In October 2012, I gave a lecture titled “Post 3/11” at a university in Busan, South Korea. In the speech, I spoke of Germany’s clear policy shift away from nuclear power.

After the lecture, a student asked, “I wonder if the reason that Japan cannot abandon nuclear power even though Germany has decided to do so is because, compared with Germany, Japan has not reflected deeply enough on its wartime behavior.”

I gave an ambiguous response: The issue of dealing with nuclear power and reflecting on the war are two totally different matters and, moreover, Japan’s regret regarding its war is clearly apparent if you look at Japan’s postwar path as a peaceful nation. But I began to think that perhaps there are people who do not reflect at all on the war Japan waged.

When the prime minister visits Yasukuni Shrine to “pray for the souls of the war dead,” this could be regarded as him forgiving Class-A war criminals their crimes and exalting their souls as eirei, the spirits of the departed war heroes enshrined at Yasukuni.

If so, then it must be said that sufficient reflection over Japan’s war has not been conducted. This could not happen in Germany. If someone in Germany were to praise Adolf Hitler or the Nazis, they would be legally punished on the grounds that praising Hitler suggests a positive affirmation of the Holocaust.

After visiting Yasukuni Shrine, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that he “aspires for everlasting peace.”

However, since visiting Yasukuni Shrine itself is equivalent to praising the souls of Class-A war criminals, his behavior indicates the glorification of war while at the same time seeking peace.

The contradiction here perfectly exemplifies his lack of sincere reflection on war, especially Japan’s wars in the 1930s and ’40s.

The reason that many people do not appear to see this discrepancy is the “narrow nationalism” that is blinding them.

Narrow nationalism led prewar Japan down the path of colonial rule and war. It denies the existence of other countries and instead treats them only as tools for realizing the aim of one’s own country, because narrow nationalism claims that only one’s own country is pre-eminent while all others are inferior. Nationalistic fervor and “intoxication” flourish in these mentalities.

Although German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel is ridiculed for incarnating nationalism in himself, he clearly states that “patriotism” is not inclined toward extreme devotion or behavior, and that enthusiasm is a mere “illusion.”

For him, patriotism meant maintaining an “attitude”characterized by the understanding that the “ground” of one’s self-identity is based on one’s nation. Although narcissistic narrow nationalism can certainly be seen as an extension of this attitude, Hegel definitely denies this. For me, Abe’s visit to Yasukuni Shrine is the modern representation of the narcissistic nationalism that prevailed in prewar and wartime Japan.

Abe says that visiting Yasukuni Shrine is his public pledge. Yet, to whom has this pledge been made? It is only directed at those who, in “nation-centered logic,” ask “What is wrong with enshrining people who gave their lives for our country?”

If visiting Yasukuni Shrine is a pledge to be fulfilled, this indicates the existence of narrow-minded nationalists as an actual political force.

Anyone can have his own nationalism, including me. But “our” nationalism must not be the narrow kind. It must not forget the existence and rights of other countries; one’s own nation is nothing without others.

Just as other countries exist through mutual recognition, one’s own country also exists through recognition by others. This is the same relationship as that between “I” and “you.”

In short, each nation exists by reciprocal recognition; the existence of other countries is absolutely essential for the existence of one’s own nation.

It is, therefore, clear that no country can survive with only its own nation-centered logic. Narrow nationalism judges right and wrong through its own national logic; this should be called “intoxication.” This rigid mindset forms the source of collapse of any nation.

Let me call “our” nationalism “broad nationalism.” This views constitutional pacifism — which honestly reflects on Japan’s wars in the 1930s and ’40s — as a national principle.

Pacifism is not a superficial ornament; it is the norm to be lived daily. The norm is patience, and a patient mind is the only way to bring peace.

Imagine when the Imperial Japanese Army threatened villages in another country. The villagers did not know what these invaders with guns would do. Imagine their fear. After people were shot and killed, imagine the hatred their families felt for the invaders.

Legal settlements after the war can never ease these emotions. The emotion of hatred, which has been so long suppressed, has now come to the fore.

In other words, the postwar process has moved from the first stage of legal aspects to the second stage of emotional aspects.

I believe that for this second stage to be completed, we need patience and time to withstand the stormy days to come. This is our responsibility for the misconduct of our ancestors.

These wounds will not heal as easily as we may think. This second stage must be dealt with through broad nationalism. It is here where Japan’s “pacifism” is being tested.

Hirotaka Yamauchi is a professor of philosophy at the Graduate School of Letters, Hiroshima University.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.