My Research Matters: Say Burgin

In the first of HWO’s new monthly series profiling the important historical work being done by early career researchers, we asked Say Burgin at the University of Leeds to reflect on the importance of her doctoral research both for the discipline of history and for the politics of race and ‘diversity’ in our contemporary world. Burgin’s doctoral thesis explored white anti-racist organising in the USA since the 1960s.

‘Diversity’ training is one of the great constants of neoliberal institutions in the United States of America and, increasingly, elsewhere. By ostensibly forming workforces that appreciate notions of difference, the introduction of such training is seen as important to the constitution of multicultural free market expansion. Diversity training is also the cornerstone of what Chandra Talpade Mohanty famously called the Race Industry: ‘an industry that is responsible for the management, commodification, and domestication of race’. While Mohanty was specifically interested in institutions of higher education, scholars now widely assume that race (along with other differences) has become ‘managed’ in large part through the advent of training across institutional locations. Doing so has become profitable – both for the institutions and for those working in the Race Industry. ResistingRacismAnActionGuide Continue reading

What was the Union For? Historical perspectives on Union and Independence in present day Britain

The debates surrounding this month’s referendum on Scottish independence have focused in the main upon the place of Scotland in present-day Britain. The historical nature and meaning of the union, and of Britain, has been largely ignored. As Laura Stewart illustrates, historical narratives have been mobilized to support both the yes and no campaigns in the lead-up to the imminent vote; they have also been strategically and emotionally deployed, as Lloyd Bowen details, on both sides of the ongoing discussion about Welsh sovereignty. And yet, as these early modern historians show, examining more carefully the historical contingencies and complexities of the ever-changing United Kingdom compels us to rethink the meaning not only of the union but also about the very concept of the nation and national sovereignty which has played such an important—if under-examined—role in recent debates.

The Act of Union....

The Treaty (or Act) of Union, 1707

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Denis Delay: Docker, Trade Unionist and Writer

Dennis Delay. Image copyright The Independent.

Dennis Delay. Image copyright The Independent.


By Sam Patterson

Denis Delay (1927-2011) began his working life as a London docker and went on to become one of the most influential Trade Union figures in the steel industry. After his retirement in 1990 he returned to his interest in the London docks and their history. Delay worked tirelessly on his book on the history of the London docks from 1889-1955. Unfortunately, he never got the pleasure of finishing it. However, Delay’s research and draft writings were deposited at the Trade Union Congress Library Collections and it has been my privilege to go through his papers and catalogue them.

The first time that I saw the archive, it was frightening to say the least. I was met with a pile of red TUC cloth folders filled to bursting point with papers, press cuttings and draft writings. There were a number of large carrier bags filled with press cuttings, which had just been collected up from Delay’s desk. Delay’s computer, a box of floppy discs, a printer, a couple of books on Locoscript and a few books on the docks were also deposited. Somehow I was supposed to make sense of everything before me. Having done my own research for a PhD, I could appreciate what was in front of me, but making sense of someone else’s work was going to be quite a challenge, but a challenge that I was willing to take on. I was excited to be the first person to go through all this research that Delay had spent the last twenty years of his life doing. For Delay, it appears, from those who knew him in those final years, to have been his full-time occupation.

The first objective was to systematically go through all the paperwork and find out exactly what was there. Chris Coates, Librarian to the Trade Union Congress Library Collections, had visited Delay’s home to see the quantity and quality of the material being donated. Coates had had a brief look at a few sample folders to get an idea of the collection but it was the initial survey which provided the most information, so far, on the collection. From the initial survey, decisions were made on how the collection was categorized. It also proved a very useful aid in bringing subjects, which had become scattered over many folders, back together again. There were two obstacles. Firstly, that in gathering Delays work together and transporting it to the Trade Union Congress Library Collection, the papers had become muddled; secondly, that during Delay’s latter years he too began to suffer with the onset of dementia, which again muddled his work.

After the initial survey of the papers, it was on to cataloguing the press cuttings. The press cuttings went from the turn of the 20th Century up to Delay’s death in 2011. The press cuttings not only covered the history of the docks, famous unionists, political figures, but also Delay’s personal interests: health and well-being. It was from these personal interests that I could have an insight into the person behind the research, which I found equally fascinating. Of course the press cuttings on personal interests were of no relevance to the overall collection and we, Chris and I, decided to remove them in order to make the collection relevant to researchers on the docks.

It was during this initial survey that I found a number of personal letters Delay wrote to a dear friend of his, Gillian McCredie. In one letter he discusses his writings saying “I started this work with intent to outline events in the Port of London following the Second World War insofar as they concerned the men who worked there handling cargoes, called dockers, stevedores and lightermen”. Delay was obviously aware of his own ‘failings’ and deteriorating health as he continues “…unfortunately, I have had to leave it in an unfinished state because: a) I went beyond my original idea of recording those events by backtracking to try to cover events which took place from the 1880’s up to the end of that war; b) Out of interest, I got far too immersed in detail; c) Because of impatience I also jumped from one aspect or period to another, instead of completing each one in sequence.”

This letter particularly appealed to me, as I could relate to all of Delay’s ‘failings’. It is so easy to stray from one’s original plan and get lost in the detail of particular events. Also, if one does not think that a particular aspect or period of research is progressing as one would like it is easy to then ‘jump’, as Delay puts it, to something completely different. However, I would suggest that these are not ‘failings’ but part of the process of research. Delay’s research has now provided a collection of papers and writings which reveal his personal interests in the history of the Docks. In the post Second World War period Delay’s papers have a focus upon the interaction of the unions. Delay was particularly interested in the union strife of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers (NASD).

Throughout Delay’s draft writings and notes there are many anecdotes about his own time working on the docks during the 1950s. Delay worked on Surrey Docks, which, he described as “…a most interesting place, a world of its own, physically set apart from the rest of London, and the men a community with a unique and extraordinary way of life”. Delay continues:

Here is an account by a participant of a way of life that has gone for ever and will never be seen again. It begins on a summer day in 1950, or maybe 1951, as I stood on that spot where Lower Road joined Redriff Road, part of a crowd of over a thousand other men, under a big clock fixed on the wall over a little old jeweller’s shop.

Delay’s experiences of working in the docks can be found in his draft writing Down by the Riverside: A Tale of the London Docks. On the front cover of this draft Delay acknowledges that this was an early version by scribbling a note on the front cover which states: “This is a first draft, and f*cking awful with it. If I drop dead before revising it, I hope a good editor will comb out all the garbage”. Delay has made some handwritten corrections on this work, which once again gives an insight into how he worked.

Down by the Riverside was one of the most troublesome parts of this collection as it eluded me for a long time. I could find the printed early draft of the work but could not find it on Delay’s computer. One of Delay’s major faults was the titling of sections of his work. On the computer all the files were sequence coded and without opening it, the title would not necessarily give an idea of contents, hence on the CD in the collection there are notes to try and help anyone wishing to read the draft writings that were on Delay’s computer.

I was no computer expert, but with Delay’s work I was to take a step back in time to what I am told is an old DOS based system called Locoscript. All I know is that I was looking at a computer screen that I vaguely remembered using in my childhood. The screen was black and the writing was bright green and made up of lots of small dots. The only way to navigate around the system was via the use of ‘hot keys’ or the ‘F’ keys. However, the first problem I had was to even find where all his documents were hidden. When the computer was turned on it looked quite conventional. McCredie had told me that I would find all of Delay’s work in Locoscript but the first problem was: Where was Locoscript? I had no idea what I was looking for, but after a bit of stumbling around I found the icon which was to open up my new world of Locoscript. Having spent my time going through all the files on the computer I was disappointed to find no trace of Down by the Riverside. I knew that there had been other computers but McCredie was confident that everything was on the computer donated; there was everything apart from Down by the Riverside, which was Denis’ own recollection of his days working in the docks, the most important files I felt. If the files were not on the computer then the only other possibility was that they were hidden in the box of floppy discs that came with the computer.

My search began with the most recent floppy discs. Luckily Denis put the date on a lot of his discs, although there were still many which had no label on them. The most recent discs once again were disappointing, there was still no trace of Down by the Riverside. On rifling through the box of floppy discs again in the hope of a bit of inspiration, I found an envelope with two disc marked ‘TDBTRS’. My interest was sparked, could this be the initials I was looking for? The Down By The River Side. I had to find out. This was problematic. Once files had been saved to floppy disc from Locoscript they could not be opened again by Locoscript as it would corrupt the information on the floppy disc. With every step forward there were always a few steps back again.

Having struggled with getting my way around Locoscript, I took to the internet to try and find out if anybody knew anything about this software. Luckily I found Malcolm Surl of Luxsoft, whose help has been invaluable. Potentially I had found Delay’s personal story of working on the docks, and at that moment I could not open it at all. I note that Word cannot read anything from Locoscript, it is merely presented as random characters on screen. I got back in touch with Surl and sent him the files, which by then I had done so many times. He would work his magic and get them transformed into Word documents that I could then read. To my surprise I received an email from Surl’s wife to say that he was unwell and in hospital. It’s selfish to say, but it did make me wonder if I would ever get this final piece in the jigsaw, unravelled from Locoscript and into Word. Within a couple of days and to my complete surprise Surl got in touch. He had very kindly worked his magic on the files, and attached to his email were the files headed up ‘TDBTRS’. This was it. With nervous apprehension, I clicked the files and opened them. Yes, it was the original files to Delay’s personal story Down by the Riverside. I was delighted. And it is at that moment, that you look around to the people nearby and realise that you are on your own in this quest. There I am, celebrating around my home that I have finally found the files that I have been searching for, and which I was beginning to think Delay had taken to the grave with him, and my husband looks at me like I am some crazed woman. He knows that I have been searching night and day for these files for months now and can see my obvious excitement, but he still looks confused that I can be so excited over one email from someone who I have never met and yet am so eternally grateful to.

As it turns out the files are in the original format. Within the Delay collection there is a printed copy of Down by the Riverside, which Delay has been through and corrected manually, but Delay evidently did not make these corrections on the computer too. Therefore between the CD files and the draft copy, one can see Delay’s thought process, and his quick-to-criticise comments are scattered throughout this piece. The only disappointment with the files is that the last two chapters are missing, but from the draft copy they do look like an afterthought from Delay. At least they are not missing entirely, as there is the draft copy version of them.

This has been the defining point of Delay’s collection, that without being able to see all of it, no one part of it can tell the whole story. Therefore, it has been so important that the collection has remained together. It is thanks to Chris Coates at the TUC Library Collection that she initially saw the potential of this collection and has brought it into the public domain. For me, it has been a privilege to catalogue Delay’s papers. Having started out with little knowledge of either Delay or the history of the northern docks, my own research has been on Stepney and the East End of London, I now feel akin to Delay. I can fully appreciate Delay’s ups and downs of researching and it is a shame that such unfortunate circumstances brought us together. It would have been very interesting to have met Delay and I’m sure that we would have had a mutual understanding and appreciation for each other’s work.

Delay had written to McCredie that “It would be nice if someone competent who you liked and trusted would agree to work on it to complete it…”  I just hope that I am living up to Delay’s expectations!