That is why it is encouraging that Prime Minister Koizumi has opened the subject for discussion. The first mention of constitutional change might have tickled the fantasies of some right-wingers. But if this initiative is carried through, debate about the Japanese past, and about the use and misuse of military power, will be inevitable. That can only be healthy for Japan.
But don't expect too much. A recent poll showed that 74 percent of Japanese are against amending the constitution, and Koizumi is a politician; he will not buck popular opinion. What Tokyo needs is a Japanese MacArthur in civilian clothes, a leader with the stature to dominate debate and carry public opinion.
Give Koizumi credit for trying. "Saying the self-defense forces aren't an army is just a lie," he said as he took office. "In the very worst case, if Japan is invaded, not being fully equipped and prepared is politically irresponsible."
He also showed sensitivity to the point Schmidt made in 1974 about Japan's estrangement from the world. "Why did we get involved in [World War II]?" he asked. "Because Japan became isolated from international society. What is most important is that we do not fight a war again, and do not again become internationally isolated."
These are not the words of resurgent military imperialism. We should applaud constitutional debate in Japan, and if the outcome is abandonment of pacifism, we should congratulate the Japanese on their recovery of sovereignty and encourage them to use it wisely.
Hal Piper is a former foreign cor respondent and op-ed page editor for The Sun.