Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Why Japan is losing friends

The Jiji wire service reports that the minister responsible for public relations at Japan's embassy in Washington has called out the Washington Post for its "mistakes" and "not understanding sufficiently" the positions of Prime Minister Abe and the Japanese government on the comfort women question in its recent editorial on the issue, discussed here.

I suppose an official response to the Post's strongly critical editorial is a matter of course, but, at the same time, Japan's behavior throughout this whole process has made it difficult for American friends of Japan to defend Japan publicly. I have less of a problem with Japan's lobbying -- discussed in Harper's in October -- because Japan was simply playing the same game as pro-resolution activists. My problem is bigger, not only Japan's maddening inability to accept its historical crimes, but its inability to understand -- and to empathize with -- the victims of those crimes and appreciate that people all over the world, not just Koreans and Chinese, want Japan to face its past forthrightly. Once again, I don't think that the US Congress should be the vehicle of Japan's reconciliation with history, but opposing this resolution should not excuse Japan's behavior.

As such, I'm pleased that Kono Yohei -- author of the "Kono Statement" in question -- has criticized Abe and other "comfort women" deniers. Hair-splitting about historical crimes is almost worse than denying them outright, as it is an insidious way of diverting discussion away from questions of responsibility for wrongdoing (cf. the debate regarding the number of people killed in Nanking).

So, Mr. Abe, enough about whether or how coercion was involved: Japan was wrong. And so with the larger question of war guilt. Questions of Japanese victimhood at the hands of American strategic bombing (including atomic bombing), whether Japan was just engaging in the same practices as European empires, whether the US goaded Japan into war, or whether the International Military Tribunal for the Far East was simply meting out victor's justice, while relevant and interesting questions in their own right, are of secondary importance. It is time for a Japanese prime minister to make a full and unequivocal apology for all of Japan's wartime crimes and to issue a call to the Japanese people that a full and open reckoning with history is necessary. I don't think, however, that Abe will be that politician.

And that is why Japan is facing a US government less willing to indulge Japan as it did in the past. Consider that even the Bush administration, perceived to be particularly close with Japan (although less so now that certain officials have left), is now on record criticizing the Abe Cabinet for its ambiguous response to the congressional resolution. The relationship is changing, and if Tokyo thinks that the US government is going to shield it from critics (and enemies) forever, it is sorely mistaken.

2 comments:

Lionel Dersot said...

The Japanese embassy in Washington has a page dedicated to the The Comfort Women Issue but I would be curious to read the exact statement made against the Washington Post editorial. I think the government of Japan has a deeper than ever issue of dialectical competence in the 21st century. "not understanding sufficiently" sounds so lame these days.

Japan Observer said...

That's the problem, isn't it?

A sincere, genuine apology -- think Willie Brandt falling to his knees in Warsaw -- would be completely unambiguous and clear to all observers.