Support For Japan’s Military Reaches Post-War High

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Members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces soldier carry a tsunami survivor to safety in northeastern Japan last year.

TOKYO – It’s been a tough year for Japan, what with the earthquake and tsunami, North Korean nukes and China’s increasingly aggressive military. But there’s a silver lining for at least one part of Japanese society – the military. A recent opinion poll shows support for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces is at the highest level since the end of World War II.

Those who have a “positive impression” of Japan’s military has climbed to 92 percent, up from 81 percent from the previous poll in 2009. That’s a far cry from the decades that followed the war when the military was widely reviled. Much of the growing support can be traced to the response to last year’s triple disaster. More than 100,000 troops were mobilized to deliver food, shelter, medical care and emergency services throughout the devastated Tohoku region. It was the lone bright spot in the government’s otherwise bungled response.

The military has also benefited from North Korea’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons, and with the rapid buildup and growing boldness of China’s military. According to the poll Japanese residents, conducted in late January, those who think Japan’s military capabilities should be increased has jumped to 25 percent, up from 14 percent in 2009.“Today, the (Japanese military) is in a very good position. There is much greater support after Tohoku and there is a greater appreciation for what they can do,” says Masashi Nishihara, president of the Research Institute for Peace and Security, and former head of the National Defense Academy.Although Japan’s Constitution forbids offensive military operations, Japan has quietly built one of the most capable armed forces in the world. It has more than 250,000 men and women in uniform and the annual defense budget of about $56 billion is the among the six largest in the world


While most poll respondents cited disaster relief as the principal role for Japan’s military, maintaining national security comes in a close second (76 percent and 72 percent, respectively). Those who believe Japan is at risk of becoming in involved in war crept up to 72 percent (from 69 percent in 2009).  Those who say China’s military modernization and maritime activities threaten the peace and safety of Japan grew more than any other category in the poll: from 30 percent to 46 percent.

But that doesn’t mean the public is ready to throw off nearly 70 years of official pacifism and rush off to war, says Nishihara.

“The Japanese public doesn’t really understand the issues that well. If you ask them, ‘Should Japan be able to defend itself?’ of course, they will say Yes,’” Nishihara says. “But humanitarian operations are not the same as military operations. Then you have blood and death, and that’s something the public might not be ready for.”