Japan's Parliament Brawls Over Pacifism

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Shinzo Abe’s efforts to move Japan away from its post-World War II pacifism, though not yet successful, have had consequences—including tanking public support for his government, vociferous protests, and finally, this:

At issue was a package of bills that would allow the Japanese military to venture beyond the self-defense role spelled out for it in the constitution and support partner militaries in overseas conflicts. The opposition’s commitment to pacifism ultimately led to blows as the upper house debated the bill on Thursday, in scenes the Times described as “reminiscent of a rugby match” and The Guardian called “uncommon for Japan’s normally sedate legislature.” (Japanese MPs did tussle over a proposed labor law this summer, but Japan is no South Korea when it comes to legislative violence.)

The play-by-play, via the Times:

Opposition politicians tried to prevent voting by piling on top of the committee chairman and wrestling away his microphone. Governing party lawmakers pulled them away and formed a protective scrum around the chairman to allow him to call the vote.

And some backstory, via my own former colleague Matt Schiavenza:

Since assuming the country's top office, Abe has supported removing Article 9 of Japan's constitution, a pacifist measure that has guided Japanese foreign policy since World War II. The prime minister has argued that the clause has become anachronistic in a world where China, a longtime adversary, has greatly improved its military capacity. Following the elections in December, Defense Minister Gen Nakatami explained the rationale.

"Japan’s security environment has changed, and we must fortify our national security," he said.

Abe is pushing for the bills to pass by the end of this week.