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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Japan Stirs the Pot on the Second World War

I am not one for constant apologies. We have become a society of "OUTRAGE!" when it comes to slights real and imagined, big and small. We should be grateful we do not have duels at dawn whenever somebody feels offended by something a comedian has said, a silly celebrity has Tweeted, or some politician has joked. The sound and smell of gunfire and the clash of rapiers would have us all waking up very early.

I, for example, did not like, when President Clinton, President Obama, and Prime Minister Rudd went on their respective apology tours. I, furthermore, think that Germany has apologized sufficiently and made amends for its Nazi past. We should move on, and stop with the Nazi references, such as we see in Greece, when discussing Germany. Some years ago, I ran into a Mexican diplomat who wanted the US to apologize and compensate Mexico for having taken California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Texas from Mexico. I noted to him that my Spanish wife wanted compensation from Mexico and Latin America for having taken all those territories and more from Spain. There surely is some Aztec descendent who wants compensation from Spain for Cortez, and some Tlaxcala descendent who wants it from the Aztecs, and on and on. Perhaps British or Canadian readers still seek compensation for the brutal death of Charles Griffin's pig at the hands of Lyman Cutler in the earth-shaking and infamous "Pig War" of 1859. In my career, I encountered Germans who wanted the RAF's Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris declared a war criminal and an apology from Britain for its bombing campaign against Germany. Enough! History bursts with grievances. Depending on how far back one goes, one finds that every people on the planet has had experience as the victim of some other people. It's the nature of the human condition.

That said, however, Japan's attitude re its many, vast, and well-documented crimes during World War II seems particularly galling. As an outsider, and as a person who sees Japan as an extremely important ally and friend, I find troubling the insistence by Japanese politicians, including current Prime Minister Abe, on visiting the Yasukuni war shrine.  I know the Japanese position that the visits merely serve to honor and keep alive the memory of the millions of Japanese who died in the Second World War. I appreciate that most of those people had no real choice in the matter; their rulers sent them off to do horrible things and paid the price, or were sitting in their houses when retribution came in the form of a B-29 raid for the horrible things done by their rulers. Yes, yes. The problem remains that Japan has never come clean on what it did during the war--and, of course, the shrine also honors despicable characters such as General Tojo. Unlike with the Nazi Holocaust, there never has been the sort of condemnation and exploration of the atrocities committed by the Japanese in, for example, China, on the Pacific Islands, or against POWs. Japanese history books, unlike their German counterparts, essentially skip World War II, except for the atomic bombings. When I worked at the UN for the 40th Anniversary of the end of WWII, for example, Japanese speakers essentially made Japan a victim in the war, to wit, "Suddenly, an atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima." (In fairness, the Austrians did the same thing--and the Turks, of course, never have acknowledged the Armenian genocide.) Younger Japanese know essentially nothing about the Second World War.

It is one thing to demand an end to harping on past grievances over atrocities, it is another not even to acknowledge that those atrocities happened, or to engage in behavior that insults the memory of those who suffered.

43 comments:

  1. The Editor and Reader #46December 26, 2013 at 1:52 PM

    Oh, boy, and I can't remember the name of the book (lost it in a house fire last month) and only that it was compiled from the notes of a WWII correspondent for the Chicago Sun (I think) by his son. So that information is all helpful.
    Anyway, this gentleman was forever angry at MacArthur for censoring all mention of GI's and others used for slave labor, the absolute horror of Japanese treatment of POWs and others, in many cases more abominable than the Nazis of the Jews, and the of closure to outsiders of Nagaski after the blast. He did find a way into the city, and among other things discovered (like slave labor) was that the numbers for casualties were very inflated. Anyway, a very interesting account that is missing from history. And as you say, to for anything other than to acknowledge that these atrocities happened.

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  2. Here's something ambiguous: In my wife's hometown in Taiwan, most of the men of my father-in-law's generation served in the imperial Japanese forces in WWII (Taiwan was under Japan then), yet retrocession to China in 1945 is generally seen as positive (the town has always voted Pan-Blue)--with a lot of the men who served in Japanese uniform in "the Pacific War" having been made to learn Mandarin after school as teens.

    As for not coming clean, yes Japan is a big offender, and one of the advantages of Chinese Nationalist government in Taiwan was that Japan's war crimes were never hidden from the population.

    But, consider how Turkey is also a huge offender in this regard. The horrors perpetrated against the Armenians, Anatolian Greeks, and Assyrians were perhaps the first systematic genocide launched by a government against essentially defenseless peoples in modern times. Official Turkey has never apologized for these actions, and those Turkish scholars, journalists, and others who do are arrested for "insulting Turkishness".

    Further, this habit of massacring or displacing Dhimmi populations in times of crisis seems to be one aspect of Turkey's traditional Islamic past that the Kemalists kept. For all the Kemalist stress on linguistic-territorial nationalism rather than religious identity, the Turcophone Karamanli Christians of central Anatolia still got expelled to Greece in the 1920's, despite their insistence that they wished to be Turks.

    Also, how forthcoming have post-Soviet regimes been about the mass murders of class enemies?

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    Replies
    1. Surely it's the Turks themselves--or at least that subset who are outright insultingly Turkish--who are liable to be arrested for "insulting Turkishness."

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  3. The Editor and Reader #46December 26, 2013 at 1:54 PM

    Damn spell check: for "to" read "not."

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  4. Like you Dip I thought it extremely unseemly. At first.

    I seem to recall the Chinese and the Japanese awhile back "agreed" Japanese PMs wouldn't visit while in office. I "seem to recall" there'd been a concurrent agreement China was to hold to it's "Nine-Dash-Line" (what it'd claimed as it's maritime boundary just after WWII). China it would appear recently abrogated it's part of that understanding.

    Could it be that this visit was just tit for tat?

    Still, my WWII Pacific Theater serving Dad I think, would very Unlikely have given my second thought, a first thought.

    Arkie

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  5. A few years ago, I had a female boss get mad (female yes, lady, no) after a customer chastised her for trying to speak Spanish to the customer. (the customer was obviously of Mexican extraction) The customer told my boss to speak English because "we're in America" now.

    The boss went on a rant about how California used to belong to Mexico, look it up in your history books and we should be speaking Spanish in California, etc., etc.

    I laughed and told her "by that logic, Europe should be speaking Italian."

    That remark shut her up, however, my already low standing with her plummeted further. Evidently, laughing at the boss isn't the way to get ahead. Fortunately, I found another job shortly thereafter.

    -Blake

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    Replies
    1. Obviously you're a diplomat. You might know Mr. Anselem from service together.

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  6. Unusually for an Australian of his generation, my father spoke Japanese. I spent many years as a child being hauled to Australia Japan Society functions where I mixed with many Japanese then living here, and I first discovered the gapping hole in their historical knowledge of WWII. Those who knew anything of WWII spoke of the Atomic attacks (too difficult to airbrush away) and otherwise the common description was that it was 'a period of great adversity for Japan.' Of the atrocities against civilian and captured forces they almost universally know nothing.

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  7. We paid the Mexicans for the land we stole from them, dammit! We paid 15 million dollars for all that we snagged, and this was back when a dollar meant something. It was twice as much as we paid for Alaska. And yes, I will stop digressing from the point of your post, Dip

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. c'mon... that price would never hold up today.... Can't hold Mexico responsible for selling their land too cheaply! :)

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    2. Well, we did pay them - after stomping Mexico flat in a war, which was kind of mutually provoked, when the US annexed Texas ... which had been an independent republic for nearly a decade after rebelling against Mexico as part of the Centralist-Federalist political conflict in Mexico itself. Despite agreeing to a peace after being defeated at San Jacinto, Mexico waged a long border cold war against Texas (sent elements of the Mexican Army to invade ... twice!) and threatened war against the US if Texas were annexed. After ten years of this, Sam Houston maneuvered Texas into joining the Union and essentially told Mexico to bring it on and get it over with.
      At the time, most outside observers would have bet on Mexico winning - since they had a nice big army with nice uniforms and European-trained officers. Such are the fortunes of war...

      With regard to the original topic - I've always thought that letting Japan off was a combination of two things; the atrocities committed (especially against prisoners of war and civilian internees) were so many and so horrific, the Allies only had the stomach for prosecuting the worst of the offenders. And that dropping an atom bomb - twice - was a way of squaring things with the Japanese, saying, "OK, we're even now."

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  8. G'day Dip,

    Some years ago I was on Guam. A USMC colleague took me to see the Marine Memorial and I found it somewhat ironic that all the young Japanese tourists were having their photographs taken in front of it.

    The "hide the head in the sand" attitude of the Japanese system is a disservice to their people. Brings to mind that old saying about failing to heed the lessons of history.

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  9. The father of the first girl I dated had been a Japanese POW. They had removed his fingernails. That was all she knew, but there had to be more.
    I have heard that on Guadalcanal when the Marines learned that captured Marines were being tortured, they refused to accept any Japanese surrender.

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    Replies
    1. What a coincidence! The first girl I dated was Japanese, but from China. Her Chinese father had bought her Japanese mother as a slave--"second wife" was the euphemism of choice. She had not had a happy life, until she escaped. Even after, she had what people call "psychological scars." (I don't usually find that especially attractive, but it didn't show at first.)

      Possibly her mother's father was one of the torturers at the Rape of Nanking. But it's as well that the guilt dies with the guilty.

      Delete
    2. Good lord, talk about daddy issues. Where did you guys look for women?

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    3. The other kids in junior high school.

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  10. It's our fault--the American Jews. What the Japanese did, and the Austrians, and the Turks. They don't have to take responsibility, because we did it.

    Well, not really. But we're perfectly okay with being blamed for it. And when I say that, I mean that we're perfectly okay with Israel being blamed for it. As is the UN.

    Happy new year.

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  11. It seems that a few decades ago more Americans still had a more complete view of Germany and German history than they do now. Now German seems to mean Nazis, Holocaust, and beer. Maybe cars. But Ludwig Erhard, Martin Niemoeller, Schnitzel, possibly even Beethoven, and pretty much everything else, have gone by the boards. I think the GIs who occupied Germany brought back some understanding of the country, the bad and the good, but succeeding generations of Americans have just latched on to a few stereotypes here and there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good point. I hadn't thought of it that way.

      Delete
    2. Interesting point, Anonymous. My father, alov hasholom, was Jewish of mostly German and former Dual Monarchy extraction (that's how long ago his people immigrated). He lost lots of old country kin in the Shoah, and once when he got an anti-Semitic crank call in his later years, it clearly disturbed him greatly, and set him off about the '30's for a while. But he refused to see all Germans as barbarians, or that Naziism was the whole story of the lands from which his people emigrated. It's likely that it was because he was old enough to have gotten his graduate degrees in an age when German was an important language of scholarship in a number of fields as well as a great literary language, and he read and spoke it. It may well have helped as well that those of his relatives who got out had a little help from German neighbors, landlords, former business associates, etc.

      My own guess is that there's a pop culture movement to demonize white people in general. Ever notice that for a while, a lot of films and TV shows seem to feature the Big Bad Brit?

      Hey, some old Foreign Service colleagues who knew the territory used to say that even the genocidal Turks had a wry sense of humor and a strong loyalty towards anyone they classed as a friend.

      I've always felt that there's good and bad in almost any culture. I'll note that my dear mother's ancestors were a bunch of bloodthirsty pirates who had all of Europe terrorized; my wife's people, to whom I got partly assimilated, I admit, while living in Taiwan, were as tough a bunch of indigene-displacers as any Western settler; and my dear father's people had Moses and the Prophets, yet refused to heed them until God saw fit to exile them to Mesopotamia (and that's Holy Writ for me). The Thai, who have to be some of the most polite and friendly people on the planet, were also, when poor enough, prone to sell their daughters into sex slavery, and were great land-stealers (from the Mon and Khmer) in their heyday.

      You can praise and damn just about any demographic on the planet.

      Delete
    3. The biggest achievement of Austrian cultural diplomacy is that most people still think of Hitler as German and Beethoven as Austrian...

      Delete
  12. Further point re your Mexican counterpart mentioned above, Mr. Mad, since I'm a former consular scut and now teach in a heavily Hispanic high school.

    I've run into Mexican immigrants whose biggest gripe about our actions in the 1840's was that we didn't grab everything down to Chiapas and Quintana Roo as well as Alta California. Hmmm. If i were PeeCeeEmCee, I'd have qualms about the "we", since I descend from stock who barely made it here in time for the Civil War.

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    1. The Civil War Kepha, as I understand Guerilla Warfare, wasn't so much fun for the areas I'm most familiar with. That's not to say I have no relatives I go on "Decoration Day" to pay homage to.

      Matter of fact, ... well, place my ancestors in Izard County - it's since become six counties:

      http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=2821

      "I'm certain" no good Alabamian (or Arkansianese) would credit these days what I figure that Jap guy was doing. Though I haven't heard of any instances of The Knockout Game ... or, Polar Bear Hunting anywhere near here.

      I'm figuring - local context.

      Never was a diplomat though.

      Arkie

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  13. Here in the UK we have Cameron doing the apologizing for some far off distant historical event. Before him, we had Blair. Its all a bit too much.

    Anyone can say sorry. But the thing is, do they really mean it ? If not, then all you are doing is heaping further insult on to injury.

    As time moves on, and the nations and the people's of both China and South Korea voice becomes stronger. I think there will pressure put on the Japanese to apologize for what they had done in the past.

    The Japanese will find themselves constantly harangue for what they had done and will find it difficult to deal with the future whilst burdened with their past.

    Japan will one day apologize, but will anyone be listening and will many care ?

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    1. The numbers of those to whom an apology would be most appropriate are diminishing rapidly. It is now 68 years since the end of WW2.

      My father and the other members of his unit no longer exist in this world. The father of a good friend, a man of the 39th Battalion who stopped the Japanese on a track in New Guinea, went to God in the middle of the year and the survivors of that Battalion are now few.

      Soon it will not matter anymore and any apology would be an empty gesture anyway.

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  14. This is a tough one. As you say Mr. Mad if you look hard enough for things to apologize for you could easily go back to when Ugh whacked an unsuspecting Mugh from behind with a rock (not realizing Mugh and family had just invented the spear, which took things in an unforeseen direction). First who should apologize and second who should be apologized to? Perhaps Japan's best apology would to be a country based on freedom and as such be our friend and ally in furthering that ideal in the world, I really don't know. My parents are of the age of the people who fought the war and suffered directly from the actions of the Japanese. Are they the ones who alone deserve an apology? As said above soon it won't matter. Are apologies also meant for God, again I don't know (this would be better answered by Kepha)? Or are we always to witness the spectacles of apology tours to sundry things such as rocks and trees (don't laugh, think Earth Firsters). As has been pointed to throughout history humans are capable of actions of the highest altruism and the utmost baseness, war is only a lens that magnifies it.

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  15. I would not worry too much about the Japanese acceptance of the lessons of history since those who do not learn such lessons are doomed to repeat them.

    Interesting times.

    FredM

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  16. I am not so much concerned with a Japanese apology as I am with Japan facing its own history and acknowledging it.

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    1. Greetings from Downunder,

      If you visit the museum at Hiroshima, you will learn the Japanese were just minding their business when the Americans came along and demolished the place.

      If you visit the USS ARIZONA memorial at Pearl Harbor you will encounter triumphant giggling and laughing Japanese.

      If you talk to well educated Japanese you will be told the WWII period is glossed over in their schools.

      I don't think there is much hope they will face their history and acknowledge their supreme unpleasantness



      Delete
  17. "I am not so much concerned with a Japanese apology as I am with Japan facing its own history and acknowledging it. " I get it, but how? For something that should seem fairly easy becomes harder once you think about it. Mandatory classes in Japanese schools? The kids would stop listening almost immediately (like kids everywhere). Memorials? I agree with you, but the how part gets me.

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  18. I once did a translation of an installment of "A Manga History of Japan" from Fifth Grade magazine dealing with the US occupation. The occupation stuff was unexceptional but the starting splash page about the war was noteworthy in its use of passive voice, things 'happened' rather than were 'done', and their total of 'precious lives lost' seemed low to me. Checking the numbers, they were a close fit to total Japanese, US and Commonwealth deaths but left out everyone else. Sometimes it seems like the only Japanese who acknowledges Japanese actions is the guy who writes and draws "GeGeGe no Kitaro". The guy is a Japanese patriot but he refuses to sugarcoat, or pretend it was justified.
    If I was a Japanese politician who felt the need to visit Yasukuni, I'd limit my visit to "The Mother", the War Widows memorial.

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    1. Excellent point. I should have mentioned the Widows' memorial.

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  19. Come to think of it, this might not be the right time for Japan to face its own history and acknowledge it. There is a rising menace to the west. To the east, a shrinking protector (or at least ally). This might be the time for Japan, if it has a care for its survival, to become more martial and less sensitive.

    Spengler (David P. Goldman) might counter that Japan's survival is already foregone, pointing to demographics--so they have no particular incentive to do anything but flatter their ethnic pride. (I simplify his argument substantially.) But that, too, leads to a more assertive posture.

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    1. Earlier, December 26, 2013 at 2:03 PM I mentioned the one thing - now a link to chew (viz that "Nine-Dash-Line"):

      http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1379044/japan-and-south-korea-hold-joint-sea-drill-china-air-defence-zone

      Then, there's this:

      http://warontherocks.com/2013/12/japans-new-defense-strategy/

      My own thoughts along the "owning up to" actually I think even Dip would recognize is, "Am I the child guilty of the sins of my Father"?

      I realize of course the "Seven Generations" following injunction - but then, nobody (so far as I'm aware of) lives 500+ years - as in the case of Noah.

      How long should the son carry the guilt of the Dad? I dunno.

      Figure it'll be figured out for me. Box of chocolates and all that.

      Arkie

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  20. As person of blond [hair] and blue [eyes], I demand compensation from Islam for the centuries (8th to 19th) of white slavery of my brothers and sisters. All the oil in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran, should just about do it. Start delivery tomorrow.

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  21. And once again the Diplomad shows his erudition (in public!) by referencing the War of Canadian-Porcine Aggression. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest so I learned of the horrors at an early age, but elsewhere the Pig War has been shamefully covered up. A pity, as it is one of the funniest wars ever. I suspect our much-touted peaceful border with Canada was a tacit acknowledgement that we should stop fighting if we just make a hash of it when we try.

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  22. A recently obtained video of the infamous paella that holds the Diplomad in thrall:
    http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/tylers-ultimate-paella/84123.html

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  23. Where can I find more information about this fearsome onslaught of Canadian bacon?

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    1. Visit San Juan Island. You'll see many memorials to the (non)-action. And ended in total US victory too, ie ownership of all the San Juan Islands. Take that, Canucks!

      Mark in Portland (who hiked the San Juan Islands every summer as a teenager)

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  24. A Japanese student staying at our residential college wanted to see the sights of Melbourne, including the Shrine of Rememberance on St Kilda Rd. Those who took her to the Shrine nearly choked when she asked where the Japanese flag was. WWII was almost a complete mystery to her.

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