Abe Should Heed Merkel's Recommendation
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 14, 2015
Executive Summary: During a recent visit to Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the
Abe government something it did not want to hear. Japan should face up
to its past, and resolve the comfort women issue. This is the 70th
anniversary of the end of World War II. Japan has shirked responsibility
for sowing East Asian discord. Germany, a fellow World War II Axis
Powers aggressor, has urged Japan to repent. If Abe persists in going
his own way, Japan will pay a heavy price.
Full Text Below:
During a recent visit to Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Abe government something it did not want to hear. Japan should face up to its past, and resolve the comfort women issue. This is the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Japan has shirked responsibility for sowing East Asian discord. Germany, a fellow World War II Axis Powers aggressor, has urged Japan to repent. If Abe persists in going his own way, Japan will pay a heavy price.
In 1993, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono admitted that the Japanese military enslaved comfort women. He apologized and atoned. In August 1995, on the 50th anniversary of Japan's surrender, Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama acknowledged Japan's past policy errors, including initiating wars, colonial rule, and acts of aggression against numerous countries, especially in Asia, and inflicting immense damage and suffering. Japan must engage in self-retrospection, remember the lessons of history, and educate the younger generation about the tragedies of war, in order to avoid repeating past mistakes. Since then, the statements issued by Murayama and Kono have become the official position of later Japanese governments, and have been accepted by neighboring nations victimized by Japanese aggression.
But no sooner did Abe take office, than he began acting on his own right wing ideology. Step by step, he began reversing the verdict of history, and repudiating past acknowledgments of responsibility. He called for an investigation of the Kono Statement, attempting to deny the enslavement of comfort women. He called for a review of the Murayama Statement as well. On the 70th anniversary of V-J Day, he proposed an "Abe Statement" on Japan's war responsibility, in an attempt to rewrite history. Abe's denial that Japan was the aggressor provoked an intense backlash from Mainland China and Korea.
Japan was soundly defeated during World War II. During the Cold War however, it became a US ally. Since then it has followed the United States' lead in foreign policy. A rare exception was when it established diplomatic relations with Mainland China ahead of the United States. This provoked US dissatisfaction. Otherwise, it has seldom gone its own way in international diplomacy. Since Abe became prime minister however, he has twice veered sharply toward rightism in attempts to rewrite history. This has deeply angered Mainland China and South Korea. It has also affected the United States' long term strategy regarding Japan, Korea and Mainland China, and forced the United States to publicly express its disapproval.
In January of this year, US State Department spokesman Jen Psaki praised the apologies issued by former Japanese Prime Minister Murayama and former Cabinet Minister Kono, saying they were important efforts to improve relations with Japan's neighbors. She said the United States hopes Japan will engage in dialogue with neighboring countries, in order to resolve contradictions and historical grievances in a friendly fashion. The US obviously hopes Abe will acknowledge the Murayama Statement and the Kono Statement. The Abe government initially accepted the its predecessors' positions. Now however, past Japanese government efforts to eliminate historical grievances and promote goodwill, have all been undone.
Abe, naturally, has his own political plans, modeled after former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's right-wing ideology. During his first term as prime minister, Abe threw in the towel halfway. During his second term however, he made a comeback, and proposed “three arrows” to revitalize the economy. He paid a hefty price for partial success. Now he has gotten a second wind, and is determined to achieve his goal. The rapid rise of Mainland China has resulted in frequent Mainland patrols in the East China Sea, a new Mainland air defense identification zone, and a firm Mainland declaration of sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands. Japan now feels increasingly threatened. As a result Japan has substantially increased its military budget and island garrisons. The Abe government is aggressively promoting a constitutional amendment, in an attempt to rebuild a "normal nation."
Germany was also an aggressor during World War II. It too was invaded and occupied. It too suffered huge losses in human life. It too suffered ignominious defeat. But Germany's response was totally different from Japan's. Germany has expressed deep remorse for the slaughter of six million Jews. It has hunted down war criminals mercilessly. In 1970, German Chancellor Willi Brandt knelt down before the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In 1995, Helmut Kohl knelt down before the Monument to Holocaust Victims in Israel. The Auschwitz concentration camp has been turned into a memorial site. The German people retain the memory of their cruelty. They have reminded themselves of the crimes they committed, acknowledged their historical guilt, offered compensation, and reminded themselves never to repeat the same mistakes again.
By contrast, in Japan there has been no in depth soul searching over Japan's own war crimes. Many people feel they are victims of the atomic bomb and American militarism. This has led to the sense that Japan is not responsible for the suffering of people in other countries. Even the United States' post-war peace constitution, which imposes constraints on Japan, are perceived as an injustice that represses Japanese military power and reduces it to an “abnormal nation”. Abe's tactic is to incite ultranationalism and incite Japanese anxiety over a strong China. Alas, denying historical guilt is a major mistake.
Merkel spoke plainly. She said "To completely break with the past is impossible. One must face the past squarely." Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito spoke on his birthday recently. He said Japan must humbly face up to its past. The generation that lived through the war must properly convey the tragic history of Japan to a generation that knows nothing about the war. He underscored the importance of the post-war pacifist constitution, clearly directing his remarks toward the Abe government. Abe needs to listen to these inconvenient truths, and think hard on them.