Mission World - August 2022

Ten Days of Peace in Japan

Whether reports that Russia may consider using a nuclear weapon in its war against Ukraine result from an over-hyped media, idle presidential musing or considered menace, they are profoundly disturbing. However, what the bishops of Japan find at least equally disturbing is that the government of their own country, a one-time prophet of peace through disarmament and the only nation ever to suffer the carnage of atomic warfare, now subscribes to a firm belief in the protective power of a nuclear umbrella.

In the years since World War II, the people of Japan galvanised their support behind what was known as the Peace Constitution (Article Nine), which put a blanket ban on military aggression against another nation other than in self-defence.

However, with the ascension to power of Shinzō Abe in 2006, the political winds of peace began to change. Early in his first prime ministership, Abe was muttering about rearming Japan for involvement in overseas combat, something specifically forbidden by the country’s Peace Constitution, but something Abe determined must change.

In response, the religious faiths of Japan organised a colloquium in Tokyo arguing that the strongest defence the country possessed lay in its pacifist constitution. The colloquium pointed out that no citizen of Japan had died through the nation’s involvement in international conflict and no foreign power had approached its shores in anger since the conclusion of World War II. Each religion vowed to prioritise pacifism in its pastoral teaching.

Ten Days of Peace is an annual initiative begun by the Catholic Church after Pope John Paul II’s 1981 pilgrimage of peace to Japan. It stretches from the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6 to the destruction of Nagasaki on August 15. Encouraged by the passing in the United Nations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017 and subsequent ratification by the required 50 countries making it binding in international law, Ten Days of Peace has adopted ridding the world of nuclear weapons as its primary focus.

The bishops of Japan name the major barrier to the enactment of this Treaty as “the persistence of the deterrence theory held by nuclear-armed states and countries, such as Japan, under the so-called nuclear umbrella. These countries have not acknowledged, signed or ratified the Treaty…”

The bishops further state, “The Japanese government argues that ‘it is necessary to maintain the deterrence of the United States with nuclear weapons…’, but as the only country ever to be attacked with atomic weapons, Japan should take the lead in signing and ratifying and play a role in promoting dialogue towards nuclear disarmament…”

With the move of Fumio Kishida into the prime ministerial office, there was hope his ear may have been more sensitive to the plea of Pope Francis during his visit to the Vatican this year. However, Kishida has stuck with his doubled military budget indicating Japan has moved its trust away from peaceful diplomacy towards the deliberate menace of nuclear threat.

This article was written on behalf of St Columbans Mission Society.

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