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Japan Rises to the Occasion

Folk wisdom in Japan says that if two people are fighting, they are both at fault. They have disrupted the wa, or harmony.

That's one reason the Japanese so willingly adopted pacifism as state policy after military leaders took them into the disaster of World War II.

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But Sept. 11 threw folk caution to the wind, as the world's wa went out of whack. This week, Japanese legislators decided to allow warships to join the US war on terrorism. It was Japan's first big break from its pacifist past, and one of many geopolitical shifts occurring around the world after the attacks.

Germany, too, may soon support US forces in Afghanistan. Already in NATO, it now has a few military personnel safeguarding US coastlines in NATO surveillance planes.

Japan's action will mean it can, for the first time, project forces worldwide during war and defend the US, reciprocating the defense the US has long provided Japan. Its forces won't be in direct combat, but its support - fuel, transport, etc. - will be close by.

Its move also comes close to violating the country's Constitution, which says Japan "renounces the use of force to settle international disputes." That may be changed if this current mission goes well.

To calm fears in China and South Korea that Japan might again become a militarist power, the prime minister apologized to both countries for past atrocities in recent weeks.

Often given a free ride in global defense, Japan now adds military muscle to other contributions - its generous foreign aid and astute diplomacy.