Monday, July 30, 2007

Let the hyperbole begin

Congress has passed House Resolution 121, the "comfort women resolution," by unanimous consent — there were no nays voiced, and there was no roll call vote. According to one of my trusted correspondents, Congressman Tom Lantos, a Holocaust survivor, introduced the legislation by suggesting that there is no statute of limitations on apologies for these crimes and that asking for this apology is not asking too much of Japan, a friend and ally. Said Lantos: "The true strength of a nation is tested when it is forced to confront the darkest chapters in its history. Will it have the courage to face up to the truth of its past, or will it hide from those truths in the desperate and foolish hope they will fade with time?"

H.Res. 121 is an exceedingly modest piece of legislation. Non-binding, it does not request that the administration take steps to pressure Japan by linking the issue up with another bilateral issue; it appeals to Japan's good conscience to do the right thing by history, to do its duty to ensure that its children are fully aware of their country's bloody past, a burden that must be carried by every country (as discussed in this post).

I have already documented some of the extreme rhetoric emanating from Japan's ultra-nationalists in advance of the resolution's passage, and that rhetoric will undoubtedly intensify in the coming days and weeks.

Non-Japanese critics of the resolution are vulnerable to the same rhetorical excesses as Japanese critics. Take this post by Matt at Liberal Japan, in which he asks, "Are we all Fascists these days? Imperialists?" Hyperbolic fulminations along these lines have devalued terms like Fascism and Imperialism to the point of being analytically useless; they are now little more than slurs.

Imperialism, Matt? Really? The US isn't occupying the Diet until the government apologizes. It isn't threatening to stop defending Japan, abandoning it to its fate, or slapping economic sanctions on Japan. The US Congress is making an appeal out of good conscience, from one democracy to another, for Japan to strive harder to ensure that the truth of Japan's past is not revised, relativized, or ignored — to ensure that Japanese children have a full appreciation of their country's wartime past. The time for debate about the hypocrisy of the US or whether it is within the duties of the Congress to pass such legislation is past; the resolution is on the books. H.Res. 121 is not the equivalent of the invasion of Iraq, Matt, but a simple piece of non-binding legislation that seeks historical justice, both because it's the right thing to do and because it will make Japan a better US ally.

This resolution's passage ought to mean the end of hysterical rhetoric about how the US Congress is bullying poor Japan. It won't, but it should. Instead, H.Res. 121 will no doubt find a prominent place on the list of wounds inflicted on Japan's precious self-esteem by the US.

For a review of this whole process and the resolution's implications, including its connection with US Asia policy, I strongly recommend this post by Mindy Kotler at The Washington Note.


Anonymous said...

I've been keeping your blog at the top of my bookmark list for some time now. Thank you for some great commentary. It's certainly a step above the over-the-top emotionalism and chest thumping I read over at other Japan related blogs.

Tony Alexander said...

You appear like you've got it together, but come off a bit unctuous in your commentary on this subject. I've commented on this before in other blogs.