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HOME  > Past issues  > 2016 June 22 - 28  > Japan rushed toward war of aggression by abusing emergency clauses: scholar
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2016 June 22 - 28 [POLITICS]

Japan rushed toward war of aggression by abusing emergency clauses: scholar

June 25-27, 2016
Prime Minister Abe Shinzo who is persistently aiming to undermine Japan’s pacifist Constitution has frequently referred to the need to add an “emergency clause” to the Constitution. Regarding this issue, Akahata interviewed Hitotsubashi University Professor Emeritus Watanabe Osamu. The following is a summary of his interview:

Q: Pro-constitutional revision forces criticize the current Constitution for lacking an emergency clause. What do you think of their claim?

Watanabe: Pro-constitutional amendment forces, including the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, are pushing for the introduction of an emergency clause by citing the example of the 2011 Great East Japan Disaster. The need now is to reflect on why the present Constitution has no emergency clause.

Nazi Germany is often mentioned as an example of abusing the use of emergency power. Before and during World War II, however, Japan exercised emergency power as many times as any other nation. Actually, the Constitution of the Great Empire of Japan (the Meiji Constitution) contained a “reservoir” of emergency provisions.

The Tenno (Emperor) government abused those provisions under the pretext of wars and disasters. It deprived the general public of their freedoms without parliamentary approval, finally dragging the whole population into the war of aggression. Reflecting on this deplorable fact, the postwar Constitution opted to not include an emergency clause.

The 1889 Meiji Constitution was modeled after the constitution of Prussia which was ruled by a despotic monarchy. For the purpose of defending the Tenno system, Japan’s Imperial government incorporated various emergency clauses found in those foreign constitutions into its own supreme law. As a result, the Meiji Constitution became an unusual hybrid constitution which contained multiple emergency provisions.

Q: What were the emergency clauses?

Watanabe: The Meiji Constitution included four emergency provisions. The one invoked most frequently was Article 8, which stipulated “urgent imperial ordinances”.

The article stated, “The Emperor, in consequence of an urgent necessity to maintain public safety or to avert public calamities, issues, when the Imperial Diet is not sitting, Imperial Ordinances in the place of law.”

Under the name of “public safety”, the Tenno government was able to restrict people’s liberties just by implementing this extraordinary ordinance.

Q: On what occasions were martial law and Article 8 used?

Watanabe: When a group of young military officers mounted a coup on February 26, 1936, the government put Tokyo under martial law and banned free speech and political activities without exception.

The 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake offered a good example of a natural disaster which was used by the government to suppress civil liberties. On September 2, the day after the 7.9-magnitude earthquake devastated the Tokyo area, the government imposed martial law on the capital city and issued the Ordinance for the Maintenance of Public Order. Under such a situation, thousands of Korean residents were slaughtered in Tokyo when rumors spread that Koreans were causing riots. In addition, labor activists, such as Kawai Yoshitora, and anarchists Osugi Sakae and Ito Noe were killed.

The government also turned to Article 8 to enact laws that both the Diet and general public opposed. The 1928 revision to the Public Peace Preservation Law was a perfect example.

This notorious law was enacted in 1925 to impose severe punishment to those who created or took part in organizations working for democratic reforms to counter the emperor’s absolute rule. The law criminalized the entire membership of the Japanese Communist Party. The government made a mass arrest of more than 1,000 JCP members on March 15, 1928 and proposed an adverse revision of the law in order to step up its suppression of the general public.

The proposed revision was to impose a death penalty on JCP top executives and imprisonment of those who supported the party for more than two years.

The Imperial Diet rejected the revision. However, the government used Article 8 to enact the bill immediately after the Diet session ended. This indicates how Article 8 was used to circumvent the law.

Article 8 was also an effective tool to control Japan’s colonies. When Japan annexed Korea in 1910, the government, by issuing the urgent imperial ordinance based on this notorious provision, enabled the government-general of Korea to create laws without parliamentary consultation.

The Abe government’s aggressive stance for constitutional revisions stands out over many other similar moves in the postwar era. PM Abe is trying to do away with Article 9 of the Constitution and at the same time restore the emergency clause of the Meiji Constitution.

The need now is to surround the Abe government with a wide range of people to block Abe’s attempt for a constitutional change.

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