Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Remembering the Struggle for Sunagawa in the Summer of '57

Many people are aware that in April 2008 an international conflict specialist discovered previously classified documents in the US National Archives. That person was Shouji Shinbara.

Shinbara discovered that MacArthur, then ambassador to Japan, secretly met with Foreign Minister Aichiro Fujiyama and Supreme Court Chief Justice Kotaro Tanaka to get them to overturn the decision reached in March 1959 by Judge Date that acquitted the seven protesters (arrested for trespassing on the US military base in Tachikawa; they were protesting the base's expansion). This is an extremely important discovery.

Shinbara-san delivered a lecture in December 2008 on the Date Decision and the Sunagawa Struggle in Tachikawa city. His speech was published in the July 2009 issue of Zenei magazine. He sent me a very polite letter and a copy of the magazine. In the letter he wrote that "I may have included many misinterpretations because I know little about the Sunagawa Struggle," but based on my reading, his description is accurate. He speaks the truth.

The Date Decision said that the presence of US military troops in Japan is unconstitutional. I believe that is a correct reading. But the US ambassador secretly worked to overturn this ruling. This was a turning point in Japan's postwar history. We need to revive the spirit of the Date Decision: The presence of US troops in Japan is unconstitutional.

Shinbara's lecture — "A Half Century after the Sunagawa Struggle: The Inside Story Revealed by the Secret American Documents" — turns a new page in the research of postwar Japan.

As a participant in the Sunagawa Struggle, I recognize that it (especially the Date Decision and the way the Supreme Court and the Japanese government worked together) was a turning point in Japan's postwar history, but there wasn't documentation to prove my point. Shinbara-san's discovery of the secret US documents provided that proof. His contribution has been immense. I feel deep respect for him.

The Sunagawa Struggle had three peaks to it: the autumns of 1955 and 56, and the summer of 1957. On the third phase of the struggle, protesters entered the US military base. Seven people participating in the demonstration were prosecuted under a special law based on the first US-Japan security pact. The first ruling in the case, from a Tokyo district court, was the Date Decision. Shinbara describes it:

"The presiding judge in the Date Decision looked at the presence of US military in Japan as a case of the Japanese government requesting those troops. The presence of a military command was beside the point. The judge said he could not help but say that this violated Article 9 of the Constitution, which prohibits Japan from having a military force ... therefore the US military presence is unconstitutional."

Exactly. Ambassador MacArthur worked to overturn this ruling by meeting secretly with Foreign Minister Fujiyama and then Supreme Court Chief Justice Tanaka (proof of which Shinbara discovered during his research). Before a revised version of the US-Japan Security Treaty was signed, the Supreme Court overturned the Date Decision and buried it.

Based on this, both the US and Japan governments prepared to force through the legal ratification and signing of the revised US-Japan Security Treaty. When the two governments had erased the Date Decision, Japan had been cast permanently as a subordinate of the United States.