Saturday, February 02, 2008

How Empires Deal with History: Australia Finds It Difficult to Turn Back Time on the “Lost Children”

The Australian Senate passed its own, somewhat belated motion (motion 920; scroll down to page 24459) on the comfort women issue on 2007 September 20. It must have been a disappointment to supporters of the ongoing campaign to force the Japanese government go beyond the Kōno Statement, though. For, I quote:
[T]he Senate
(a) notes that:
(iv) the 1993 statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on the comfort women issue (the Kono statement) fully and officially acknowledged the complicity of the Japanese Government and military in the 1930s and 1940s in a coercive system of sexual slavery in occupied territories, and
(v) the Kono statement has been reaffirmed by subsequent Japanese governments and prime ministers, including by Prime Minister Abe;
(b) commends the Japanese people and Government for the steps they have taken so far to acknowledge and atone for Japan’s actions in the 1930s and 1940s; and
(c) encourages the Japanese people and Government to take further steps to recognise the full history of their nation, to foster awareness in Japan of its actions in the 1930s and 1940s, including in relation to comfort women, and to continue dialogue with those affected by Japan’s past actions in a spirit of reconciliation.

The Labor Party and other members of the opposition introduced an amendment that would make the motion read:

(iii) the 1993 statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono officially acknowledged the Japanese Government’s findings, including its involvement in the comfort women system;
(b) encourages the new Prime Minister of Japan to acknowledge and officially apologise to comfort women by introducing such a resolution in the Diet; and
(c) encourages the Japanese Government to take further steps to recognise the full history of its nation, by taking historical responsibility and accurately teaching the history of comfort women in its schools.

However, the amendment was rejected by a vote of 34 to 32, and the motion passed as introduced. But Senators newly elected in the will take their seats on July 1, which will give the Labor Party, with an absolute majority of its own (39 seats out of 76 in all), to take another crack.

Now I have no quarrel in principle with members of civil society pressing claims, their own or otherwise, against the Japanese government*. But what are we to make of governments, particularly those of former empires, that try to dictate how the Japanese government deals with its history even while falling far short when it comes to dealing with their own. So let’s sit back and watch the Australian government deal with its own apology to the Australian aborigines. For this BBC report says nothing about any resolution, and the new Labor administration has apparently ruled out any compensation. Moreover, the proposed apology refers only to the “Stolen Generations”. It says nothing about the aborigines who were living on land expropriated by settlers over the years**, nor does it mention the aborigines in Tasmania, who were hunted as game and slaughtered as vermin.

Perhaps the Australian Senate should take the easy way out and demand that the British Parliament pass a resolution of apology. After all, there are no personal costs to making demands that only others need fulfill.

Incidentally, I would be very much obliged if someone could enlighten me as to any other action, administrative or legislative, that the Australian government has taken on this issue.

* Anyone who is curious to know what I personally make of the comfort women issue is requested to look here. I have not done any thinking beyond it.

** Yes, I am aware that Japan has been less than exemplary in its treatment of the ainu. Yes, I am aware that the United States… In fact, it is a fact of history, the sadness of which is correlative to the degree of empathy in the beholder, that expanding nations are rarely kind to indigenous populations.


Janne Morén said...

I do not have; nor can I have, any personally specific issue with the treatment of the Ainu; the Australian aborginies, or (much closer to home) the north-scandinavian Sami. I can not have any authoritative view of the Apartheid-era treatment of "people of Color" (any color) in South Africa; nor of the pre- or post-civil war treatment of blacks in the US, or the treatment of Palestinians in Israel.

I do not have either the age nor the influence to have any bearing on any conflict of this kind.

I do come from a country that did spend about eight hundred years trying to rob stuff from its neighbours by extreme violence, and getting severly hurt whenever a neighbour or competitor did the same.

The end result of a zero-sum game view of the world was a nation of extreme poverty, where a quarter of the population (mostly the better off quarter) left for colonies in north america or australia rather than brave another year of economical or political disaster at home.

And the one thing I can learn from the difference of Swedish foreign policy and how it has changed over time is:

Be nice to people. Be nice to people _especially_ when they're foreign, or down, or different than yourself, or at the mercy your own boot heels. You will appreciate having been nice to people a lot sooner than you think. Other people will not forget you being nice to them, and _especially_ when you cared about them when you had no particular reason to.

In world politics, nice people _do_ tend to finish first.

Jun Okumura said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jun Okumura said...

But what do we do when two "nices" collide? Two quite different answers, with different consequences to this dilemma:

“Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus (7–2BCE to 26–36CE)
“Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself.” Confucius (551BCE-479BCE)

MTC said...

okumura -

When a ruler or a magistrate about to take action toward those less powerful than yourself, follow the Silver Rule.

In all other cases, follow the Golden.

Jun Okumura said...


That makes a certain historical sense, in that Confucius was addressing the ruling class, while Jesus was talking to bloggers and the rest of us common folk. But rulers can't stay away from GR, even where us lesser beings are concerned.