Friday, August 2, 2013

Japan's Military Revival



TOKYO—Masahisa Sato stood in a ballroom under a giant Japanese flag, reading to the after-work crowd from a letter a World War II kamikaze pilot sent his young daughter.

"Don't see yourself as a fatherless child. I will always be looking out for your safety," Mr. Sato quoted the pilot as writing before he flew his plane into a U.S. ship off the Philippines in 1944, with his daughter's favorite doll in the cockpit.

As the audience fell silent, Mr. Sato declared, his voice hoarse: "We have people we want to protect. We must have the resolve to hand this nation to the next generation."

Mr. Sato is no fringe militaristic crank. He is a top defense adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a member of Japan's parliament running for re-election on Sunday. The vote will help determine the extent of Mr. Abe's grip on power—and his ability to push through an agenda to transform Japan's military to an extent unseen since the bitter defeat nearly 70 years ago.


The shift comes as brutal memories of war recede among the public. By the 2010 census, just 16% of Japan's population had been at least 5 years old when World War II ended.

On a recent evening, Mr. Sato, the soldier-turned-politician, was in a college lecture hall near the foot of Mount Fuji, giving a passionate speech about territories. The audience was a mix of local voters: retirees, middle-aged couples and men in work clothes.

Mr. Sato stood in front of a map of Japan pinned upside down, to emphasize how the Japanese archipelago looks like an obstacle that blocks China's advancement toward the vast Pacific Ocean. "Our resolve to defend our territory is now being tested," he said, as he discussed tensions with China over islands in the East China Sea.

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