Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Good History Deniers

Dear Korean,

A question on Quora reads: How do the Japanese think about World War II? I was wondering if this answer to the question is something that you would agree with. How would you respond?

Joel B.

Before reading this post, the Korean will highly recommending reading the answer provided by Ms. Makiko Itoh, which is linked above. August 15 is the V-J Day, when World War II ended in 1945 with Imperial Japan's unconditional surrender. On this important date, the Korean found it appropriate to address this question.

But first, a quick detour. Ta-nehisi Coates, likely the best contemporary American writer when it comes to discussing race relations, recently wrote a terrific New York Times op-ed entitled The Good, Racist People. The message that Coates delivered through the op-ed is simple and devastating: even good people with sincerely good intentions contribute to, and perpetuate, racism in America. When it comes to dealing with large-scale, historical evil, it is not enough for one simply live with good intentions--because road to hell is paved with such good intentions.

The same is true with the way the Japanese approach World War II. I have said this before, and I will say it again: Japan, as a whole, think that it did nothing wrong during World War II. The steady stream of outrageous statements made by prominent Japanese politicians and intellectuals can only continue in an environment in which such worldview is tolerated. (Just two of the latest hits: (1) Japan's Deputy Prime Minister said Japan should amend its Peace Constitution like the way Nazis amended the Weimar Constitution; (2) Japanese navy built the largest ship since WWII and named it "Izumo", one of the ships that were used to invade China.)

When news of such outrageous statements hit the wire, a common response is to attribute it simply to a small faction of right-wing, nationalist Japanese people, implying that the vast majority of the Japanese ought to be spared from the responsibility of such historical amnesia. This is incorrect on several levels. First, the Japanese right-wing is anything but small. The Japanese nationalists are currently dominating the political scene, winning the last two parliamentary elections in a landslide. Their leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, proclaimed that he would withdraw Japan's apology to former Comfort Women and denied that Imperial Japan forcibly recruited the Comfort Women to serve as sex slaves. Right-wing thugs roam the streets freely in broad daylight, waving the "Rising Sun" flag, blaring propaganda from their infamous "black vans" and engage in harassment campaigns against Koreans living in Japan.

Nationalist black van, commonly seen
in the streets of Japan
For those who will predictably chime in about how Abe's election was more about the sagging Japanese economy: so was Hitler's election. In a normal country, a candidate's penchant for denying war atrocities would be met with swift termination of the candidate's political career, regardless of his views on economic policies. That did not happen with Abe, which speaks volumes. The mindset of the good, moral Japanese people that elected a man like Shinzo Abe is equally responsible for Japan's collective denial of history.

(More after the jump.)

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A recent interview by Hayao Miyazaki reveals the epitome of such mindset. Miyazaki, of course, is a legendary anime filmmaker, creating such masterpieces as Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, Princess Mononoke, and Spirited Away. More importantly for the purpose of this post, Miyazaki is hardly an apologist for Imperial Japan. A staunch leftist, Miyazaki pointedly criticized Abe administration's attempt to re-write history: "Japan should have properly apologized to Korea and China, and settle the debt of the past." One can fairly say that, among mainstream Japanese people, Miyazaki is about as good as they come when it comes to recognizing Japan's responsibility for World War II.

Poster of Kaze Tachinu, showing
Jiro Horikoshi and his Zero Fighter

So it may be slightly surprising that Miyazaki's latest work, Kaze Tachinu ("The Wind Blows"), is a movie depicting the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the engineer who designed the infamous Zero Fighters, the mainstay of the Japanese Air Force during World War II that was used to bomb the Pearl Harbor, among other missions. In a revealing interview with Asahi Shimbun, Miyazaki explained the thought process behind making a movie about the face of the Japanese war machine during World War II. The relevant portions of the interview is worth quoting at length:
Q:   In the movie, there is a scene that shows Jiro Horikoshi standing before a destroyed airplane after the war ended.

A:   I think his heart was destroyed. He worked toward his dream of making a beautiful airplane, and his effort hit the peak as he was designing the 96 Fighter and the Zero Fighter. But during the war, he was directed to come up with a new model or improve the Zero, because of the lack of engineers during the war. It is like ordering Studio Gibli [Miyazaki's studio] to make five new movies each year without hiring anyone new. He did his best, but most failed. But he had his own pride that told him, "I did not lose." He wrote, "they say we are responsible for the war, but I don't think I am."

Q:   Yoshitoshi Sone, one of the engineers who assisted Jiro Horikoshi, reportedly said: "This is terrible. If this many people were going to die, we should not have built this. We should not have designed this," upon seeing that the Zero Fighters were used in kamikaze missions. Was Horikoshi thinking differently?

A:   Sone may have felt that way, but at the same time he must have felt: "That is not my area to be concerned about." Of course, Horikoshi carries the responsibility of the war as a Japanese citizen; but one engineer need not be responsible for the entire history. I think it is pointless to talk about responsibility.

I understand Sone's sentiment that he should not have built the plane. But I think it would have been a less rewarding life if he did not build the plane. I communicated this in the movie too, but the plane is a beautiful but cursed dream. One builds what one wants to build, gets cursed by it and gets injured by it. But Sone must have thought later that it couldn't be helped. It was better to live that era, giving his all. At the time, no one could arrogantly claim that this was good, and this was bad.

Q:   Your father owned a military supplies factory and manufactured Zero Fighter components; he reportedly became nihilistic as he experienced the earthquake and the air raids.
A:   Nihilism sounds cold, deviant and vulgar; that was not my father. He merely thought his family came first. Through his terrible experience of the apocalypse, he gave up on the big talks like "this value is important" or "this is how humans ought to be." He tried to protect his family, his friends and whom he could, but thought he could not be responsible for the entire country or the society. He always said: "Don't lose out."

Q:   Do you also feel that way, at this point?

A:   Maybe a radius of 30 meters, or 100 meters? That is the limit of the area that I can affect, and I have no choice but to accept that that is all I can do. Before, I thought I had to do something for the world or the mankind, but I changed a great deal now. ...

. . .

Q:   Although you say you can only be responsible for those around you, you are affecting a lot of people through your movies.

A:   Movies is my job, not some cultural project. They just happened to find commercial success. Without the viewers, they will all go away in an instant. The people who joined Gibli think it is a stable company, but that's laughable.
Interview with Hayao Miyazaki, the Zero Fighter Designer's Dream [Asahi Shimbun]

Reading this interview, a theme emerges: a small individual who can not do much to the overwhelming forces of the world. Because the individual, at best, can only do so much, the best course of the individual is to simply do what he wants to do with all his heart. All Horikoshi wanted to do was to build beautiful flying machines; all Miyazaki wants to do is to make movies that sell. It is better that they keep building the most beautiful flying machines, the best selling movies, without thinking too much about what those machines and movies may do. After all, they cannot control how their machines will be used, how their movies will be interpreted.

Such view may be somewhat defensible. It is certainly a big step up from the odious views of the Japanese right-wing, who denies all of Japan's responsibility for World War II wholesale. There is enough room in this worldview for one to feel sympathetic. The Japanese during World War II certainly were not the first ones who committed acts of horror by getting swept up into the roaring currents of history.

Nonetheless, it is deeply disappointing that this is the best that the well-meaning Japanese people can muster up, because in this worldview, there exists its own version of history denial and responsibility evasion. The good history deniers of Japan may acknowledge that terrible things happened during World War II. Yet those terrible things are nobody's fault. It was certainly not the fault of the ordinary Japanese people, who were simply living their lives. In this story, Japan may be the country that invaded Korea, Manchuria and China, bombed Pearl Harbor, brutalized Nanking and POWs in the Philippines, conscripted hundreds of thousands of women to serve as sex slaves and performed live human experimentation--but no Japanese person committed those horrible things. Those things just kind of happened.

Note the selective obliviousness in which Miyazaki engages to maintain his worldview. Miyazaki laments that he can do no more than affect a "100 meter radius" from himself. This is an absurd claim. Miyazaki is easily one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century. Contrary to his assertion, Miyazaki's movies are much more than money-making ventures that randomly found success; they are canonical works of art in the history of animated movies, which are revered by millions of people worldwide. Yet Miyazaki must abdicate from that lofty perch if he is to maintain that individuals cannot affect the world in which they live. Otherwise, Jiro Horikoshi--the man who designed the symbol of the Japanese war efforts--cannot remain an innocent boy who only wanted to make beautiful flying machines. He becomes a full participant of the war that Imperial Japan caused.

Such selective obliviousness is likewise evident in Ms. Itoh's answer on the Quora question. Ms. Itoh wrote:  "The general feeling was that the military government was doing whatever they wanted, without the knowledge or consent of the regular citizens of Japan." This claim is equally absurd as Miyazaki's claim of powerlessness. World War II was an unmissable event for Japan. It was the polar opposite of the American war in Iraq, in which regular American citizens rarely felt the impact of the war because it was fought by a small group of Americans with only a fraction of the national economy dedicated to the war. In contrast, the Japanese war effort during World War II required the mobilization of the entire country.

The Imperial Japanese Army boasted 10 million soldiers, vast majority of which was drafted. At least 500,000 Japanese were living in Japan's colonies (such as Korea and Manchuria.) A huge number of Japanese worked for large corporations that constructed the Japanese war machine, such as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The Japanese newspapers did not simply report the news of military victory; it was boasting the stories of two soldiers engaged in a contest to be the first to kill 100 people with a sword as they were marching toward Nanjing, to commit one of the worst brutalities of the 20th century.

Tokyo Mainichi Shimbun reporting the contest to cut down 100 men.
It is simply not true that the ordinary Japanese had no idea that their country was committing such horrors. On a certain level, every Japanese knew that they were invading sovereign countries and killing people. Yet the good Japanese like Ms. Itoh must insist that the regular Japanese people simply did not know, because admitting the truth--that the ordinary Japanese sincerely believed in their mission as they enslaved other countries and killed its people--would require them to face up to the responsibilities for such horrors.

This is a far cry from the way in which post-war Germans addressed their wartime legacies. With a slogan like "Collective guilt, no! Collective responsibility, yes!", Germans engaged in vigorous, decades-long debate and exploration of what that collective responsibility means, and how it applies to each individual German who lived through that era and the children of those individuals. A book like The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, which attempted to show the human aspect of the Nazi guards, would become subject to strong criticism within Germany, for insinuating that the Nazi followers were dumb, illiterate people who did not know better. Yet in Japan, this is the standard position among well-meaning people.

This difference in attitude results in meaningful difference in the way in which World War II is remembered in different theaters. The lasting image from World War II concerning Germany is the Holocaust, not the bombing of Dresden. By all rights, the lasting image from World War II concerning Japan ought to be the Rape of Nanking, Unit 731, Bataan Death March and Comfort Women. Instead, the lasting image from World War II concerning Japan is the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima. To be sure, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was a horrific event. But never in Japan's memorial of Hiroshima do the Japanese acknowledge that Imperial Japan was the one responsible for invading other countries and killing more people than the Nazis. Because the good Japanese chose not to address their personal contribution to World War II, the suffering (which was indeed immense, but not greater than Germans' or any other people's) that the Japanese did undergo during World War II is not recognized as a consequence of Japan's wrongdoing. Instead, those sufferings just kind of happened for no reason, like a natural disaster. (Note that the Asahi Shimbun interviewer juxtaposes "earthquake" and "air raid" as formative experiences for Miyazaki's father.)

Of course, the flip side of this attitude means that even the war atrocities that Imperial Japan caused is also like a natural disaster that just kind of happened. Because the damage that Japan caused to others during WWII is the moral equivalent of the damage that Japan suffered during the War, the best lesson that these good Japanese can draw from the war experience is no more than the naive conclusions that war is bad, politicians lie, and the best thing to do is to just live their lives without aspiring to steer the course of their own country.

Such abdication from historical responsibility is what has guided Japan since the end of World War II. The good Japanese people removed themselves from the political process by engaging in their own, smaller distortions of history. Only the Japanese right, who still believe that the Imperial Japan did nothing wrong, remained as the active driver of Japan's political course.

Nearly as soon as Japan exited the American provisional rule, it elected as Nobusuke Kishi as the Prime Minister. Kishi, a key leader of the Japanese colony in Manchuria who was tried as a Class A war criminal. (Imagine seeing Hermann Goring as the chancellor of West Germany in 1957!) Kishi sincerely believed that the only sin committed by the Imperial Japan during World War II was to lose the war. In an infamous episode, when Kishi was imprisoned on the charges of war crime, his old teacher sent him a message: "If you consider your name that will carry for thousand years, commit suicide." Kishi replied defiantly: "Instead of my name, I will proclaim the legitimacy of the holy war [World War II] for ten thousand generations." A master politician, Kishi maneuvered to position his party--the Liberal Democratic Party--to hold the power in Japan for the entire post-war period except for two stretches of three years. Naturally, the LDP has maintained staunch historical revisionism as to Japan's role in World War II. In 2007, for example, 120 LDP members of the parliament sought to retract the Kono Statement, the Japanese government's official statement of apology to former Comfort Women. (The Kono Statement was made in 1993, when LDP briefly lost power.)

Today, yet another head of LDP serving as Japan's head of state after having won two landslide elections. Shinzo Abe, grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, is proceeding with full speed ahead to completely deny Imperial Japan's responsibility for World War II. He denied that the Japanese military kept sex slaves; proclaimed that he would revise the Kono Statement (before backing off after massive international pressure); gave a grinning thumbs-up sitting in a fighter jet numbered 731 (as in Unit 731) and; is leading the movement to amend Japan's pacifist constitution. And the good Japanese people, the well-meaning history deniers, are allowing all of this to happen, as they have for the last 50 years.

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  1. Overall another good post, but a few issues I want to point out. You references the wiki article on the killing contest, but do not mention that it is a matter of some dispute as to whether it actually occured. Also, you say…

    "But never in Japan’s memorial of Hiroshima do the Japanese acknowledge that Imperial Japan was the one responsible for invading other countries and killing more people than the Nazis. Because the good Japanese chose not to address their personal contribution to World War."

    But when I visited the Hiroshima memorial (this was seven years or so ago), they had a whole section which talked about Japan’s responsibility for the war, and specifically mentioned the rape of Nanking.

    1. You should visit the Yasukuni museum in the heart of Tokyo (next to the palace of the emperor, and next to the infamous shrine of the same name). It has the story of how the Japanese army was merely a "police force" which brought "law and order" and "liberated" the rest of Asia, and was tricked into war by the imperialistic United States. Witnessing this travesty of history in this day and age made me almost sick to the stomach.

      I am sure there are more than a few brave Japanese who are ready to acknowledge the past and to move on, but to allow a monstrosity like the Yasukuni museum to exist in the heart of Japan means that they are in the minority compared to the rest of Japanese society.

    2. Actually I have been to Yasukuni, and I don't doubt the white washing of the past by right wingers in Japan for a second. I only wanted to point out to the Korean that his specific example of the Hiroshima memorial was factually incorrect.

  2. Hrm.. I am still heartened by Miyazaki's outwardly spoken pacifist stance (and his new film's stay at #1 despite the calls for protest), the popularity of Hallyu, the common person exchanges and business ties, and the fact that actors like Joe Odagiri will star in Korean films such as My Way, that show Imperial Japan in a negative light, but highlight that Japanese and Koreans can be brothers. The movie wasn't that good except for the beautiful scenes shot in Normandy.

    Abe and Aso are jackasses to be sure. Hopefully the Japanese people will realize the disaster that awaits due to Abenomics and losing potential friends like Korea and trade partners like China.

  3. This seems to be a slightly reworded version of one of your previous posts - "Japan Didn't Really Change."

    Admittedly, although the wording this time around was more polite, your logic, however, is still based on collectivizing an entire country's people into one political unit. You said, "And the good Japanese people, the well-meaning history deniers, are allowing all of this to happen, as they have for the last 50 years."

    As I commented in the previous post that you made, if you are serious about blaming all of Japan (or in this case, the well-meaning history deniers) for the things that individual politicians say, then we must be consistent with this. President Obama has pursued and expanded America's drone warfare, which has resulted in the deaths of enemy combatants as well as innocent civilians. Therefore, seeing how he was voted into office by majority vote, all Americans (even the well-meaning anti-war liberals who also offer nothing more than weak protestations like the ones that Hayao Miyazaki gave) are responsible for the innocent deaths that have resulted from drone attacks.

    Similarly, if you are going to claim that Jiro Horikoshi was a full participant of the war, then using that same logic, everyone who works for Boeing, Lockheed Martin, IBM, and General Electric are full participants of the War on Terror.

    You are making the mistake of lumping individuals (well-meaning people, ignorant people, apathetic people, people who are too busy to be concerned with a war that ended sixty years ago) and attempting to make them all guilty of a crime, which, if you were Japanese, would reject as absurd.

    You also said, "For those who will predictably chime in about how Abe's election was more about the sagging Japanese economy: so was Hitler's election." Bringing up Hitler does not negate the fact that Abe's electoral victory was indeed more about the economy. In fact, it's nothing more than tantamount to saying, "Yeah, I don't want to argue against that so hey, Hitler." Classic Godwin's Law. That Abe makes ridiculous claims to shore up right-wing support is obvious and you won't get any arguments about that. But no political group, regardless of country, can stay in power if it only caters to its base. Abenomics was what got him elected.

    Lastly, you said, "In a normal country, a candidate's penchant for denying war atrocities would be met with swift termination of the candidate's political career, regardless of his views on economic policies."

    Firstly, you're going to have to define what "normal" here means.

    Secondly, there are MANY countries where politicians deny war crimes whose political careers are not ended, but rather enhanced.

    Turkish politicians get hailed as national heroes when they deny that Turkish troops engaged in genocide in Cyprus. The French start to get even pissier than usual when people bring up the fact that French forces tortured prisoners in Algeria. The British never fess up to the war crimes that they committed in Ireland or in Malaya, and merely refer to their actions as "asymmetrical warfare." The Americans will always feign regret over the deaths of civilians and will simply refer to them as "collateral damage."

    No people whose countries have ever been engaged in a war like to admit that they were in the wrong; with the exception of the Germans. But even Germany's case was a result of overwhelming pressure from the victors of the war, which was absent in Japan. No one likes to admit that they were in the wrong or were responsible because people in general don't like to think of themselves as evil monsters; and also because they actually weren't responsible.

    Whether or not this sort of denial is a good thing is a different matter. But to imply that the Japanese are the only people who deny their involvement in past atrocities is disingenuous.

    1. your logic, however, is still based on collectivizing an entire country's people into one political unit.

      You spend a lot of words purporting to refute my thesis, but I am yet to see a real counter-argument. You come the closest when you say: "You are making the mistake of lumping individuals . . . and attempting to make them all guilty of a crime," but this is incorrect. History denial is not a crime; it is a moral failure. Because there is no crime, there is nothing to be "guilty of."

      Of course my logic is based on collectivizing a country's people into one political unit. A country IS one political unit. By definition, a country has one government, one chief executive, one head of state and unitary policy direction. Because a country does have many moving parts, many individuals who may work cross-purpose from one another, one should give a country enough time to work out a policy direction. (Even Germany's recognition of its own war crimes took a decade and a half.) But it has been 60 years, and Japan's policy direction did not change. At this point, it is pretty safe to attribute Japan's failure to its entire polity, and the people who consist it.

    2. 1. Most nations have a voice that own up to their mistakes, if only to separate themselves from the other party. In Japan, that voice is near non-existent and most field the attitude of 'what has that got to do with me.' Surprisingly, most have a vested interest in their national teams or brands and will get riled up if Japan as a whole is ridiculed.

      2. To compare Jiro to anyone working at Boeing is like comparing Miyazaki to anyone working at Gibli. People have differing spheres of influence. Not everyone gets interviewed by Asahi.

      3. Hitler was not elected because he promised to kill all Jews or because he promised to war. Rather, he was elected despite people knowing that those things COULD happen. It just means that the value of the nation at the time was 'us first, even if it could lead to destroying everyone else', and you would have to really think that the masses were idiots or there weren't any opposing parties that tried to play such scenarios up did not exist.

      4. I agree with you here. Normal should be replaced with 'ideal.' However, that still doesn't mean that people who participated are not responsible. While it may be a flaw in the system, but everyone and anyone who voted carry responsibility for the outcome. There should be a totally separate discussion regarding the extent of their responsibilities, of course.

  4. @TK - Since you have admitted that your logic is based on collectivizing an entire country's people into one political unit, then I have a follow up question. Korean soldiers and marines were reported to have committed various atrocities during the Vietnam War. It's been almost four decades since the Vietnam War ended but no Korean administration has ever apologized or offered to pay compensations to the victims. Using your logic, is it then pretty safe to attribute Korea's moral failure (the people's failure to face up to the atrocities that Korean troops committed in Vietnam) to its entire polity, and the people who consist it?

    Aside from the "people who live in glass houses" message I am trying to impart, my counter-argument is this: Individuals ought to be judged on their own individual merits; not the actions of their ancestors or their ethnic brethren. It was ridiculous to call all Americans gun-toting, Bible-thumping rednecks for having elected George W. Bush twice or latte-sipping, Hybrid-driving socialists for having elected Barack Obama twice. It is just as ridiculous to use the same kind of logic for Koreans or the Japanese.

    @Harold - I don't live in Japan so I can't be certain but to claim that contrarian voices are near non-existent in Japan seems like a far stretch. All societies have their yahoos and it just so happens that they're the most news-worthy ones because they yell the loudest and wear the funniest looking hats. As to the second part of your first paragraph, just replace "Japan" with "Korea" and you would have described Koreans just as perfectly.

    All right, my bad. Perhaps a janitor who works at Boeing does not have the same moral weight on his shoulder as Jiro did. Then what about the people who designed the Predator drones and the F-22s? Are they full participants of the War on Terror?

    If we're going to talk about Hitler, let's get the historical facts straight. Yes, he spelled out what he was going to do in "Mein Kampf." But Hitler was never elected into office. He lost to Hindenburg but because his party performed well enough in the election, Hindenburg, at the suggestion of his advisers, appointed him to the position of Chancellor. Everything else, as they say, is history.

    "Everyone and anyone who voted carry responsibility for the outcome?" The guilt that you require millions of people to feel (differentiated responsibility notwithstanding) for simply casting a vote is morally horrendous. What you're saying is that people's moral guilt, if gained through democratic vote, is then based on political freedom. Then who in your worldview is innocent besides those who are born into servitude?

    1. John, while I agree that history unfortunately shows many nations committing unspeakable atrocities and not many politicians owning up, there's a difference between ignoring the past and actively celebrating it, which is what seems to happen in Japan (witness my comment about the yasukuni museum above). Compare this to Germany, where Willy Brandt made a public knee-fall when he visited Auschwitz, for instance. You may question his motives for doing so (though I would call you cynical if you did), but I have yet to see a similar gesture from a Japanese prime minister.

      Regarding Hitler, if we're going to get the historical facts straight, you are correct that he was appointed chancellor by Hindenburg but the nazis quickly enjoyed electoral success in the months after that, thus confirming his political legitimacy. So it is hardly true that he was snuck in through the back door, as you seem to suggest. After the war it was also not easy for the Germans to acknowledge their collective guilt (many nazis stayed in or were appointed to key posts in the post-war administration, and this prompted the rise of left-wing terror groups like the RAF) but they did, and the result is that Germany now enjoys normalized relations with its neighbors. Regarding Japan, the comfort women will die in a few years, but Japan will always carry this burden if it doesn't make similar amends now.

    2. Korean soldiers and marines were reported to have committed various atrocities during the Vietnam War. It's been almost four decades since the Vietnam War ended but no Korean administration has ever apologized or offered to pay compensations to the victims. Using your logic, is it then pretty safe to attribute Korea's moral failure (the people's failure to face up to the atrocities that Korean troops committed in Vietnam) to its entire polity, and the people who consist it?

      Your factual premise is wrong. Kim Dae-jung visited Vietnam in 1998 and issued an official apology. When the Vietnamese president visited Korea in 2002, Kim Dae-jung apologized again. When Roh Moo-hyun visited Vietnam in 2004, he apologized again. Korean government has not only compensated the affected areas in Vietnam, but paid for the studies that examined the damages caused by Korean military during the Vietnam War.

      Individuals ought to be judged on their own individual merits; not the actions of their ancestors or their ethnic brethren.

      Engaging in small historical distortions that lead to abdication of their own country's responsibility pertains to individuals.

    3. Now you're speaking of something entirely different from what TK was saying. TK was saying that even the do-gooders are equally to blame for Japan's moral failings. You, on the other hand, are pointing out the Japanese nationalists who celebrate their fascist past. However, as I said earlier, all societies have their yahoos and it just so happens that they're the most news-worthy ones because they yell the loudest and wear the funniest looking hats. The news rarely ever covers the counter-protesters who yell with just as much fervor that the nationalists ought to be ashamed of themselves. And no attention is given at all to the average person who is far too busy and over-stressed to care about a war that ended over sixty years ago.

      As for Japanese leaders who made apologies for their country's past, I can name Shiina Etsusaburo, Kakuei Tanaka, Zenko Suzuki, Kiichi Miyazawa, Taro Nakayama, Ryutaro Hashimoto, and Naoto Kan just to name a few. Just how many apologies will it take before we are ever satisfied?

      And what elections are you talking about? The Hindenburg-Hitler presidential election was held in 1932 and in 1933, the Nazis burned down the Reichstag and blamed the Bolsheviks. And that was when Hitler got Hindenburg to employ emergency measures to end the right to assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, including all restraints on police investigations thus effectively hindering electoral campaigning.

      In 1933, in the first election that took place under Nazi control, the Nazis ran unopposed because the emergency measures that were employed after burning the Reichstag banned all other political parties.

      Hindenburg then died in 1934 and then Hitler appointed himself Fuhrer. There were only two more parliamentary elections under the Nazis - 1936 and 1938.

      In 1936, it was a referendum asking voters whether they approved of the military occupation of the Rhineland. There was no opposition party. And in 1938, it was again a referendum asking voters whether they approved of the annexation of Austria and once again, there was no opposition party. So if by "the Nazis quickly enjoyed electoral success in the months after that, thus confirming Hitler's political legitimacy" you mean the Nazis ran unopposed due to state-sanctioned voter intimidation, suppression, and terror, yes, Hitler was definitely voted into office!

    4. @TK - I stand corrected in regards to the apologies that Presidents Kim and Roh gave. So are you saying that the chapter is closed and we can move on? But then using the same logic, considering the numerous apologies that Japanese Prime Ministers gave in the past, and the investments that Japan made in Korea, and the treaty between Korea and Japan, then shouldn't we have also moved on a long time ago?

      "Engaging in small historical distortions that lead to abdication of their own country's responsibility pertains to individuals." And yet you have repeatedly painted with large brush strokes condemning all Japanese people for a war that happened over sixty years ago.

    5. So are you saying that the chapter is closed and we can move on?

      I don't know what you mean when you say "the chapter is closed and we can move on." Please get in the habit of being more precise. To the extent relevant, Korea has never elected the president who denied war atrocities in Vietnam.

      And yet you have repeatedly painted with large brush strokes condemning all Japanese people for a war that happened over sixty years ago.

      That is not what I did. Please respond to what I actually wrote, not to what you think I wrote. Responsibility for the war itself and responsibility for distorting the memories of the war are two different things.

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. "Then what about the people who designed the Predator drones and the F-22s? Are they full participants of the War on Terror?"

      To some extent, yes. People need to ask themselves what they are doing at their jobs and what effect it will have on the world. If your job is arming drones (which were originally built for recon), you should think to yourself, "Hmmm... What are the implications of unmanned planes capable of killing entire villages? Maybe this is a bad idea."

      Of course, nobody thinks they are at fault because everyone is just doing their jobs.

    8. @TK - Firstly, I tried to do a little Google-based research on the formal apology that you mentioned but I could not find them. I only saw that President Kim had offered regrets to the Vietnamese government over past atrocities ( but no formal apology. Could you provide me with some links about the apologies?

      When I said "the chapter is closed and we can move on," I meant precisely that. After Korea apologized (or expressed regret) and Vietnam made assurances that it was not seeking official apologies, Korea and Vietnam began to normalize relations and continue that process cordially. I don't recall the last time Vietnamese officials engaged in Korea-bashing as opposed to Korean politicians' regular Japan-bashing, which has been around long before Abe was elected.

      Now you do raise a good point when you say that Koreans have not elected a president who has denied war atrocities in Vietnam. But does that mean that Koreans have accepted responsibility and have been absolved of the atrocities? Most Koreans are either unaware or unwilling to speak about their country's past in Vietnam. How many Korean textbooks do you know that mention Binh Dinh? How is this any different from Japan's historical revisionism?

      This is not to say that there are Koreans who have openly admitted to the past; especially the soldiers and the marines who have publicly spoken out about what happened, and those who have voluntarily started charities for their Vietnamese victims. But considering the overwhelming silence from most other Koreans, using your logic, does that not make us just as morally guilty in our handling of the memories of the Vietnam War just as the Japanese are for the handling of the memories of the Second World War?

      And of course, you're right. I should have responded to what you actually wrote. I should have said "And yet you have repeatedly painted with large brush strokes condemning all Japanese people for whitewashing a war that happened over sixty years ago."

      @Mike - If those engineers, scientists, mathematicians, and computer programmers are full participants of the War on Terror, then you are buying into Osama bin Laden's justification for his terrorist activities. The justification that he gave for 9/11 was that those who worked at the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, directly or indirectly, funded America's aggression in the Middle East, thus making them legitimate targets.

      When you say "People need to ask themselves what they are doing at their jobs and what effect it will have on the world," EVERY American ought to stop paying taxes or should just stay home and cease further contact with anyone. Yes, they might just be an accountant or a teacher but the taxes they pay are helping to fund America's aggression around the world. So to some extent or another, everyone, from the most respected nuclear scientist to the Average Joe who is just trying to get by, is a legitimate target.

      Can you live with that kind of guilt?

    9. That's a slippery slope argument.

      There's a difference between paying taxes which will fund wars (as well as fund schools, roads, etc.) and directly designing weapons which cause civilian casualties. Paying taxes is not a choice and it is not the people who choose how taxes are used. I don't ever recall being asked if I would like to use part of my tax dollars to pay for the invasion of Iraq or the development of Predator drones.

      And many people in the Pentagon ARE responsible for America's aggression in the Middle East. That's the place where these decisions are made. I certainly do not condone the attacks on the Pentagon, but the plans to go to war are written in the Pentagon and approved in Congress. It is the Pentagon personnel who design the plans and the politicians who vote for these decisions who are responsible for America's military actions.

      The other group who is responsible are the companies who profit from designing weapons, machinery, and technology that enable US aggression abroad. These companies stay in business (and their engineers stay employed) when America uses their products to start wars.

      Of course, we need a military for defense. But the US military is ridiculously huge and is not used strictly for defense.

      So does some math teacher in Iowa have blood on his hands for what is happening in Afghanistan? No. But General Atomics does, including the engineers and managers who design and manufacture their Predator drones.

    10. Could you provide me with some links about the apologies?

      Try this out: "하지만 1998년 한국 대통령으로서는 두 번째로 하노이를 방문한 김대중 대통령은 “본의 아니게 베트남 국민에게 고통을 준 것을 미안하게 생각한다”는 말을 하고 호찌민 묘소에 헌화하고 묵념했다. 2004년 한국 대통령으로서는 세 번째로 베트남을 방문한 노무현 대통령도 베트남 측의 요구가 없었는데도 “우리 국민은 마음의 빚이 있다”는 말을 하고 호찌민 묘소를 찾아 헌화하고 묵념했다."


      I don't recall the last time Vietnamese officials engaged in Korea-bashing as opposed to Korean politicians' regular Japan-bashing, which has been around long before Abe was elected.

      Did you know that the Vietnamese people have erected scores of "Hate Tablet" across the country, detailing Korean soldiers' atrocities and cursing Korea for eternity? Completely understandable that they do that, but it is hardly the case that the Vietnamese folks just moved on.

      Now you do raise a good point when you say that Koreans have not elected a president who has denied war atrocities in Vietnam. But does that mean that Koreans have accepted responsibility and have been absolved of the atrocities?

      No. Nothing absolves Koreans from the atrocities. There certainly is a LOT of room for Korea to teach more about the atrocities that its soldiers committed in Vietnam.

      But considering the overwhelming silence from most other Koreans, using your logic, does that not make us just as morally guilty in our handling of the memories of the Vietnam War just as the Japanese are for the handling of the memories of the Second World War?

      "Just as" guilty? No. As horrendous as they were, Korean soldiers' war crimes were nothing compared to the war crimes that Imperial Japan committed. Also, no one in Korea--not even the most right-wing conservatives--denies that Korean soldiers committed atrocities in Vietnam. No one in Korea goes out of his way to piss off the Vietnamese and say they deserved those atrocities, as many in Japan routinely do.

      But it is true that Korea is currently the committing the same type of moral failure with respect to Vietnam, albeit to a lesser degree. For that, Korea deserves to be criticized severely.

    11. @TK - I recall reading about those "Hate Tablets" many years ago but had forgotten about them. That being said, those are not the actions of Vietnamese officials, but Vietnamese citizens.

      But anyway, though I cannot bring myself to agree with you on placing the burden of moral guilt on an entire people or your stance on the unforgivability of a crime once committed, I would like to say that this was the most cordial disagreement that I have had the pleasure of experiencing online. So thank you for that.

      @Mike - Of course it's a slippery slope argument. Your logic is what allowed such extreme possibilities to occur.

      If average taxpayers aren't a good example because they're forced to pay taxes, then let's use a different example. What about the miner who supplies copper to the DoD for their drones? Or the computer programmer who improves computer AI that is used for machines? Or the rubber tapper who provides the rubber that is later vulcanized to produce rubber tires?

      If you want to place moral responsibility on even the engineers and the software programmers who design drones and claim that they are full participants of the War on Terror who have blood on their hands, which is the same charge that is levied against such people like the Secretary of Defense or the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, THAT is a slippery slope argument. From that point on, to claim that taking your logic to extremes is ridiculous shows pure arbitrariness aka subjective whim.

    12. Yes, you are right that this logic can be taken to extremes. Allow me to amend my argument -

      Sec. of Defense, the President, Congress, etc. hold the most responsibility for America's military actions abroad. There is no doubt about that.

      But I still believe there is a smaller portion of responsibility that falls upon those who knowingly and primarily profit from enabling the military. The amount of responsibility diminishes as you get further from the battlefield, and at some point there is a cut-off.

      Are rubber tappers and miners at fault? If they provide rubber and minerals EXCLUSIVELY for illicit military use with their full-knowledge of how their products are used, then I would say they are. Of course, I would be pretty surprised to find a rubber tapper who knowingly and exclusively sells rubber to be used in Predator drones.

      I think a good example is Vietnam. One could argue that Robert McNamara and Lyndon Johnson are most responsible for the war. But there are others who hold less responsibility. Dow Chemical made millions of dollars from providing the military with napalm and Agent Orange. Do they hold some responsibility for the children who were killed using their products? Yes. Dow knew what they were producing, it was produced exclusively for military use, and its effects on civilians were well-documented in the news at the time. What about the chemical engineers at Dow? Well, if they knew exactly what they were making and how it was going to be used, I would place responsibility on them as well.

      My primary point is that people and companies who profit from knowingly enabling the military are not entirely free from blame. Taking this logic ad absurdum doesn't get them off the hook.

    13. This is just plain silly. We need not speak of vicarious responsibility because the fact is that most Japanese aren't repentant of the atrocities committed by Japan. You can argue that an average Japanese citizen shared no blame for what its leaders and military did but there must be blame in remaining silent and tacitly approving it by not voicing outrage against the Yasukuni shrine and the denial of the atrocities committed by Japan by its leaders. What is deeply troubling is the absence of outrage and feigned helplessness by the majority of Japanese civilians. TK nailed it here. Excellent post, TK.

    14. I'm aware I'm a latecomer to this discussion.

      John Lee, I liked your posts in this discussion, and TheKorean, this is another thought-provoking blog entry. Thank you in particular for the several URLs you embedded on your original post.

      Regarding John Lee's 8/15/2013 11:19AM post:
      I agree with what JL said about "collectivizing an entire country's people into one political unit." I cannot blame the entire Japanese population for history denials/revisionism on the part of people like Shinzo Abe. As JL said, there are "well-meaning people, ignorant people, apathetic people, people who are too busy to be concerned with a war that ended" in 1945. It's akin to blaming Americans of various races, religious and political affiliations, and attitudes for US atrocities in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, etc. Let's remember that the second term of George W. Bush was the result of a bitter political campaign which saw a massive turnout in favor of John Kerry. Many people were, at that time, extremely anti-Bush and one reason was the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Many who voted for Kerry then also participated in aggressive demonstrations in the US in early 2003 voicing their strong opposition to the Iraq war. Should those anti-Iraq invasion Americans be blamed, then, for the decisions of GW Bush that caused colossal suffering for thousands of Iraqi civilians?

      TK, you said in reply to JL: Of course my logic is based on collectivizing a country's people into one political unit. A country IS one political unit. By definition, a country has one government, one chief executive, one head of state and unitary policy direction. Because a country does have many moving parts, many individuals who may work cross-purpose from one another, one should give a country enough time to work out a policy direction. But none of this means that the entire voting population agrees uniformly at all times with the decisions of the central government. You mention "unitary policy direction" - but there are always dividing forces within a government. Back to Iraq: in the runup to the 2003 invasion, there were conflicts between the State and Defense Departments. Colin Powell, then Secretary of State, ultimately went along with the invasion, but he was for much of the process against, often butting heads with then-Def. Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

      Governments are not cohesive, homogenous "monoliths" that move smoothly. There are conflicts within governments: branches disagree (even Imperial Japan faced this in the Pacific War; the Army & Navy were often at odds with each other).

      And, to all: one anecdote about how governments often aren’t moving with the same “unitary policy direction.” There was once a vote within the Japanese Diet regarding the offering of a government apology to Korea. The motion for the apology ultimately failed. The conservatives/right-wing members were opposed. But strangely, there was another bloc within the Diet whose opposition to the proposed apology also contributed to its failure: the left-wing/progressives. But whereas the conservatives opposed the apology because the proposed language was too strong (i.e, it would have made Japan look like an aggressor), the left-wing bloc opposed it for precisely the opposite reason – they deemed the language to be too bland, and would not have properly addressed the issue of past wrongdoings by Imperial Japan!

  5. "But it has been 60 years, and Japan's policy direction did not change. At this point, it is pretty safe to attribute Japan's failure to its entire polity, and the people who consist it."

    That's a bit strong for my taste, though I see what you mean. I think it is fair to assume that there have been a minority of Japanese who are sufficiently ashamed of Japan's WWII conduct to want to erect memorials similar to what the Germans erected for the Holocaust - it just may be that their numbers are too small to reach the critical mass needed to create political influence and thus social change.

    On the other hand, American anti-Iraq/Afghanistan War activists (such as Michael Albert, Jeremy Scahill or Amy Goodman) are not shy about emphasizing the degree to which all Americans - whether for or against the war - share some amount of collective responsibility for what they allowed their government (which represents them) has done in their name.

    The anti-war activists failed in trying to stop the war (and there is some righteousness to be had in this failed cause I suppose) and feel shame that their society went along with the war and that they allowed their government to go through with it.

  6. Also, if we compare Japanese society re: WWII to German society re: Holocaust, the comparison is quite damning to the Japanese.

    1. John, if the Japanese nationalists who are celebrating their country's past are able to get away with building a museum *next to the Emperor's palace*, then I would say there's something seriously wrong with the public's perception. Secondly, if the "yahoos" are in charge of the government, then again it is time for the do-gooders to get off their arse and consider how the rest of the world thinks about their antics. Evil prevails when good men do nothing, right?

    2. Sorry, my previous comment ended up in the wrong place. While I have this comment box open: Boing3887, I think you make a good point and like the rest of the people in this fine company you seem like an excellent human being :-)

    3. @jvk - Firstly, let's get one thing straight. The Yasukuni Shrine was not built by Japanese nationalists. It is far older than that. And it is not a museum. It is a mausoleum. It so happens that six war criminals were also interred there. It was a politically dumb move but it happened. To most Japanese, the Shrine is not about those six individuals but about all of Japan's warriors who died in combat.

      Secondly, there is a difference between political yahoos and evil men. Nationalist politicians, regardless of country, say stupid things and pander to the lowest common denominator to get elected. That does not make them evil. As for the do-gooders, they didn't vote the nationalists into office because they promised to be jerks. They voted them into office because, in this case, they promised to pursue expansionist monetary policies. If the do-gooders vote someone else into office, it should be because someone else has a better economic policy; not because their politicians come off as jerks; which again, is not the same as being evil.

    4. John, the Yasukuni museum is different from the shrine (see While the museum also predates the war, there is nothing in it about the atrocities committed by Japan (like I said, the war is presented as a police action in Asia that got out of hand when the US tricked Japan into war). It would not be hard to change this, and in my opinion, the fact that the museum is so clearly a vehicle for nationalists detracts from the message of the shrine.

      There are war cemeteries all over Europe where you can see the graves of soldiers from a variety of countries. When you visit the cemeteries you are struck by the senseless loss of human life (on every side) that the wars brought with them: so many brothers, fathers, sons, sacrificed to gain a few meters of soil, or to advance some shady politician's designs. The Japanese people should also be allowed to commemorate their war dead in this way, but it's sad that they let their nationalist politicians pervert this message in such an obvious way.

      The distinction between "political yahoos" and "evil men" is not so clear cut as you make it out: it is one that is easy to make *after the damage is done*. Also, from a purely practical point of view, this doesn't make sense to me: a politician like Abe has repeatedly downplayed the issue of the comfort women and sought to revise what is now accepted history (documented by Japanese historians). If his outlook on the world is so skewed, would you put him in charge of your country?

    5. Firstly, I stand corrected on the museum. I thought you were referring to the Shrine itself.

      That being said, assuming that the museum is actually a government-run museum, the Japanese government has no obligation to change the content of the museum. It might be nicer (where we're concerned) if they did, but niceness is seldom reason enough for a government to do anything. As far as sovereign nations are concerned, each country has the right to view its history the way it wishes.

      The Korean War was obviously a war but officially, it, too, was a police action that got out of hand. Should the United States and all those other countries that were involved in that war be forced to stop calling it a police action just to please our sensitivities?

      Is war senseless? Of course it is. But trying to "allow" the Japanese to commemorate their war dead the way the Germans did is disingenuous. Firstly, it wasn't just the Germans who lost their appetite for nationalism after the end of the war. Most of Europe lost their appetite for nationalism, which is how decades later we saw the creation of the European Union and the European single currency. It was a shared grief. It's a very different story in Asia. After the end of the war, China, despite being a communist country went full nationalist, as did Taiwan, South Korea, and North Korea. The only difference between Japan and the rest of its neighbors, at least as far as post-Cold War nationalism goes, is that Japan is only starting to be assertive about it now. To insist that the Japanese commemorate their war dead like the Germans did while the rest of its neighbors utterly fail to provide the mutual environment that is needed for such kind of mourning to take place is, to paraphrase "the Godfather," making Japan an offer that it cannot accept.

      The distinction between "political yahoos" and "evil men" is definitely clear cut. The former requires mere talk. The latter requires the talk to be followed by actions. For all of Abe's or Aso's bombast and bluster, they have not actually made any real moves to shred Japan's pacifist Constitution, or put up a real challenge against its neighbors when it comes to territorial disputes. Yes, he has downplayed the issue of comfort women; but he has been blasted for it not only for Korean and Chinese leaders, but also the US State Department. Yes, he has sought to revise history but not without opposition from, again, neighboring leaders only, but also from Japanese intellectuals as well. Yes, he said he wanted to retract his predecessors' apologies but failed to do so under international pressure. The man is nothing more than hot air.

      As for people with a skewed outlook of the world being put in charge of countries, name me ONE national leader who actually does not have a skewed outlook of the world. The vanity, the greed, the power lust, the banality, and the sheer stupidity that are required of individuals who wish to become national leaders by definition disqualify rational people.

    6. I found your Godfather analogy appalling. The countries neighboring Japan became nationalistic as a result of colonization by Japan. And yet you use that to somehow justify Japan's lack of redemption for WWII atrocities? So other Asian countries, after being brutalized by Japan, should have provided a mutual environment for Japan's mourning?

      As for your point that no leaders/countries regret engaging in a war -- the majority of Americans regret the American invasion of Iraq. Obama opposed the war from the start as did nearly half of the American population. Many members of Congress have since apologized for voting for the war. But I honestly don't know what your point is. Are you actually trying to justify Abe's stance on WWII by arguing that all world leaders are equally greedy and stupid?

      Koreans have been far more repentant about Vietnam than Japan has been about WWII. Apologies for the Vietnam atrocities were given by President Kim Dae Jung, war veterans, and a Korean bishop as well as a peace park memorial developed from the donations of a major Korean newspaper and its readers. Meanwhile, the Japanese consulate had tried to quash the construction of comfort women's memorial in NJ --

      You don't really seem to understand the level of self righteousness exhibited not only by the Japanese leaders but the average Japanese person as well. Try Googling comfort women and Japan's war atrocities and read through comments posted by those with Japanese usernames. Almost all of them deny that comfort women were raped (they claim they were prostitutes) and many of them claim that Korea was actually better off as a result of Japanese colonization because they somehow made Korea more civilized. An anti-Korean comic book was a #1 bestseller in Japan back in 2005.

    7. Obviously Japan's neighbors were colonized by the Japanese. That is a given historical fact. But in Europe, we have countries such as Austria, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and France that were conquered/colonized/annexed by the Germans. To suggest that nationalism is non-existent in those nations is, of course, nonsensical. However, those countries gave up enough of their nationalism for the formation of the European Union and the Euro.

      Those European nations learned from the mistake of World War I. If only one nation is forced to make sacrifices on its national sovereignty whereas others get to "enjoy" a victors' peace, no lasting or tenuous peace is possible. That was why the peace that resulted after World War II was a far more cooperative one.

      By saying "So other Asian countries, after being brutalized by Japan, should have provided a mutual environment for Japan's mourning?" you are promoting a victimhood mentality, which is hardly ever constructive.

      Secondly, there is a difference between leaders/countries feeling regret about having engaged in a war and leaders/countries signing formal declarations officially apologizing for having engaged in a war and taking active steps to educate its people (through official governmental agencies) about the mistakes and crimes it committed. The majority of Americans might regret having invaded Iraq but I have never heard of the American government making a formal apology for it. If you think that individual members of Congress apologizing for voting for the war is sufficient, then the numerous apologies that Japanese Prime Ministers gave for their country's atrocities ought to have been sufficient as well; especially considering the fact that whereas those American Congressmen voted for the war, none of those Japanese Prime Ministers who were apologizing were personally responsible for anything that occurred during the war.

      To take the apologies of those American individuals as a sincere American apology whereas not offering a similar trust to the Japanese individuals and their country is firstly, asinine as individual apologies are not synonymous with official declaration, and secondly a clear lack of objectivity.

      And my point is not to defend Abe. It's not because he's evil, but because he's stupid. And that's the problem with many Japan-bashers these days. To many Japan-bashers, Abe and his equally incompetent right-wingers are treated like the bogeyman. They're all bark and no teeth and yet their empty rhetoric is treated like as though it was the sound of war drums.

      As for Korea being "far more" repentant, that is an entirely subjective view. Are we quantifying apologies? If so, how? How deeply someone bowed or kowtowed? How much someone paid in compensation? Are we quantifying emotional pain? Unless you can provide quantifiable answers, that statement about Korea being far more repentant is just an opinion.

      I have a few Japanese friends. Only a small handful, mind you. We spoke of World War II only once. We were all drunk. They got pissy when the subject came around. It wasn't because they thought that their country was the victim. It was because they were in the wrong and they didn't want to be reminded of that fact yet again. But they were only four people. I highly doubted that, though they were my friends, that they represented all of their countrymen.

      You, on the other hand, seem to be ready to paint an entire people as unrepentant warmongers based on what you see on the Internet. Because the Internet is known for rational and polite discussions? The Japanese aren't the only ones who make ridiculous statements on the Internet. Have you heard of Ilbe? That site is full of very special Koreans. And not just to pick on Ilbe. Check out Hankyoreh's comments section as well if you want. And then tell me if those people on those websites define all of Korea.

  7. Not to nitpick, but Japan's "unconditional surrender" (as it is often referred) was conditional upon the Emperor and Imperial Family retaining their positions and not being tried for war crimes.

    I only bring this up because Hirohito and his relatives were directly responsible for many of Japan's actions during the war, and not only did they get off scot-free, but they kept their Family intact. It's beyond reprehensible.

    1. BTW - Great post. I think what you're hitting at is the Japanese notion of "Shikata ga nai" - the idea that some things just happen and cannot be helped. This excuse is given for plenty of BS, from Comfort Women to sexual harassment on the metro. Average people just maintain the mindset of, "What are you gonna do?"

      From my experience with Japan, it seems WWII is in the distant past for most Japanese people. It was 70 years ago and nothing good happened during that time, so why would they think about it? For the average person, it might as well be 500 years ago.

      Another problem is that apologies are different in East Asian "shame societies" than they are in Western "guilt societies." In the West, an apology is an admission of guilt and a step toward reconciliation. In the East, an apology is an admission of guilt and shame from which the guilty party cannot be redeemed. If Japan unequivocally admitted for its wrongdoings, apologized to its victims, and attempted reparations, it would bring new shame on the country. Yes, it is the right thing to do and it could lead to better relationships with Korea, China, the Philippines, etc. But Japan is the 3rd largest economy in the world and has a largely isolated worldview. Better relationships with its neighbors aren't worth the perceived shame that an admission of guilt would bring.

    2. Thanks! I think the most striking difference between Korea and Japan is the willingness of the people to engage in politics and change things. In Korea, politics is the national sport; when there seems to be a political issue, everyone gets up in arms, bitch, cry and moan and try to find a resolution. Quite the opposite in Japan.

    3. I wonder if that might be because South Korea is a fairly young democracy (since 1987). Anyone over the age of 35 remembers Korea as an authoritarian state. The right to participate in politics is not taken lightly.

      Of course, 재벌s still have too much control in Korean government, but that's another story....

    4. Michael, I think you are absolutely right about shaming and democracy.

      I think Japan only cares about what the Western world thinks of Japan. It had always had an inferiority complex with the Western world, which was further reinforced by getting its ass kicked in WWII. It couldn't care less what the rest of Asia thinks of Japan because it thinks of itself far too superior to deal with such trifles.

  8. No one likes to think about their country committing horrible acts against anyone. We all want to believe that we're on the "right" side, and any wrongs we're accused of isn't nearly as bad as other's make them out to be. Of course, countries, like Germany, have gone through great pains to try and reconcile the wrongs they committed, but something like that isn't easy, even if it's right. Japan seems to want to just forget, or pretend it didn't happen. For them, It is probably a great embarrassment to think that their country could cause such great pain to others, especially when, in general, they're a pretty passive culture. That said...if tensions between Korea and Japan are ever going to ease, the first step is a sincere apology from Japan that can't be changed or watered down when a new Prime Minister is elected.

    Individually though, I do think most Japanese do feel regretful for what their country did to Korea and others they invaded. I don't believe that we should take their lack of bitching and crying for a lack of sympathy or regret. I think Japanese people are just very passive. They don't want to stir things up. And you've pretty much touched on a very "Japanese" theme: an individual can't affect the world around them. Miyazaki is "just" a movie director, and Jiro "just" wanted to build planes. So really, maybe they're thinking is just, "yeah our Prime Minister is denying things we all know are true, but what can I do about it? I have my own problems. I just want to live my life. After all, I didn't kill or rape anyone." However, I'm not Japanese, so I can't say if that's a right or wrong assumption on my part. That kind of thinking is not right, but, unfortunately, most people will not bother with something that they aren't directly affected by, it doesn't matter the culture.

    I'm genuinely curious about how big of an impact an apology would have now, though? Japan has issued apologies in the past from a couple of politicians, and then any sincerity that there may have been has been tarnished by politicians like Abe, and Japan's right wing nuts (sorry there's just no way to be politically correct about that). So say Japan issued a full apology, no fine print of "We apology BUT..." just a straight up acknowledgement of the crimes, would that apology even be taken seriously?

    Also...the War and the crimes Japan committed against Korea are, for many, in the past. The generation that lived through it are dying, their children who may have heard the stories are getting older as well, and then you're left with my generation, mostly born in the mid to late 70s through the late 80s to early 90s, where a good bit of us don't even remember what it was like having an East and West Germany (I was 1 when the Berlin Wall fell). I guess my question is, would the grandchildren, or children of say, Comfort Women, be strongly affected by an apology? Would they feel like a weight or something had been lifted? Or that their resentment lessened? Would they feel relief for their parents or grandparents, knowing that the country that caused their pain, has finally apologized for it?

    An apology won't magically make Korean people go "Oh well I guess the Japanese aren't so bad after all..they did some bad stuff, but they apologized let's move on." So what else, I guess, would need to happen? Or does enough time need to pass, once the apology has been given?

    1. I'm sorry for the typo, the "We apology BUT..." should say "We apologize BUT..." curse of typing too fast...

    2. Sketch,

      Make the apologies manifest into Japanese law and I think the healing can start to begin. Make atrocity denial illegal as it is in Germany. Make hate speak against Koreans and Chinese residents of Japan illegal as well.

    3. Sketch, I would actually feel a whole lot better if the average Japanese person felt ashamed and repentant about the atrocities Japan committed... including killing my grandfather. My mother was forced to grow up without a father and my grandmother had to raise my mother without a husband. If Japanese people collectively took steps to criticize its leaders who deny the atrocities, raze any memorial honoring its war criminals, contribute to developing a war memorial honoring those who suffered and died under Imperial Japan, it would actually let my blood boiling anger against the Japanese people subside.

  9. "Japan, as a whole, think that it did nothing wrong during World War II."

    That's a very interesting statement but the truth, I think, is more nuanced than that. I think the Japanese wish that they had done nothing wrong, and try to carry on like they had done nothing wrong, but deep down I think most Japanese pretty much know the evil their country (and people) brought upon Asia during WWII. I've always gotten the feeling that the Japanese are more embarrassed than ashamed about the war. I know this is a terribly trite analogy, but it's like getting really drunk one night and making a total ass of yourself. The next day you vaguely remember all the horrible things you did the night before, but you almost mentally block it all out because it's more convenient not to remember. But you know damn well what you've done.

    I once asked a Japanese girl I was dating a few years ago if she thought Japan during the war was was evil. She was evasive in her response so I decided not to press the subject. But when we got back to her apartment, and it was just the two of us, she quietly uttered one simple word. Yes.

  10. At least Miyazaki stood up against Abe's planned revision of the Constitution (even if he didn't name him in his pamphlet).
    Speaking of Japanese anime, I was more disturbed by 'Grave of the Fireflies', also studio Ghibli, but by a different director, Isao Takahata. That's a beaufiful and touching movie, but it contributes to the one-sided presentation of WWII, featuring Japan as a victim of the madness of war, the martyrdom of an innocent people.

    This selective memory serves the purpose of revisionists, and they've already reclaimed considerable ground since 1945:

  11. Sketch, there is an 'argument' I saw some Japan-apologist bring up, to the effect that "Koreans will never be satisfied even if Japan built a mile-high memorial admitting to, and apologizing for, WWII war crimes because It's too politically useful/Koreans just don't want to forgive". I say, why not put this straw-man argument to the test and see? If Japan publicly embraced its contrition to the degree the Germans have with the gigantic Berlin Holocaust Memorial and the very public, touching and incisive 'Stolpersteine' cobblestones -- that is, with something that's really impressively prominent, public and permanent (cannot be taken back by opposition politicians the next day) -- I think that would go a long way toward convincing Koreans (and everyone else) to change their attitude toward Japan.

  12. Dear Korean,
    For many years, The Japanese Government and People have been in denial about World War II. They play up the atomic bombings in their country and only show one side. There is the sensitive subject of Foreign Collaborators of the Japanese in Korea, Philippines, and other countries.
    The Japanese may swear up and down nothing happened. They don't want to look at the records from the Tokyo War Trials and the Trial of General Tomoyuki Yamashita. Within those two records, there are many documented atrocities that is hard to read even now. Now, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, Mayor Toru Hashimoto of Osaka, Japan and particularly Former Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara have made outrageous comments, but no one in Japan will take them to task. In Germany, these people would be facing charges in court!
    Every year, the City of Nagasaki has their annual remembrance of the dropping of the atomic bomb. They cry out there were the innocent victims, but they leave a large historical hole. What they forget to tell is that the Japanese Imperial General Staff refused to surrender when given the opportunity. They had massed large amount of troops near Nagasaki waiting for the U.S. Troops to invade from Okinawa. One of my uncles would have been one of many commanding a landing craft from boat to land. He had been involved in the invasion of the Philippines in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. President Harry S Truman , who was a World War I Combat Veteran, was briefed on the amount of casualties. The Allied Casualties were estimated at a minimum of one million. The Japanese Casualties were estimated at least 5 million. He made a fateful decision which my uncle still agrees with at nearly 90 years old. The Japanese were bombed one more time. They knew the game was up. On August 15, 1945, the Japanese Emperor Hirohito made the speech to surrender.
    Many countries occupied by Japan had their freedom fighters and collaborators. There were collaborators in Korea, Philippines,and other countries. In Korean, you know this word- Chinilpa translated as People Friendly to Japan. They were Chinilpa Prosecutions were happening before the inauguration of President Park Geun-hye. Her father, President Park Chung-hee, is on the list of Chinilpa because he had been an officer of the Imperial Japanese Army. I suspect President Park has quietly closed down the prosecutions.
    I had to go back to and listen carefully to Dr. Henry Louis Gates' PBS Program FINDING YOUR ROOTS particularly on Margaret Cho's Ancestry. In the program, it was revealed that her grandfather had been a Japanese Civil Servant in what is North Korea. In 1948, the Cho family fled to South Korea.
    I am a historian by training and by temperament. I understand that that the Japanese did horrible things in our homeland of Korea, but I understand also that there were people in our homeland that were culpable of being collaborators. Some of the Chinilpa are from large companies still in South Korea.
    This history still is potent. There are many sides to the national tragedy of Korea. Mainly, the Japanese ,with collaboration from among the occupied nations peoples, are the main perpetrators. In South Korea, this issue has had a devastating affect.
    We also need to remember that history is always slanted to one side or other. This subject is still very emotive for those concerned.
    On March 1, I always remember the Korean Independence Movement by reading the Korean Declaration of Independence in English. I don't forget the tragedy of the homeland. I hope for a day when this will be history, but as Koreans, we have very long memories.
    Very Respectfully,

    Matthew Allen Ramsay
    Before being adopted from the Republic of Korea to USA : Kang Sin-chol

  13. I wrote my senior thesis on the 1960 Anpo Crisis, so I'd like to clarify some things about Kishi Nobusuke for the sake of historical accuracy:

    He was largely funded by the CIA, just as the US post-1952 (post-Occupation) was very into funding the Japanese the Liberal and Democrat Parties (which would later merge into the LDP in 1955) in order to establish a base against Communism in the Cold War. In fact, the US has been pushing for Japan's rearmament and remilitarization ever since 1952, and supported Kishi under these premises.

    What you fail to mention is that Kishi's maneuvers, particularly the forceful renewal of the US-Japan Security Treaty representing a symbolic return to wartime style politicking, resulted in mass-scale protests, known as 'Anpo Tōsō' (The Anpo Crisis), with millions of Japanese from all walks of life protesting both Kishi's tenure as PM and the renewal of the security treaty. Eventually, the movement was successful because Kishi was forced to resign and the LDP was forced to take a more moderate approach, focusing more on economics rather than constitutional revision, out of fear of another such movement occurring. Similarly, while Abe might kowtow to fringe-right elements, he, like most of his LDP predecessors, is focusing on economic issues (and you can't forget the abysmally low voter turnout rates).

    Your omission of the US's involvement in the transformation of Japan's political landscape into an LDP-dominated one and the mass protests leads me to believe that either you do not have a holistic grasp of history, you are very selective with what you portray, highlighting the "bad" in order to paint a broad portraiture of an entire nation based on two politicians. Because of this, I fear that I have to question your rationale, academic integrity, or some combination of both.

    If you'd like, I can provide you with dozens of sources on this, or provide you with a copy of my thesis which has the sources included. Meanwhile, enjoy these pictures of millions of Japanese protesting Kishi Nobusuke:

  14. I'm part of the Western Europe born in the early 90s generation whose grand-parents grew up during WWII and parents during the Cold War. So I do realize that I'm not the best person around to argue with anyone on the topic and I also know that I am no expert in what I'm about to say.
    I just want to point out that maybe Japan current main speech about WWII and their denial had to do with their history and cultural heritage.
    You don't have a nation based on the history of the (two) previous century(/ies) only. Japan was rather isolated for a long time, then it had bad relationships with basically all other nations. Japan was seen as nothing on the international stage while still being taken advantage of, and no matter what they did wrong before and during the war (and after maybe) to their Asian neighbours they were harshly treated by the country/ies deciding for them.

    So I just understand why politicians wouldn't want to feel responsible for those acts during WWII, or didn't want to see that as wrong. That was the time when they mattered in a way. (I'm not saying the economy isn't important, but having the US leading wars and setting the tone on conflicts and other major nations following or disagreeing but them, outch.) Japan is also a country where people don't have enough children to carry on. If the population is getting older and older and nothing is really done to look for the future but robots, how can they let go of the past (bloody? amoral?) glory?
    I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying that maybe being peaceful with the neighbours doesn't seem that important. And the things they did are so awful and the consequences were indirectly so humiliating, how can they try to make it right so easily? They, being the government. I have no idea what Japanese people are thinking, it the issue matters to them and they'd like to make it right or is voluntarily ignored because it's painful, or people just follow what seems to be the main way of thinking without thinking about it, or, or...

    And it's not because someone is elected as a leader that it means the people really wanted it. You have to give figures and statistics about what % of the popu actually voted, their social class, how many abstained, the political climate and the candidates, etc etc.

    As for Miyazaki, maybe he doesn't see himself as someone politcally committed. I wonder whether you can blame an artist or someone who just thinks he does his job.
    I do think what you can see behind Miyazaki's work is that he is sensitive about some issues, but pointing (repeatedly) an issue out doesn't make you committed. In the interview he said that "before he thought he could do something for mankind" but that it changed. I don't know what happened, but I know that really being committed as opposed to "sometimes" takes times and a lot of conviction in the cause you're defending. You need to belive in it, usually because the topic matters to you. Considering what he says about his father, he might find the topic sensitive.

    Do you have a duty to have a strong message to convey to your nation/the world if you're famous and have some independence in your work? But then if you're good at something, like making planes, do you have a duty to make them because your nation asks you to/the world may be a better with it, although they will most certainly fall into the wrong hands? And after all, aren't military inventions becoming more and more something seen as good in the everyday civil life, such as sat-nav?

  15. This is how many African Americans feel about America.

  16. This sentence is part of TheKorean's original blog posting: Japan, as a whole, think that it did nothing wrong during World War II.

    I respectfully disagree. It's way too much of a generalized statement, that Japan as a WHOLE - all of Japan, all of its nearly 130 million people - think Japan did nothing wrong during World War II.

    And as governments supposedly represent the people who elect them, here are some statements by Japanese officials.

    In 1990, Akihito said to Roh Tae-woo that he felt "deep remorse" for the "suffering" that Koreans "underwent."

    In 1996, Akihito said to Kim Dae-Jung that there was a time when Japan "brought to bear great sufferings upon the people of the Korean peninsula" and he stated he felt "deep sorrow."

    In 1984, Nakasone Yasuhiro made a statement to South Korea when he affirmed "There was a period in this century when Japan brought to bear great sufferings upon your country and its people. I would like to state here that the government and people of Japan feel a deep regret for this error."

    In 1998, Obuchi Keizo said expressed his "heartfelt apology" for the "tremendous damage and suffering" Japan caused "to the people of the Republic of Korea through its colonial rule."

    In 2005, Koizumi Junichiro said, "In the past, Japan, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. Japan squarely faces these facts of history in a spirit of humility. And with feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology always engraved in mind, Japan has resolutely maintained, consistently since the end of World War II, never turning into a military power but an economic power, its principle of resolving all matters by peaceful means, without recourse to use of force."

    And in 2010, Naoto Kan gave a rather long and more detailed statement of apology:
    This year marks a significant juncture for the Japan-Republic of Korea relationship. In August precisely one hundred years ago, the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty was concluded, making the beginning of the colonial rule of thirty six years. As demonstrated by strong resistance such as the Samil independence movement, the Korean people of that time was deprived of their country and culture, and their ethnic pride was deeply scarred by the colonial rule which was imposed against their will under the political and military circumstances.

    I would like to face history with sincerity. I would like to have courage to squarely confront the facts of history and humility to accept them, as well as to be honest to reflect upon the errors of our own. Those who render pain tend to forget it while those who suffered cannot forget it easily. To the tremendous damage and sufferings that this colonial rule caused, I express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and my heartfelt apology.”

    Here's part of the apology's transcript with a Korean translation available on the website of the Japanese prime minister. I'm adding the URLs for Kan's statements in English and in Korean.

    내각총리대신 담화 (날짜:) 헤이세이 22년(2010년) 8월 10일
    올해는 일한관계에 있어 큰 전환점이 되는 해입니다. 백년 전 바로 8월 일한병합조약이 체결되고, 그 후 36년에 이르는 식민지 지배가 시작되었습니다. 3•1독립운동 등의 격렬한 저항에서도 드러났듯이, 정치적•군사적 배경 하에 당시 한국인들은 그 뜻에 반한 식민지 지배로 인하여 나라와 문화를 빼앗기고 민족의 자긍심에 큰 상처를 입었습니다.

    저는 역사에 대하여 성실히 임하고자 합니다. 역사적 사실을 직시하는 용기와 이를 받아들이는 겸허함을 가지고 자신의 잘못을 성찰하는 데 솔직하고자 합니다. 아픔을 준 측은 잊기 쉽고, 당한 측은 그것을 쉽게 잊을 수 없는 법입니다. 이 식민지 지배가 가져온 다대한 손해와 고통에 대하여, 이에 다시금 통절한 반성과 진심어린 사죄의 마음을 표명합니다.

  17. man i got to say that out of all the tutorials yours helped me the most…….just tell me……how the hell do u draw a straight line?????
    Wholesale Army Navy

  18. @The Korean

    I agree with about half of what you're saying. Not sure about the rest.

    (If someone else made these points already, just ignore me.)

    I don't think that today's Japanese people have much, if any, responsibility for war crimes. Same thing for the Japanese of the 1930s and 1940s. You mention comparisons with Nazi Germany.

    The critical difference is that Japan was an Imperial/military dictatorship. It had been that way for centuries. I don't have a source for this, but I'm sure every kid was drowned in pro-nationalist propaganda from the time they were born.

    I recall hearing in history class that before the atomic bombings, American strategists were projecting millions of American casualties in the event of a land invasion of Japan. Why? Because just like on every Pacific island, 90%+ of the Japanese would fight to the death. They didn't question orders from the Emperor, just like their parents, just like their grandparents, just like their samurai ancestors.

    You can't expect rational, ethical thought after hundreds or even thousands of years of brainwashing. Nobody is going to feel that invading neighboring coutries is wrong... even that killing and enslaving civilians is wrong... if "right and wrong" has always been defined as "what the government does or doesn't do."

    In fact, I think that the majority of Japan thought that their "Holy War" was the right thing to do. I see no difference between their mindset and Islamist suicide bombers today. No distinction between civilians and soldiers. And with radical Islam, there is often no government behind the bloodshed. No military conscription. No powerful organization forcing its will on its members. Just a bunch of volunteers with a crazy ideology. Who can we blame here?

    About the Japanese who did oppose the slaughter, what are they going to do? Write an editorial to a newspaper? The government controls the media. Vote for different leadership? Japan was an empire. No elections here. Picket the local army office? They might let you stand there for 15 minutes. Military dictatorships have ways of dealing with that.

    On the other hand, Germans just voted Hitler in (multiple times)... and got with the program, even though it went against everything they had previously known to be right and good.

    So yes, present day Japanese need to get their heads out of the sand, and do something before they end up with another militarist faction in complete control. But I don't think the same standard can be applied to WW2 Japan.


  19. While I agree with this post in general, I think it should be noted that the whole "nothing you can do about it" attitude and lack of responsibility taking is endemic to Japanese life. It's not just about the war. Politics and business are rife with it. Most Japanese young people, especially women, are also very apolitical, and never vote. I spoke with one Japanese woman who said she just didn't care. Japan isn't really Democratic at all, tbh, as it's been running a largely one party system for over fifty years. And I might add that the position of the descendants of war criminals in the ldp has much to do with the fact that the American occupation put the country in their hands.

    Anyway, my point is that the vast majority of Japanese people I've met agree that Japan did a bad thing and should make amends, even if most of them haven't been educated about the extent of it. The older generation, the people with power, have a very different view.

    I also think that there is a greater problem of learned helplessness in Japan, and that the issue of the war will not be solved until there's a serious change in the national psyche. I lost track of how often I've heard "it can't be helped" or "that's just the way it is". Watch that Kurosawa movie, "Ikiru". That movie is basically the most accurate depiction of Japanese beaurocracy ever made.

  20. In the poster showing "Jiro Horikoshi and his Zero Fighter" the aircraft depicted looks more like a Vought Corsair, seen here:

    The Zero had straight wings, the inverted gull wing was unique to the Corsair.

  21. As a first-time reader of this, I'm sorry to feel to say that this post does not share the emotional detachment or desire to understand that characterizes many of your other posts (obviously not the ones drooling over Hillary Clinton's miraculous healthcare plan or sourcing entirely from the heavily lopsided NYT). I cannot blame a Korean for viewing Japan through the lens of emotion -- it would seem as wrong to deny the rightful blame of Koreans for their victimization as it would to permanently shame Japanese nationalism, or that of any other country -- but I can say that the Korean cause is most convincing to outsiders when made without what comes across as one-sided shrillness.

  22. "(1) Japan's Deputy Prime Minister said Japan should amend its Peace Constitution like the way Nazis amended the Weimar Constitution".

    The Deputy Prime Minister is an open advocate for revision of the Japanese Constitution, and he would never win the coming election if the translation reflected his opinions. As a matter of fact, he was insinuating his oponenets who are against the revision.

  23. Hey TK,

    I'm revisiting this article a bit too late, but here's a notable Japanese writer with a sizable sphere of influence with views like yours:


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