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With security laws in force, are SDF personnel ready to shoot humans?

Motoki Terui shows how to use a tourniquet during a seminar in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. He believes the Japanese government hasn't fulfilled its responsibility to protect SDF personnel. (Mainichi)

Japan's security policy marked a major turnaround when security-related legislation came into effect on March 29, allowing the country to exercise the right to collective self-defense in a "limited" manner and making it a real possibility for Self-Defense Force (SDF) personnel to shoot humans in defiance of war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.

Under the security laws, SDF members can now come to the rescue of foreign troops and civilians in remote locations with the possible use of force. While SDF troops have not fired a single bullet at humans since the establishment of the organization, can they really pull the trigger when the need arises?

An SDF member who belongs to a Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) post in eastern Japan confided, "Even if I could pull the trigger, I would probably close my eyes." Another SDF personnel stationed at the same post told the Mainichi, "I don't know if I can really shoot or not until the time comes."

An SDF member, well-trained in sniper shooting, said the "target" he sees through a scope during his training is strikingly clear. "You can even tell the person's expressions," he says. "When the bullet hits the target, blood will splash all over. That image would stay on in my head."

When an SDF member is in a situation to shoot an enemy, he or she is also at risk of being shot. Nevertheless, Diet deliberations over the security legislation became entangled, filled with empty arguments over risks surrounding SDF personnel, before the laws were passed in September last year. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ended up avoiding discussions over tangible risks to be faced by SDF personnel, though such risks ought to be assumed under the security legislation.

Motoki Terui, 43, a former GSDF surgeon who is now engaged in activities to raise awareness about combat casualty care from a civilian standpoint, blasted the current SDF situation, saying, "Japan's battlefield medicine is utterly incompetent."

U.S. forces instruct their troops about casualty care and have them regularly carry a 12-item first aid kit -- including a pair of tourniquets, two types of bandages, a pair of gloves, a nasal airway tube and a permanent marker for penning the date and time of injury and treatment near the wounds. Meanwhile, SDF personnel carry "only a bandage and a tourniquet, without sufficient instructions on how to use them," Terui says.

On May 24, Terui gave a lecture at a hotel next to the Defense Ministry in Tokyo's Ichigaya district. "I prepared modest pictures to show what modern battle wounds would look like," Terui said in front of the audience of a seminar organized by the Japan Society for Security and Crisis Management, an organization comprised of researchers and other individuals.

An image of a sturdy American soldier was cast on a screen. He is wearing artificial arms and legs after all his limbs were blown away by a booby trap bomb.

"There will be a possibility of SDF personnel on the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan coming to the rescue of foreign troops and civilians in remote areas. We might see SDF personnel looking like this by the end of the year. Japan has entered such an era," Terui told the audience.

After joining the GSDF in 1995, Terui belonged to a combat arms unit before assuming the post of surgeon in 2008, engaging in health management and treatment of SDF personnel. He left the GSDF in November last year, and established a general incorporated association called TACMEDA Kyogikai the next month, providing guidance on relief aid for those injured in combat or terrorist attacks to SDF personnel, police officers and emergency workers.

During an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, Terui recalled a training session in the United States four years ago. When asked by a U.S. military insider about what first aid kit SDF personnel carry with them, Terui answered, "They carry only a bandage and so on, without much training." The U.S. military insider told him, "The SDF cannot be relied on."

"A country that cannot provide the same level of treatment for injuries during joint operations abroad cannot be trusted," Terui says. U.S. forces are equipped with state-of-the-art treatment methods in the wake of the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. On the battlefield, U.S. soldiers carry a total of more than 20 first-aid items, including the 12-item kit and a decompression needle for use when a soldier was shot in the chest. Those items are contained in bags without zippers, as zippers tend to become unopenable when broken. U.S. soldiers are instructed to carry a pair of tourniquets separately to prevent them from being lost in an explosion altogether. Behind these measures lies a firm policy to save soldiers' lives at all costs, according to Terui.

When SDF personnel are dispatched overseas, they are provided with six additional items including gloves and scissors on top of the basic bandage and tourniquet set. At the May 24 seminar, Terui placed those items on a desk and asked the audience in a raised voice, "Can we save the lives of SDF personnel with these items alone?"

In April last year, the Defense Ministry set up an expert panel to discuss the ways appropriate front-line medicine should be made up. A ministry insider recounted the panel chair yelling angrily during a meeting last year. "You people don't know medicine, nor military affairs. What on earth are you specialized in?" the chairman was quoted as exclaiming.

That chairperson was Masaru Sasaki, 64, a doctor who serves as deputy head of the Tokyo Metropolitan Health and Medical Treatment Corp. and special adviser to the Cabinet. During an interview with the Mainichi, Sasaki laughed and said, "That kind of story tends to get dressed up." He calls it "fortunate" that the SDF lacks knowledge, equipment or experience in combat casualty care as that means the SDF has never faced the need to shoot human targets nor the risk of being shot after World War II. However, that may not be the case from now on.

According to Sasaki, there have been no heated discussions during the expert panel's meetings, with no positive presentation of issues from the SDF. "They lack a sense of reality," a frustrated Sasaki commented.

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