Many objections have been raised against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to expand the Self-Defense Forces’ role in the world. Does “collective self-defense,” as envisioned by Abe, violate the pacifist principles embodied in the Constitution? Three legal scholars testified before the Diet early this month that in their judgment it did. That one of the three scholars had been selected to testify by Abe’s own Liberal-Democratic Party added weight to public unease: Where is the nation going under this government, and what will it do when it gets there?
Constitutionality and unconstitutionality have so far dominated parliamentary debate on the government’s proposed legal amendments to facilitate SDF operations overseas. Shukan Gendai (June 27) looks at the issue from another angle. Is the SDF, it asks, fit for operations overseas? Its blunt conclusion: By no means.
The SDF, it charges, harbors a “deep, dark secret.” Former enlistees and unnamed Defense Ministry insiders claim the forces are rife with bullying, power harassment, mental illness and suicide. If there is such a thing as a collective nervous breakdown, the SDF, as Shukan Gendai sees it, seems on the brink of one.
SDF suicide statistics, compiled by the government’s Cabinet Office, are shocking. At 37.0 per 100,000 enlistees, the rate is 1.85 times higher than that among the nationwide civilian population. Among troops sent to Iraq in support operations between 2003 and 2009, the suicide rate surges to 311.5 per 100,000 – more than 15 times the civilian rate.
That military life, even in peacetime, is more stressful than civilian life is not news. Training is harsh, discipline rigorous. Where the fine line lies between discipline and “power harassment” is not clear. A former Maritime SDF member, speaking to Shukan Gendai on condition of anonymity, tells of witnessing beatings with blunt instruments such as metal flashlights that continued until blood flowed. He doesn’t say what offenses the beatings were for.
Is that bullying, or discipline?
Former Air SDF officer Yorimasa Ikeda talks to the magazine of his personal experience. Sent to Iraq in April 2006 as part of Japan’s contribution to the reconstruction of the war-shattered country, he was warned on arrival at the SDF base to beware of land mines, but it was a hazard he was not warned about that overturned his life – he was hit by an American troop transport bus.
All the medics could do for him, supplies being short, was dope him with sleeping pills and painkillers. He pleaded to be sent home; permission denied. When he complained of intolerable pain in his neck, back and jaw he was told, “Go complain to the Americans!”
He was repatriated finally in August – only to be told at a Japanese hospital that too much time had passed since the injuries; they were now incurable.
Depressed, in pain, unable to eat or speak properly, he separated from his wife and child. Bullied by fellow servicemen, he resigned his commission. He says now, “The SDF is riddled with cover-ups and lies. They’re utterly untrustworthy.”
Maybe he’s simply a man with a grievance sounding off; or maybe not. Many service people, Shukan Gendai points out, enlist mainly to acquire experience and qualifications they can take back with them to civilian life – the sooner the better. Their motivation is low. “And how will these people perform,” the magazine wonders, “if they’re sent to an overseas war zone?”
One SDF member is quoted, anonymously, as saying, “I enlisted to protect Japan in case of attack – not to be sent abroad for something called ‘collective self-defense.’ That is altogether different from what I was told I’d be doing when I signed up.”© Japan Today