A state of war revisitedYOON SEOL-YOUNG
The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“I wouldn’t want anything until victory!” That was a slogan posted around Japan in 1942, the second year of the Pacific War. The nationwide contest for a slogan was supposed to be written by an 11-year-old girl. (It was later confirmed that it was written by her father.) The slogan reflects the desperate pledge from a girl not to desire anything until the war is won. It was useful propaganda to create a social atmosphere to cooperate with the war led by the state.
After the Covid-19 outbreak, I am often told to refrain from unnecessary outings. It is not coercive, but the atmosphere to refrain from unnecessary outings reminds me of the wartime situation 78 years ago. Without using a forced measure like lockdown, the appeal is as effective as a law.
But the Shinzo Abe government doesn’t stop there. Declaration of a state of emergency has been defined in an epidemic-related law for the first time. The opposition party would have actively opposed in other times, but they couldn’t find a justification as Covid-19 spreads worldwide. With absolute majority votes, the Diet passed the bill in March.
Japanese Prime Minister Abe did not miss the opportunity. On May 3, Constitution Day, he urged a constitutional revision, claiming that a clause on emergency response should be added as it is a grave and important task. He was criticized for going too far, but it is a lot easier for Abe to attain his long-cherished goal of constitutional amendment.
Politicians regretted a lack of strong administrative power as Japan could not enforce a lockdown like in European countries. They don’t mention the case of Korea, where the epidemic was successfully controlled without a lockdown. When Japanese media mentions Korea’s case, they focus on the government’s release of private information on the patients. The media stress that the spread could be blocked because the Seoul government checks patients’ credit card and mobile phone usage information.
Intellectuals are worried about Tokyo’s attempt to strengthen administrative authority through the pandemic. Commentator Hiroki Azuma said he was afraid of the possible regression of freedom and privacy in the face of Covid-19.
In this time of the chaos, malicious intentions are directed at the vulnerable. Some people acted as “vigilantes” in front of the pachinko shops which refused the closure request.
In the wartime of Covid-19, things that shouldn’t happen, happen. I get chills up my spine from time to time.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 12, Page 28