There is an increasing likelihood that Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, lambasted at home and abroad as a symbol of political incompetence, will announce a decision sometime this month to step down to end the leadership crisis. This is hardly surprising, given Mori’s abysmal performance since he was appointed to his job a year ago. The delay in his departure has exposed Japan’s lack of ability to normalize politics.
The current crisis reminds us of the failed rebellion last year by Koichi Kato, a dissident leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Political pundits are likely to agree that when he challenged Mori for power, Kato sought to expedite political normalization. Other experts seem to believe that the present chaos resulted from Mori’s lack of political wisdom. This view is simplistic and even dangerous.
In my opinion, Mori fell into trouble because he represented the extreme rightist, nationalistic ideology that caused Japan to launch a war of aggression in Asia and to suffer a miserable defeat at the hands of the United States in the Pacific War.
Soon after he took office, Mori said Japan is “a country of gods centering on the Emperor” — an anachronistic view espoused by prewar rightists. The gaffe caused the Mori Cabinet’s public-disapproval rating to jump to 70 percent. Peace-loving Japanese were angered by what they perceived as the re-emergence of rightist forces.
More than half a century after the war ended, Japanese are still haunted by bad memories of that conflict. Yet there are growing moves to justify the actions of wartime Japanese leaders and rightists who plunged Japan into a war of aggression. Some Japanese are trying to rationalize the Imperial Japanese forces’ aggression in Asia, which culminated in the war, and deny the fact-based history of World War II. They even claim that present Japanese school textbooks, including factual descriptions of Japanese aggression in China, are distorted by “masochistic views” and try to revise the textbooks in total disregard of true history. This is sheer madness, based on the prejudices of prewar rightists.
It is widely believed that the revisionist moves are backed by rightist forces in the mass media and academia. New history textbooks, supported by revisionist forces, reportedly are expected to soon be approved by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology for use in Japanese junior high schools. Mori presumably is the top backer of these forces, as his remarks on Japan as “a country of gods” show.
The Kato rebellion fizzled out because rightist forces, including politicians, media figures and former military leaders, supported Mori’s continued rule. Many political observers say the confrontation ended in a rightist victory.
Mori’s expected departure should not be blamed only on his personal incompetence. We face a moment of truth in building a national consensus to prevent the re-emergence of rightist forces in Japanese politics.
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