Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The conservatives humbled

Perhaps one of the positive consequences of Japan's economic crisis is that it has silenced Japan's conservatives.

By silenced I do not mean literally silenced — they're still fulminating. What I mean is that they have been rendered irrelevant by events. Despite their media power, their ability to churn out a seemingly infinite amount of books, magazine articles, and op-eds, it turns out that they have remarkably little to say about Japan's economic problems. Former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo is indeed the conservative poster child in this respect: eager to flaunt a rising Japan and its newfound powers, he was almost completely indifferent to the hard work of remaking the Japanese system.

But it is not just the economic crisis that has silenced the conservatives. It is the marriage of the LDP and Aso Taro, one of their own, that has been responsible for quieting the conservatives. The conservatives, with Mr. Aso as prime minister, Nakagawa Shoichi as finance minister, Amari Akira as administrative reform minister, and Hatoyama Kunio as general affairs minister, are now responsible for what happens to Japan in the coming months and years. The fate of the modern conservative movement — which has enjoyed a meteoric rise over the past two decades — is now tied to the LDP and the Aso government. Of course, it is for this reason that Hiranuma Takeo's quixotic quest to create a new conservative party (yes, he's still at it, although now the plan is to create a party after the general election) is so foolish. Japan already has a conservative party, and it is drowning as (in Mr. Aso's words) the "tsunami" of the global financial crisis washes over Japan.

What I am not saying is that the conservatives are vanquished evermore. They still have considerable power and their ideas appeal to a sizable minority. What I'm saying is simply that events have rendered the conservative movement irrelevant to the policy debate. It is little surprise that Mr. Abe has attempted to carve out a middle ground in the LDP's tax debate — Mr. Abe and his compatriots barely have a position on the issue to advance.

All of this is a way to introduce this stemwinder by Sakurai Yoshiko.

Published in the January 15th issue of Shukan Shincho, the title says it all: "In the Sino-Japanese War, China had more fighting spirit than Japan."

The essay is the latest attempt to rewrite the history of World War II along terms that exculpate Japan and pin blame for the war on China (and communism). Actually, not only does she pin the second Sino-Japanese war on the Cominform, she finds a new, somewhat surprisingly culprit in the widening war: the Nazi Party, which she blames for providing military assistance to Chiang Kai-shek during the 1930s. In other words, Ms. Sakurai blames any outside power that enhanced the ability of Chinese forces to resist Japan for widening the Sino-Japanese war, instead of blaming the military that was invading China, as if the Chinese people were just supposed to accept the advance of the Imperial Military passively.

I don't want to get bogged down in the history, because the conservative obsession with history is precisely the problem. The conservatives are so obsessed with making the case for the Pacific/Great East Asian War as a just war that they have nothing relevant to say about the many problems facing the Japanese people today.

As such, the more the conservatives are ignored, the better. Japan and the world have too many problems to be consumed with fighting old wars and nursing old hatreds, while looking to stir up new ones. This is, to some extent, the message of President Obama's inaugural address: "...an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics." He was talking about American politics, but he might as well have been talking about the history problem in East Asia.


Dr. Blah said...

Conservatives ae invariably obsessed with history. What I do not understand about Japanese conservagtives is why they are obsessed with one short period of hisory (c.1930-45) when Japan behaved in an atypically aggressive fashion towards her neighbours. Why can they not derive pride in the rest of Japan's much less bellicose history ?

Noah said...

I think it's worth asking why the conservatives are so intent on justifying Japan's role in WW2.

It seems to me that people who want to love their country need a narrative that allows them to see their country as "good" in the arena of international relations.

If Japan's liberals can't construct an alternate narrative - a reason that Japan is in general "good" while still having been "bad" in WW2 - then the conservative narrative will be the default position of patriotic-minded Japanese people.

Dr. Blah said...

I can't see why the liberals can't construct an alternative narrative based on Japan's post WW2 record which contians much of whicj the nation can be proud i.e. the transformation of a wrecked and pariah nation into a respected member of the international community and one of the wsealthiest nations on earth (even if the economic record has become a littel tarnished since 1990). They seem to lack the courage and imagination to try