‘We Will Be Welcomed as Liberators’

The War-Waging Nation of America and Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution

Brian Covert

Good morning, everyone. My name is Brian Covert.

Thank you for joining the event today, especially on a Saturday morning, to think about and talk together about Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. I’m especially happy that young people could join us today, since I am convinced that young people in Japan have a strong role to play for the future of Article 9.


As you know, the 9-11 attacks occurred seven years ago this month, and the world situation is far less safe and far less stable now than it was then. It is a good time, I think, to discuss among us all here today just how Article 9 can help bring about a more stable world situation in the future.

First of all, I would like to thank everybody in the Article 9 Association - Kawanishi for inviting me to speak today and for all their hard work in organizing today’s event. I am sometimes asked to travel to various parts of Japan to speak about Article 9 and the “American military empire”. And of course, I always welcome the chance to meet people all over Japan who care so deeply about Article 9 as the international treasure that it is. But there is something especially precious about being able to get together with people in the town where one lives to talk about things that are important to each other. So even though this is my first time to be associated with the Article 9 Association - Kawanishi, I do look forward to getting more involved in the organization’s local activities in the future.

The title of my speech today is “‘We Will Be Welcomed as Liberators’: The War-Waging Nation of America and Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution”. I will explain in a little while what this kind of controversial phrase means and how it is used by countries to promote war.

But from the outset, I think I should make clear, if there is any doubt in anyone’s mind, that I am completely against the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. I join many people around the world in demanding that the U.S. military — and U.S. oil and other multinational corporations — leave both countries. For what it is worth, I think the U.S. military should also immediately leave the Japanese mainland and Okinawa, and take away the “culture of violence” that surrounds U.S. military bases wherever they are located in the world.

‘Culture of Violence’ Brought by War and Militarism

On this note of the “culture of violence” that war and militarism bring, I would like to begin my talk today by sharing with you the story of one young person who, to me, represents the very tragic truth about what war can do to young people. Perhaps this culture of violence is too shameful for the big news corporations in the U.S. and Japan to tell the public about, but let me share this story with you just the same.

LaVena Johnson, an African-American honor student during high school in Missouri, decided to enter the U.S. Army right after graduating from high school in 2003. According to her mother, who was strongly against her joining the military, LaVena felt that she wanted to do something for her country and demonstrate her patriotism. Unlike many high school graduates in the U.S. who struggle because of their poor grades, LaVena had a bright future ahead of her and could have chosen any career path that she might have wanted. However, she felt that she really wanted to follow in the footsteps of her father, who had had a long connection with the military.

After undergoing basic training, Private LaVena Johnson was sent to Iraq and stationed in the city of Balad, north of Baghdad, home to the largest U.S. military base in Iraq, where 20,000 U.S. troops are stationed. Only eight weeks after LaVena had been in Iraq, she was found dead on July 19, 2005 — a week before her 20th birthday. The U.S. Army investigated her case, and officially determined that it was a “noncombat” death. It was a suicide, the army stated, and soon closed the case. Her body was shipped back home.

But at the funeral home in Missouri, her father, Dr. Johnson, examined her and found some suspicious things, including many bruises on the girl’s body. He tried to get more information, but the army would tell him nothing more. To make a long story short, it appeared from the evidence that later surfaced that LaVena Johnson had been raped on her military base, then killed, with the killer or killers having tried to destroy the evidence of the crime at the scene.

The Johnson family has been struggling these past few years to get some kind of official independent investigation into LaVena’s death, but the U.S. Army refuses to cooperate. The family strongly believes that the U.S. Army at the highest levels has been trying to cover up the death. Ann Wright, the retired U.S. Army colonel and retired State Department official, now an anti-war activist — who, as some of you may remember, came to speak recently in Japan at the “Global Article 9 Conference” in Chiba and Osaka — is also working closely with the Johnson family. But it is an uphill struggle, with no resolution in sight for the family.

‘Freedom and Liberation’ as Pretext for War

To see how the idea of “freedom and liberation” works in war, as just one example, let us go back in time a bit to the beginnings of the current Iraq war. Here is the scenario as it unfolded:

In January of a certain year not too long ago, a group of prominent, influential ultra-rightists — so-called “neo-cons” — from both inside and outside government circles wrote a letter to the president of the United States. In that letter the neo-cons warned the president that Saddam Hussein was major threat to the U.S. and the world, and urged that he be eliminated immediately.

After many months of emotional public hearings on Iraq, both branches of the U.S. Congress were calling for the government of Saddam Hussein to be overthrown because of his international human rights violations and due to Iraq’s lack of cooperation with the United Nations weapons inspectors. In October, the U.S. House of Representatives passed what it called the “Iraq Liberation Act” with overwhelming support by the two major political parties, including by well-known Democratic Party liberals such as Edward Kennedy of the Kennedy clan and Dennis Kucinich. Two days later, the U.S. Senate also passed the bill by a unanimous vote.

The Congress, now united, soon presented the “Iraq Liberation Act” to the president of the United States. As was expected, the president soon signed the bill into law. It was now the U.S. government’s official policy to support, quote-unquote, “regime change” in Iraq. The U.S. president, with support from the First Lady, said the new law would help America defeat Saddam Hussein and help the Iraqi people in their, quote-unquote, “transition to democracy.” Just two months later, the president approved the U.S. military bombing of Iraq. Two months after that, the president told the American people that he wanted them to understand, quote-unquote, “what we must do to protect the national interest, and indeed the interest of all freedom-loving people in the world”.

Now, can anyone tell me who the president is in this scenario and what year it is? Does anybody know?

If your answer was George W. Bush, I’m sorry to say that is not the correct answer. In fact, the president was Bill Clinton, the year was 1998, and the First Lady at the time was Hillary Clinton. The military strikes on Iraq that President Clinton approved had “coincidentally” occurred at a time when Clinton’s scandal with Monica Lewinsky was unfolding before the U.S. Congress and the public. It was President Clinton, in fact, who, by signing the “Iraq Liberation Act of 1998”, gave President Bush the legal foundation on which to illegally invade Iraq just a few years later. Bush would cite that very same law in invading Iraq.

What I would like to emphasize here is that it is the policy of the so-called “two-party system” in the U.S., not just one party or the other, to support “liberation” in other countries by deadly military force and political intervention. American history is rife with examples of this. In fact, not only American history but other countries’ histories as well are full of examples of powerful nations or empires invading other nations, and subjugating or colonizing their people under the benevolent, kind-hearted mask of so-called “liberation”.

If we look at America just after September 11, we remember that there were calls throughout U.S. society for revenge. I was in the U.S. at the time, and as a journalist, I remember well how strongly the U.S. news media prodded Bush to do something urgently about 9/11, which many called the “second Pearl Harbor”. Those of us who had seen this pattern before under past U.S. presidents, including Clinton, knew what to expect. And soon enough indeed, the U.S. had invaded Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, not only to “capture” Osama bin Laden and his followers, but also to “liberate” Afghan women and other Afghan people from the slave-like society dominated by the fundamentalist Taliban.

The language of “liberation” was set clearly during the American invasion of Afghanistan. And as the U.S. government turned its eyes toward Iraq, the language of “liberation” was pushed in a very systematic way from the Bush administration to the public, with the news media used as the megaphone through which the message would be sent. Let us briefly look back at the U.S. government’s “liberation” of Iraq.

March 16, 2003: Vice President Dick Cheney goes on NBC, a popular television network (which is owned by the major military contractor General Electric), and tells a nationwide audience, quote: “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators. …The read we [President Bush and I] get on the people of Iraq is there is no question but that they want to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.” Just three days later, the U.S. illegally invaded Iraq. It is Cheney’s incredibly arrogant words here — “we will be greeted as liberators” — that I have borrowed as the title of my talk today.

Just a few months after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a nationwide poll asked U.S. adults: “Do you think most people in Iraq see the U.S. troops there as liberators or occupiers?” Forty percent of respondents answered “more as occupiers”, while 36 percent answered “more as liberators”, and 24 percent said they were not sure. In that same poll, the question was asked: “Do you think U.S. troops should stay in Iraq if most Iraqis don’t want them to stay?” The majority, 45 percent of U.S. adults surveyed, answered that the U.S. military should stay in Iraq, quote, “whether or not most people there want them to stay.”

Major General Smedley Butler: ‘War is a Racket’

So far I’ve told you about all the ways that U.S. military and government officials lie to and mislead the public. But if we look closely, we find there are occasionally notable exceptions to this in the “hidden” side of U.S. history. Actually, there was one such person in the last century — a high-ranking military official — who strongly condemned the “systemization of war” and I think his voice is still worth heeding today. His name was Smedley Butler. He was a major general in the U.S. Marine Corps and, at the time of his death in 1940 at age 58, he was the most decorated Marine in the history of the U.S.

Some of you may recognize his name from Okinawa: “
Camp S.D. Butler” is actually the name of the overall grouping of the various military bases located around Okinawa. It is ironic that the U.S. military still uses his name in Japan today, given the shocking truths of the U.S. military-industrial complex that Butler had made public in his time.

A few years ago, while I was temporarily living in California, I served as co-producer of a weekly radio talk show where listeners could call in and talk live with the evening’s guest during the one hour. I contacted Professor Noam Chomsky, the well-known linguist and critic of the U.S. government foreign policies, by e-mail to be our special guest by phone on the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Graciously, Professor Chomsky accepted my invitation and
his appearance on our show that evening was warmly received by our listeners.

One of the callers to our show was a local woman named Maureen, who runs an after-school program for teenagers to help keep them out of trouble. Maureen said that one of her program’s former participants, a young woman aged 20, had just told her that she was going to join the Marines. Maureen was so disheartened to hear that. She asked Professor Chomsky’s advice as to what he would say to American young people in situations like that who plan to join the military because it seems like such an attractive option to get a steady salary, gain an education, get insurance, and so on.

Professor Chomsky’s answer, in part, was this:

“What we ought to be concerned with, I think, is the conditions that would lead a young person to make that choice. And that includes those you mentioned: the fact that the society is structured so that the people lacking privilege don’t have many opportunities. And also, the kind of ideological side: that is, the failure to recognize just what you’re doing when you’re a Marine. You know, I’d like to see a world where anyone volunteering for the Marines has to read Smedley Butler’s account of his life as a Marine — “a robber for Wall Street,” as he put it. And he had plenty of experience. ...What exactly have the Marines done [around the world over the years]? When you look back, it’s not a pretty picture.”

Professor Chomsky’s advice somewhat surprised me, and a few days later I myself went to the local university library and looked up information on who Smedley Butler was. What I found surprised me even more.

Butler had participated in several U.S. wars in the early 1900s as a soldier, working his way up the military ranks and emerging as a key military officer in World War I. He was decorated for his bravery during combat several times, and retired with the esteemed rank of major general in 1931. In 1934, just a few years into his peaceful retirement, however, he shocked the nation by testifying in the U.S. Congress that he had been approached by some elite, wealthy Wall Street businesspersons in the U.S. who were planning a military coup to overthrow then-president Franklin Roosevelt.

These wealthy businesspersons had approached Butler with promises of strong military support, financial backing and favorable media coverage if Butler would lead the coup against Roosevelt. The businesspersons continued their secret discussions with Butler for about one year, until he finally he grew alarmed at the reality of such a fascist coup happening at any moment in the U.S. and decided to expose the coup plans and its planners to the U.S. Congress. The congressional committee believed and supported Butler’s testimony, but nobody was ever prosecuted or investigated further. The matter was soon dropped by the U.S. news media.

Butler, however, still felt that his highest duty was to protect the U.S. constitution and he continued to speak publicly about what he knew of the planned coup. He also came to tell the truth about U.S. wars overseas. In 1935 he published a book called War is a Racket, which exposed the dirty financial dealings behind the curtains of the wars that he had fought in and helped to lead. It was this book that Professor Noam Chomsky said on our radio program that all young people should read before deciding to enter the Marines to fight overseas. In his book, Butler wrote: “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”

To be brief, Butler’s book focused on the top U.S. corporations (he gave their names) that actually profit from war and how U.S. taxpayers are the ones to pay the costs of every war. He ended his book with a few suggestions on how to “smash” such a corrupt system.

“We must permit the youth of the land who would bear arms to decide whether or not there should be war” was one of his suggestions. Before a war is started, Butler said, a legal system should be in place that would allow for what he called a “limited plebiscite” of young persons of voting age. Young people are the very ones who would have to go off to fight and possibly die in an overseas war, therefore such young persons should be able to vote and decide for themselves in a plebiscite if an upcoming war should be declared.

Butler died only five years after he published those words, before Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima and Nagasaki ever happened. His words seem almost utopian and even naïve in the America of modern times. Most Americans, moreover, would find it difficult to accept the ideals of Article 9 of Japan’s “Peace Constitution” — indeed, the U.S. general public has little knowledge of Article 9 to begin with.

‘Article 9 Monument’ at Canary Islands, Africa

Luckily, not everyone in the world is ignorant of Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution. In one country, in fact, a memorial to Japan’s Article 9 has been erected and can be seen at anytime by the public. As some of you may know, this country is the Canary Islands, a colony of Spain located off the northwestern coast of Africa, near Morocco and the western Sahara desert. In this island nation of almost two million people, a small but shining memorial to Japan’s Article 9 stands to this day.

I actually didn’t know about that monument myself until just recently. I had a chance last year to hear a lecture by reporter Chihiro Ito of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, who also contributes to Days Japan magazine (for which I serve as an editor), and it was from Ito-san that I first heard about it.

In the city of Telde, located on Gran Canaria island of the Canary Islands archipelago, there is a “Plaza Hiroshima-Nagasaki”, of which the “Article 9 monument” is a part. Measuring two meters wide and three meters tall, the monument displays the complete text of Japan’s Article 9, translated into Spanish, and is used as part of the local junior high and high school-level peace studies curriculum.

In 1996 there were large-scale demonstrations in Spain against the nation joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and public demands for the withdrawal of U.S. military bases from the country. An anti-NATO movement spread to Telde, and the mayor of Santiago, Spain hosted a conference at which it was proposed to build the Plaza Hiroshima-Nagasaki and the Article 9 monument. The proposal was passed unanimously.

And so it was that an island off the coast of Africa, far away from Japan, came to have an Article 9 monument — something that has left a deep impression on me.

Reaching the Young People of Japan

Can we activate public support for Article 9 like the people of the Canary Islands, located 12,000 kilometers away from Japan, have done with their own memorial to Article 9? Is there still time to make positive changes in Japan? If so, what kinds of things can we do? Like you, I have lots more questions than answers. But one thing I strongly feel we must do is get more young people involved.

In setting the strict conditions for the referendum on Article 9 in 2010, the [Shinzo] Abe government is obviously aiming to “fix” the outcome well in advance. It seems to me that the only way we are going to protect Article 9 from being amended is by urgently raising the awareness level of the public, especially young people. The Japanese government obviously is targeting the ignorance of young Japanese people about the horrors and realities of war to help pass its referendum. Isn’t there some way that those of us in the Article 9 movement can target young people too — not in a negative, exploitative way, but in an honest, open way? How can we effectively reach out to young people and help bring them into the Article 9 movement?

I was quite moved by the message delivered by university students at the Global Article 9 Conference in Osaka this spring. They are the offspring of the first generation in Japan to grow up without war. But at the same time, I really feel we need to have those who did experience war talk directly to young people.

This spring semester at Doshisha University, I invited as a guest speaker to my class Ms. Shizuko Takagi, who was a student in Hiroshima at the time of the atomic bombing in 1945. As some of you may know, Takagi-san, now about 80 years old, is a longtime international activist on behalf of hibakusha in Japan and Kazakhstan, and is the executive secretary of the Osaka City Association of Atomic Bomb Victims. Her words to my students about her experiences in the Hiroshima atomic bombing and her life since then deeply moved my students. I was very happy when many of my students cited her speech as being the best part of my course.

Last year I asked Allen Nelson, a former U.S. Marine during the Vietnam war who is often in Japan speaking about his experiences, to come and talk to students at Doshisha University, which he did. About 80 students turned out to hear Mr. Nelson speak, and after he finished, the students surrounded him and continued peppering him with questions. The very same thing happened the year before that, when author/activist Makoto Oda came to my class and spoke to students about the U.S. carpet bombing of Osaka during World War II. Students, I think, truly need such kind of information based on peoples’ real-life experiences, rather than just having an instructor teach to them from a textbook.

In countries around the world, it is always young people who help give the extra “spark” of energy and enthusiasm that is necessary for a social movement’s sense of motion and momentum. What can we in the Article 9 movement do to actively reach out to young people in Japan today and help guide their positive energy and pure ideals in positive directions?

That’s why we so desperately need to protect Article 9 in Japan — for today and for many more generations to come. Article 9 serves not only as a guarantee for a peaceful, stable society for ourselves here in Japan, but it also ensures that other peace-loving people in other countries are not forced to be “liberated” against their will by the military of another country. This is something that Japan’s neighbors in East Asia and the United States’ neighbors in the Americas and the Caribbean, among many others, have long understood quite clearly. So for their sake and for ours, let us all work together from now on to make sure that Article 9 remains intact for a long, long time.

With that, I would like to conclude my talk for today. Thank you very much for your kind attention.