Vague Constitution needs clarification

Mainichi Shimbun, Wednesday 3 May 2000

Richard A. Poole, a former U.S. Navy ensign involved in the drafting of Japan's Constitution, in a recent interview with the Mainichi Shimbun criticized those who propose that the fundamental law be revised simply because the occupation-era General Headquarters (GHQ) forced it on Japan.

In the interview, Poole provided insight into the progress behind the birth of the idea of a symbolic Emperor, and other events occurring 54 years ago when the Constitution was first promulgated. He also argued that the vagueness of Article 9 of the Constitution must be clarified.

At the time the Constitution was being drafted, Poole was 26. Several high-ranking officers were assigned to the committees on the draft's administration, legislation and judicature. When only a committee for a section on the Emperor remained to be formed, Col. Charles L. Kades asked Poole to head the committee.

Poole admits he was surprised, but having been born in Japan, he had the experience necessary for the appointment. Before joining the U.S. Navy, he took university courses in international law, constitutional studies, international relations and the state of affairs in the Far East and Japan.

In forming the concept of making the Emperor a symbol of the state, Poole says the idea was to change the Japanese government to a constitutional monarchy, similar to Great Britain. Under the Meiji Constitution, sovereign power was in the Emperor. This was a provision that was employed by the militarists and ultranationalists to act in the name of the Emperor, he says. It is hard for anybody to know exactly what the Emperor himself felt about what was being done in his name, but nevertheless, his name was being used.

This provided a mantle of legiti-macy for what these militarists and ultranationalists were doing, Poole explains.

Hence those drafting the Constitution were looking for terminology that would define the Emperor as a constitutional monarch, and the word symbol ensued.

Before the idea of a symbol had developed, earlier drafts had described the Emperor as a symbolic personification of the Imperial throne, but the wording of this phrase was deemed awkward, and the Committee on the Emperor, Treatises and Enabling Provisions, to which Poole belonged, opted to translate the English word symbol directly into Japanese.

At the time, the Japanese word for symbol could point to the throne, the Japanese flag, the state and the Japanese coat of arms, but could not refer to persons, including the Emperor himself. However, it took on this meaning in the Constitution. Through the committee, Poole was able to coin a new word in the Japanese vocabulary.

Constitution composers were given little time to produce a draft of the Constitution. There were two reasons for this, says Poole.

At first, Gen. Douglas MacArthur intended to entrust the composition of the Constitution to Japanese writers, but the so-called Matsumoto proposal draft, which was printed in the Mainichi Shimbun, was seen to be a mere adjustment of the Meiji Constitution, and its contents were regarded as inadequate.

Furthermore, there was a possibility that it could have been used to interrupt further constitutional reform. A translation of the Matsumoto draft was handed to the general, who immediately conveyed to the Japanese government that it could not be approved. The Japanese government had requested consultation over this problem, so a draft from General Headquarters was requested to be quickly produced. The Mainichi report contributed to the chain reaction that occurred after that.

The second main reason was a result of the Far Eastern Commission, of which the Soviet Union was a member. It was feared that the Soviet Union would exercise its veto, as it did during the occupation of Berlin. The Soviet Union had overissued vetoes during its trial of democracy, inviting the division of Germany. The United States wanted to avoid this.

Although the Emperor's authority was substantially limited in the new Constitution, it was the Emperor himself who played a major role in its acceptance. After the draft was submitted to the government, the Cabinet was divided over the issue. The Emperor, however, while realizing that his power would be subsequently weakened, used his influence to make the GHQ proposal become the government's draft. This, in combination with the Emperor's acceptance of surrender, provided a major turning point in the development of the Constitution.

Poole stresses that a constitution must have flexibility. It is important to confirm the opinions of the nation's people before a constitution is submitted for revision.

But even though flexibility is important, vagueness in certain sections of the Constitution must be corrected, Poole says. People have tried to transcend the vagueness in Article 9 of the Constitution&@21;renunciation of war—with various interpretations, but that only leads to debates, he says. Poole remembers asking himself if a country would be forced to abolish the state's characteristic right to possess a military after a peace treaty is concluded, and the country makes ties with other nations.

The United States is urging Japan to play a more important role in maintaining peace and security in East Asia and the Pacific, so Article 9 causes the United States problems, he says. Despite any suggestions to the contrary, it is a fact that Japan maintains an army, says Poole, referring to the Self-Defense Forces.

He believes vagueness in Article 9 could be avoided by acknowledging that this army exists and then limiting its role to defense—not just self-defense, but participation in the peace-keeping efforts of international institutions such as the United Nations, thereby preventing it from holding aggressive intentions.

Asked to respond to Japanese people's opinion that the Constitution should be amended because it was forced on the nation, Poole says that the value and significance of the Constitution could not be impaired only because it was drafted in an unusual situation.

During the process of drafting the Constitution, GHQ officials held discussions with the Japanese Cabinet, and the Japanese government version of the Constitution was created.

Some may call the Japanese government draft a fiction, but the opinions of more people than is generally believed were instilled into the Constitution, says Poole.