Thanks to Katherine, Joe, Party Pooper, Danwei, MutantFrog, Simon, and in particular Marmot (from where many of the new commenters arrived) for their most generous plugs to my recent salvo on anti-Japanese sentiment. I appreciate both the agreement and constructive criticism, and it’s made me both reevaluate my argument and see where I was misunderstood, leading to this final post on the topic. My argument was not that colonialism is great, that Japan’s rule was paradise on earth, or that Japan shouldn’t apologize. Rather, I am trying to explain why none of the fuss makes any sense. Here’s my multipronged argument:
1.) Winner’s Justice: I don’t want to drag Marmot in on my side, but he said it best in the comments section here:
Yes, while one could raise the issue of the Nanjing Massacre, comfort women, systematic attempts to wipe out Korean culture, etc., one could also mention things like British concentration camps during the Boer War, German genocide in Southwest Africa, the devastation of Kikuyu areas in the Kenyan highlands and resulting Mau Mau Rebellion, French atrocities in Algeria, the American firebombings/atomic bombings of Japanese cities (to be followed up by American carpet bombings of North Korea and Vietnam), and any slew of incidents that occured under the Russian/Soviet empires. Yes, Japan should apologize. But the fact that similar demands are not made on other colonial powers that screwed much larger segments of humanity for much longer does beg the question over whether the “responsibility” demanded of Japan is not simply an example of “winner’s justice.”
I don’t argue that nasty things happened. Lots of brutal, awful things have happened in human history, and the 19th and 20th centuries were no exception. Nor is Japan. My only disagreement with the Marmot is that…
2.) Japan has apologized: This from CNN:
Japan’s leaders have so far apologized to China on no fewer than 17 occasions since the two nations restored diplomatic ties in 1972, according to The Economist Global Agenda.
Ditto on Korea, as aknowledged by their dear president (see the previous post). The collective denial in this regard is curious: Japan has apologized, paid reparations, and the Korean government accepted it. Koreans I talk to repute this, saying the aforementioned apologies and reparation payments “don’t count” because 1.) the Korean government at that time was not democratic (a tool of US interests!), and 2.) Japan wasn’t “sincere,” whatever that means.
3.) The Textbook Issue: The most recent textbook approved by Tokyo is not the textbook used in all Japanese schools. As MutantFrog notes, the approved textbook was so bad that it’s been out for years but has only been used in 0.3% of schools. The government approves 40-50 books per subject, per grade, and schools can choose the book that they believe fit their curriculum. One reason this is misunderstood in China and Korea, beyond the intentional incitement of the rabble rowsers, is that in China and Korea, the governments do choose the books. In Japan, they just approve them and give schools the choice.
Perhaps it shouldn’t have been approved. But this is how you defuse extremists in a free society. Instead of rejecting the book and giving the right-wingers a bloody rag to wave at their rallies and in print, the government approved the book and let the schools reject it on the merits.
You will never get me to deny that Japan has its nutjobs, as recently noted by Marmot here. Yup, that guy is clearly a headcase. But when Pat Buchanan said Hitler wasn’t so bad after all, that was seen for what it was, a lunatic off his medication and out of therapy. When the same happens in Japan, people take it as representative of the entire country.
4.) I’m Rubber, You’re glue… Calls that Japan should own up to its history are amusing coming from China, when there own government censors mention of the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the culture and language of their many ethnic minorities, the skirmishes with Vietnam, and the state controlled media that acts as it wishes. As for Korea, what’s up with the Ministry of -Propaganda- Communication that blocks “pro-Japanese” websites? Japan is a free society with dissent and disagreement from the government line, and a lot of the protests say more about the people demonsrating in the street that the target of their ire.
5.) The Generation Gap: My parents emigrated to the US from the UK before I was born. One of my British grandmothers viscerally dislikes Japan and appears unhappy that I spent so much time there (although to her credit, has rarely revealed this to me). I try and understand her feelings because she’s from a different era. She had friends who lost husbands and loved ones in the Bataan Death March and as prisoners of war. She lived through a difficult time, and its part of her experience. Her kids have very little of that; her grandchildren even less.
What we see in China and Korea is the opposite phenomenon. “I also want to prove that most of the people in China hate Japan. Why? Because their grandfather or grandmother were killed by Japanese army” says Ming. “I had seven relatives killed by the Japanese during World War II” says another commenter. How old are you guys? Japan has said sorry. The people know the history. I take the comfort woman issue deadly seriously and feel deeply for the women who suffered under it. Japan’s government has said it was run by private organizations, not the government. I think that’s a weak argument. But the people attacking the Japanese embassy in Beijing are in their teens and twenties. That, my friends, is manufactured.
6.) My Own Experiences: In four years living in Japan, including a year enrolled at a Japanese public high school and two years at a Japanese university, the vast majority of people I met accept Japan’s colonial past. Even elderly conservative supporters of the LDP (with whom I am friends with more than a few) are more to the left on this issue than me. Japan is a free society, and the people have differing opinions.
In conclusion: Korea and Japan have more than fifty years of officially friendly relations behind them, China and Japan more than thirty. Japan is not going to invade anyone. They don’t have nuclear weapons. Why dwell so much on the history while ignoring the present and at the expense of the future? To Koreans in particular, remember that neither China nor North Korea have apologized for the Korean War (sincere or otherwise), no reparations have been paid, and no information about the events are available, let alone taught. Targeting Japan doesn’t make sense, and its why I can’t take it seriously.
There! That’s my last post on either Japan or Korea for at least a week, I promise. This is a world affairs blog, after all… in the meantime, those of you who would like a break from all this politics and would like something a little more human should be directed here.
UPDATE: Speaking of the state-controlled nature of Chinese media, check this out:
The Beijing Youth Daily newspaper said Japanese chemical weapons were found in the northeast on March 26. It was unclear why the March discovery wasn’t reported until Tuesday.
Unclear? Go think about it.