Tuesday, April 12, 2005

On Wounds and Healing

Angelica objects to my post on the textbooks issue and Sino-Japanese relations. She has an excellent post on the atrocities comitted by Japanese forces during the Pacific war here. However, I do have a few counter-objections. Not to the accusation that I'm living in a dream world, only the evidence presented!

I kind of think that we're talking past each other - I meant only to address the specific issues of textbooks today and their impact on North Asia. I didn't particularly want to have a debate about Japan's wartime atrocities, but here we are. So, no equivocation - the acts of Imperial Japan were different from the Nazis only by degree, not in kind. The Rape of Nanking is something we should all know about, but too few of us do. Wikipedia lists 8.4 million Chinese "non-military casualties" - a number of deaths comparable to the Shoah*. Japan ludicrously tried to portray it's war as a war to "protect Asia" from white colonialism, and then enaged in brutality that would have made King Leopold blanch.

When I said that Japan "hasn't done anything wrong", I meant in the present time. Do they deny and ignore their history? Absolutely. We all do, because the history of any modern state is positively ghastly. Even Canada? Ask a Beothuk - Sorry! Too late! And while I can certainly understand Chinese hostility towards Japanese, there's something more going on here. As Angelica notes in her post, it's ironic that these protests against Japanese have been allowed in an authoritarian (I would disagree with the word "totalitarian") state. Except that it isn't ironic at all - this latest outburst of anti-Japanese sentiment (anti-Japonism?) has been pretty transparently orchestrated by the Party. Again, this isn't to say the grievances aren't absolutely legitimate, just that, in this case, I think Japan isn't the one misbehaving.

Yes, Koizumi continues to visit Yasukuni. That's insensitive, to say the least. Of the remains held at Yasukuni, the vast majority (roughly 87%) belong to soldiers of the Pacific War period, including most infamously 13 of the "Class A" war criminals executed after the war. But nobody can seriously argue that Japan's PMs meant to endorse Japan's wartime behaviour - on the contrary, Koizumi has said repeatedly that he pays tribute to the dead to keep Japan from ever going to war again. The Emperor has not visited the Shrine once since the 13 were interred. Loved ones don't become unloved because of their crimes. There's a difference between mourning the dead and absolving them of their crimes, and we'd be good to remember that.

I can't speak to whether or not the dead of the Pacific War are revered as heroes or not - but to expect any nation to admit error on such a collosal scale is asking a lot. People are still people. As unpleasant as it is, I don't think Germany or Japan are likely to "admit" their sins to everybody's satisfaction, especially not 60 years after the fact. There was an uproar recently about German families seeking reparations from Poland for some damn thing or another. People remember grudges, even the people who shouldn't, or don't deserve to.

At the end of my last post, I said this shouldn't have the effect it does, "but that's history for you." That may have been read as cavalier, or dismissive of the facts. It certainly wasn't intended that way. Angelica calls the atrocities of the Pacific War a wrong that was never righted. How do you right that kind of a thing? Emperors, Prime Ministers, the vast majority of the Japanese leadership have all apologized for the conduct of the war. Korea and China have been recipients of a lot of Japanese aid. Japan has, since 1953, been a model citizen in the world - not just in relation to their own past, but in absolute terms. What more do we have a right to ask of Japan as a collective? Are individual Japanese idiots? Sure, and I can name a couple of the top of my head - Shintaro Ishihara comes to mind most readily.

I understand that all this is extremely personal to a lot of people (1.3 billion Chinese, for starters) and don't mean to demean their legitimate anger. I forget who said it first (Google! Why are you forsaking me??!!) but we're all prisoners of history. I don't know any other way of saying this, but we need to escape history. This doesn't mean we forget it, or even forgive, but beyond a certain point it has to stop mattering as much. I guess the analogy I would use is the death of a loved one - you don't forget, or stop loving them, but eventually the pain goes away. Maybe we're not ready for that in the case of China v. Japan. But eventually, we're going to have to get there.

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