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Editorial: Defense Ministry must delve deeper into SDF officer's abuse of legislator

The Ministry of Defense has announced its admonishment of an officer of the Self-Defense Forces as punishment for verbally lashing out at a House of Councillors member on a street in Tokyo.

Starting an argument with a person one does not know is considered thoughtless in society today. And this case was all the more serious because it involved an Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) major from the Joint Staff and a representative of the public. What led to this event? A probe into the background to the incident is needed.

The Ministry of Defense has admitted that the ASDF major told upper house legislator Hiroyuki Konishi to "work for the nation" and insulted him, telling him he was "disgusting." Konishi says the officer also accused him of being an "enemy of the state." The major denies this, but it does not change the fact that he insulted an opposition party legislator as a senior officer of the Self-Defense Forces.

Konishi has opposed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's moves to change Article 9 of Japan's Constitution, which bans the "threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes" and states that "land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained." The legislator has also criticized security-related legislation allowing Japan to engage in collective self-defense under limited circumstances as being unconstitutional. Suggestions that the officer likely had political intentions when criticizing Konishi cannot be dismissed.

Article 61 of the Self-Defense Forces Act restricts the political activities that Self-Defense Force personnel are permitted to engage in. The Defense Ministry, however, determined that the ASDF major's outburst was a random event that took place on the officer's personal time, so instead of reprimanding the major for violating Article 61, it did so because the officer "degraded the dignity" required of SDF personnel under Article 58 of the SDF law.

The latest incident brings to mind the replacement of former ASDF Chief of Staff Toshio Tamogami 10 years ago, after he released a paper justifying Japan's past colonial rule and its invasions. Tamogami, a figure directly opposing the government's official stance, had risen to the top of the ASDF, and became defiant when called to the Diet following his dismissal, saying, "We also have the right to free speech."

It hasn't been confirmed that the ASDF major in the latest case was influenced by Tamogami, but this is a point of consideration.

It is problematic that Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera defended the ASDF major by saying, "He's also a citizen, and it's natural for him to have thoughts." Additionally, the decision to hand the officer a punishment lighter than official disciplinary action is likely to stir controversy.

Prime Minister Abe is calling for changes to Article 9 of the Constitution, saying it is for the benefit of young members of the Self-Defense Forces. Has this given rise to excessive animosity within the Defense Ministry and Self-Defense Forces toward those critical of Abe's administration?

There have been online posts reviling those who criticize the Abe administration as being "anti-Japan" and "traitors." If SDF members who should be serving the public have been influenced by such trends, it is a grave situation indeed. We would like to see a renewed probe into the organization.

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