Land of the Rising Military

Before Sept. 11, who would have predicted this: German troops operating in post- Taliban Afghanistan and, coming soon, Japanese soldiers helping to secure post-Saddam Iraq.

The public pacifism implanted in Germany and Japan after World War II has been further eroded by each nation's willingness to find some role in the war on terrorism. But each nation has also been eager since the end of the cold war to be treated as "normal" in international affairs, which means exercising some military muscle.

In Japan's case, a vote by conservatives in parliament on Saturday allows the first dispatch of ground troops abroad outside UN peacekeeping, with up to 1,000 soldiers to be sent to Iraq for reconstruction purposes but with the possibility they may need to combat Iraqi guerrillas.

Despite a Constitution that mandates force be used only for defensive purposes, a remilitarized Japan has been encouraged by the US in recent years, and many Japanese want more defense against North Korea's nuclear and missile threat, despite the US defensive umbrella.

Japan's step-by-step expansion of its military deployment overseas during the past decade has put the rest of Asia on alert. The world's second-largest economy may soon have as much military clout as yen power.

But China and other nations once occupied by Imperial Japan know that pacifism still runs deep among the Japanese, many of whom carry memories of an army that once pushed them into war, and of Hiroshima. While Japan hasn't confronted its militarist past nearly as thoroughly as Germany has , it's a long way from showing the kind of belligerency that, say, China has shown over the past few decades.

The next step for Japan is to pass a law that allows it to contribute troops to any multinational force, not just the one in Iraq. Then Japan can truly feel, and be treated as, normal.

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