On 30 July, 2007, social and political critic, novelist and political activist Oda Makoto died in Japan at the age of 75. Throughout his life, he published numerous essays and more than 100 books including some thirty novels. Two of his novels, Hiroshima and Gyokusai (The Breaking Jewel), have been translated into English and dramatized for a BBC radio program and broadcast worldwide. In Japan, however, he is remembered above all as the political activist who founded and led Beheiren (Japan Peace-for-Vietnam Citizen’s Alliance), a major grassroots movement against the Vietnam War, which gained extraordinary popular support in the 1960s and 1970s.
Oda was boundlessly energetic in promoting peace and democracy, and in criticizing all forms of injustice, inequality and discrimination. In the past several years, he was particularly active in the movement against reforming Japan’s peace constitution and played an important leadership role in protecting Article 9.
Oda was one of inaugural members of the Article 9 Association, a nation wide civil organization established in June 2004 to campaign against the Liberal Democratic Party’s plan to abolish the pacifist clauses of Article 9 of the constitution. However, considering the current situation, in which Article 9 is step by step being eroded by state actions, Oda sought to popularize the idea of peace and non-violence through grass root movements. He called, for example, for a movement to make Japan a “Conscientious Objector Nation”. This was because of his strong belief that the constitution itself is useless without persistent popular efforts to promote peace. Shortly before his death, Oda repeatedly warned of the fact that the Nazis seized power by making the Weimar Constitution practically ineffective, for example, by enacting a law that gave the Nazis carte blanche in 1933. He claimed that this German experience teaches us how important it is for the idea of peace and non-violence to permeate nationwide if we wish to protect our peace constitution.
Oda studied Greek philosophy as an undergraduate at Tokyo University between 1952 and 1957, before going to Harvard for a year on a Fulbright scholarship in 1958. His interest in Greek philosophy, in particular the origins of the idea of democracy, continued throughout his life. Classical thought strongly motivated and informed his political development. However, it was his unforgettable encounter as a young boy with the indiscriminate bombing of Osaka City in the last days of the Asia-Pacific War that most profoundly shaped his ideas and writings, and led to his deep commitment to humanitarian causes throughout his life.
This paper examines the inter-relationship between his experience of U.S. aerial bombing and his philosophy as a writer and activist.