Abe’s Avoidance of the Past

Original article from NY Times

Credit Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press
TOKYO — For months, speculation built in East Asia in the lead-up to the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender, which ended World War II.

Would the new, conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who wants Japan to play a more assertive role on the world stage, address questions of wartime responsibility and guilt in a different way than his predecessors had?

In the end, Mr. Abe said little on Friday that was new. He prevaricated on the causes of the war and on the exact nature of the worst of Japan’s atrocities — from the forced recruitment of thousands of so-called comfort women, or sex slaves, from Korea and China, to the devastating military tactics employed to subjugate the country’s neighbors. Rather than apologize in personal terms, Mr. Abe was content to cite the apologies of his predecessors, before stating that it was unreasonable either for today’s young, or for future generations of Japanese, to have to feel guilty about events that took place long before their birth.

It’s no surprise that Mr. Abe’s speech elicited strong and immediate criticism from China and South Korea. What is more interesting were the rebukes he drew from important segments of Japanese society. At a peace ceremony on Saturday, with Mr. Abe in attendance, the 81-year-old emperor, Akihito — whose father, Hirohito, prosecuted Japan’s conquest of Asia beginning in the 1930s — broke new ground for himself by expressing “profound remorse” over the war. Tomiichi Murayama, the 91-year-old former prime minister, was more direct in his criticism of Mr. Abe: “Fine phrases were written, but the statement does not say what the apology is for and what to do from now on.”

It was Mr. Murayama who in 1995 — on the 50th anniversary of the war’s end — offered Japan’s strongest official apology, when he spoke of the “tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly those in Asia,” caused by Japanese colonialism and aggression, and personally expressed his “feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology.”

During its peak economic boom years, in the 1980s, Japan was also the world’s largest provider of development assistance, and concentrated most of its grants and loans on Asia. Japan played a particularly instrumental role in midwifing China’s economic surge, providing billions of dollars in investment, critical new technologies, and even political support to its communist neighbor, for example, after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Time and again, however, good-will initiatives like this have foundered on the basis of equivocal language, and on the provocative actions of Japanese leaders themselves, often taken to mollify conservative constituents. The most notorious of these actions have been their repeated visits to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, a Shinto monument to the country’s modern war dead, including numerous officers who were tried after Japan’s defeat as so-called Class-A war criminals.

Mr. Abe occupies a singular and complex place in this narrative. The maternal grandfather he often reminisces about fondly, Nobusuke Kishi, oversaw industrial development in Japanese-occupied Manchuria in the 1930s, during a time of rampant sex slavery, prostitution and narcotics dealing. A far-right politician with fascist leanings, Kishi was later minister of munitions in the war cabinet of Hideki Tojo, and was imprisoned on suspicion of war crimes, although never tried, helping position him to later become an important, early postwar prime minister. Mr. Abe himself pursued rapprochement with China during his brief, first tour as prime minister, a decade ago, after a period of heightened tensions between the two countries under his boss and predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, over his visits to Yasukuni.

In 2013, on the first anniversary of his second stint as prime minister, however, Mr. Abe inflamed relations with China and Korea by visiting Yasukuni himself. Since then, in the face of stiffening domestic opposition, Mr. Abe has inflamed mistrust by revising laws to allow Japan to sidestep restrictions in its pacifist Constitution and to take on more responsibility for its own defense and enhance military collaboration with its allies, especially the United States.

Why have deep divisions lingered so much longer in East Asia than they did in Europe — where Germany was much more willing to accept its responsibility for the war, and its neighbors therefore far more willing to get on with things?

Part of it, no doubt, is because of calculations by Beijing that having a historical antagonist readily at hand is politically useful, especially as the country’s ideological mainstays of Maoism and Marxism-Leninism have lost their relevance. This has left the Chinese Communist Party with only two pillars upon which to stake its legitimacy, strident nationalism and dwindling economic growth.

According to William A. Callahan, a China scholar at the University of Manchester, in 2012 fully 60 percent of the movies and TV programs produced by the leading production company, Hengdian World Studios, involved anti-Japanese plots. In that year alone, he estimated that 700 million Japanese were shown being killed in these programs, or more than five times the actual population of Japan.

In China’s case, nearly the entire history of the 20th century awaits rewriting, because of the extreme manipulations and censorship of the narrative by the Communist Party. One of the biggest myths there, which is just now beginning to fade, is that Mao’s forces heroically defeated the Japanese, as depicted in almost all of the Hengdian World Studios war films. In reality, it was Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists who did the overwhelming bulk of the fighting. Maoist China’s self-inflicted famine during the Great Leap Forward killed 30 to 40 million people between 1958 and 1962. That took far more Chinese lives than the Japanese did, but this and many other fraught episodes of Chinese history remain all but off limits.

For its part, modern South Korea was built to a significant degree by wartime collaborators of the Japanese, most famously including Park Chung-hee, the father of the current president, Mrs. Park. Indeed, the elder Park adopted a Japanese name and served as an officer in the Japanese Imperial Army, and was a close ally of Abe’s grandfather, Kishi. But the treatment of this history remains anything but forthright in South Korea.

As the uncontested instigator of world war in Asia in the 1930s, it is incumbent on Japan to keep trying to nudge its neighbors toward greater conciliation in the future. Mr. Abe’s evasions have unnecessarily made things worse.

Speaking to a joint session of Congress in April, he did two things that any Japanese leader’s statements toward Asia should be judged by. By evoking famous battles of World War II, like Pearl Harbor, Bataan and Iwo Jima, as he proclaimed “deep repentance” over the past, Mr. Abe put a name to some of the worst chapters of an awful past, rather than resting on vague and evasive formulations, as he did in speaking to Asia last week.

He also spoke movingly in Washington about the friendship that blossomed between a defeated Japan and a victorious United States. This vital element has been largely missing from the speeches of recent Japanese leaders to Asians about their shared history.

Mr. Abe is correct that future generations of Japanese may tire of constantly being told to take responsibility for long-past events. Where he is wrong is in conveying a grudging attitude. There is no quick and neat way to neutralize the venoms of the past, but the shortest path toward reconciliation is one that replaces denial and self-justification with an acceptance of responsibility and a hand extended in friendship.

Glendale approves Korean ‘comfort woman’ statue despite protest


(from LA Times)
Despite significant opposition, the Glendale City Council has approved a 1,110-pound monument honoring Korean women taken as sex slaves by the Japanese army during World War II.

Members of the council received hundreds of emails — many appearing to come from Japan — and listened Tuesday to dozens of speakers who said the so-called comfort women were not indentured servants but ordinary prostitutes.

Glendale has become the latest U.S. city to set the scene for a decades-old controversy between some Japanese who deny their army abducted up to 200,000 women from Korea, China and other countries as sex slaves and Koreans who want to raise awareness of the human rights violations.

“Rather than using this as a wedge to drive us apart … look at this monument not as a blame or shame to any nation, but to remind us that war has consequences,” Councilwoman Laura Friedman said.

With the council’s approval, Glendale is set to be the first city on the West Coast to install such a memorial on public land. Last year, a Japanese delegation went to New Jersey to request a monument in a park be removed, sparking a desire among Korean American groups to erect even more memorials.

Glendale’s planned monument is a replica of a statue that sits in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Surviving comfort women often protest at the monument, which features a young woman in a traditional Korean dress with a bird on her shoulder sitting next to an empty chair.

A group of activists who believe the women willingly worked as prostitutes — although that assertion has been denounced by Japanese political officials and historians — has been coordinating a letter-writing campaign against the memorial.

It began as a trickle, but transformed into a tsunami this week. Mayor Dave Weaver said he received 350 emails opposing the monument, all appearing to come from Japanese individuals.

Then on Tuesday, about 100 people packed the council chambers. The majority of the 27 speakers were Japanese Americans, many from Los Angeles, San Gabriel and Pasadena, opposing the monument.

They denied that the Japanese military coerced women into sexual servitude and said a U.S. city should not meddle in Japanese and Korean affairs.

Many were disappointed when the council voted 4-1 for the monument that will be placed in Central Park. Weaver opposed it because he wants a master plan for the park before any statues are erected.

“I’m disappointed, definitely,” Shiki Dahn of Los Angeles said. “The council already had their decision made.”

Indeed, the council already set aside a portion of Central Park for the monument in March, and the $30,000 bronze, obsidian and granite statue — paid for by the Korea Glendale Sister City Assn. — was shipped from Korea last month.

Councilman Zareh Sinanyan said rather than changing his mind, the letter writers and speakers strengthened his resolve to vote for the monument, comparing the sex slavery deniers to those why deny the Armenian genocide.

“This is a moral issue,” Sinanyan said. “We are taking a meaningful step to show our moral support, our sense of camaraderie and our sharing of the pain that our Korean American brothers and sisters feel about this issue.”

Alex Woo, president of the Korea Glendale Sister City Assn., said he never expected so much opposition from local Japanese Americans.

“This was not meant to humiliate or to shame them. It was not to do any of that. It’s about us learning from this experience so it doesn’t happen again,” Woo said after the meeting.

Japan politician condones WWII ‘comfort women’ sex slavery

from RT.com

The proximity of the battlefield gave rise to the ‘comfort women’ system on Japanese-occupied territories in the 1930s, according a Japanese politician. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Korean women were forced into sex slavery at the time.

All is fair in love and war, espoused Toru Hashimoto, the mayor of Osaka and co-founder of nationalistic opposition party Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party).

Those sex slaves were euphemistically called ‘comfort women’ and came from several countries, mostly China and Korea, but also from Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan. It is believed that no less than 200,000 women passed through this system.

“In the circumstances in which bullets are flying like rain and wind, the soldiers are running around at the risk of losing their lives. If you want them to have a rest in such a situation, a comfort women system is necessary. Anyone can understand that,”Hashimoto told reporters at the Osaka City Government building. Brothels were needed “to maintain discipline in the military -it must have been necessary at that time,” he specified.

Hashimoto stressed that he is familiar with the history of the period and insisted that sex slavery was common not only in the Japanese army, an obvious reference to alleged ‘Joy Divisions’ in Nazi concentration camps in Europe during World War II.

An unidentified government official told South Korean Yonhap news agency that Seoul is disappointed that a senior Japanese official “made comments supportive of crimes against humanity and revealed a serious lack of a historical understanding and respect for women’s rights,” AP reported.

But Toru Hashimoto refused to deny that comfort women were forced to provide sexual services against their will.

“It is a result of the tragedy of the war that they became comfort women against their will. The responsibility for the war also lies with Japan. We have to politely offer kind words to [former] comfort women,” he said, following the path of former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, who in his tenure apologized to those Asian countries that Japan colonized in the first half of the 20th century.

In 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, Tomiichi Murayama issued a statement in which he acknowledged that the Japanese military forces were “seriously involved” in“staining the honor and dignity of many women” and offered his profound apology to all wartime comfort women who suffered“emotional and physical wounds that can never be closed.”

The current position of the Japanese government has suffered little change since then.

“The stance of the Japanese government on the comfort women issue is well known. They have suffered unspeakably painful experiences. The [present PM] Abe cabinet has the same sentiments as past cabinets,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told journalists on Tuesday.

However, the co-leader of Japan Restoration Party expressed support to the contrary position of PM Shinzo Abe, who recently made a controversial statement that Japanese aggression in WWII is yet to be defined. The statement sparked outrage in South Korea and China.

“What Prime Minister Abe is saying is correct in that, academically, there are no definitions on aggression,”Hashimoto said.

 Civic group members shout slogans and hold placards as they attend a protest over the alleged rape of a local woman by two US servicemen in Okinawa, in front of the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo on October 20, 2012.(AFP Photo / Yoshikazu Tsuno)

Civic group members shout slogans and hold placards as they attend a protest over the alleged rape of a local woman by two US servicemen in Okinawa, in front of the prime minister’s official residence in Tokyo on October 20, 2012.(AFP Photo / Yoshikazu Tsuno)

 

But the co-leader of the opposition party went even further. Last week Toru Hashimoto visited Japan’s southernmost Okinawa prefecture, which hosts the US largest military bases in Japan. There he met local politicians to discuss uniting forces in replacing American military from the prefecture’s main island. Also, during a meeting with American military brass there, he proposed that the US marines should use local sexual facilities more actively to control sexual energies.

Hashimoto tweeted on Tuesday that official military brothels are nothing new and that immediately after the WWII the Allied Occupation forces in Tokyo established the Recreation and Amusement Association, which ran a number of brothels for soldiers.

The Pentagon’s spokesperson has dubbed Hashimoto’s remark‘ridiculous’, The Japan Times reported, while Tokyo officially specified that the remark was made by an opposition politician and represents his own opinion.

Still, there is a chance that both Washington and Tokyo misread Hashimoto’s intent. He may have been referring to Okinawa’s already existing ‘bath houses’, which is a delicate name for accommodation house, to large extent to save the local female population from sexual harassment by the American contingent.

Usually heavily-censored by Japanese authorities, the cases of rape of the local women and girls by the US contingent on Okinawa happen on a regular basis. The last trial on rape charges against American servicemen on Okinawa took place in March this year, when two US Navy sailors were convicted and sentenced to prison term for raping and robbing a local woman, AP reported.

The Nanjing Massacre: Poems


Wing Tek Lum, author of The Nanjing Massacre: Poems, will be reading selected poems from his new book at the following southern California locations:

Mon Apr 29 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.  UCLA  n. Rolfe 1301

Tue Apr 30 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. USC, Taper Hall, Richard Ide Memorial Room

Wed May 1 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. UC San Diego, Cross-Cultural Center

Thu May 2 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. UC Irvine, Humanities Gateway 3341

Dr. Irie’s letter of apology

My house was destroyed in early 1945 by B29 bombers in Tokyo.  My family had to suffer a lot because of that.  I became malnourished.  I feel my family was also a victim of the war that Japan had started.

I entered an elementary school in 1947.  I was surprised to find so many well-nourished and well-dressed class mates.  Compared to them, I was just like a homeless child.  The school was famous for educating children of the high society in Japan.  I was accepted there only because my father was a teacher of the school.

During the war, they had relocated themselves to nice and safe resort areas in Japan.  Their families did not suffer from the war at all, and they had been the driving force behind the Japanese invasions into China and other Asian countries.  Japanese government represents them at that time and does the same even now.  The basic structure has never changed.

By the way, I had never learned how badly Chinese people had be victimized in the war by Japanese military forces until I came to Los Angeles in 1971.  The postwar schools in Japan had never taught me that aspect of the Japanese history.

Now I know the suffering of Chinese people during the war had been much greater than mine.

Therefore, I want Japanese government to officially apologize and do reparation to Chinese victims and their families.  Only after that process is completed, I would like to demand apology and reparation for my family’s sufferings.

So I am happy to join the efforts by ALPHA-LA.

An open letter from a Los Angeles high school student to the Japanese Government

To whom it may concern:
My name is Erick Omar Guzman and I am currently a tenth grade student at the Camino Nuevo High School, in the United States of America. This academic school year I have learned about events that unfolded previous to U.S involvement in the pacific theatre of war in the 1930’s. More specifically I have learned about the Rape of Nanking on December 1937. That month Japan, under the leadership of Emperor Hirohito, committed atrocities comparable to those of the Nazis and the Holocaust. Japanese soldiers, under Hirohito, did not just kill Chinese civilians in their then capital city, Nanking, but rather slaughtered Japanese men, women and children. It has been decades since those vile acts were committed yet I am aware that your government does not acknowledge those events, much less feel in need of apologizing to China. However the nation of Japan should apologize for the severe misconduct of its men in the year 1937.

In order for the nation of Japan, your nation, to redeem itself in the eyes of the world it must at least take the first step in acknowledging that the Rape of Nanking took place. Every nation commits mistakes and from the information that I have acquired in my history class it has become apparent that your nation does not admit its mistakes. Your nation and your countrymen alter, manipulate, and censor history. Case and point; Japanese historian Tanaka Masaaki tempered with General Matsui’s diary, a historical primary document. Matusui was the commander in charge of Japanese forces occupying Nanking and in order to cover up the abhorrent acts his men committed, Masaaki altered Matsui’s diary. Such deception is unacceptable in a democracy. In the U.S we are allowed to question and criticize our government from Hiroshima to Vietnam to Libya. Should not the Japanese people have the same right to freedom of speech? It is incorrect that the Japanese government cover up an act as atrocious as the U.S use of the A-bomb on civilians and the German massacre of Jews.

The acts that were committed under Hirohito were so repugnant that they, in the very least, merit a humble, genuine NATIONAL apology. Your soldiers fueled by racial hate, at the time, committed acts so vile and, for lack of a better word, disgusting that I cannot help but emphasize their similarity to the Holocaust. According to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, Japanese men raped approximately 20,000 women in a month and killed 200,000 human beings in a month and a half. I would like to point out that the numbers above are estimates meaning the numbers could well have been higher. That was the death toll of the Rape of Nanking, a death toll that has for too long been denied.

It is about time that the Japanese nation accept its mistakes. It is important that the Japanese people know that their nation has committed mistakes, so that they can strive to redeem and better their nation. Also given that Japan is now a democracy it is important that my Japanese counterparts be able to exercise their rights to speech and criticize their government. It is important that they have that ability to criticize and analyze history, just as I do in my high school. Most importantly the numbers I stated above represented living, breathing, sentient human beings, the very least you could do is apologize in their memory and honor out of respect. It is time the Japanese nation step up, take responsibility, have courage and apologize for its previous mistakes.

Sincerely,
Erick Omar Guzman