18 September 2016
The peace campaign in 2015 has often been described as historically unique and distinct from previous peace movements, in particular, its predecessor in 1960, which struggled against the revision of the Japan-US security pact, since most of the participants of the 2015 campaign were individuals and mobilized neither by organized labor nor by student groups as was the case in 1960.
However, throughout the long history of the postwar Japanese peace movement, the major peace campaigns that have gained nationwide attention have always had strong support from ordinary citizens outside established social movement organizations.
It is true that labor unions and student associations were often the main mobilizing force in various peace campaigns, yet the chief inspiration for the postwar peace movement has no doubt been the devastating national war experience that has been represented, in particular, by the victims of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Therefore, the basic outlook of the Japanese peace movement has been popular no-more-war sentiment, not any particular political ideology, even when leftist political groups stand out.
Anti-war movements in postwar Japan appeared as early as 1950. The most enthusiastic group of peace activists throughout the 1950s consisted of women and mothers while protests against the US military bases were largely conducted by local citizens, many of whom were farmers and fishermen and their families. The longstanding campaign against atomic and hydrogen bombs has only been possible because of strong grassroots humanitarianism.
Another important aspect of the postwar Japanese peace movement is that peace campaigns have almost always expressed a serious concern about Japan’s postwar democracy. The country’s catastrophic defeat in the war was brought about by a harsh militarist regime that shattered the prewar development of constitutional democracy. Major peace campaigns in the postwar period have always cried out against any government action that they feel has threatened or contravened constitutional principles and processes.
The two groups of young mothers and students came to the fore in the 2015 peace campaign. The mothers’ group has called for the greatest respect for children’s lives, be they friend or foe. This corresponds exactly to that of the mothers’ peace campaign in the 1950s. The student group repeatedly asked, “What is democracy,” and replied by shouting “This is democracy,” implying that they were taking issue with the unconstitutional manner of the government’s handling of the security bills
Thus the peace campaign in 2015, for all its seemingly unique character, is still part of the long-cherished tradition of Japan’s postwar peace movement.
Professor of International Relations and Peace Studies, Tokyo Keizai University