Thursday, February 12, 2015

Three Diplomats Walk into a Publisher’s Office…

… Or perhaps the Japanese Consulate-General in New York delivered a MOFA demarche, in order to convince McGraw Hill to remove two paragraphs from its college textbook entitled Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, which states that the Japanese army “forcibly recruited, conscripted, and dragooned as many as 200,000 women aged 14 to 20 to serve in military brothels, called ‘comfort houses.” It also says that the Japanese Imperial Army "massacred large numbers of comfort women to cover up the operation.”

One wonders if the diplomats were surprised when McGraw Hill refused to oblige or when the author of those two paragraphs, Professor Herbert “Ziegler, who teaches modern European history at the University of Hawaii,” issued a protest, which in turn was supported by an impressive array of “19 academics from American University as well as Princeton, Columbia and others” who “stand with the many historians in Japan and elsewhere who have worked to bring to light the facts about this and other atrocities of World War II.” Did MOFA not learn the lesson of the full-page WaPo advertisement that Japanese nationalists bought that arguably led to the adoption of the 2007 H.R. resolution condemning Japan?

Koreans and activists and the Americans, the latter whose hearts the Abe administration wants to win over, came to the issue with different contexts—occupation and annexation, human rights, Pearl Harbor, respectively—but have largely converged on a more or less singular narrative. To challenge the facts and nothing but the facts without a compelling narrative of its own, without a roster of credible academics and activists spontaneously pleading one’s case, is like dropping cherry bombs without boots on the ground.

Regardless of where you stand, you have to admit that the Abe administration reminds one more of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria and beyond than the Imperial Navy in the Battle of Tsushima.


MTC said...

Then again, failure is a reasonable goal.

First and mostly importantly, the diplomats earn a repeat of last year's budget allocation and possibly even an increase for having tried (よく頑張ったね。お疲れ様)to change the wording of a U.S. textbook, an act which, according to the likes of Sakurai Yoshiko, is precisely the kind of vain, after-the-fact pleading Japan's diplomats should be doing in their copious free time.

Second, failing to secure the change reinforces the narrative that Japan cannot at present win fair treatment in the court of world opinion. If the diplomats had succeeded, journalists and op-ed writers would have some very dull copy indeed.

Jun Okumura said...


Having worked the other end of the bureaucratic stick, I have a different take on this. First, a budget is not a goal in itself, except to the people who are graded by the size of the budget. Having to fulfill a task that you disagree with is the second most painful thing for a bureaucrat—surpassed only by not having any task to fulfill—and you can bet that MOFA bureaucrats disagree with way that the message is being cast and the way that they are being forced to go about it. To have to double down on that because things are not going your way? Speaking as a former METI official, let me just say that I would not wish that on my worst enemies. Of course the MOFA bureaucracy surely dislikes what the South Koreans and their American supporters are doing even more, but that only intensifies the agony of having to execute a policy that provides ammunition to its antagonists (not to mention the windfall benefits for the Chinese). As for your second point, the irony is very much appreciated.