Thursday, April 05, 2007

The scar on the tree

In earlier posts (here and here), I noted that rehabilitated neocon Francis Fukuyama has emerged as a scathing critic of the movement that he helped to found with his book The End of History and the Last Man and his participation in the Project for the New American Century.

In a piece for Monday's London Guardian, it's even more clear that Fukuyama's political evolution places him in direct conflict with Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams and other former soulmates (and thanks to Digby at Hullabaloo for the link to that article). His Hegelian views on the inevitable triumph of American democracy and hypercapitalism are barely recognizable now.

Yesterday, in an op-ed piece in Le Monde of Paris, he discusses the resurgence of Japanese nationalism and the persistent failure of that nation to examine its role as an aggressor, and perpetrator of war crimes, during World War II. He writes (my translation from the French):
Unlike Germany, Japan has never clearly recognized its responsibility in the Pacific war. Although in 1995, the first socialist minister of our time, Tomiichi Murayama, had officially presented some excuses for the war to China, there has never been a true debate inside Japan on its responsibility and there has never been a real attempt to present a version of events that differs from the one shown in the Yasukuni Museum.
Whatever its many virtues, Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima" is unlikely to initiate any debate over Japan's conduct of the war (as discussed in a post last week).

The Yasukuni shrine and attached war museum have been a source of controversy ever since 1978, when 14 war criminals were interred among the 2.5 million people whose remains had already been deposited there. Visits to the shrine by successive prime ministers have incited protests in Korea and China—and in Japan itself, primarily from those who favor the separation of the state from the Shinto religion. Fukuyama notes:
Past the exhibits of the Mitsubishi Zero fighter, the tanks and the submachine guns, one comes across a description of the Pacific war which reaffirms "the truth of Japan's modern history" from a nationalist point of view. Japan becomes the victim of the European colonial powers, seeking to protect the rest of Asia from that influence. The colonial occupation of Korea by Japan is described, for example, as a "partnership," and one searches in vain for a single line about the victims of Japanese militarism in Nanking or Manila.

It might just be a question of one point of view among others in the tallies of a pluralistic democracy, but no other museum exists in Japan that presents the history of the country during the 20th century in a different light. In addition, since this museum is the responsibility of a private religious organization, successive governments have denied all responsibility for the ideology that is expressed there.

Denial of one's wartime history is hardly unique to the Japanese. For most of the combatants during World War II, including France and the U.S., there have been no "truth and reconciliation commissions"—on the models of South Africa, Argentina and Chile—to closely examine the behavior of the authorities and individuals in waging war. It has largely been left to historians and journalists to assess the bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the forced relocation of 120,000 Japanese Americans to "resettlement" camps, the role of the French government in the deportation of its Jewish citizens to Nazi death camps.

But Japan seems to be uniquely resistant to a close examination of its wartime behavior. The recent uproar over the "comfort women"appropriated as sex slaves by the Japanese army (primarily in Korea and China) was compounded by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's incredible claim on March 1st that "there was no coercion in a narrow sense of the term" in the "recruitment" of the women.

Takashi Oda, of the Daily Yomiuri, defends Abe with this "clarification:" "Abe's statement was simply meant to explain the fact that no official documents have been found to substantiate the allegations of coercion by the Japanese military in recruiting the women—the crux of the comfort women issue" [my emphasis]. Apparently Mr. Abe has given little credence to the mountain of evidence that investigators have accumulated on this issue.

On March 11th, in response to the outrage over his earlier remarks, Abe said: "I would like to sincerely apologize for Japan's causing a large number of people [abroad] to suffer great mental anguish in the wartime past..." To the "comfort women" and others subjected to atrocities by the Japanese Imperial Army, "great mental anguish" barely touches on the pain they experienced.

Takashi Oda concludes:
Political leaders, however, should leave the task of finally settling the problem to historians and other intellectuals, while doing their best to calm the outcry over the issue... The chances of Japan securing a political win in its foreign policy in connection with this problem are very slim... The U.S. side should be aware that this highly sensitive problem has so far not taken on the appearance of a mudslinging match due mainly to the rational attitude Japan has taken to avoid such a development (1).
So, according to Oda, the role of Japanese political leaders is to abandon hope for a "political win" and "calm the outcry" rather than look beyond the deficiencies of the "official documents" and force an examination of what really happened, followed by a genuine apology and significant reparations. Oda also suggests, by using the term "mudslinging," that blame could be easily cast on both sides—as if there's a rough moral equivalence between Japan and the U.S. on this question. In fact, Japan's "rational attitude" even allows it to claim the moral high ground.

Why is Japan so resistant to examining events that took place six and seven decades ago? Maybe, in part, this reluctance is a remnant of the samurai code of bushido, as described by Inazo Nitobe in Bushido: The Soul of Japan (1905):
A good name--one's reputation, "the immortal part of one's self, what remains being bestial"--assumed as a matter of course, any infringement upon its integritywas felt as shame, and the sense of shame (Ren-chi-shin) was one of the earliest to be cherished in juvenile education. "You will be laughed at," "It will disgrace you," "Are you not ashamed?" were the last appeal to correct behaviour on the part of a youthful delinquent. Such a recourse to his honour touched the most sensitive spot in the child's heart, as though it had been nursed on honour while he was in his mother's womb; for most truly is honour a pre-natal influence, being closely bound up with strong family consciousness...

All the sartorial ingenuity of mankind has not yet succeeded in sewing an apron that will efficaciously hide our sense of shame. That samurai was right who refused to compromise his character by a slight humiliation in his youth; "because," he said, "dishonour is like a scar on a tree, which time, instead of effacing, only helps to enlarge."
The scars certainly don't just go away if they're relegated to "historians and other intellectuals," as Oda proposes.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., our own tree has its many scars, and they're not getting any smaller either.


(1) Oda points out, quite accurately, that the U.S. occupation authorities asked Japan provide "comfort stations" to its officers in 1945 and during the Vietnam war, and that U.S. troops have been convicted of rapes in Okinawa and elsewhere in Japan. While U.S. forces occupying Japan certainly were involved in prostitution, I'm aware of no evidence that Japanese prostitutes, unlike the "comfort women," were "recruited" at the point of a gun or bayonet. Some of the rapes mentioned by Oda, but certainly not all, led to prosecutions, convictions and punishments. Compared to Japanese war crimes involving some 200,000 "comfort women," there are large differences in both the scale and the nature of the offenses by U.S. troops. To condemn Japan for this aspect of its postwar history is not the same as condoning the crimes of U.S. occupiers.

PHOTO: The Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

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