[TODAY]Why Do They Glorify Their Self-Denial?

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[TODAY]Why Do They Glorify Their Self-Denial?

Ian Bruma, a London-based author from the Netherlands, is an authority on the comparative study of war memories of Japanese and Germans. In his classic book "The Wages of Guilt," Mr. Bruma relates an episode he experienced in Germany.

"In the summer of 1991 in Berlin, I went to a lecture on the psychoanalysis of the inability to mourn by Margarethe Mitscherlich, a well known psychologist. The lecture was about the psychology of Germans vis-a-vis the Nazi period. I expected an audience filling about half of the hall. But to my surprise, casually dressed young people were lined up to the end of the road waiting."

Mr. Bruma said, "Actually, that is not surprising at all. Germans try to revive memories of World War II; they research and agonize about the issue at schools, museums, lecture halls and on television and radio."

He notes that one cannot imagine that many people swarming an auditorium in downtown Tokyo if a Japanese psychologist were giving a lecture on the inability of the Japanese to mourn in regard to war memories. No Japanese has done what Willy Brandt did: The former West German chancellor and the main architect of Ostpolitik went down on his knees in a Warsaw Jewish ghetto to apologize for Nazi crimes.

The Japanese so far have mourned just once. That was on Aug.15, 1945, when their demigod emperor went on radio in person and surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Powers. But the Japanese people have never mourned for the 20 million Asian victims of the war planned and led by the 14 prominent war criminals now entombed at the notorious Yasukuni Shrine. How many Japanese have mourned for ruined lives of comfort women?

For Koreans, Chinese and other Asians, Japanese silence and inaction would have been a blessing. But Junichiro Koizumi, the Japanese prime minister, reopened Asian wounds by paying homage to Japanese war dead at Yasukuni, saying that his action was meant to commemorate war victims, oppose future wars and renew the Japanese pledge of peace.

It is ridiculous that Mr. Koizumi tried to get around the crux of the problem by changing the date of his visit to the shrine from Aug. 15 to Aug. 13. We were opposed to his visit to the shrine because the leader of Japan affirmed the righteousness of his country's actions by kneeling in front of a shrine that symbolizes Japanese militarism and nationalism. The crux of the problem is not in the timing of the visit but in the visit itself. When a prime minister pays homage at the shrine, it is a part of his official activities. The question of how the prime minister writes his title in a visitors book is just a silly diversion.

Mr. Koizumi said he wants to discuss with the leaders of Korea and China as soon as possible the peaceful development of the Asia-Pacific region. But Mr. Koizumi is a moron in international politics, insensitive to the expected stir in international affairs caused by the shrine visit while cleverly calculating the political gains among right-wing voters in his own country. He seems to be a politician without the vision and intellectual ability to discuss the big issues of peace and the future of Asia.

Max Weber, in a lecture called "Politics as a Vocation," said politicians who do not know how to judge events and humans objectively are "political dilettantes" under the rule of passion. That is a warning not to miss the big fish by focusing on the little ones. Mr. Koizumi, who is intoxicated by narrow nationalism, appears to be one of those political dilettantes.

The prime minster also ignored the advice of Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In a recent interview with Asahi Shinbun, Nye said nations possess "hardware power" and "software power," and if Japan continues to offend its neighboring countries, Japan's forte, its software power, will also weaken. Japan will certainly pay a price internationally for Mr. Koizumi's moral insensitivity.

We are sick and tired of asking why Japanese are not like the Germans. Maybe Japan is just not culturally and mentally the equal of Germany. It seems that Japan, which has concentrated on learning from Germany since the late 19th century, has only learned about Prussian militarism, not about the German ethic of soul-searching.

This is all very frustrating, but there are not many short-term prescriptions for a Korean response to Koizumi's cunning actions. Suspending various exchange programs with Japan is not an effective strategy, and there is no other leverage that will support hard line policies toward Japan. The Korean government may not have a choice other than waiting to see what measures Mr. Koizumi takes to make up for his parochial action that was extremely offensive to neighboring countries.


The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Young-hie

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