Social media is alight every August with comments ranging from educational to pure hate speech (“Anniversary of surrender marked with speeches and prayers” in the Aug. 16 edition). Seventy-one years later, the war still elicits strong opinions, some fact-based and some social media myths. As I read the posts I was thinking of a Japanese university professor who told me how some of his students described the difference between patriotism and nationalism. One student suggested, “A patriot loves his country enough to die for it.” Another said, “A nationalist loves his country enough to hate other peoples and countries for it.”

The 20-year period from Manchuria in 1931 through the return of the last POWs from the Siberian slave camps in 1952 bled 99 percent of the “nationalism” out of Japan and 85 percent of the “patriotism” as well. Today, Japan has the highest sense of pacifism and the lowest sense of patriotism of any country in the world.

Not just the elderly, but generations of Japanese who never experienced the war period, cannot easily show any love of country. The differences you see in this area between Japan and China, India, Korea, the United States or even Germany are striking.

This reluctance is seen in some schoolteachers who refuse to show the Japanese flag or play the national anthem at formal ceremonies. Why? My belief is there is shared sense of guilt that is associated with any symbols of patriotism that has been passed down to the younger generations.

Some say this is just because Japanese see themselves as victims. But as shown in the posts to The Japan Times story on the Aug. 15 memorial, victims feel angry and unforgiving. The guilt that is embedded in the Japanese psyche and causes all generations to avoid signs of patriotism and instead exhibit a strong sense of pacifism comes from a rarely spoken sense of fear.

At a basic cultural level, Japanese fear a loss of control. And beginning in the 1920s, a national loss of control led to “patriotism” turning into “nationalism.”

Following the war, Japanese have collectively pledged to never lose control ever again. And that fear, embedded in our cultural DNA, is why Japanese will never be a threat to any of its neighbors ever again. That fear will surface and guide discussions on any future changes to our Constitution.


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.

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