Saturday, 28 February 2015

Revisionism in Japan contrasted with Germany

The 70th anniversary of the end of the War in the Pacific is looming. Rather than being a cause for cathartic reflection and unity within Asia, the geo-political atmosphere is toxic. This week in Japan has seen articles in mainstream media (Sankei Shimbun) lauded the virtues of apartheid and suggesting it as a model for dealing with immigrants to Japan, denying that there was a massacre in Nanjing, and stating that the war criminals found guilty at the Tokyo Trials have in fact been exonerated.  Also, this week NHK, the national broadcaster, says it's waiting for government directions before it takes a position on comfort women (despite the 1993 Kono Statement which clearly admitted the reality of took responsibility for the army's role in procuring comfort women). It's pretty dismal to see a visit to Momii, the NHK president on Prince William's Japan itinerary.
What used to be the fringe right wing has become close to the
official position of the National Government.

Turbulence in the the media is occurring at a time where the Prime Minister has stated clearly that wants to change the pacifist constitution. For some reason Japan as a state that can't declare war is too emasculated for the PM and his ilk. Moves to change the constitution  are coming after a law that prevented arms exports was rescinded and a Special Secrets Act was passed. The Special Secrets act doesn't make it clear what a secret is, there is no independent oversight body to ascertain whether secrets really are special or if the designation "secrets" is simply expedience to keep them out of the public domain.  In addition, there is no freedom of information legislation to act as a counterbalance to the special secrets act. Journalists or public servants revealing information can be faced with long gaol terms. In short, governments have the ability to shut down public scrutiny.  It's no wonder that Japan has fallen in the international Press Freedom rankings from 22 in 2011 (pre Fukushima) to 61 today.

At the same time as the government is limiting the extent to which it can be scrutinized, it is pushing ahead with a mission to reform education in particular history and "morality".   Hakubun Shimomura, the education minister claims that "self deprecating views of history" are damaging the morale of the youth of Japan.  To rectify this textbooks  should be written to show Japan positively. Suken Shuppan  has already received approval to remove sections on  comfort women and forced labour.  Issues with the neighbours will be taught with the view to reinforce the opinion of MOFA, not to gain an understanding of current disputes by showing different perspectives.  The fixation on a glorified history has reached the US with MOFA intervening to try to have references to comfort women removed from US textbooks , prompting US historians to write an open letter of complaint to the J. Gov. via an letter in the March edition of Perspectives on History.

Towards a Beautiful Country, by Shinzo Abe
A further aspect to the PM's agenda is recreating a "Beautiful Japan". The speech is full of trite platitudes. It claims to value history, but it's a mythological sanitized past and an idealized, sanitized future.  The speech actually reminds me of the list of fourteen characteristics of fascism.  Beautiful Japan talks about the value of democracy, but the government has harrangued media which disagrees with it. It lauds the role of women in the workforce but sees the creation of home based tele-commuting (for women) as the solution.  The speech is worthy of full deconstruction. (which isn't happening in this post...).    "Beautiful Japan" also turns a blind eye to injustices within. This comes at the highest level.  The Justice Minister, whose ministry includes oversight of the police,  has a history of associating with the leaders of Zaitokutai - an anti Korean organization that have rallies with slogans like "Kill Korean cockroaches".  She refuses to condemn their agenda other than saying that Japan is a country that loves peace... The PM also does not condemn attacks on minority groups in Japan.

The revisionist history which is in ascendancy here is a sharp contrast to Europe. Events of the past few weeks have illuminated the juxtaposition.   I couldn't help but feel very wistful seeing reports of the commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz.  Auschwitz was an unprecedented atrocity, but seeing  European leaders unite to memorialize a war in which their countries fought against each other was very moving. The gathering of leaders there also highlights the dire state of East Asia. In East Asia, a memorial  between the warring countries of World War II is unthinkable at the moment.  Korea, Japan, China do not have the maturity to come together in peace and good will with a common narrative about the past.

Germany's reconciliation with the past is far more convincing than Japan's. The passing of   Richard von Weizsacker, the former president of the former West Germany in January cast attention back to his speech in 1985 at the 40th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe.  His words remain profound and poignant.

'We Germans... need and we have the strength to look truth straight in the eye–without embellishment and without distortion... The greater honesty we show in commemorating this day, the freer we are to face the consequences with due responsibility. For us Germans, May 8 is not a day of celebration...There is truly no reason for us today to participate in victory celebrations. But there is every reason for us to perceive May 8, 1945, as the end of an aberration in German history, an end bearing seeds of hope for a better future. ... Remembering means recalling an occurrence honestly and undistortedly ... Today we mourn all the dead of the war and the tyranny... There is no such thing as the guilt or innocence of an entire nation. Guilt is, like innocence, not collective, but personal...
All of us, whether guilty or not, whether old or young, must accept the past. We are all affected by its consequences and liable for it. The young and old generations must and can help each other to understand why it is vital to keep alive the memories. It is not a case of coming to terms with the past. That is not possible. It cannot be subsequently modified or made not to have happened. However, anyone who closes his eyes to the past is blind to the present. Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risks of infection...

We in the older generation owe to young people not the fulfillment of dreams but honesty. We must help younger people to understand why it is vital to keep memories alive. We want to help them to accept historical truth soberly, not one-sidedly, without taking refuge in utopian doctrines, but also without moral arrogance. From our own history we learn what man is capable of. For that reason we must not imagine that we are quite different and have become better. There is no ultimately achievable moral perfection. We have learned as human beings, and as human beings we remain in danger. But we have the strength to overcome such danger again and again.

If the Japanese Prime Minister truly wants to create a beautiful Japan, it would start with the honesty of Weizsacker.