Sunday, October 7, 2007

Article on Japan

In the New York Times:

"Already 78 years old and in failing health, the Rev. Shigeaki Kinjo no longer wanted to talk about that fateful day 62 years ago toward the end of World War II when he beat to death his mother, younger brother and sister.

"Brainwashed by Japanese Imperial Army soldiers into believing that victorious American troops would rape all the local women and run over the men with their tanks, Mr. Kinjo and others in his village here in Okinawa thought that suicide was their only choice. A week before American troops landed and initiated the Battle of Okinawa in March 1945, Japanese soldiers stationed in his village gave the men two hand grenades each, with instructions to hurl one at the Americans and then to kill themselves with the other. [...]

"Mr. Kinjo agreed to tell his story again because the Japanese government is now denying, in new high school textbooks, that Okinawans had been coerced by Imperial troops into committing mass suicide. [...]

"After the Americans landed, Japanese soldiers expelled Okinawans from shelters and used them as human shields. Thousands are believed to have committed suicide in villages occupied by Japanese soldiers; mass suicides did not take place where there were no soldiers."


yukki said...

What do you think about this article?

j.taylor said...

I'm amazed. I didn't know anything about the Battle of Okinawa or events surrounding it, much less the controversy over it today.

yukki said...

I don't know details (shame on me) about it, but interpretations of events during the WWII are very controversial in Japan.

Both sides have presented evidence to support their claims, but I think the government shouldn't screen textbooks like this in the first place. I know anyone can be neutral and everything is political, but still there should be more discussions.

j.taylor said...

Why do you think there's more controversy in Japan than there is in Germany, for example, about WWII -- both what happened and who's responsible? I find the controversy surprising (and disturbing).

According to the NY Times, for what it's worth, the textbook censors who want to deny government responsibility for the mass suicides of Okinawans have not presented any real evidence to support their claims.

ダニエル said...

The conservative wing of the LDP in japan has long harbored a desire to revise the japanese constitution, in particular article 9-the no military article. In order to do that, they have to change public opinion, which in japan is strongly pacifistic. One method to change prevailing opinions is by de-emphasizing japanese war crimes and atrocities. As world war II is seen in japan as a ruinous, misguided fiasco, mitigating japanese responsibility in the war is necessary if these conservative elements are to ever achieve the constitutional revisions they have hoped for since the 1950s.

j.taylor said...

Thank you for the informative comment. That answers a lot, but I still have a couple questions:

1) Why is the de-emphasizing of war crimes an acceptable public discourse in Japan? Even a winning discourse, despite the "strongly pacifistic" public opinion, since these are high governmental officials pronouncing it. Compare with Germany: there's a far-right/neo-Nazi fringe, but it's hard to imagine any national politician downplaying Nazi crimes and surviving.

2) I read the Wikipedia article on "Japanese war crimes" for a refresher. Downplaying Japanese atrocities in WWII sounds like a crazy kamikaze mission. What do these people really want? If the goal is simply a constitutional amendment to have a regular military, it seems much more plausible (and ethical) to concoct a geopolitical story, as about rising threats from China, N. Korea, (waning) American hegemony, etc.

Someo Neinatree said...

Stanley Cohen, a professor at LSE, gets to the rotten heart of the matter in his book States of Denial.

OUr various modes of 'being out of touch' save us from the blunt trauma we suffer, individually, physically, socially and historically. But of course human tools extend the range of our humanness, and amplify its extremes.

Cohen on the darker side of our ability to be oblivious:
"These adaptive principles are analogous to totalitarian strategies of information control...Three states of mind are shared. The first is egocentricity - organizing memory around a self which is the axis of cause and effect; the second is called by Greenwalk 'beneffectance' - taking credit for success (good effects) while denying responsibility for failure (ill effects); the third is conservatism - the cognitive disposition to preserve what is already established. New evidence or contrary arguments are ignored or made to fit the schema."

Okinawa has been relatively quiet over the past several decades, except for some flareups over issues with the US bases that involve the older tensions between a distant island and the central gov in Tokyo. The new evidence in the current story, which I think Onishi captures well, is old memory evincing itself anew, in a very different national moment (the push to revise Article 9 now mainstream).

Greenwalk's 'beneffectance' hits the nationalist leader on the head, so to speak. Abe, Aso, even Koizumi with his inability to curb his impetuosity and petulance regarding the Yasukuni visits (the backstory is that he didn't really care about Yasukuni, but did it simply to spite the Chinese after the CCP reneged on a minor political promise) represent a kind of Beneffectance Party that while certainly a strong faction within the LDP, is not limited to it.

Cohen brings up the Saul Bellow character Artur Sammler in a discussion of the ability to deny, "the amazing human phenomenon." From Bellow's Mr Sammler's Planet, on Sammler: "He was human, so he could arrange many things for himself. Both knowing and not knowing - one of the most frequent human arrangements."

ダニエル said...

Actually, if you talk to Columbia university Poli Sci professor Gerald Curtis, who has spoken to Koizumi personally about his Yasakuni visits, he tells a very different story about the impetus behind those visits.

In response to taylor's comments. 1) some have argued that the atomic bombs, in concert with the american occupation's absolution of the guilt of the emperor and the japanese people, who were re-figured as victims of the militarists, led to the japanese seeing themselves primarily as victims of WWII, thus overshadowing their responsibilities. ALSO, and what tends to receive insufficient emphasis in media reports of these controversies, is the extent of internal Japanese protest to revisionism. for example, missing from the original post we are replying to is the report of massive protests about these revisions that have taken place all over okinawa prefecture. Similar protests occur every time textbook revision surfaces, especially amongst teachers' unions.

2) Anglo-American hegemony in the region was one of the key causes for the Japanese to enter world warII, so i don't know if the public would believe that again, especially looking back on over 60 years of American alliance. And it is this alliance with America that precludes the use of some external Asian threat as a motivation for military build-up, for the last 60 years Japan has depended on, and continues to depend on, the American military for collective security. (not to mention that the japanese "SDF" is a much more advanced military organization than the name implies) Also, Japanese politics has been dominated by an economics-based pragmatism in the post-war period, this is why constitutional revision remains a back-burner issue for the LDP. In fact, Abe's insistence on focusing on constitutional revision rather than pressing economic issues is one significant cause of the LDPs disastrous showing in the last parliamentary election. Article 9 revision is by no means mainstream belief amongst average Japanese citizens, if that were the case, Article 9 would have been excised already, as the only thing saving Article 9 is public opinion.

j.taylor said...

Thank you for the interesting comments. Feel no obligation to write further, but I want to say:

I don't see how the "Japanese as victims" point explains the government's move to suppress historical facts here. If the Japanese people see themselves as victims of militarists, what's to be gained by minimizing the role of the victimizers?

Internal protest of revisionism: you're probably right, but the Okinawans here are protesting the suppression of their *own* mistreatment. In this, they're more like the Chinese protesting the Rape of Nanking than "disinterested" political dissenters. If there was also a substantial uproar in Tokyo over this, I admit that I didn't know it and agree that the NY Times should have mentioned it.

That said, I can believe that revisionism is not a mainstream Japanese position. My few Japanese acquaintances see the revisionists as occupying the arch-conservative fringe. What's surprising to me is that this fringe is *in power*, which suggests a level of popular toleration, if not agreement.

I'm also surprised by the public discourse on revisionism, which sounds outrageous to me in comparison to public discourse in the US over slavery, for instance, or in Germany over Nazism. Which is not to suggest that any non-public discourse is more or less enlightened among these cultures.

ダニエル said...

What i mentioned in respect to the japanese seeing themselves as victims means that, in some respects, their role as victimizers has already been de-emphasized, thus making public discourse of this sort more acceptable, thought not any more understandable from an outside perspective.

alicia's nihongo blog said...

I found the article you posted very poignant and unexplainable. Two summers ago I went to Okinawa and stayed with a host family there. I was invited to a ceremony honoring the victims of the Battle of Okinawa and visited the newly built museum that described the battle from the Japanese point of view. It was tragic how the Americans treated the Japanese. Thus it can almost be justified about the suicides that occurred. In Japanese pre-modern history, ritual suicides were an honorable and integral part of battles. On the other hand, the beatings that were mentioned in the article represent the "mandated" government killings. Frankly, I do not think the Japanese government should deny that this happened; but publish it in the textbooks as a way for current Japanese students to learn about the truth and how to ensure that it never happens again. Thus the suicides can be linked to a cultural phenomenon that snowballed into the beatings that the mentioned fathers and husbands were mandated by the Imperial Army to do in the Battle of Okinawa. I think that all countries have aspects of their history which they would rather bury and pretend never existed. Yet people study history to imitate successful events and as well learn from unsuccessful events. "The truth will set you free."

yukki said...

Why is there more controversy in Japan than in Germany? IMO, it's perhaps because how two countries dealt with the history. I don't know anything about Germany's case, so I can't tell exactly, though.

In the case of Japan, there are people who feel Japan has been unduly attacked after WWII. They think that Japan has been forced to overemphasize the negative aspect of the history without taking the circumstances at that time into consideration. To them, "Colonialization was common then. We stabilized the area. We should look at positive aspects, too."

One of the most famous representatives of this view is Yoshinori Kobayashi. I've read his work which is quite interesting.

j.taylor said...

It will be instructive to share some of Kobayashi's viewpoints. I guess Mein Kampf can be interesting reading as well. Quoting from the Wikipedia page linked to in the previous comment:

# The Nanking Massacre did not occur. It was created by political demagogue and diplomatic strategy by the US government and the Communist Party of China to label Japan as a dangerous military power which was out of control. At the end of the war, this was supposedly brought up, among other alleged Japanese war crimes to downplay the true crime of the US atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

# The young generation of Japanese should not denounce the kamikaze, but should honor their altruistic spirit of selflessness which modern society lacks.

# Japan’s involvement in WWII was not a result of fascism or imperialism. Its mission statement was to free Asian nations and other nations that consisted of “colored people” from the European colonial powers.

# Many atrocities such as the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII committed by US forces can be traced to their fundamental racism against Japanese people, including Franklin D. Roosevelt’s strong racism against the Japanese race.

# The Japanese government never enforced Korean comfort women to serve the Japanese military. Rather, they simply recruited for volunteering from poor villagers.

# The Japanese annexation of Korea was not motivated by Japanese imperialism. Japan had to help Korea to modernize the nation in order to protect them from colonization by European powers.

# Japanese politicians, including Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, should not listen to the protest from other Asian nations regarding domestic issues such as the visiting of Yasukuni Shrine by Japanese politicians.

yukki said...

To the first and second quotes, I want to put them in context if I may.

Kobayashi disputes the number of victims reported in the Nanking Massacre---it is too many, much greater than the population of Nanking at that time. He argues that the numbers reported in some historic documents at that time about the Massacre changed so many times (increased drastically) that they are unreliable.

Kobayashi maintains that WWII has to be discussed in context at that time, not based on our today's standards and norms. Young people who sacrificed their lives believed that what they did was right (I must say it may not be true to everyone, though). He argues it's not fair to them to judge their conducts unilaterally based on our current values without considering the situations they were put in.

IMHO, Kobayashi and the likes are not happy about being blamed for so long and feel they must put WWII in different perspectives (like, Japan didn't invade Korea but did modernize it and protect it from the West).

Every story has two or more sides---the fact is one, but truths are multiple.

j.taylor said...

The Wikipedia article on the Nanking Massacre is also interesting reading; thank you for pointing me there. To quote:

"There is great debate as to the extent of the war atrocities in Nanking, especially regarding estimates of the death toll. The issues involved in calculating the number of victims are largely based on the debatees' definitions of the geographical range and the duration of the event, as well as their definition of the "victims".

"The most conservative viewpoint is that the geographical area of the incident should be limited to the few square kilometers of the city known as the Safety Zone, where the civilians gathered after the invasion. Many Japanese historians seized upon the fact that during the Japanese invasion there were only 200,000–250,000 citizens in Nanking as reported by John Rabe, to argue that the PRC's estimate of 300,000 deaths is a vast exaggeration.

"However, many historians include a much larger area around the city. Including the Xiaguan district (the suburbs north of Nanjing city, about 31 square km in size) and other areas on the outskirts of the city, the population of greater Nanjing was running between 535 000 and 635 000 just prior to the Japanese occupation." ...

"A number of Japanese researchers consider 100,000 – 200,000 to be an approximate value. Other nations usually believe the death toll to be between 150,000 – 300,000."

The "Rape" and "Murder" sections are interesting as well.

j.taylor said...

I am asked not to let this pass unmentioned: some people are shocked at the suggestion that Japanese colonialism was good for Korea--even intended primarily for the benefit and protection of Koreans--regardless of whether we judge by the standards of the time or by today's standards. And they wonder whether yukki is proposing it himself/herself or is just reporting that some Japanese people believe it.

Also, I don't agree with the invocation of the 'single fact / multiple truths' theory in this context. Some of the views expressed are such perversions of historical fact that they cannot be even *a* truth among many, in my opinion. Multiple perspectives or multiple interpretations, instead of "multiple truths," sure.

I do agree that history is not a cartoon battle between Good and Evil. And it is possible (and perhaps always tempting) to blame the losing side disproportionately. Even so, the end of justly reapportioning blame can't be a license to indulge any conceivable patriotic fantasies.

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