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Reconciliation

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Image-Japanese aircraft carrier Junyo 2 cropped.jpg
“Japanese aircraft carrier Junyo” by Official U.S. Navy Photograph. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat mentions Barak Kushner’s Men to Devils, Devils to Men, a recent book on the war crimes trials that followed the Pacific War:

Broadly speaking, both Chinese factions sought to demonstrate their commitment to the new international order by appearing magnanimous towards the defeated Japanese. For their part, the Japanese government voluntarily complied with most of the international demands, but the government never engaged in a thorough effort to explain the proceedings to the Japanese public, with the result that many Japanese never grappled with the reality of the war crimes.

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  • BiloSagdiyev

    Grappling with reality is pretty unpopular in lots of places, I fear.

    • njorl

      I learned long ago never to grapple with reality. You just get dirty and, besides, reality likes it.

  • Mike in DC

    The Japanese government won’t even formally apologize for the Rape of Nanking. Or as they might put it, the Bad Date of Nanking.

    • Hogan

      Morning after regrets. You see that a lot among the Chinese. Don’t take it seriously.

    • LosGatosCA

      Or the comfort women.

      Big difference in how the German public had to deal with their country’s atrocities and war crimes but the Japanese never have had to, anywhere nearly to the same degree.

  • The Dark God of Time

    The first popular books written by Japanese writer to explain to their fellows how they lost the war against the Yanks weren’t written until the early to mid-60s.

    • CSI

      They lost the war when they attacked American territory. Did they really think America would just capitulate after a few defeats? When you attack another nations territory, you can safely assume things won’t end until one side is utterly defeated.

      But imagine if Japan had tried to help the rest of East Asia modernize though benevolent leadership, rather than turning into imperialists even more rapacious than the Europeans (and Americans).

  • Warren Terra

    On the other side of the coin – according to someone or other on the recent episode of This American Life after the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese Communist Party decided their best bet to promote national cohesion was to emphasize Chinese national victimhood in their education and media, stressing of course the times the Chinese were victimized by foreigners (which offers a rich vein of history, though arguably not quite as rich as the victimization of the Chinese by their own tyrants). So: at the same time that Japanese people aren’t learning enough about what their grandfathers did to their neighbors, Chinese people are getting little else. Not a good combination.

    • Jean-Michel

      When The Last Emperor was released in China, the censors cut a brief newsreel depiction of the Nanjing massacre because they feared it could stir up excessive anti-Japanese sentiment among Chinese viewers. I don’t at all agree with the implied logic behind that decision, i.e. that ordinary Chinese are irrational, overemotional creatures who can be driven to fits of rage through simply being reminded of Japanese atrocities, so therefore such reminders must be suppressed or expressed in a clinical, academic way that won’t stir up the blood. But it’s striking how far the pendulum has swung in the other direction, to the point that even City of Life and Death (which hardly whitewashes Japanese atrocities) could be criticized in some quasi-official forums as a sort of apologia for the Japanese.

    • Jean-Michel

      It’s also worth mentioning that this isn’t entirely dissimilar to what’s happened in South Korea. Of course South Korea is different from China in that it became a democracy, and the rise in anti-Japanese sentiment since the ’80s is to some extent reflective of public attitudes suppressed under military rule (as in, for example, 1965 and 1982, when the government clamped down on demonstrations against the normalization of relations and revisionism in Japanese textbooks, respectively). But elected South Korean governments have also been active in stoking these sentiments. As recently as the early ’90s, the Liancourt Rocks were virtually a non-issue in South Korea, taking a distant backseat to the comfort women issue. Then in 1995 Kim Yong-sam began hammering away on the Liancourts, and within a few years they had been elevated to this sacred Korean territory that needed to be somehow liberated from unreconstructed Japanese imperialists. Note that in 1995 the Japanese prime minister was Murayama Tomiichi, probably the most sincerely apologetic leader Japan has ever had, and Japanese prime ministers in the ’90s showed a far greater willingness to grapple with Japan’s imperialist crimes than their predecessors or successors; in other words, rising anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea (and China, for that matter) can’t be simply correlated to the Japanese government’s refusal to come to terms with the past. (The most vociferous Chinese protests over the Senkakus/Diaoyutai occurred during the tenure of Hatoyama Yukio, who was far closer to the prime minsters of the ’90s than those before or after him.) And I think the reasons South Korean governments stir up controversy over the Liancourts (which, like the Senkaku/Diaoyutai dispute, is basically a nationalist shibboleth and carries none of the moral import of the comfort women or the Nanjing massacre) is not dissimilar to China’s: it bolsters the state’s legitimacy, which is a particularly thorny issue in South Korea given the existence of another state that claims to be the better, “purer” Korea, a perspective for which even a lot of relatively conservative South Koreans feel some sympathy. Robert E. Kelly (also a sometime contributor to The Diplomat) has fleshed out this argument on multiple occasions (e.g. here, here, here, and here) and is worth checking out.

    • Jean-Michel

      It’s also worth mentioning that this isn’t entirely dissimilar to what’s happened in South Korea. Of course South Korea is different from China in that it became a democracy, and the rise in anti-Japanese sentiment since the ’80s is to some extent reflective of public attitudes suppressed under military rule (as in, for example, 1965 and 1982, when the government clamped down on demonstrations against the normalization of relations and revisionism in Japanese textbooks, respectively). But elected South Korean governments have also been active in stoking these sentiments. As recently as the early ’90s, the Liancourt Rocks were virtually a non-issue in South Korea, taking a distant backseat to the comfort women issue. Then in 1995 Kim Yong-sam began hammering away on the Liancourts, and within a few years they had been elevated to this sacred Korean territory still occupied by unreconstructed Japanese imperialists. Note that in 1995 the Japanese prime minister was Murayama Tomiichi, probably the most sincerely apologetic leader Japan has ever had, and that Japanese prime ministers in the ’90s showed a far greater willingness to grapple with Japan’s imperialist crimes than their predecessors or successors; in other words, rising anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea (and China, for that matter) isn’t neatly correlated to the Japanese government’s refusal to come to terms with the past. And I think South Korean governments stir up controversy over the Liancourts for much the same reasons that Chinese governments stir up controversy over the Senkakus/Diaoyutai (another nationalist shibboleth that carries none of the moral import of the comfort women or the Nanjing massacre): it bolsters the state’s legitimacy, a particularly thorny issue in South Korea given the existence of another state that claims to be the better, “purer” Korea. Robert E. Kelly (also a sometime contributor to The Diplomat) has fleshed out this argument on multiple occasions—apologies for linking to Pastebin, but including too many links in a post gets it kicked into the spam filter—and is worth checking out.

      • Jean-Michel

        (Quick correction: the Liancourt Rocks aren’t currently occupied by Japan but by South Korea, but the point remains that Japan’s claim to the islets excited no great resentment in South Korea until the mid-’90s, when it became evidence of Japan’s continued imperialist designs on Korea.)

      • Also, no one authorizes naval procurements with the expectation that they would in any way redress the grievances of comfort women or the survivors of Nanjing. Contested islets are nicely discrete, tangible objectives in the way that justice for atrocities systemically committed by thousands of (mostly deceased) war criminals is not.

    • The Dark God of Time

      They thought the anti-interventionist sentiment then present in this country would keep an immediate declaration of war from taking place, and that the Americans would instead seek a truce that would get the Japanese what the talks failed to obtain for them.

  • cpinva

    “And thus, the legacy of the war endures.”

    this sounds vaguely familiar, like I’ve heard it said about another, closer to home war, which ended 150 years ago.

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