Hello Blog. Thought this would happen. It’s business as usual as Japan Inc. takes on the world’s political arenas with spin doctoring over “Comfort Women” etc., to feint with the left hand while fiddling with the right. Distract with snow jobs while whitewashing the historical record. Only this time I think we’ve got enough people on the ground over here who know what our government is doing for a change. David McNeill releases an excellent article for the Irish Times, while Norimitsu Onishi, on an incredible roll these days, continues unearthing for the New York Times (who’da thunk it, considering Nori’s articles when he first got here…?) Debito in Sapporo
Abe unleashes the deniers of history
Irish Times, April 2, 2007
One of the Japanese TV networks recently pointed out that some of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ministers no longer stood up when he walked into the Cabinet meeting room. Even worse, fumed one observer, they kept chatting as he tries to start the meeting. Such disrespectful behavior in a political culture where small acts carry enormous symbolic weight could only mean one thing, most concluded: Mr. Abe had lost the respect of his troops.
The unruly Cabinet coincides with a period of plummeting approval ratings for the government, which started last year at 63 percent and now speed inexorably toward the low thirties as elections loom. After a string of scandals and six months in office compared unfavorably to the rocket-fuelled years of Mr. Abe’s predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, that shuffling of ministerial feet may be the harbinger of a prime-ministerial lynch mob.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Mr. Abe is taking shelter under a political umbrella he has always found comfortable: nationalism. The man who coined the election slogan “beautiful Japan” and who will, if nothing else be remembered for re-injecting patriotism into the nation’s schools (in an education law approved Friday) is also unleashing the historical deniers and whitewashers who have long been kept tied up in the dungeons of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The deniers offer a startling historical counter-narrative: Japan was not the aggressor in the Pacific War but the liberator, fighting to defend itself from the U.S. and European powers and free Asia from the yoke of white colonialism; Imperial troops were not guilty, as most historians suggest, of some of the worst war crimes of the 20th century but the “normal excesses” of armies everywhere.
Mr. Abe’s cabinet is dominated by such revisionists. Even as the prime minister was trying to put out the diplomatic fires sparked by his assertion in March that the Japanese wartime state did not round up thousands of sex slaves, his No.3 minister, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Hakubun Shimomura was again denying the military was involved. “It is true that there were “comfort women” said Mr. Shimomura. “I believe some parents may have sold their daughters. But it does not mean the Japanese army was involved.”
Foreign Minister Taro Aso claims a proposed US House of Representatives resolution demanding Japan apologise for the abuse of the women is “not based on the facts.” Mr. Abe himself still says there was no coercion of the women “in the narrow sense of the word.”
As one observer said, what part of “coercion” does Mr. Abe not understand? “I found myself imagining the international reaction to a German government which proposed that it had no historical responsibility for Nazi forced labour, on the grounds that this had not been “forcible in the narrow sense of the word,” wrote Tessa Morris-Suzuki, a professor of Japanese History at the Australian National University.
The ground zero of the revisionist movement is Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine and the attached museum, which offers the same Alice-in-Wonderland version of history. For decades, Yasukuni has generated controversy because among the 2.5 million ordinary troops enshrined there are the men – officially branded war criminals — who led Japan’s disastrous 1931-45 campaign. The government has always said that it had nothing to do with the decision by Yasukuni’s Shinto priests to honour the men but evidence released this week suggests this is a lie.
Papers released by Yasukuni and compiled in a new book claim the government was “closely involved” in the campaign to enshrine hundreds of A, B, and C-class war criminals, going back to 1958. The campaign was of course done in secret. “How about enshrining them in a way that would be hard to discover,” wrote one Welfare Ministry bureaucrat. The conservative Yomiuri newspaper concluded Thursday that the government and the shrine “shared the view” that war criminals should be honoured.
Mr. Abe is a well-known supporter of prime ministerial visits to the shrine. Confronted with evidence that successive governments had shredded Japan’s Constitutional ban on the separation of state and religion, however, he reverted to type by denying any such thing. “I don’t think there is any problem,” he told incredulous reporters, those big teddy-bear eyes darting nervously from side to side.
So far the prime minister has swatted away speculation that he will visit Yasukuni this year, but this is clearly a case of damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. If he goes, he will torpedo Japan’s slowly healing ties with China and South Korea; if he doesn’t his nationalist supporters will cry foul.
The fact that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is due to visit Japan early next month makes this political hire-wire act that much more fascinating for political watchers. Will the leaders of one of the world’s most important bilateral relationships discuss Japan’s undigested history? Will Mr. Abe continue to insist that politics and economics be kept separate? And will he keep the political forces he has helped unleash from destroying the hard-won respect Japan has earned since 1945?
MEANWHILE, NORIMITSU ONISHI OF THE NYT IS ON A ROLL. KEEP IT UP, NORI. ARTICLE COURTESY DAVID ANDERSON.
April 1, 2007
Japan’s Textbooks Reflect Revised History
THE NEW YORK TIMES
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
TOKYO, March 31 — In another sign that Japan is pressing ahead in revising its history of World War II, new high school textbooks will no longer acknowledge that the Imperial Army was responsible for a major atrocity in Okinawa, the government announced late Friday.
The Ministry of Education ordered publishers to delete passages stating that the Imperial Army ordered civilians to commit mass suicide during the Battle of Okinawa, as the island was about to fall to American troops in the final months of the war.
The decision was announced as part of the ministry’s annual screening of textbooks used in all public schools. The ministry also ordered changes to other delicate issues to dovetail with government assertions, though the screening is supposed to be free of political interference.
“I believe the screening system has been followed appropriately,” said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has long campaigned to soften the treatment in textbooks of Japan’s wartime conduct.
The decision on the Battle of Okinawa, which came as a surprise because the ministry had never objected to the description in the past, followed recent denials by Mr. Abe that the military had coerced women into sexual slavery during the war.
The results of the annual textbook screening are closely watched in China, South Korea and other Asian countries. So the fresh denial of the military’s responsibility in the Battle of Okinawa and in sexual slavery — long accepted as historical facts — is likely to deepen suspicions in Asia that Tokyo is trying to whitewash its militarist past even as it tries to raise the profile of its current forces.
Shortly after assuming office last fall, Mr. Abe transformed the Defense Agency into a full ministry. He has said that his most important goal is to revise the American-imposed, pacifist Constitution that forbids Japan from having a full-fledged military with offensive abilities.
Some 200,000 Americans and Japanese died during the Battle of Okinawa, one of the most brutal clashes of the war. It was the only battle on Japanese soil involving civilians, but Okinawa was not just any part of Japan.
It was only in the late 19th century that Japan officially annexed Okinawa, a kingdom that, to this day, has retained some of its own culture. During World War II, when many Okinawans still spoke a different dialect, Japanese troops treated the locals brutally. In its history of the war, the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum presents Okinawa as being caught in the fighting between America and Japan — a starkly different view from the Yasukuni Shrine war museum, which presents Japan as a liberator of Asia from Western powers.
During the 1945 battle, during which one quarter of the civilian population was killed, the Japanese Army showed indifference to Okinawa’s defense and safety. Japanese soldiers used civilians as shields against the Americans, and persuaded locals that victorious American soldiers would go on a rampage of killing and raping. With the impending victory of American troops, civilians committed mass suicide, urged on by fanatical Japanese soldiers.
“There were some people who were forced to commit suicide by the Japanese Army,” one old textbook explained. But in the revision ordered by the ministry, it now reads, “There were some people who were driven to mass suicide.”
Other changes are similar — the change to a passive verb, the disappearance of a subject — and combine to erase the responsibility of the Japanese military. In explaining its policy change, the ministry said that it “is not clear that the Japanese Army coerced or ordered the mass suicides.”
As with Mr. Abe’s denial regarding sexual slavery, the ministry’s new position appeared to discount overwhelming evidence of coercion, particularly the testimony of victims and survivors themselves.
“There are many Okinawans who have testified that the Japanese Army directed them to commit suicide,” Ryukyu Shimpo, one of the two major Okinawan newspapers, said in an angry editorial. “There are also people who have testified that they were handed grenades by Japanese soldiers” to blow themselves up.
The editorial described the change as a politically influenced decision that “went along with the government view.”
Mr. Abe, after helping to found the Group of Young Parliamentarians Concerned About Japan’s Future and History Education in 1997, long led a campaign to reject what nationalists call a masochistic view of history that has robbed postwar Japanese of their pride.
Yasuhiro Nakasone, a former prime minister who is a staunch ally of Mr. Abe, recently denied what he wrote in 1978. In a memoir about his Imperial Navy experiences in Indonesia, titled “Commander of 3,000 Men at Age 23,” he wrote that some of his men “started attacking local women or became addicted to gambling.
“For them, I went to great pains, and had a comfort station built,” Mr. Nakasone wrote, using the euphemism for a military brothel.
But in a meeting with foreign journalists a week ago, Mr. Nakasone, now 88, issued a flat denial. He said he had actually set up a “recreation center,” where his men played Japanese board games like go and shogi.
In a meeting on Saturday with Foreign Minister Taro Aso of Japan, South Korea’s foreign minister, Song Min-soon, criticized Mr. Abe’s recent comments on sexual slaves.
“The problems over perceptions of history are making it difficult to move South Korean-Japanese relations forward,” Mr. Song said.
Mr. Aso said Japan stuck by a 1993 statement acknowledging responsibility for past sexual slavery, but said nothing about Mr. Abe’s denial that the military had coerced women, many of them Korean, into sexual slavery.