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Japan and WWII: the problem and solution
July 30, 2005 10:56 PM   Subscribe

Atoning for World War II, 60 years later (and Japan should continue to do so) It's no news regarding Japan's role during WWII. However, unlike Germany, Japan has yet to fully apologize and repair strained relations in Asia. However, it is complete crap that U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer thinks that people should glaze over the atrocities in light of Japan's monetary donation. Let's not forget that the US benefitted from the medical experiments that were conducted by the Japanese and that in the fight against communism was willing to quickly establish an outpost and let bygones be bygones.
posted by dkhong (40 comments total)

 
“We were militaristic youth. We thought the Chinese weren’t even human, and we were happy when they were caught,” said Togashi

Viewing your enemy as less than human is the first step.
It makes all the atrocities OK. Untill you think about it from outside your propaganda base. There has been many reasons to make repairations, by many sides. Realising the human-ness of the enemy is the first step.
posted by Balisong at 11:10 PM on July 30, 2005


All in favor of including the phrase "... it's complete crap ..." in future front page posts?

Sweet.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:16 PM on July 30, 2005


All in favor of making it mandatory?
How about just a mandatory post tag?
posted by Balisong at 11:33 PM on July 30, 2005


Jesus Christ, dkhong. Grind an ax much? How many of those people are even alive today?

Oh no. Never forgive or forget. Not even for what someone's ancestors did. That would be peaceful and shit, and might lead to understanding and enlightenment.
posted by loquacious at 11:42 PM on July 30, 2005


*hand fart*
posted by Asparagirl at 12:04 AM on July 31, 2005


And when will China atone for, or even admit, the atrocities that Mao inflicted on his own people? Compared the the estimated 70 million Chinese that Mao killed after WWII the crimes of imperial Japan during WWII appear as more of a footnote to Chinese history rather than as a significant event.
posted by three blind mice at 12:23 AM on July 31, 2005


tbm: And when will China atone for ... the estimated 70 million Chinese ...

I've brought this up with Chinese people before (i.e. asked them why they get all huffed up about certain inaccuracies in Japanese schoolbooks when their own schoolbooks don't mention terrible consequences directly resulting from Mao's policies or the atrocities against Tibet), and the answer is invariably that this is an internal matter and is therefore none of our business. Just like Taiwan -- none of our business.
posted by sour cream at 12:33 AM on July 31, 2005


Every culture/country/race has something in their past they regret or ought to. The Japanese are a very complicated people that we don't really "get" in the west. They have their own very unique way of defining shame and regret. The atrocities the Japanese commited in Nanking, Bataan, etc. are horrible obviously, and comparing them to what the Nazis, Communists, etc. did in the name of ideology is a moot exercise. Maybe they should explicitly apologize for those actions, maybe others should do the same for their own, whatever the case may be, the Japanese are pretty good global citizens today.
posted by vito90 at 12:59 AM on July 31, 2005


I dunno. Everything I've ever read about Japan in the late 1940s and '50s seemed to reflect a near total surrender to their wartime foe. When Japanese people and their government gave-up their sword to MacArthur on the deck of the USS Missouri, that was pretty much the end of any sense of aggression towards their neighbors. And it's been that way ever since as far as I can tell. Once a nation surrenders as completely as the Japanese did back then, jeez, you gotta figure they're going to say close to home for awhile, and they have -- to their great success. Will bygones ever really be bygone?
posted by SeeAych4 at 1:44 AM on July 31, 2005


As the article states, essentially the only three countries that have a beef with Japan are China and the Koreas. China's riots earliers this year were permitted if not outright fueled by Beijing. Japan is a contender for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, and right-wingers in China are livid about this. Hence, the textbook debacle. Not that I, or anyone alive except for Japan's own right-wing uyoku would defend Japan's wartime past, China is cynically using these shameful events to leverage more power for themselves. I live near the Chinese embassy in Tokyo, and at any given time there are no less than a dozen cops surrounding the place, and I think back to the riots earlier this year in Beijing, where the Japanese embassy was attacked and damaged--albeit superficially--but with the Chinese govt. refusing to apologize for the lack of defense.

The Japanese have changed in the last 50 years. They are not militaristic in the least, and Koizumi's decision to send Self Defense Forces to Iraq is very unpopular with the public. Japan is undergoing an East Asia culture boom, whereas until 10 or so years ago it was everthing American or European, and now Chinese and Korean TV shows, movies, and pop singers are all the rage. And in China and Korea? Rampant anti-Japan rallies are frequent. Schoolchildren in both countries are fed propoganda about Japan.

There's a real cultural difference between the Japanese and the Korean and Chinese. As any non-Japanese will tell you after living here a while, apologies in Japan are either embarassing profuse or puzzlingly non-existent, depending on the situation. In many respects, it's just done differently, and I think China and Korea are playing a political game to bootstrap themselves.
posted by zardoz at 2:37 AM on July 31, 2005


Part of the friction is that the textbooks are under the control of the Education Ministry bureaucrats, who on the whole are the most conservative peeps in government.

People have a legitimate beef against Japan and their miseducated populace, but I think this shit is between the parties involved and Westerners need to stay out of it. We westerners could bitch about the Japanese received history that seems to begin in March 1945, but I don't really see the point.

zardoz: having lived in the Tokyo embassy-ghetto 1995-2000 (I chose Minami Azabu to be near "The Store") I envy you, man. Then again back here in Cali I've got a Safeway down the street so I guess it evens out ;)>
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 3:11 AM on July 31, 2005


No doubt the Japanese are different culturally from either the Chinese or Koreans but that doesn't absolve them of war atrocities. And if the nature of the crimes committed aren't enough to still anger the Chinese and Koreans it's the very fact of them happening at all. After all, it's one thing when a homegrown dictator, Mao (Saddam) inflicts damage on his own people and when an outside aggressor, Japan (Coalition of the Willing) does it. Somehow it just seems to sting more.

Also, perhaps a full accounting of their past behavior would force the Japanese to confront their current attitudes to non-Japanese.
posted by saketini99 at 3:22 AM on July 31, 2005


I think this shit is between the parties involved and Westerners need to stay out of it.

Why?
posted by the cuban at 4:03 AM on July 31, 2005


Yeah, but what do you think about the issue, dkhong?

Regarding the textbooks, there seems to be a common misapprehension that we're discussing some sort of nationally mandated textbook. We aren't. Japan's textbook situation is much like the American textbook situation: a bunch of textbooks are submitted for approval, and then each school/school district can choose which of the approved textbooks to use. For example, the textbook that supposedly sparked the Chinese attacks this year is used in 18 of the nation's 11,102 junior high schools (via Wikipedia), which is 0.16 percent.

Of course, the discussion of whether those textbooks should have been approved or not is an issue in itself, but I want to make sure everyone is on the same page regarding the actual prevalence of the problematic textbooks.
posted by Bugbread at 5:13 AM on July 31, 2005


No doubt the Japanese are different culturally from either the Chinese or Koreans but that doesn't absolve them of war atrocities.

True, but my point is that perhaps, just perhaps, the Japanese in their mind have in fact atoned for what has happened to a large extent (billions (in US $s) of economic support to China, for one), and that's not being recognized by the aggrevied parties. A distinction should also be drawn between the govt. and the public. Many if not most Japanese agree that atrocities occurred, but think "Well, what else can we do?"

But I don't want to be an apoligist. The problem as I see it is the Japanese govt., which has always been very conservative and propped up by the right-wing patriots. Think "special interest group" to the nth degree. If say Koizumi apologizes too much, and those guys get absolutely rabid. And it's generally not in the Japanese mindset to criticize the govt. the way we do automatically in the West. Perhaps this is the biggest obstacle of all.

Heywood, I believe you mean the Azabu National? Pricey as hell, but a mere 5 mins from here. Where else can I get Pop Tarts in Tokyo? (at $6 a box)
posted by zardoz at 5:18 AM on July 31, 2005



Personally, I don't rate National much at all. Not so convenient to get to (ass station) and selection seems to be nearly all USA oriented at high prices.

I would recommend Nissin down Azabu-juban instead, that US and Europe influenced. Fabulous alcohol selection too.

Cheaper and they deliver, that is, if you live in their zone.
posted by lundman at 5:33 AM on July 31, 2005


dkhong, or anyone else: can you elaborate on that whole 'US benefitted from Japan's experiments' bit? I'd never heard anything along these lines before. I had heard that the German 'experiments' of WWII were little more than torture performed by people in lab coats and thus were completely useless to medical science. I'd be curious to hear how Japan differed.
posted by kimota at 6:22 AM on July 31, 2005


We shouldn't forget the attrocites we humans, of whatever nationality, are capable of inflicting on others. But we should reflect on this with the goal of ensuring it never happens again and to create a more humane future for all of us and all our children.

Sadly, past atrocities are too often used to stir up nationalism and foster hatred as a means to further political and other ends.

On the topic of a Japanese apology, the extensive list of apologies detailed on Wikipedia would seem to indicate that they will never be able to apologize enough while there is still political capital in demonizing the Japanese.
posted by Meridian at 6:31 AM on July 31, 2005


dkhong : "Atoning for World War II, 60 years later (and Japan should continue to do so)"

I'm curious: until when should Japan continue to atone? Not asking for a specific date, but a rough estimate (5 years? 10 years? 25? 50? 100? 200? 1000?)
posted by Bugbread at 6:34 AM on July 31, 2005


Not to minimize Japan's responsibility, but it's rather galling to point the finger at just one country when the atrocities of war are in fact a blot on the histories of most industrialized civilizations. Which nation state gets high marks for apologizing and repairing the damage wrought in wartime by their military on civilians? I can't think of any, can you? How could anyone adequately atone?
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 6:48 AM on July 31, 2005


the yellow people's stubborn refusal to appreciate the fun of two nukes incinerating two large cities filled with civilians never ceases to surprise.
next thing you know, they'll start whining about the firebombing of Tokyo. sheesh.
posted by matteo at 8:16 AM on July 31, 2005


runningdogofcapitalism: Which nation state gets high marks for apologizing and repairing the damage wrought in wartime by their military on civilians?

Actually, Germany generally gets high marks in that department and is often cited as an example that the Japanese should aspire to.

As for Japan, yes, they did quite a bit more apologizing (also in monetary terms) than they usually get credit for. On the other hand, if you visit a place like the Hiroshima Peace Park (or whatever it is called), you will quickly see that the general consensus in Japan seems to be that the Japanese were victims in this whole WWII business. Victims of the forces of history, victims of their military gone out of control, and victims of the American A-bombs. Also, there is a distinct lack of memorials remembering those slaughtered by the Japanese, say all the Chinese slave laborers or comfort women. There are tons of monuments for "peace", but only on an abstract level and not demonstrating what the Japanese did to surrounding countries. Where they do show what happened, it mostly seems to involve atrocities *against* Japanese (like the one in Okinawa), thereby reinforcing the notion that the Japanese were only victims in WWII.

Compare this to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, which demonstrates how thorough the Germans are in everything they do -- be it killing Jews or apologizing for it afterwards.
posted by sour cream at 9:54 AM on July 31, 2005


sour cream : "the general consensus in Japan seems to be that the Japanese were victims in this whole WWII business. Victims of the forces of history, victims of their military gone out of control"

Well, as long as we include "victims of their military gone out of control", I'd have to say: Yes. Yes, they were victims, as well as aggressors.
posted by Bugbread at 10:03 AM on July 31, 2005


Apologies, schmologies. The idea that peoples, governments, races, religions should apologize decades, generations and centuries later for all kinds of wrongs committed by their predecessors is one of those things that makes no real difference. If somebody rapes and kills your wife, and then apologizes years later, does that fix anything, or make you feel better? Does it bring "closure," to employ another useless concept from the psychobabble of our times? Where I come from (the Dutch Mennonite tradition), the motto is: Actions speak louder than words. What counts is that the Japanese, with more than a little prodding, initially, from MacArthur and others, transformed themselves into an essentially pacifist culture and society (not, incidentally, something we can claim to have done in America). That's "ongoing atonement" aplenty; they don't have to say another thing about World War II.
posted by beagle at 10:41 AM on July 31, 2005


the yellow people's stubborn refusal to appreciate the fun of two nukes incinerating two large cities filled with civilians never ceases to surprise.
next thing you know, they'll start whining about the firebombing of Tokyo. sheesh.


Uh, what? How is this relevant to this post at all?
posted by Sangermaine at 11:39 AM on July 31, 2005


Not so convenient to get to (ass station) and selection seems to be nearly all USA oriented at high prices.

yup, but that very inconvenience is why I moved to Hirou... I found my monthly trips to Hirou sanity savers... hey, they did have McVitties Digestive Biscuits (yum! with a litre of Koiwai Lact Coffee) so they weren't entirely US... prices were insane, yes. After moving to Hirou I couldn't afford to shop there as much :( Agreed that the store down in Azabu Juban is/was also pretty good, I found myself going there more than National
.

I tend to agree with Beagle somewhat. As a postwar-born American I consider that chapter closed, as do nearly all postwar-born Japanese. Bitching about the past is not a productive enterprise and in the case of China seems in could be sublimated anger at the state of their own polity.

There is a legitimate beef that Japanese aren't taught the history very well, but it took me several years to figure out my american history inculcation (in the mid-80s) was largely crap, too, thought not to the same degree of white-washing.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:43 AM on July 31, 2005


How is this relevant to this post at all?

It's a typical derail. I'm no psychoanalyst, but I'm sure there's a term for it. How could I be in the wrong when such great wrong was done to me???
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:44 AM on July 31, 2005


but I'm sure there's a term for it. How could I be in the wrong when such great wrong was done to me???

post 9/11 Republicanism?
posted by matteo at 1:29 PM on July 31, 2005


"but I'm sure there's a term for it. How could I be in the wrong when such great wrong was done to me???

"post 9/11 Republicanism?"


Human nature since time immemorial?
posted by Bugbread at 1:37 PM on July 31, 2005


On the topic of a Japanese apology, the extensive list of apologies detailed on Wikipedia would seem to indicate that they will never be able to apologize enough while there is still political capital in demonizing the Japanese.

Sad, but true. Japan has made official apologies a number of times, and yet this popular idea that they haven't remains.
posted by nightchrome at 5:34 PM on July 31, 2005


The reason why there should be a society-wide discussion and acknowledgement in Japan of what happened during WW2, both of which have NEVER happened, is that if they want to sit at the big table of developed nations they need to grow up. They need to explicitly discuss the recent past, sorry Haywood but some people (not me) still remember all this from personal experience, so they can address the current on-going extremely racist policies and attitudes that Japan has in place today against non-Japanese. OK, not as bad as say the Sudan, but still way worse than most of the G8 nations.
posted by saketini99 at 6:10 PM on July 31, 2005


saketini99, as someone who lives in Japan and has first-hand experience with the racist policies and attitudes this country and its people have in place, I would have to say that it is just as reasonable and mature a country as the USA, if not moreso in some areas. Pretending that Japan is some backwater podunk nation is just stupid. There are plenty of problems here, especially with regard to foreign residents, but they are no worse than those other "big table" nations face.
posted by nightchrome at 7:56 PM on July 31, 2005




nightchrome, as someone who also lives in Japan, it's precisely because I DON'T consider Japan a backwater podunk nation that I would hope Japan as a nation would own up to it's past. "Podunk" nations can try and claim victimhood but G8 nations can't play that card. Besides, who's comparing Japan to the US? I think Germany is a more helpfull comparison.

And it's just stupid to excuse a country because "it's no worse" than other ones. When in fact it is. How many 3rd generation Koreans do you know back in the States who have to hide their GRANDPARENTS identity in order to get a decent job?
posted by saketini99 at 8:51 PM on July 31, 2005


The problem is that you are focusing on specific areas with which there are problems, and then saying "well look, this specific problem does not exist in this OTHER country, so it means Japan is bad." That's just silly.
Should Japan own up to its past? Sure. I think most young people could deal with learning a more objective sense of history. Should Japan demonize itself in order to please the rest of Asia? No.
Speaking of Germany, do you think the current fanaticism of the German government where Nazi-related things are concerned is an appropriate way of dealing with your past?
posted by nightchrome at 10:55 PM on July 31, 2005


Kimota: Dkhong is referring to Unit 751. Human experimentation on a more horrific level compared to the german's experiments. Unit 751: Testimony is an excellent book on the subject.
posted by andendau at 12:36 AM on August 1, 2005


Apologies, schmologies.

In Korea, and from what I know of Japan and China, apologies tend to play a much more central role in the aftermath of wrongdoing than they do in the west, especially when coupled with 'reflection'. It never ceases to amaze me how political and corporate criminals do what they will here, get caught, make what they claim to be heartfelt apologies for 'causing distress to the people', swear to 'reflect on their actions', then go right back to business as usual.

For what it's worth.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:51 AM on August 1, 2005


nightchrome, I'm sorry, where exactly did I say Japan was "bad"? I said the culture needs to acknowledge it's past so that it can deal with it's current (and legacy of) problems of racism. A point which you don't refute (the racism). Liking a country doesn't mean having to apologize for it. I like America on the whole but don't agree with all it's aspects. Or is that "just silly"?

I think if the Japanese government and culture took the same approach as Germany has, ie: mandatory Holocaust education in high school, outlawing the nazi party and it's symbols (I assume this is what you mean by fanaticism?.. if that's the case well, then let's have more please) then it might help the Japanese examine the ingrained racism in their culture. I'm less concerned with how Japan apologizes to it's neighbors and more with how it handles it's internal affairs.
posted by saketini99 at 1:54 AM on August 1, 2005


I'm all for Japan atoning for its past, but make no mistake; the real threat to world peace today comes from China and North Korea (and maybe South Korea, with their anti-American pro-nationalist sentiment these days). Their nuclear aggression, disrespect for basic human rights, and oppression of their own citizenry is the real issue.
posted by aerify at 5:37 AM on August 1, 2005


saketini99 : "The reason why there should be a society-wide discussion and acknowledgement in Japan"

What does "society-wide discussion" mean?
posted by Bugbread at 5:39 AM on August 1, 2005


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