[TODAY]There’s something about Japan

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[TODAY]There’s something about Japan

Germany already has many monuments to the Jewish people who were the victims of the Third Reich’s Holocaust. And yet its government is building another one: a memorial park in the center of its capital, Berlin, in a location equivalent to Seoul’s Sejong-ro. Germany also continues to educate its children about the crimes that their grandfathers committed against the Jewish people.
In December of 1970, Germany’s prime minister at the time, Willy Brandt, got down on his knees at the site of the notorious Warsaw Ghetto in Poland and apologized for the savagery of the Nazis. Yet the current prime minister, Gerhard Schroeder, recently apologized once again to the Jewish people, this time on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
The German people constantly reflect upon their horrific past. It seems to be part of their everyday lives. This attitude contrasts sharply with that of the Japanese, who complain that they should not have to apologize to Korea for its crimes every time a new prime minister takes office.
Hoping for a memorial in Tokyo’s Ginza or Shinjuku for the Korean laborers and “comfort women” enslaved by imperial Japan, or for the people in Nanjing, China,who were massacred by the Japanese army, is like hoping that the sun will rise in the west. Germany was a partner in the fascist axis of World War II with Japan and Mussolini’s Italy, but there is something that makes Germany different from Japan.
Ian Buruma, a Dutch writer and journalist, studied how the people of Germany and the people of Japan remember their countries’ brutal deeds of the 1930s and 1940s, and published the results in a 1994 book called “The Wages of Guilt.”
“Since the late nineteenth century, Japan had often looked to Germany as a model [for modernization],” Mr. Buruma writes. “The curious thing was that much of what attracted Japanese to Germany before the war ― Prussian authoritarianism, romantic nationalism, pseudo-scientific racialism ― had lingered in Japan while becoming distinctly unfashionable in Germany.”
Mr. Buruma writes that Germany did its best to get rid of the remnants of Nazism, such as its military spirit and its ethos of racial purity and sacrifice for the nation. But Japan did not. Quite the contrary, he writes, the Japanese are nostalgic for the days of their alliance with Germany, while the Germans are ashamed of those times.
Is the difference a cultural one or a political one? Mr. Buruma sees it as political. “There are no dangerous peoples; there are only dangerous situations, which are the result, not of laws of nature or history, or of national character, but of political arrangements.”
Japanese ministers are politicians. The country’s minister of culture and its minister of foreign affairs, who repeatedly strike at the old wounds of the Korean and Chinese people with their absurd remarks, are politicians. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who takes sadistic pleasure in continually provoking Korea and China by worshipping at the Yasukuni Shrine, is their boss.
I think it makes sense to say that Japan’s moral insensitivity about the past is actually a political problem. Former Prime Minister Kishi Nobusuke was a Class A war criminal, and his grandson, Abe Shinzo, is leading Japan’s right-wing political faction at the moment.
But it is political culture that moves politics, and political culture derives from a country’s level of consciousness and intelligence. In other words, it is based on cultural literacy. In 1951, General Douglas MacArthur characterized Japan as having the mentality of a 12-year-old child. Japan has no thinkers like Germany’s Goethe, who inherited Europe’s Enlightenment tradition of humanism, nor writers like Thomas Mann, who sought refuge abroad from Nazi tyranny.
As an economic power, Japan’s problem is its intellectual backwardness. The way Japanese politicians talk leads us to believe that the country suffers from problems of mental, cultural and intellectual development. Japan is depriving itself of the chance to be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
So, in dealing with such a country, how should we address the problems of Dokdo and the history textbooks? In the case of Dokdo, it will be sufficient to continue our de facto occupation of the islands.
As for the textbooks, the narrow-minded, old-fashioned mindset that drives those historical distortions will lose its ground if channels of communication expand and diversify between the two countries, especially within the young, Internet-using generation. Judging from the fact that the Japanese right-wing saw it as a crisis when the country’s young people got caught up in the “Korean wave,” historical truth would definitely seem to be on our side.

* The writer is an adviser and senior columnist at the JoongAng Ilbo.


by Kim Young-hie

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