Friday, April 24, 2015

A Few More Words regarding Prime Minister Abe’s Bandung Speech

If Japanese media reports are to be believed, China is officially disappointed that Prime Minister Abe did not assume responsibility and South Korea is officially disappointed because he did not refer to “colonial rule.” I’m not sure what the operative meaning of “responsibility” is here for the Chinese government. Is it for domestic consumption, to prepare the Chinese public for further improvement of bilateral relations? South Korea frets, in case anyone missed the point, because “colonial rule,” not “the war,” is the source of its complaint. And how bad was it for the Koreans compared to, say, Native Americans or Australian aborigines? Look to the biographies of their most recent Presidents Geun-hye Park and Lee Myung-bak for perspective.

And while we’re on the subject of Native Americans and Australian aborigines, if Americans and Australians of European descent want to jump on the bandwagon criticizing Mr. Abe’s latest speech, shouldn’t they apologize and go back to Europe first? I mean, clean hands and all? At least we left. (Okay, not of our own volition. Still…) As for Germans who want to chime in, have you petitioned your government to respond positively to Greek demands for multibillion Euro reparations, or do you agree with your finance mister that a deal is a deal so the Greeks should STFU?

But if you must, please at least have the decency to remember that “China and South Korea” and “Asia” are not interchangeable terms.

Okay. Rant over. Back to real life.

1 comment:

Robert Dujarric said...

I think my esteemed friend Okumura-san confuses ethics with politics. There is no doubt that the genocide of native peoples in the New World, as well as massacres in the colonies, are as bad, and in several cases far worse, than anything the Imperial Japanese Army did in 1931-45.

But the apology business is not about morals, it's about politics. Thus, it deals not with ethical absolutes but with the relativism of politics. Having slaughtered the indigenous inhabitants, and stolen 99% of their land, has very little impact on the international position of the United States. Nor is the killing of over half of the Hereros of German Southwest Africa a burden on contemporary German diplomacy.

There are, however, cases where misdeeds, ranging from genocide (Nazi Germany) to old-fashioned massacres (Nanjing) have grave consequences for the national interest of the successor states (Federal Germany, today's Japan). Some countries totally fail to handle it. Turkey being the prime example (Armenian genocide). Others managed it extremely well (Germany). Japan has done a better job than Turkey (not a very high standard) but not as good as Germany.

Japan suffers from the unfortunate marriage of Mr. Showa with Mr. Hitler (or if you prefer General Tojo with Mr. Hitler, Mr. Showa being the symbolic father of the groom). Therefore, when comparisons are made, no one thinks of the fate of the native Americans, the Africans enslaved and murdered by Europeans, or the Aboriginal Australians. Rather, everyone asks about how Japan performed in the realm of apologies compared with Germany.

This is unfair. But (a) life is not fair. Additionally (b) neither the Japanese Civil Code nor its German counterpart (which influenced the Japanese version) recognize posthumous divorce. When Mr. Hitler blew his brains in April 1945 he was still married to Mr. Showa, with whom he, had had a child known as the Axis. Had Japan, like Italy after it overthrew the Duce, ended the matrimony prior to the German leader's death, it might have been possible to separate Imperial Japan from Nazi Germany in the minds of observers. But after the death of the Fuehrer, it became impossible.

There is, therefore, no way for Japan to escape the ghosts of its association with the Third Reich. It places unique burdens on today's Japanese premier, something he may not fully realize.