Stand up to Abe for the sake of Japan, Asia’s future

To all the Japanese people,

Life is comparable to a spiritual drama that in retrospect can be recalled as a series of happy, sad and bitter memories. However, the Japanese, perhaps more than any other people, appear to want to forget those most unpleasant of memories as quickly as possible. And this, I believe, ultimately threatens the wellbeing of all Asians.

There are memories that, terrible as they are, must never be forgotten. War is one of them. A tremendous number of Asians went through unspeakable hardships during the Pacific War.

“During the war the human spirit was completely demoralized; unrestrained self-interests brought people into conflict everywhere, and the hellish life-condition had a strong hold over the human community,” said a Japanese octogenarian at one of my peace promotion seminars in August 2005, held to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Now I have a strong determination to see to it that the terrible experiences of war never fade into oblivion.”

Unfortunately the majority of Japanese citizens don’t seem to think like this old man, as they are not speaking out loudly against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempt to whitewash the history of Japanese cruelty in Asia.

Things have changed since World War II, but look below the surface and the culture of brutality, fanaticism and racism that was encouraged in the Japanese military during the 1930s is still feeding an underlying psychological malaise in contemporary Japan.

One of the most shocking aspects of the evil indoctrination of those days was the teaching that Chinese were chankoro, or subhuman, and that the killing of Chinese was of no greater significance than the killing of vermin. That abhorrent mind-set has been largely vanquished, but today another dangerous belief is taking hold: the widespread paranoia that the Chinese are going to invade Japan and steal land, and that the Japanese therefore need to build up an army to drive them away.

Japan’s security was once measured in terms of its ability to fend off military attack. But now, there seems little likelihood that any nation would attack Japan. It is obvious that the real front line of its defense is not on any military perimeter. It is the maintenance and healthy growth of international cooperation. For this, world peace is, of course, necessary, but so also is the solution of endless economic and political problems in Japan’s relations with China and the two Koreas.

Prime Minister Abe has always portrayed China as a strategic dagger pointed at the heart of Japan. But world economic and diplomatic conditions now make such a concept an anachronism. A more apt figure of speech would be to describe stagnation or decline in Asia-Pacific trade as a guillotine hanging perilously above Japan’s head. The thread that supports it is threatened by a various breezes: extreme terrorism, ecological damage or, most probably, the inability of East Asians to cooperate successfully in a situation of rapidly increasing complexity and growing tension.

One might expect that the vigor the Japanese once put into military defense would now go into the solution of the serious problems that stand in the way of effective Asia-Pacific cooperation, for this is Japan’s great strategic frontier. But this is seldom the case. In fact, the Japanese seem remarkably passive, and they still seem to see their nation as somehow separated from the rest of Asia. They do their best to fathom what Asia may have in store for them but do not think of Japan as being a major force that will help shape the continent.

The Japanese seem slow to realize that, while Japan is undoubtedly dependent on the rest of Asia, what that Asia will be is in no small degree dependent on Japan’s role in it. It is indeed an irony — perhaps even a tragedy — that the Japanese, while possessing Asia’s most developed economy, should at the same time be among its psychologically most parochial peoples. As they themselves are fond of saying, they have an “island mentality” (shimaguni konjō).

It is doubtful that much of present Asia would survive a nuclear holocaust, but certainly Japan as it now exists would definitely not. As nuclear weapons proliferate, as seems probable, even localized wars, if they prevented Japan’s access to food supplies or oil resources, would certainly bring the country tumbling down is less than a month. Uncontrolled population growth in developing Asian countries or growing frictions between them and their more industrialized counterparts might lead to such disorders as to impair trade. There is also a growing capacity for acts of terrorism to produce chaos in an ever more intricately knit Asia. Any of these developments would have particularly serious consequences for Japan’s finely tuned economy and economic dependence on the rest of the world.

The importance of Japan’s diplomatic relations with its neighbors — or lack of them — has been a recurrent issue since World War II, sometimes arising out of a trivial confrontation, but more often growing into a vociferously fought dispute. The 127 million Japanese — or even a fraction of that number — can thrive on their slender archipelago only if there is a huge flow of natural resources into Japan, a corresponding outward flow of manufactured products to pay for these imports, and the conditions of peace in East Asia to enable this seamless quid pro quo.

All their abilities and achievements will serve the Japanese very little if these conditions are not nurtured. A stable Asian cultural melting pot built on warm relations with their fellow peoples is thus fundamental to Japan’s well-being.

Prince Edward Island

Writer and illustrator Joel Assogba is a passionate public speaker and the author of many colorful books for children. He lived about two decades in Japan and now resides in Prince Edward Island, Canada. He can be contacted at joel5711@gmail.com. Send your comments and Hotline to Nagata-cho submissions of 500-700 words to community@japantimes.co.jp.

  • With a past like that, i understand why the Japanese don’t want to remember it. I have done regrettable things in my life so it hurts when I’m reminded sometimes. The Chinese, Koreans and the Japanese all have done wrong during the World war and they all have their different ways and means of dealing with such a terrible past. keyword: different. What will work for one may not work for another. The Japanese are trying to heal and maybe this is their way of atoning. There is no need for more protests and violence. This issue with Abe can be worked out another way.

  • Joel, unfortunately, the values you convey are a testament to why war is again inevitable, when you cite the following comment:
    “During the war the human spirit was completely demoralized; unrestrained self-interests brought people into conflict everywhere”.
    There was nothing selfish about the values pursued by the Japanese. It was always destined to lead to failure. The West marshalled the mind; Japan repressed the ‘personal good’ for a nebulous idea of nationalism that spurns mind, and thus the ego in a modern society.

  • Colin Wilson

    Every nation in history is guilty of atrocity after atrocity. The Soviets killed approximately 55 million of their own people, the Chinese Communists killed approximately 45 million of their own people (we won’t even bring up the Tibetan genocide that the Chinese pretend didn’t happen, or their older history which is also bathed in blood). Japan also has its bloody history, but is one of the most peaceful nations on Earth in the here and now (unlike China, or Korea’s gift to the world, North Korea).

    I’m left scratching my head when I see everyone demanding Japan apologize for their behavior long ago, while other nations behave just as badly or even worse right now (today America is still butchering civilians worldwide in the name of the military complex and big business). And who is demanding an apology from China, or Russia, or America, or Germany, or…?

    Continued demands that Japan fall to its knees and beg forgiveness is the height of hypocrisy and hubris. It’s getting old fast, and the “pile on Japan” mentality needs to find someone else to bully.

    • Dipak Bose

      How do you know that USSR has killed 55 million people? Who are they? Do you have any evidence?
      What about the British, American, Australians: they have killed millions and millions all over the world, along with the French, Dutch, Begians, Italians, Spanish and Portuguese.

  • Thomas Davis Smith

    I just want to congratulate Mr. Joel Assogba for having the courage to write a great piece many people would be scared and refrain from writing. War is not a good thing, and provoking it is the worst thing to do. Neither Japan, nor the United States can win any wars against China, so it would be wise not to provoke it. After all Japan will the biggest loser again if war happens in Asia, as its will collapse in a couple weeks as the author of this article has stated it. And for foreigners living in Japan it would be deadly as they won’t even have time to get on the plane and run away to their respective nations. So, Gaijin Folks, instead of criticizing Mr. Assogba, you’ve better praise and support him. Nobody benefits for wars, and it is unwise to support people that try to provoke it.

  • Magnificent

    Post war of Japan is a successful isn’t
    because she has a strong military. Quite opposite, it is because she has a peaceful constitution.

    If Abe believes China is a dagger to
    his heart, it is probably because he is threatening China with a
    dagger. China’s policy toward Japan is a peaceful policy. But for China to be peaceful with Japan, Japan has to be peaceful too.

    Japan’s future isn’t tied with military, nor any forces.

    Abe seems to forget the first principle
    of Judod: The first thing to learn is never to oppose strength to
    strength. If you do that the stronger man will inevitably win.

    Japan needs a balanced policy.

    • Dice

      One of the reasons that contributed to Japan’s prosperity was the war in Vietnam.

  • Paul

    While I don’t disagree with this piece, I feel that a real appeal to the Japanese people also must show the very real possibility that constitutional amendment could lead to restriction of civil rights and imposed nationalistic “duties” on the Japanese general public. This civil rights fear is very real, given the LDP approved constitutional revisions reported by Reuters: http://ca.news.yahoo.com/japan-pms-stealth-constitution-plan-raises-civil-rights-004223548.html , and should be the real specter of constitutional revision evil that the Japanese public should be warned against.
    While authoritarian rule in Japan may worry outsiders, it should worry the Japanese people even more.

  • Masa Chekov

    Why not a lengthy article about the terrible effect on diplomatic relations by “South Korean conservative civic groups prepare to burn an effigy of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul” as in the lead photo? Why not an editorial decrying the Chinese approval of the destruction of Japanese businesses in the riots of a few months ago? These are things that are happening now, things that are having a real effect on Japanese attitudes. Yet the author thinks we should only be worried about vaguely defined “whitewashing” of events from 70 or more years ago.

    Quite puzzling. Its as if this author believes Japan is fully at fault for the attitudes of nationalists in China and Korea.

    • Thomas Davis Smith

      Masa, why don’t you write the editorial decrying the Chinese approval of the destruction of Japanese businesses in the riots, and submit it to The Japan Times for publication, then? Use your freedom of expression as Mr. Assogba did… Peace!

      • Masa Chekov

        No need. I respect Mr Assogba’s opinion on this matter but there’s not a whole lot of substance to his argument. The crux is only a few sentences that Abe is trying to “whitewash” history but no commentary as to why that is or should be relevant today.

        It’s quite clear, however, what radical actions such as I mention in my comment have on the diplomatic process.

        So should Abe be blamed for the actions of at-times violent ultranationalists in other countries, people who will continue to hate Japan and Japanese businesses regardless of what Abe does? No.

      • Thomas Davis Smith

        Masa, if you say no need. It means your argument is useless. Right about what you believe is right, this must be the first step toward a better world.

      • Masa Chekov

        Thomas, that doesn’t follow at all, honestly.

  • south east asian

    Countries moved on their own and at times; different ways to heal the dark sides of their histories. These countries include Germany, China, Russia and even US. These Japanese leaders are playing politics and dangerously leading the nation and people on a reverse trail; intoxicating some of the fanatics in a game…threatening peace, progress and cooperation in the Asia Pacific Region…

  • suzuken98

    It is difficult to work with the neighboring countries that don’t think in logic. Yes, we may be a bit worried about Chinese invading us, but having an Army, I think, as an independent country is a natural thought. Some people say that we have US forces to protect us. That may be true to a certain extent. But I would not count on it. Why? Because Japan is not part of the US and they will not protect us once they see no benefit in protecting us.

    Our situation is very much like gun controls in the US. Obama expect to control guns but as long as criminal won’t give up their guns, good citizens would never give up their guns. Sure, we’d like to stay away from nukes and missiles but if our neighbors have guns and ammos, what can we do?

  • mohindar

    “Chankoro” does not mean subhuman, it has no actual meaning at all. It’s just slang, albeit offensive, for Chinese.

  • mohindar

    Yes, Abe’s whitewashing is wrong. But what does that have to do with governance? It’s a moral issue at best.

    The author makes the crucial mistake of assuming that China is lovey-dovey towards its neighbors. In reality, the Chinese are just as nationalistic as the Japanese. Whoever is “nicer” is going to end up on the bottom.

  • With all my respect, as a Japanese,“●hankoro”, is never allowed in any of places where decent people gathered, so I never speak, or write it down since I know how the disgusting word actually means, or Chinese people feel.
    It’s worse and worse than Jap.
    This word is used only for insulting Chinese people, there’s no way to be spoken, nor written, especially by us Japanese, never.
    Is it “just offencive”? No, means subhuman, yes, “it has no actual meaning”, no.
    Our younger people don’t have enough knowledge of how the words had been used back then, that’s our problem.
    Shimagunikonjo, yes, another name would be “和”, but it’s often going to work for un-pleasent, or wrong way, then we’re going to annoy neighbors, neighbor countries, thinking “there would be no problem if only we’ve got OK”, trying to sell nuclear plant to abroad, as now, or the many things our seniors commited before.
    Our kind of “和”, is so complicated, difficult to see it right from inside, most of us haven’t noticed it when we’re occupied by 和 at all.

  • paul

    Japan’s growth has been based on trade not war. This is the key to their growth. By ignoring militarism it has been able to build an economy while living in relative peace with many countries.
    There are several bad points to bringing bad militarism and they all affect Japanese people and corporations.
    1. they give countries like China and Korea an excuse to make Japanese goods look moraly inferior and so reduce Japanese sales. just look at what happened last year.
    2. Japan is country of few resources and would never likely succeed in a war despite its large population. The resources the country needs for war come from thousands of kilometres and these supply lines would be very difficult to defend, especially in the case with China.
    3. with militarism people’s right come a distant second and we can already see how they are under threat in the moves to change the constitution.