Friday, 2 March 2007

Japan still denying history

Circa 45 years ago, World War II-era Japan was expanding into what it hoped would be come an empire. The fascist-like military-led government, with the symbolic emperor at the top, was yearning for three things: land, iron ore, and oil. The latter two would allow the Japanese to industrialize more, and land is a commodity everyone wants — hold the radioactive Chernobyl and Yucca Mountain sites.

Japan has been all-too-modest over the WWII atrocities the former regime committed. One notable incident and constant source of tension between Japan and the lands it invaded in the late 1930s and early 1940s is the Nanking Massacre in Nanjing, China. The incident, also known as the Rape of Nanking, occurred when Japanese soldiers slaughtered somewhere between 150,000 and (the more likely) 300,000 civilians and raped tens of thousands of women in late 1937.

Recent controversies include the now-former Japanese Prime Minister visiting a shrine commemorating Japan's soldiers in the Second World War, as well as Japan's denial of incidents in school textbooks, for instance. As a note: the shrine incidents were ruled by a Japanese court as overstepping the bounds of state and religion; and provoked furor from South Korea and China time and time again.

So what has the Japanese government — still under conservative rule — done now to anger neighbors, historian, and most of the rest of us? Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has explicitly denied the Japanese military forced women into sex slavery, even though that directly contradicts and defies historical evidence as well as previous government reports.

"There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it," Abe told reporters Thursday. "So, in respect to this declaration, you have to keep in mind that things have changed greatly."

His remarks came as the U.S. House of Representatives has begun debating a resolution that would call on Tokyo to "apologize for and acknowledge" the military's role in wartime sex slavery.

But at the same time, in keeping a trend to revise Japan's history, a group of conservatives in the governing Liberal Democratic Party is stepping up calls to rescind the 1993 declaration.
That was the declaration by the Japanese government that admitted the sexual slavery and apologized, albeit poorly, to the women.
A nationalist who long led efforts to revise wartime history, Abe softened his tone after becoming prime minister last autumn. In fact, he at first said that he recognized the validity of the declaration, angering his conservative base.
Historians contend that about 200,000 women — Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipinos, Japanese, Dutch and Europeans — served in Japanese military brothels. For decades, Japan has denied that its military had been involved.

That denial changed a bit after 1992-3, but, as evident from everything from political statements to school books, Japan has a long way to go in accepting history.

No one not involved is to blame, but it is the government's responsibility to history and the its neighbors — the victims — to fess up to the despicable crimes of the past. In no way should people use negative stereotypes on the Japanese as is still done with Germans, because those same people are just as bad at accepting history than the Holocaust and war-crimes deniers.

How does Abe think siding with the history-denying Japanese far-right will help him? Abe's ratings have been taking a series of hits lately, not least following the row over the health minister calling women "birth-giving machines".

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