[FOUNTAIN]Japan honors a troubling war symbol

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[FOUNTAIN]Japan honors a troubling war symbol

Lately, the Japanese have been fascinated by a legendary warship. The battleship Yamato was the world’s largest and most advanced military vessel at the time of World War II.
The Yamato was completed on December 16, 1941, eight days after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. The 72,809-ton, 263-meter-long warship could reach a speed of 27 knots, or about 50 kilometers (31 miles) per hour, and was armed with nine 46-centimeter guns.
The Yamato was the best battleship in the world at the time, and the most technologically advanced. The Japanese government spent 150 million yen ― two percent of the national budget, at the time ― to assure that it had the most cutting-edge equipment. The apex of Japanese technology, it was the symbol of a wealthy nation and a powerful military.
The Yamato was designed according to the principle that the best war vessel was the biggest one, and the one with the most guns. Its main guns, which could hit a target at 42 kilometers, had unchallenged power to destroy enemies from a distance.
But in modern naval battles, long-range guns are virtually meaningless. The result of a naval battle depends on whether fighters launched from aircraft carriers can dominate the sky. And so the Yamato failed to live up to its expectations.
The Yamato was finally sent to Okinawa on a suicide mission, with only enough fuel to take it one way. It was sunk by 380 U.S. fighters. Only 276 of its 3,300 crew members survived. The Japanese say the Yamato crewmen “fell as flowers,” meaning that they met heroic deaths after fighting gloriously. Thus were the death throes of imperialist madness cleverly packaged as a tale of heroism.
Last Thursday was the 60th anniversary of the sinking of the Yamato. To mark the occasion, Japanese media ran Yamato specials, mostly tinged with nostalgia. Some even appealed to patriotism. On April 23, the Yamato Museum will open in the port of Kure in Hiroshima prefecture, where the battleship was built. The 1/10-scale model of the Yamato has become the darling of the Japanese isles. In an effort to capitalize on the boom, a movie about the battleship, titled “Otokotachino Yamato,” is being made.
In remembering the Yamato, many Japanese say they are repenting for the war. But then why resurrect what is nothing less than a symbol of imperialism? Are they sorry about invading their neighbors, or about losing the battle? I worry that Japan might lose its sense of direction, and develop a determination not to lose the next war.

by Nahm Yoon-ho

The writer is head of the family affairs team at the JoongAng Ilbo.
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