Peace Seeds: Teens in Hiroshima Sow Seeds of Peace (Part 23)

Part 23: Junior high and high school students discuss new security laws

New security laws were enacted in Japan in September of this year, which marked the 70th year since the end of World War II. As a result of this new legislation, Japan’s position in the international community is likely to undergo significant change, with implications for junior high and high school students like us. But what do we know about the security laws and how should they be interpreted? Many teens feel that politics is a difficult subject and don’t often discuss such issues with friends.

The junior writers spoke to siblings and school friends and asked them to comment on these laws that can affect our future. Some of the comments included: “I don’t really understand the content of the security laws.” “The laws were pushed through unfairly.” “Given current international conditions, these laws are necessary.” “There’s no choice but to accept them now that they’ve been passed.” “We don’t need those laws.” In fact, we discovered that teens feel a strong degree of interest in the new security laws. These laws have something to do with us; teens like us must learn about them and stay attentive.

Junior writers discuss Japan’s new security laws

Participants: Reiko Takaya, 17, Shino Taniguchi, 17, Miku Yamashita, 17, Hinako Okada, 14, and Yukiho Saito, 13

How much do junior high and high school students know about the security laws?

A: The laws got a lot of coverage in the media, including television and newspapers, but more people than I expected didn’t know that the laws had been enacted.

B: Actually, the news about the laws wasn’t easy to follow. I found the content of the laws so hard to understand that I wanted to switch the TV channel. I wish better explanations had been given so we could understand them more easily.

C: Many schools in Hiroshima have a peace education program. I guess more students here, than the national average, are interested in these laws.

D: At my school, such expressions as “the right to collective self-defense” were on the social studies exam. So some people do know such expressions even though they don’t understand the content of the laws.

A: Under this new legislation, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) can be sent overseas to provide logistical support, including supplying ammunition and fuel, to the armed forces of other nations. Some people said, “Haven’t they done this in the past?” I don’t think people understand the content of the new laws.

Many students believe that exercising the right to collective self-defense and sending SDF personnel overseas to engage in logistical support will put their lives in greater danger. Students also tend to feel that they wouldn’t want to perform such duties themselves, but that it’s all right as long as SDF personnel are the ones dispatched.

D: It’s hard for junior high and high school students to feel that the law is linked to their own lives. Some responded to the effect that “It wouldn’t be us going overseas to carry out these duties.”

C: I know that we should think more seriously about this matter, but we learn about the Constitution in the third year of junior high school. I guess some students feel that it’s too hard for them to understand this now.

A: I don’t think “the risk won’t rise” when people are sent to areas of armed conflict. The threshold of the use of the right to collective self-defense isn’t clear, which makes us more concerned. It’s correct to say that the laws were passed much too quickly.

B: Some of my friends are hoping to join the SDF, but apparently they aren’t really aware that the work can put their lives in danger.

E: The number of people applying to the SDF could fall. Then the national government will pursue various other measures.

A: A system may be introduced where soldiers are given more monetary incentives.

Opinions on the security laws are divided among adults, too. Some are concerned that the new laws will worsen Japan’s relations with China, North Korea, and Russia and will increase the odds of Japan being drawn into war. Some also say that Japan will be more subservient to the United States. Meanwhile, there are others who argue that the new laws will work as a deterrent against China, North Korea, and Russia, and that the possibility of Japan being dragged into war will grow smaller. They say that Japan can now have a more equal relationship with the United States.

C: Some think that a military draft might be introduced even though the national government denies the idea.

E: China and Russia have criticized the enactment of the security laws. I’m worried that the new laws will lead to an arms race instead of functioning as a deterrent.

C: A Canadian student who studies here said, “Why does Japan go so far in following the U.S.? It’s as if Japan were an American colony.” Will Japan have stronger ties with the U.S. because of these laws?

A: Some people are worried that the laws will increase the likelihood of Japanese NGOs that operate in conflict areas becoming the targets of attacks.

E: After World War II, Japan renounced war and has earned trust from the world as a peaceful nation. But Japan’s attitude against playing an active role in war seems to be changing. I guess one of the factors behind this change in attitude is the January incident in which two Japanese nationals were killed by the so-called Islamic State, the militant extremist group. They criticized Japan’s cooperation with western countries in the countermeasures taken against this group.

D: I think Japan will earn higher marks from the U.S. and other countries when it comes to international contributions, but not all nations will see it this way. This is a difficult problem.

What should junior high and high school students think about and what sort of action should they take?

B: We must learn more about what’s happening in society. I want schools and the government to give better explanations so we can understand these issues more easily.

C: People just thought that they could leave difficult things to politicians. I think it’s this attitude of leaving things to others that led to the security laws being pushed through. People say that the laws were enacted before they knew it. We must be aware that we’re also interested parties to this issue.

D: Next year, 18 year olds will be eligible to vote. We must be able to make our own judgments.

E: Memorizing what’s written in textbooks isn’t enough. We have to learn about the ideas and their background and understand the reality of things. There’s more than one right answer. We should engage in more discussion at school.

A: It’s our generation that will experience the biggest impact of the laws. We must develop the capacity to discern what’s important in the news. Also, politicians must listen more closely to the opinions of young people.

Comments from teenagers

People should think more seriously about other ways of maintaining peace beyond using force. (Third-year high school student, female)

If one person bullies another person, and I take sides with the person who was bullied and get back at the bully, there will be no end to the bullying. What’s happening in the world is the same. (First-year junior high school student, female)

It’s almost impossible to understand these issues only through TV news or newspapers. I want schools to take them up in class. (Second-year high school student, male)

This is related to the future, and since it’s us who will be adults in the future, our opinions should be asked. (Second-year junior high school student, female)

It’s self-centered to oppose the laws only because they might put our country in more danger. We must make greater contributions to the world. (First-year high school student, male)

It’s wrong to make war even if the war is to “keep the peace.” (Third-year junior high school student, female)

The laws were enacted in the blink of an eye. The public should have been allowed to express their views. (Second-year junior high school student, female)

It seems that Japan does whatever the U.S. tells us. More thought must be given to peace and Article 9 of the Constitution. Japan experienced the atomic bombings but it also inflicted suffering on people in other countries. Whatever form it might take, military assistance should not be provided. (Second-year high school student, female)

Basically I support the laws, but if I imagine myself as a member of the SDF, I wouldn’t be able to wholeheartedly support them. (Second-year high school student, male)

This is such a difficult issue that I can’t offer an opinion. (Second-year junior high school student, male)

It’s wrong to call these laws “war laws.” They’re not meant for war but for defense. The laws will never make Japan what it was during World War II. (Second-year high school student, female)

I understand that Japan wants to maintain good relations with the U.S. and other countries. Still, I want to live safely in Japan, in peace. (First-year junior high school student, female)

What is Peace Seeds?
Peace Seeds are the seeds of smiles which can be spread around the world by thinking about peace and the preciousness of life from various viewpoints. To fill this world with flowering smiles, 45 junior writers, from the sixth grade of elementary school to the second year of high school, choose themes, gather information, and write articles.

(Originally published on December 10, 2015)