One comment in particular caught my eye. Asked about Canada, his adopted home since fleeing the US to escape the draft, he said:
Canada is set up to run on steady immigration. It feels like a twenty first century country to me because it’s not interested in power. It negotiates and does business. It gets along with other countries. The power part is very nineteenth century. 99 percent of ideology we have today is very nineteenth century. The twentieth century was about technology, and the nineteenth was ideology.
This got me thinking about Japan’s “normal nation-ists.” While Gibson’s characterization is a bit too simple — ideology obviously “bled” into the twentieth century, technology had as transformative an impact on the nineteenth as the twentieth — a “normal” nation in the late twentieth/early twenty-first centuries is not the same as a normal nation in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries.
A normal nation in the late nineteenth century, the salad days of the nation-state, was obsessed with national power, constantly looking to enhance its own power and sizing itself up against other nation-states. It shaped its domestic institutions to enable it to draw on the wealth and bodies of its citizens to build up a modern army and navy and conquered weaker nations for reasons of wealth and honor (and to compete with others, of course). War was the great proving ground of the nation. As Theodore Roosevelt wrote in The Strenuous Life, “If we stand idly by, if we seek merely swollen, slothful ease and ignoble peace, if we shrink from the hard contests where men must win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples will pass us by, and will win for themselves the domination of the world.”
In their thinking about war and Japanese society in the twenty-first century, Japan’s conservatives — the “normal nation-ists” — still see the world through these eyes. To be a normal nation is to compete with other nations, to not “shrink from the hard contests.” This is why so many of them want, as Abe Shinzo said, to leave the postwar system behind. In their eyes the postwar system is abnormal, as it led Japan to opt out of the contest for power. It weakened the resolve of the Japanese people for competition internationally. (At least military competition, the only competition that matters; to be a merchant nation, to exert power through money is ignoble, hence the shame of so many Japanese over the country’s response to the Gulf crisis in 1990.)
Japan as it exists today is a normal nation. It is peaceful, has abstained from intervention in the internal politics of other countries, and is non-nuclear. It is a signatory to major international treaties and an enthusiastic participant in international regimes. This is normal behavior for a country in the twenty-first century. Japanese, like Europeans, are from Venus (in Robert Kagan’s formulation), but Venusian behavior is increasingly normal, even in East Asia, which, despite the persistence of dangerous flashpoints and despite the stirrings of an arms race, is still remarkably peaceful.
Accordingly, the program pushed by the conservatives is the road of an abnormal nation. Perhaps because they take the United States as their model, they assume that US behavior is normal. It isn’t. (MTC implies this in this post.) Martial America is almost unique in its adherence to nineteenth-century norms of behavior. American power has played a positive role in supporting international order — there is no denying that. But the motive power behind it is straight out of the nineteenth century, leading to abnormal behavior like the invasion of Iraq. (That the US launched the invasion despite the opposition of much of the world would suggest that the war was “abnormal,” i.e. in contravention to a prevailing norm against aggressive, preventive war.)
So it is a misnomer to describe the revisionist advocates of a more robust Japan free of constraints on the use of force as advocates of a normal nation. Prime Minister Fukuda’s emphasis on, in MTC’s words, “contributing to world security through leadership on disease control, global warming, combatting poverty” looks increasingly like the foreign policy of a normal nation in the twenty-first century. It is also a mistake to describe them as nationalists. Nationalism need not be associated with military power, although nineteenth-century nationalism is. Why can’t a twenty-first century nation be proud of more pacific achievements, whether domestic (a society with a low crime rate or high literacy) or international (a commitment to creating a more peaceful, orderly world)? The revisionists do not have a monopoly on pride in their country. Defenders of Japan’s postwar system have plenty of which to be proud.