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Hi Blog. I had a couple of other topics to bring up (for example, this one), but this essay was too timely and important to pass up. Required reading. First the analysis, then the full original statement by PM Abe being analyzed. Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
Abe’s WWII statement fails history 101
East Asia Forum, 18 August 2015
Author: Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki, ANU
Version with links to sources at http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2015/08/18/abes-wwii-statement-fails-history-101/
As the clock ticked down to the 70th anniversary of the end of the Asia Pacific War, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faced a dilemma. His right-wing supporters were pushing him to produce a commemorative statement that would move away from the apologetic approach of his predecessors and ‘restore Japan’s pride’. Moderates, Asian neighbours and (most importantly) the US government were pushing him to uphold the earlier apologies issued by former prime ministers Tomiichi Murayama and Junichiro Koizumi. Most of the media anticipation centred around the wording of the forthcoming Abe statement. Would it, like the Murayama Statement of 1995 and the Koizumi Statement of 2005, include the words ‘apology’ (owabi) and aggression (shinryaku)?
Abe’s response to this dilemma was clever. First, he established a committee of hand-picked ‘experts’ to provide a report locating Japan’s wartime past in the broad sweep of 20th-century history. Then, drawing heavily on their report, he produced a statement that was more than twice the length of those issued by his predecessors. His statement, to the relief of many observers, did use the words ‘apology’ and ‘aggression’. In fact, it is almost overladen with all the right words: ‘we must learn from the lessons of history’; ‘our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering’; ‘deep repentance’; ‘deep remorse and heartfelt apology’; ‘we will engrave in our hearts the past’.
But, focusing on the vocabulary, some observers failed to notice that Abe had embedded these words in a narrative of Japanese history that was entirely different from the one that underpinned previous prime ministerial statements. That is why his statement is so much longer than theirs. So which past is the Abe statement engraving in the hearts of Japanese citizens?
The story presented in Abe’s statement goes like this. Western colonial expansionism forced Japan to modernise, which it did with remarkable success. Japan’s victory in the Russo–Japanese War gave hope to the colonised peoples of the world. After World War I, there was a move to create a peaceful world order. Japan actively participated, but following the Great Depression, the Western powers created economic blocs based on their colonial empires. This dealt a ‘major blow’ to Japan. Forced into a corner, Japan ‘attempted to overcome its diplomatic and economic deadlock through the use of force’. The result was the 1931 Manchurian Incident, Japan’s withdrawal from the League of Nations, and everything that followed. ‘Japan took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war’.
The narrative of war that Abe presents leads naturally to the lessons that he derives from history. Nations should avoid the use of force to break ‘deadlock’. They should promote free trade so that economic blocs will never again become a cause of war. And they should avoid challenging the international order.
The problem with Abe’s new narrative is that it is historically wrong. This is perhaps not surprising, since the committee of experts on whom he relied included only four historians in its 16 members. And its report, running to some 31 pages, contains less than a page about the causes and events of the Asia Pacific War.
In effect, the Abe narrative of history looks like an exam script where the student has accidentally misread the question. He has answered the question about the reasons for Japan’s invasion of Manchuria with an answer that should go with the question about the reasons for the attack on Pearl Harbor.
There is widespread consensus that the immediate cause for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was the stranglehold on Japan created by imperial protectionism and economic blockade by the Western powers. But there is equal consensus that the reasons for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, and for the outbreak of full-scale war in China in 1937, were different and much more complex.
Key factors at work in 1931 were the troubled relationship between the Japanese military and the civilian government; Japan’s desire for resources, transport routes and living space; rising nationalism in an economically and socially troubled Japan; and corruption and instability in Northeastern China. By the time Japan launched its full scale invasion of China in 1937, global protectionism was becoming a larger issue. But even then, other issues like Japan’s desire to protect its massive investments in China from the rising forces of Chinese nationalism were paramount.
Economic historians note that the Japanese empire was the first to take serious steps towards imperial protectionism. The slide into global protectionism had barely started at the time of the Manchurian Incident. Britain did not create its imperial preference system until 1932. The economic blockade that strangled the Japanese economy in 1940–41 was the response to Japan’s invasion of China, not its cause.
This is not academic quibbling. These things really matter, and vividly illustrate why historical knowledge is vital to any understanding of contemporary international affairs.
The Abe narrative of history fails to address the causes and nature of Japan’s colonisation of Taiwan (in 1895) and Korea (in 1910), and ignores the large presence of Japanese troops in China long before 1931. It says to China: ‘Sorry we invaded you, but those other guys painted us into a corner’. It offers an untenable explanation for Japan’s actions, and blurs the distinction between aggressive and defensive behaviour. Western media commentators who haven’t studied Japanese history may not pick up these flaws in the narrative, but Chinese and South Korean observers (who have their own, sometimes profoundly problematic, versions of this history) will instantly see them and rightly object.
Engraving a factually flawed story of the past in people’s hearts is not going to solve East Asia’s problems, and risks making them worse. Worse still, the Abe statement is generating deeply divergent responses in the countries where East Asian history is not widely taught (most notably the United States) and those where it is (South Korea, China and Japan itself), thus creating even deeper divisions in our already too divided world.
Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki is an ARC Laureate Fellow based at the School of Culture, History and Language, at the College of Asia and the Pacific at The Australian National University.
OFFICIAL TRANSLATION OF ABE SHINZO’S STATEMENT
Statement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Friday, August 14, 2015
On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, we must calmly reflect upon the road to war, the path we have taken since it ended, and the era of the 20th century. We must learn from the lessons of history the wisdom for our future.
More than one hundred years ago, vast colonies possessed mainly by the Western powers stretched out across the world. With their overwhelming supremacy in technology, waves of colonial rule surged toward Asia in the 19th century. There is no doubt that the resultant sense of crisis drove Japan forward to achieve modernization. Japan built a constitutional government earlier than any other nation in Asia. The country preserved its independence throughout. The Japan-Russia War gave encouragement to many people under colonial rule from Asia to Africa.
After World War I, which embroiled the world, the movement for self-determination gained momentum and put brakes on colonization that had been underway. It was a horrible war that claimed as many as ten million lives. With a strong desire for peace stirred in them, people founded the League of Nations and brought forth the General Treaty for Renunciation of War. There emerged in the international community a new tide of outlawing war itself.
At the beginning, Japan, too, kept steps with other nations. However, with the Great Depression setting in and the Western countries launching economic blocs by involving colonial economies, Japan’s economy suffered a major blow. In such circumstances, Japan’s sense of isolation deepened and it attempted to overcome its diplomatic and economic deadlock through the use of force. Its domestic political system could not serve as a brake to stop such attempts. In this way, Japan lost sight of the overall trends in the world.
With the Manchurian Incident, followed by the withdrawal from the League of Nations, Japan gradually transformed itself into a challenger to the new international order that the international community sought to establish after tremendous sacrifices. Japan took the wrong course and advanced along the road to war.
And, seventy years ago, Japan was defeated.
On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, I bow my head deeply before the souls of all those who perished both at home and abroad. I express my feelings of profound grief and my eternal, sincere condolences.
More than three million of our compatriots lost their lives during the war: on the battlefields worrying about the future of their homeland and wishing for the happiness of their families; in remote foreign countries after the war, in extreme cold or heat, suffering from starvation and disease. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the air raids on Tokyo and other cities, and the ground battles in Okinawa, among others, took a heavy toll among ordinary citizens without mercy.
Also in countries that fought against Japan, countless lives were lost among young people with promising futures. In China, Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands and elsewhere that became the battlefields, numerous innocent citizens suffered and fell victim to battles as well as hardships such as severe deprivation of food. We must never forget that there were women behind the battlefields whose honour and dignity were severely injured.
Upon the innocent people did our country inflict immeasurable damage and suffering. History is harsh. What is done cannot be undone. Each and every one of them had his or her life, dream, and beloved family. When I squarely contemplate this obvious fact, even now, I find myself speechless and my heart is rent with the utmost grief.
The peace we enjoy today exists only upon such precious sacrifices. And therein lies the origin of postwar Japan.
We must never again repeat the devastation of war.
Incident, aggression, war — we shall never again resort to any form of the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes. We shall abandon colonial rule forever and respect the right of self-determination of all peoples throughout the world.
With deep repentance for the war, Japan made that pledge. Upon it, we have created a free and democratic country, abided by the rule of law, and consistently upheld that pledge never to wage a war again. While taking silent pride in the path we have walked as a peace-loving nation for as long as seventy years, we remain determined never to deviate from this steadfast course.
Japan has repeatedly expressed the feelings of deep remorse and heartfelt apology for its actions during the war. In order to manifest such feelings through concrete actions, we have engraved in our hearts the histories of suffering of the people in Asia as our neighbours: those in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines, and Taiwan, the Republic of Korea and China, among others; and we have consistently devoted ourselves to the peace and prosperity of the region since the end of the war.
Such position articulated by the previous cabinets will remain unshakable into the future.
However, no matter what kind of efforts we may make, the sorrows of those who lost their family members and the painful memories of those who underwent immense sufferings by the destruction of war will never be healed.
Thus, we must take to heart the following.
The fact that more than six million Japanese repatriates managed to come home safely after the war from various parts of the Asia-Pacific and became the driving force behind Japan’s postwar reconstruction; the fact that nearly three thousand Japanese children left behind in China were able to grow up there and set foot on the soil of their homeland again; and the fact that former POWs of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia and other nations have visited Japan for many years to continue praying for the souls of the war dead on both sides.
How much emotional struggle must have existed and what great efforts must have been necessary for the Chinese people who underwent all the sufferings of the war and for the former POWs who experienced unbearable sufferings caused by the Japanese military in order for them to be so tolerant nevertheless?
That is what we must turn our thoughts to reflect upon.
Thanks to such manifestation of tolerance, Japan was able to return to the international community in the postwar era. Taking this opportunity of the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, Japan would like to express its heartfelt gratitude to all the nations and all the people who made every effort for reconciliation.
In Japan, the postwar generations now exceed eighty per cent of its population. We must not let our children, grandchildren, and even further generations to come, who have nothing to do with that war, be predestined to apologize. Still, even so, we Japanese, across generations, must squarely face the history of the past. We have the responsibility to inherit the past, in all humbleness, and pass it on to the future.
Our parents’ and grandparents’ generations were able to survive in a devastated land in sheer poverty after the war. The future they brought about is the one our current generation inherited and the one we will hand down to the next generation. Together with the tireless efforts of our predecessors, this has only been possible through the goodwill and assistance extended to us that transcended hatred by a truly large number of countries, such as the United States, Australia, and European nations, which Japan had fiercely fought against as enemies.
We must pass this down from generation to generation into the future. We have the great responsibility to take the lessons of history deeply into our hearts, to carve out a better future, and to make all possible efforts for the peace and prosperity of Asia and the world.
We will engrave in our hearts the past, when Japan attempted to break its deadlock with force. Upon this reflection, Japan will continue to firmly uphold the principle that any disputes must be settled peacefully and diplomatically based on the respect for the rule of law and not through the use of force, and to reach out to other countries in the world to do the same. As the only country to have ever suffered the devastation of atomic bombings during war, Japan will fulfil its responsibility in the international community, aiming at the non-proliferation and ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons.
We will engrave in our hearts the past, when the dignity and honour of many women were severely injured during wars in the 20th century. Upon this reflection, Japan wishes to be a country always at the side of such women’s injured hearts. Japan will lead the world in making the 21st century an era in which women’s human rights are not infringed upon.
We will engrave in our hearts the past, when forming economic blocs made the seeds of conflict thrive. Upon this reflection, Japan will continue to develop a free, fair and open international economic system that will not be influenced by the arbitrary intentions of any nation. We will strengthen assistance for developing countries, and lead the world toward further prosperity. Prosperity is the very foundation for peace. Japan will make even greater efforts to fight against poverty, which also serves as a hotbed of violence, and to provide opportunities for medical services, education, and self-reliance to all the people in the world.
We will engrave in our hearts the past, when Japan ended up becoming a challenger to the international order. Upon this reflection, Japan will firmly uphold basic values such as freedom, democracy, and human rights as unyielding values and, by working hand in hand with countries that share such values, hoist the flag of “Proactive Contribution to Peace,” and contribute to the peace and prosperity of the world more than ever before.
Heading toward the 80th, the 90th and the centennial anniversary of the end of the war, we are determined to create such a Japan together with the Japanese people.
August 14, 2015
Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan