[TODAY] History as a Softer Form of AggressionDon't Expect Japanese Nationalism to Dwindle; Younger Generations Are Yet More Hawkish
I met high-ranking sources in Tokyo last week who defined Japan's history textbook issue as an "eternal problem between Korea and Japan." Unfortunately, theirs is an accurate perception of the disputes over distortions of history in Japanese textbooks.
Japan's rightists claim controversial details in the history textbook in question were revised insofar as possible. But from Korea and China's point of view, many of the poisonous articles remain. It seems the gap between the perpetrator and victims of history will not be further bridged.
Despite Japan's claims that Korea's and China's protests were amply taken into consideration, the new history text, whose entirety will come to light at the end of this month, will become a time bomb in Korean-Japanese relations, depending on our reaction.
The new textbook still maintains that world powers supported Japan's annexation of Korea as a contribution to stability in Asia. This is a bitter pill Koreans cannot swallow. It is a softened act of ag-gression with a new weapon called historical description. A conservative intellectual who participated in the textbook review insisted, "Sincere efforts were made to revise the parts concerning Korea. The revisions should be enough for the textbook to pass muster."
Japan's position can be summarized as follows: "There can be no more revisions to the history textbook. It will be officially approved in the current form. The matter had better be put behind us for the future of Japan-Korea and Japan-China relations."
But relations between Korea and Japan are now poised, due to the textbook fray, to degenerate to the pre-1995 years. In 1995, the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, Socialist Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama issued a statement of apology for Japan's past acts of aggression, and the Japanese Diet also adopted a resolution expressing remorse. This helped pave the way for President Kim Dae-jung and Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi to adopt a declaration of partnership in 1998, which seemed to signal a honeymoon period between the two countries.
And now comes this kickback. Is the entire Japan veering to the right? But then, Japan has always been a conservative nation since the Meiji era, the result of emperor deification coupling with the nationalism that has always been a part of Japan, and is now developing into ultra-nationalism. Also in the backdrop are the progressive forces' joining hands with the Liberal Democratic Party after the collapse of socialism; the unions and socialists' fear of being left behind, and the rebellion against the nation's inability to hold its ground against the United States.
Would Japan's ultra-nationalism vanish and Japan come to terms with its past when there is a generational change? Not likely. A Tokyo source well-versed in Japanese issues said the younger generations are even more nationalistic, and recalled the stringent opposition by the Liberal Democratic Party's younger members to the Diet's 1995 resolution expressing remorse.
Japanese politicians have made insulting gaffes over history in the past, as they still do today, and they will continue to do so in the future. While there might be leaders like Mr. Murayama who offer "heartfelt" regrets for the past, there never will be a leader who will fall to his knees in apology as West Germany's former Chancellor Willy Brandt did in tribute to those killed by the Nazis.
Haruki Wada, a historian and honorary professor at Tokyo University, gave compelling reasons for Japan's failure to cleanly liquidate its past as Germany did. Germany only had to atone for the brief Nazi rule, but for Japan to truly repent its past, it has to reject its entire modern history, from the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) to 1945 when the World War II ended. The emperor system kept alive after Japan's defeat poses an insurmountable barrier to the nation's atoning for its past. Japan can liquidate the past only to a certain extent.
So what should we do? Nothing seems feasible. We could clamor with the logic used repeatedly over the past decades, but that won't help to revise the remaining distortions in the textbook. Japan's right-wing camp is secretly hoping for Korea and China to lodge protests that it might find useful in lobbying for the textbook adoption.
And we cannot look forward to intervention from the shaky cabinet led by Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. There is little chance of the situation improving, since even the respected daily, Yomiuri Shim-bun, came out with the incredible statement that "comfort women," as they are called, were recruited for labor during wartime, and that the allegations of their forcible conscription as sexual slaves are distortions of history.
It seems the only choice left to us, as long as we lack a prevailing logic and the means to appeal to the inmost heart of the Japanese, is to consider taking a realistic line. The progressive forces in Japan may put up a good fight to resist the textbook's approval, but if it is obvious that no more revisions will be made, then our anguish has to focus on the future course of our ties with Japan.
The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
More in Editorials
Arrogance on display
Surreal real estate policies
Going against the Constitution
Don’t bend the rules
Praising themselves to the sky