Saturday, March 10, 2007

So Much Has Been Written and Talked about Concerning the Most Recent Flare Up over the "Comfort Women" Issue, and Yet I Can't Stop Myself

Some facts that get lost in the tussle:
Prime Minister Abe did not raise the issue; Congressman Honda did, in a House Subcommittee, and forced his hand. Mr. Abe merely stated his previously expressed view, shared by much of the conservative wing of the LDP and, apparently, DPJ, that the would there was no proof that the Japanese government was directly involved in any coercion of the women, but that he would abide by the Kohno Statement as well.
Mr. Abe's views were clearly misrepresented in the foreign media, and this has added fuel to the fire.

Some predictions:
Mr. Abe will not issue a new apology.
The Emperor will not issue an apology.
The Abe trip to Washington will be marred by protests wherever he goes. (This last one courtesy of a US expert whom I will not name, unless he reads this and says he wants to be identified.)

If you want to really get into this issue, I understand there is a big debate going on at the MBR forum.

And before you write in to compare me to a Holocaust denier or a fellow traveler thereof, please note that I said: add fuel to the fire. And read my previous entry on this subject.

(Beside the point) I had been preoccupied this week, and I've been neglecting this blog. So to you who took the trouble to comment, my apologies. And thanks, Ken, for putting up that notice on behalf of Karin Muller; there's an intellectual property issue here, if indeed Japanland was broadcast or aired on cable or satellite TV. Also, thank you for your kind words about this blog. I'm supposed to be modest here; I'll merely state that, on the basis of the contents of your website, you are a source to be trusted.

By the way, I also found the false rape conviction highly disturbing. This and other cases have made me very skeptical of the death penalty, among other things. We did a complete makeover of our criminal procedures law after WW II, but much of the actual practice quickly diverged from the letter and spirit of the law. The upshot is that we have a criminal investigation and prosecution system that relies heavily on confessions. This apparently can result in serious travesties of the law.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Was Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa Broadcast on Japanese TV?

Karin Muller, creator of the documentary television series Japanland: A Year in Search of Wa, was somewhat surprised by the following in this Wikipedia entry:

"Japanland has even been shown on Japanese TV, rare for a U.S. program, especially one on Japan."

She wants to know if it has aired with a national broadcaster. She says it was probably up to a year ago, if indeed it happened.

Please let me know (post here, if you don't have my email address) if you have any information about this. Her work allows her to have access to the Internet (and the comforts of life that most of you who are now reading this enjoy) only intermittently and at great intervals, so I'm asking you on her behalf.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Fred Kaplan Picks Up on the Bush Administration’s 180°on North Korean Uranium Enrichment Program. So Where Does That Leave Chris Hill?

I speculated about the sudden US turnaround on North Korea's uranium program here. And this is Fred Kaplan's take. Whatever the motives for the public acknowledgement, the Bush administration’s credibility was further diminished. But where does this leave Chris Hill?

I realize he's much more simpatico than Douglas Feith, John Bolton, and the other long-departed ideologues that decorated the White House landscape. Still, he must have had some responsibility for what took place?

I know I'm not supposed to complain, since the US is running Six-Party-Talks interference for Japan on the abductees issue. Still, you have to wonder: Was Chris Hill stupid? Or was he lying? And why doesn't the media care?

If this sounds a lot like my earlier take on Condoleezza Rice, it's no coincidence.

Cute Animals – They're the Best Kind

If you think you can spare some love for cute little animals such as Donald Trump the Golden-Rumped Elephant Shrew, Dennis Kucinich Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the Hairy-Eared Dwarf Lemur, and Mick Jagger the Giant Jumping Rat, then you should take a look at the slide show.

Mr. Abe Makes the Cover of Newsweek Unfortunately, the Headline is: LETDOWN

I can't believe anyone who bothers to read this blog has missed this one, but here it is anyway. Newsweek (Asia version) Mar. 5 issue has a fairly lengthy cover story about how almost nothing has gone right for Prime Minister Abe after the stunning diplomatic coup at the start of his administration. It's mostly a compendium of conventional wisdom you see in the Japanese domestic press. That's not Newsweek's fault though. The Abe administration is turning into a CW compendium.

Looking at this article and using my impeccable 20/20 hindsight, I realize now that the trip to Beijing was a snap, and Seoul could not afford to be left behind. His two other early, major political victories were also much less difficult than they seemed to be at first glance. In amending the Education Basic Law to include promoting patriotism among other things, the DPJ proposed language that was even stronger than the Komeito-moderated administration version. The DPJ also came to support the Agency-to-Ministry makeover for the self-defense bureaucracy. And I say the Beijing (and Seoul) trip was easy because the trip had been a long time in preparation. China badly wanted to make up, going so far as not to extract promise form Mr. Abe not to go to the Yasukuni Shrine, instead embarking on a coy pas de deux that enabled Mr. Abe (and of course Hu Jintao) to sidestep the question.

So, early in his tenure, Mr. Abe picked the low-hanging fruit. But now, he is saddled with the hard questions. (Isn't hindsight a wonderful skill to have?) What is he going to do with the nitty-gritty of education? The economic disparities, attributed in the political narrative to Prime Minister Koizumi's economic reform policies? The national pension and healthcare systems? How does what are you going to do with the make over help us deal with the nuclear threat?

And speaking of North Korea, Mr., Abe seems to be trapped between a rock and a hard place on the abductees issue. A core constituency of his demands a hard line on North Korea on this issue, while the US will not make this an obstacle to improvements on the nuclear issue. In purely political terms, Mr. Abe will be best served by a collapse of the Six-Party deal due to North Korean intransigence. That way, he can postpone the tough decisions.

(Shisaku reminds us by way of Shukan Shincho that patience may be wearing thin among some of the families of the abductees.)

Intrepid Norimitsu Ohnishi Claims Japanese Government about to Reject "Kohno Statement on Comfort Women". Not So Fast, though That Is Not My Point

"Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied Thursday that Japan's military had forced foreign women into sexual slavery during World War II, contradicting the Japanese government's longtime official position.

Mr. Abe's statement was the clearest so far that the government was preparing to reject a 1993 government statement that acknowledged the military’s role in setting up brothels and forcing, either directly or indirectly, women into sexual slavery. That declaration also offered an apology to the women, euphemistically called "comfort women."

"There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it," Mr. Abe told reporters. "So, in respect to this declaration, you have to keep in mind that things have changed greatly."
(Norimitsu Ohnishi; Mar. 2, New York Times)

Mr. Ohnishi is up to his usual self, hitting Japanese nationalists where it hurts. Of course, if he had waited a day or two to write his article, he may have been less certain that "the government was preparing to reject [the] 1993 government statement".

Yesterday (Mar. 1), Mr. Abe did repeat his view that "the fact is, there was no evidence to support ‘coercion' as it had been originally defined", but he also stated that "it must be taken into consideration that the definition of 'coercion' was changed (to a broader one since that time the [Kohno Statement] was issued)." That looks an awful lot like Mr. Abe's way of reconciling his right-wing (and I use the term "right-wing" sparingly, including for Mr. Abe) views on this point and his need as a prime minister to avoid taking Japan back into international pariah status over it (stylistically reminiscent of his "don't ask, don't tell" Yasukuni policy). Seen in that light, Mr. Ohnishi seems to have misinterpreted Mr. Abe's Feb. 27 claim that "in respect to this declaration, you have to keep in mind that things have changed greatly" in a way that sexed up the story. (I'm giving Mr. Onishi a pass on that, though, since he has been, generally speaking, a conscientious chronicler of Japanese ills and misdeeds.)

In any case, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, the embattled Chief Cabinet Secretary, has continued to deny that the Japanese government will seek to revisit the Kohno Statement, and it would be a huge embarrassment to the Abe administration if he has to eat his words. Moreover, on March 1, the Committee to Consider Japan's Future and History Education (chair: Mr. Nariaki Nakayama), a group of LDP Diet members dissatisfied with the Kohno Statement and other elements of our modern historical narrative, convened to adopt recommendations for revising the Kohno Statement, but that session ended without reaching any conclusions due to serious disagreements among its members.

This, I think, gives a more accurate picture of where the Abe administration, indeed, the revisionists are, than Mr. Ohnishi's narrative.

Having said that, though, what is this twaddle about "no evidence"? Since when has oral testimony ceased to be evidence? Even our Constitution places only this one restriction: (Article 38 paragraph 3) No person shall be convicted or punished in cases where the only proof against him is his own confession. In fact, as you can see, "shoko" in "the original" is unofficially "translated" as "proof". I think Mr. Ohnishi's preference, "evidence", is more accurate, but let us give Mr. Abe the benefit of the doubt and assume he merely meant that the case for military and other official involvement in the coercion had not been proven.

True, human memory is frail and fraught with faults; one need not accuse the women who have come forward of prevarication to challenge their versions of the truth. But when a good number of women from different nations come forward to relate their ordeals, then at least some of the burden of proof would seem to shift to the shoulders of the deniers.

As for me, I have no way of knowing enough to pass judgment on the veracity of the testimonies of the women who have come forward. But one recounting of an incident, given by a woman who did not become a "comfort woman", willing or unwilling, sticks in my mind. It is an interview, in a BBC program, of an elderly, apparently well-to-do Indian woman, a teenager at the time of the Japanese occupation of Singapore. She tells the story of a Japanese military officer coming to her house one day. He returns again, this time to convince her to serve him in his quarters. She refuses. The officer slaps her, but she is otherwise unharmed. He leaves, and that is the end of that story. This story rings particularly true because of its simplicity and, more importantly, its lack of lasting trauma and suffering that causes us, knowingly or not, to so often edit our memories. And it leaves me to wonder, how many other women were approached and treated in a similar manner, or worse?

Then, one remembers the wanton lack of regard for the lives and well-being of our soldiers and civilians, as well as the brutality that the military chose to inflict on them, as they saw the occasion to warrant and particularly as our military fortunes deteriorated. And how can anyone deny that "the other" must have fared worse, perhaps much more so, at its hands than our own people?

Who knows, perhaps the Committee has enough evidence of its own to leave reasonable doubt at to the veracity of the testimonies of the women who have come forward. That, perhaps, would acquit the Japanese military in a criminal court of law. Others have discovered, however, that the rules of evidence are more relaxed in other courts. And it is in the court of public opinion, the easiest one of all and the only one that counts in this instant, that the Committee will miserably fail. Mr. Ohnishi's claims to the contrary, Mr. Abe, for all his lack of knowledge of rules of evidence, seems to have always been aware of this and acted accordingly. Let us hope he continues to do so.

(Sidebar 1) Field commanders, officers, common soldiers, made it up as they went along, as the situation, in their minds, warranted. There was no systemic effort sustained over time to perpetrate atrocities. (Unless you judge involvement in prostitution itself an act whose perpetrators are beyond redemption. But these were different times, and the world was at war.) This is where the Japanese experience separates, like so many other acts of moral desolation, from the Holocaust. Needless to say, to the victims, this distinction matters not one whit.

(sidebar 2) I hope Congressman Honda ceases and desists with his ideas of a resolution, though. If passed, I predict that the shoe will be on the other foot in the Japanese body politic. There will be a strong desire to revisit many other scenes in our wartime history where we will be able to heap anger and scorn on the acts of the Allied Forces (the Soviets not excepted), including and beyond the familiar litanies over the two atomic bombs and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians with weapons, among other things, that drew the wrath of the international community during the Vietnam War. We may also want to reopen debate on history that, in the community of nations, properly belongs to others.

New Doubts On Nuclear Efforts by North Korea - U.S. Less Certain of Uranium Program

Of all the déjà vu all over agains on this planet…

I have become so disillusioned (partly because I spent an entire futile weekend trying to parse the latest Six Party deal) that I can't help wondering if Christopher R. Hill is saying this to keep the deal alive past the 60 day declaration period.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

"New York: Targeted By Tehran?" or so newsweek asks

"Increasing tensions between Washington and Tehran have revived New York Police Department concerns that Iranian agents may already have targeted the city for terror attacks. Such attacks could be aimed at bridges and tunnels, Jewish organizations and Wall Street, NYPD briefers told security execs last fall, according to a person with access to the briefing materials who asked for anonymity because of the sensitive subject matter."

"In November 2003, Ahmad Safari and Alireaza Safi, described as Iranian Mission "security" personnel, were detained by transit cops when they were seen videotaping subway tracks from Queens to Manhattan at 1:10 in the morning."

""We're concerned that Iranian agents were engaged in reconnaissance that might be used in an attack against New York City at some future date," Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly told NEWSWEEK. "

So, someone leaks a document dating back to last fall, Newsweek brings up an admittedly disturbing incident from 2003 and gets a quote from the New York Police Commissioner, and voila, a headline with a question mark at the end is born.

Post-revolutionary Iran has been the source of support of terrorist activity against US interests overseas, so I don't blame New York for looking into contingencies. However, I can't understand why Iran would want to go back to those days, and on US territory at that, and invite a full-frontal US attack, when they are doing their best to bluff and wheedle their way to a full fuel cycle and likely worse and enhance its growing role as a major regional power. Unless, of course, the assumption is that the US is going to attack first.

So, it's either a desperate effort to fill the pages (website?) on a slow day, or it fails to give us sufficient context to support five, six-months old material. Either way, it's a hack job.

It should give conspiracy theorists in Iran food for thought.