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Editorial: Honor, common sense demand lawmaker resign over comment on war with Russia

It was a comment so beyond the pale for a sitting Diet lawmaker, someone chosen to be a representative of the Japanese people, that it cannot possibly be forgiven. So egregious were his words that we must suggest that perhaps he should no longer take his seat in the House of Representatives.

We speak of course about Hodaka Maruyama, expelled from the Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) on May 14 for public comments suggesting that Japan may have to go to war to secure the return of the Northern Territories, a clutch of islands off the Hokkaido coast under Russian control since 1945. He made the statements during a social gathering on the Northern Territories island of Kunashiri, where former Japanese residents can visit visa-free under an agreement between Tokyo and Moscow.

At the event, Maruyama asked participants, "Would you agree or disagree with going to war with Russia (to secure the territories' return)?" The former Kunashiri residents replied that they did not want to use the word "war," to which Maruyama said, "Unless we wage war, won't the issue just go nowhere?"

What kind of politician could so casually advocate war to solve an issue between governments? One of the ultimate goals of politics in our age is to avoid war. Maruyama's comments revealed such vacuous political awareness that we cannot help but be utterly flabbergasted.

Moscow has held the Northern Territories since the former Soviet Union landed troops on the islands in 1945, after unilaterally repudiating its non-aggression pact with Japan. Negotiations between Tokyo and Moscow on the territories' return to Japan have continued on and off since the war's end. For Maruyama to ignore all this history and imply Japan should just take the islands back by military force is an extreme anachronism.

Maruyama was on Kunashiri Island as a member of the lower house Special Committee on Okinawa and Northern Problems. The 35-year-old is also a former national civil servant with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. Overall, he was in an important position in Diet deliberations on the Northern Territories issue, and yet it seems very doubtful indeed that he truly understood the history behind the dispute.

When the Soviets invaded the islands, about half of the 17,000 or so inhabitants took flight. Those who stayed behind were later forcibly removed, most of them held in internment camps before being returned to Japan. It was, in short, a brutal experience.

The level of insensitivity needed to insist to these people, these war victims, that fighting yet another war is the option to solve the Northern Territories dispute beggars the imagination. That the former residents expressed discomfort at the idea was absolutely natural.

No formal peace treaty was signed between Tokyo and Moscow after World War II, and the current negotiations on a pact are built on a 1956 Japan-Soviet joint declaration. This declaration ended the state of war between Japan and the then Soviet Union, which did not participate in the San Francisco Peace Treaty signed by most of the other Allied nations.

The joint declaration, stating that disputes would be resolved through peaceful means, was ratified by the national legislatures of both countries. The responsibility to uphold that commitment to peace has been passed down all the way to the present generation of Diet lawmakers. It is impossible to believe that Maruyama possesses this self-awareness.

Nippon Ishin has purged Maruyama from its membership rolls. However, this is not a problem that can be solved simply by him losing his party affiliation. The only honorable course left to Maruyama is to resign his seat in the lower house.

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