Rightists controlled by the past

Recent articles about journalist Henry S. Stokes denying that the Nanjing “incident” was a massacre remind me of George Orwell’s comment that “The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

A constant refrain of the nationalists and rightists in Japan has been their denial of certain acts of war committed by the Imperial Army despite documented evidence by historians or actual observers to the events. When foreign apologists lend support to these denials, it is even more disturbing.

Stokes is well-known for his biography of Yukio Mishima (the patron saint of rightists and the symbol of the failed ideology of Bushido, so dramatically staged in Mishima’s ritualized suicide). It is clear where Stokes’ political values lie. Unfortunately nationalists and narcissists refuse to accept any historical image that does not reflect the superior view they have of themselves or the nostalgia they religiously embrace.

Both the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese government held to an ideology of total war, racial superiority and global domination where the extermination of the enemy and inferior races was a central tenet. Thus the number of people who were killed was of little consequence and all acts were justified; it was only victor’s justice that identified atrocities or war crimes. The culmination of this logic is that all wars are justified and that since killing is what war is about, you cannot quantify it or place any value judgment on human deaths.

According to this spurious argument, Nanjing, Shanghai, Unit 731, the Bataan Death March, the Death Railway in Thailand, Pearl Harbor and, most importantly, the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima were all “incidents” of war and all relative in value. This is historical reductionism to absurdity that in essence states that all of those who have written on Nanjing, including journalist Harold J. Timperley’s eyewitness accounts in 1938, not to mention the memories of survivors, are misrepresentations or fabricated lies.

In the totalitarian society that Orwell portrays in “1984,” the slogan of the ruling elite was “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” For the Japanese rightists, nationalists and their foreign apologists, it is they who are controlled by the past because, by its denial, they keep it very much alive. Unlike in Germany, where laws exist against denial of the Holocaust, denial in Japan has become an integral part of the political ideology and discourse.

j. larson
tokyo

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.