Page 15 of today’s Asahi, the opinion page, has run three excellent articles analyzing and rebutting the controversial arguments and actions of recently dismissed ASDF Chief of Staff Tamogami. I’ll quickly summarize their points:
(UPDATE: In case you missed it, you can read Tamogami’s full, six-page essay here (PDF))
Shinichi Kitaoka — Professor at Tokyo University specializing in Japanese diplomatic history
Tamogami is wrong and uses questionable secondary sources (such as Mao: the Unknown Story) to support theories that are widely rejected by the historical community. Tamogami’s views on politics appear subtly masochistic and emotional. For example, his complaints that Roosevelt tried to lure Japan into firing the first shot are “shameful” since international politics is by nature a game of trickery. Most military leaders around the world are well-educated and act gentlemanly, and in these respects Tamogami has failed miserably to meet the conditions for leading a branch of the armed forces. The incident has done enormous damage to the public’s faith in the Self Defence Forces.
Shunichi Karasawa — commentator and member of the Tondemo Gakkai, a group dedicated to debunking urban myths and conspiracy theories
Tamogami is a classic conspiracy theorist — despite the presumed access to primary information that would come with high office, Tamogami instead chose to use secondary sources that supported his theories without examining them, and then failed to prove his point. Writing about politics or history requires one to avoid the temptation to simplify complex situations, but apparently Tamogami lacked the patience. Maybe this is an expression of the SDF’s frustration over the unclear status of the force during a time when the US-Japan relationship is changing.
Tamogami has a reputation as a capable man of action. This preference for quick resolutions makes it easy for someone like that to get caught up in conspiracy theories since they are always looking for someone to blame.
After publishing the essay, he has displayed an attitude that he is more or less satisfied that he did something significant. This pattern of saying something and not seeing much need for followup or verification is also typical of conspiracy theorists.
Perhaps part of the reason his arguments have generated support on the Internet is because they offer simple answers in a complicated world. But we should not just laugh off his essay. It’s a dangerous world indeed when officials in high office can so easily be led astray by wild theories.
Toshiyuki Shikata — Teikyo University professor and former vice president of the National Defense Academy
Shikata argues from the perspective of a former officer and notes that Tamogami quite clearly did not follow the proper procedures when writing his piece. He notes that normally pieces related to work require vetting by the Chief Cabinet Secretary, and if he had gone through proper channels this inane essay never would have seen the light of day. Of course Tamogami knew that, somehow claimed the essay was unrelated to his duties, and decided to go for maximum political effect by publishing through the contest route while still in office. He then echoes Karasawa in stating that the SDF is “depressed” over its unclear status, but goes further to suggest that the constitution be revised to clarify things.
All well and good, but you won’t find any of these arguments on the Internet, at least not until I typed them up (we might see a translation in the English edition, but not the original Japanese). As usual, the right-wing has a leg up on more level-headed commentators in terms of Internet outreach. Tamogami did not hestitate to make his thoughts known in full on the Internet (possibly because he couldn’t have published them elsewhere), and the impact has been astounding. But Asahi, a mainstream media dinosaur, can only trot out its heavy hitters in the dead-tree edition.
Blogger-economist Nobuo Ikeda argues that the Asahi Shimbun, as the longtime promoter of the comfort women issue and the Nanking Massacre, two incidents that he feels are overblown, has lost credibility to criticize Tamogami, since Asahi has a history of engaging in the same sort of demagogy.
But I would say the Asahi suffers from more than just a credibility issue, if indeed they do. They just are not actively engaging the Internet audience, and this should be a real cause of concern if they want to maintain any status as a forum for opinion leaders.