Sunday, September 02, 2007

Has Norimitsu Ohnishi Done It Again with His Take on Shinzo Abe's Visit to India?

Here is Norimitsu Ohnishi's latest take on Shinzo Abe's history issues.

Mr. Ohnishi points to the continued popularity in Japan of Radhabinod Pal, the Indian jurist and lone dissenting judge at the Tokyo Tribunals (he called for complete acquittal of all the defendants). The hook for his article is, of course, Mr. Abe's tribute to Judge Pal before the Indian Parliament and his meeting with the judge's 81 year-old son on his what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation trip to India.

Mr. Ohnishi's point is that "many of postwar Japan’s nationalist leaders and thinkers have long upheld Judge Pal as a hero, seizing on — and often distorting — his dissenting opinion at the Tokyo trials to argue that Japan did not wage a war of aggression in Asia but one of self-defense and liberation. As nationalist politicians like Mr. Abe have gained power in recent years, and as like-minded academics and journalists have pushed forward a revisionist view of Japan’s wartime history, Judge Pal has stepped back into the spotlight, where he remains a touchstone of the culture wars surrounding the Tokyo trials." Although he does not say so explicitly, it is hard not to draw the conclusion that Mr. Ohnishi, by blurring the conceptual boundaries between the war and war crimes, is alleging that Mr. Abe is one of those people trying to argue that "Japan did not wage a war of aggression in Asia but one of self-defense and liberation."

But then, what to make of Mr. Abe's August 15 words of contrition on the occasion of the commemoration of the end of the war:

In WW II, Japan caused much loss and pain to the many countries, the people of the Asian nations in particular. As the representative of the people [of Japan], with a deep sense of regret, I sincerely express my feelings of sorrow to the people who became the victims.

This does not sound like the words of a man claiming "self-defense and liberation". In fact, it sounds very much like the words of a man who would knowingly pay tribute to a jurist who was convinced that "the evidence is still overwhelming that atrocities were perpetrated by the members of the Japanese armed forces against the civilian population of some of the territories occupied by them as also against the prisoners of war".

The war, most thinking Asians will tell you, had many faces, and all but the hard-core right-wing nationalists here will admit that, at a minimum, we – if not we alone - wronged the Chinese and Koreans. Mr. Ohnishi by insinuation conflates every dissenting Japanese voice – including, yes, Mr. Abe's - with the diehard denialists.

Unlike this case (of which NYT made what could be charitably called an invisible retraction), there is no obvious error on the facts. Perhaps he has wised up and decided to let the critique coalesce in the reader's mind. But I will elect to take a more accommodating view; that Mr. Ohnishi thought that Western readers, American ones in particular, would find Justice Pal's views on the war as a whole so unfamiliar and displeasing that they could be safely introduced only as background to that familiar and greatly exaggerated right-wing resurgence trope.


Adler said...

Hold on there cowboy!

There are quite a number of examples of PM Abe saying that he believes the Greater East Asian War to have been one of liberation. Abe holds leadership and memberships positions in some of Japan’s most unapologetic, reactionary parliamentary and private sector groups. These groups espouse everything from the denial of the Rape of Nanking to returning Japanese women to their barefoot and pregnant status. Eighty percent of his cabinet is still considered ultra rightwing holding memberships in the Japan Conference. This organization most definitely states that Japan wanted to liberate Asia. Japan Conference also advocates Emperor worship and teaching “moral” principles.

In regard to Abe’s August 15th war statement of contrition, your selection is abbreviated and noticeably different from those of past PMs. His statement is probably the most Spartan of them all. Abe seems to “borrow” rather than commit to or add to past statements. He tacks it on to his larger statement, instead of anchoring his statement around it as others have done.

All post-1995 statements of war apology derive from PM Murayama’s. This is considered an “almost” gold standard of Japanese war apologies. It is gold because it was approved by a Diet resolution and by a Cabinet Decision. It is “almost” because his Japanese is vague and tentative and the Upper House refused to consider the resolution. Murayama also threatened to resign if his cabinet did not agree to approve it.

Now, let us review:

Murayama, 8/15/95
"During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. In the hope that no such mistake be made in the future, I regard, in a spirit of humility, these irrefutable facts of history, and express here once again my feelings of deep remorse and state my heartfelt apology. Allow me also to express my feelings of profound mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, of that history."

Koizumi 8/15/05
“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. Sincerely facing these facts of history, I once again express my feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology, and also express the feelings of mourning for all victims, both at home and abroad, in the war. I am determined not to allow the lessons of that horrible war to erode, and to contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world without ever again waging a war.”

Abe 8/15/07
“During the war more than three million people died, including those who fell on the battlefields while thinking of their homeland and families. Among the war dead were those who perished amid the destruction of the war and those who lost their lives during the aftermath of the war in remote foreign countries. Moreover, Japan caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations. On behalf of the people of Japan, I express my feelings of profound remorse and sincere mourning for all the victims of the war.”

I do not believe it takes a linguist to notice the differences between the three statements. Abe’s apology to Asia appears as an afterthought. He makes no mention of Asian deaths nor of facing the facts of history. He provides the bare minimum. Interestingly, he makes a point of saying he is speaking for Japan, not himself.

Onishi is not wrong. Indeed, he is kind to Abe. There is a clear trend among Japan’s political elites to be what can be termed conservative or reactionary or revisionist or nationalist or rightist (different scholars use different terms). The current government and the press that covers it can easily be identified as such. What is troubling is how out of sync these leaders are with the average citizen. What is frightening is how confident these leaders are of being able to manipulate these citizen’s views.

Jun Okumura said...


Thank you for your comments. It is good, and humbling, to hear from someone who has a powerful argument and the facts to back it up. However, you must be drawing from a different source for Prime Minister Koizumi's words, because my source has him giving a 2006.8.15 address that is nearly identical to Prime Minister Abe's 2007.8.15 address on that point. And I would argue that the phrase "on behalf of the people" - used by both Prime Ministers - adds greater weight to the matter.

I have no doubt that Shinzo Abe has different views of the War, if not each of the major events that you refer to, than Tomiichi Murayama or Junichiro Koizumi. But note that Prime Minister Abe – at times with some difficulty - always comes to carefully toe the official line. The politics, domestic, regional, and global, demand that he do so. And that is what counts. As far as I am aware, Mr. Abe visited India in his official capacity as Prime Minister – never mind my crack about his "what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation" – and it is in that light that his actions must be viewed.

I stand by my evaluation of Mr. Ohnishi's article as a product of journalism, if not as a piece of advocacy.

The Japan Conference is an intriguing animal. Sadakazu Tanigaki, the dove, appears to be a key member of a Diet member sub-group, surely not a reassuring sign from your point of view. However, it could very well be a case of yet another politician catering to a significant but aging part of his constituency. If so, then perhaps he may not be advocating "returning Japanese women to their barefoot and pregnant status" in all sincerity. But I am speculating here, so I'll leave this specific point at that.

Having said that, the Japan Conference has been around for ten years, and twenty years before that in a previous incarnation, and remains for the most part ignored by the mainstream media here. The names that I recognize on its board of directors are all very, very old. And what I see on the ground is the increasing difficulty the ultra-right wing is having in mustering its forces (noisy trucks and vans, mainly, manned by very sweaty men in the summer) for political protests. It is in such context that I will pay due attention to the organization.

There is certainly much historical review of the War going on here. If ever anything nearing a popular consensus emerges, I am confident that it will be something close to what I believe to be the more logical conclusions to drawn from Prime Minister Abe's visit to India, so soon after his first 8.15 speech. But that's just my personal opinion.

Adler said...


This is a blog. So my research is just quick and dirty. I had a recollection that Koizumi's 06 Aug 15th statement was similar to Abe's. I seemed to also recall that many commented on how pared down it was. However, with not much time to research my memories, I settled on , that is the MOFA site on History. Interesting, isn't it, that the 06 statement is missing.

Now, that the Koizumi 06 statement has been found it only further proves my point if not more. Abe simply moved the issue further down in importance and had such little courage that he could not even figure out how to tinker with what Koizumi said.

The carefully spare statement is far from any expression of contrition of any diplomatic worth. It has become is just a pro forma annual rote repetition. There is neither heart nor sincerity there.

Japan Conference and it supporting parliamentary groups? I believe you may want to look beyond this group's website. Abe has held leadership positions. There are others as well you might want to find out more.

Jun Okumura said...

"This is a blog. So my research is just quick and dirty."

So, my little man, you choose to blame your sloppy research on the fact that this is just a blog? I feel sorry for you – you are you, aren't you - so I'll forgive you for:

a) ignoring the difference between the regular, annual addresses by the Prime Ministers and the far more elaborate, one-off, 60th Anniversary (61st Ceremony) statement;
b) bad grammar; and
c) failing to understand the whole point of my post.

I don't know why they stopped producing full translations of the annual address in 2006. But the relevant parts of the addresses are replicated in full in English, in plain sight, in the most obvious of places. (Do your research.) I'm inclined to believe that, with the definitive statement in place, they saw no need to keep reposting what has become a routine. Conspiracy theorists may be able to see more sinister intent. But if so, they would have to explain why the powers that be continue issuing that PM address year after year. After all, it's the Japanese hearts and minds that count; remember, for most of us here, Japanese is our first language, and we're the ones who decide whether to go nuclear or not. And also why they allow the English translation of that malevolent statement to remain posted.

You were the one who brought up JC. But yes, I already do have an extensive list of such web sites and blogs, and no, I'm not interested in going through them at this moment. I only read such insular, humorless (except where not intended) material when I absolutely must. There's enough to read and think about as it is.

Bless you, Adler. Seriously, this blog needs more people like you. Seriously.