[Viewpoint]Approach Japan with a cool headRepresentative Mike Honda of California, who submitted a resolution on the comfort women issue to the United States Congress, is a third-generation Japanese-American. Even so, he has put forth lots of energy in shaming Japan. Why? He said it’s because of his painful childhood memories.
Immediately after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States sent every Japanese-American living in the United States to concentration camps. Mike, age 1, was taken along with his family to Colorado. When he turned 7 and understood things better, his father said to him, “Don’t forget that they are aiming a machine gun at you just because you are Japanese-American. Though they returned to their hometown in 1953, Mr. Honda’s family had to work every day on a strawberry farm. Mr. Honda said that at that time, he came to believe that “regardless of skin color and race, all people’s human rights should be respected.”
He asked a favor of Korean-Americans: Don’t let Korean politicians come forward to meet him. He said, “I cannot turn down Japanese lobbyists’ requests to meet me if I accept Korean politicians’ offers.”
He said Korean politicians visiting the United States of late have asked to meet them. Mr. Honda may be a person they should thank. They may just want to encourage him to continue his work regarding the comfort women. But the reality is that their involvement may bring totally unexpected results.
Mr. Honda defines the comfort women issues as a violation of human dignity. That is why the United States should take care of the issue, even though it is outside the country’s national boundaries, he argues. Japan wants to prevent the United States from intervening in the decades-old dispute between Korea and Japan.
What would happen if our politicians came forward? They might end up helping the Japanese government. In retrospect, there were many occasions when our foreign relations relied on “emotional diplomacy.”
In 2004, when the U.S. Congress passed an “act about North Korean human rights,” the Korean Parliament pursued a resolution against the act about North Korean human rights. This move produced adverse effects. The U.S. representatives were displeased with Korea’s intervention. Even Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, who has a deep understanding about South Korea, warned, “It would be of no help for South Korea to send opposing opinions continuously.”
There are signs that a similar situation will be repeated over the resolution on the comfort women issue. As American politicians are about to pass the resolution, Korean lawmakers, resentful of Japan’s attitude, have begun to move. In a recent meeting, they announced a statement asking the Japanese government to stop trying to hinder the U.S. House of Representatives from voting on the resolution. But their statement will not be of any help to the passage of the resolution. At present, we have to bear in mind what Thomas Jefferson said, “Count to 10 before you open your mouth when you are angry and count to 100 when you are really angry.”
Perhaps by coincidence, there has been controversy over the possible historical distortions in the novel, “So Far from the Bamboo Grove” by Yoko Kawashima Watkins. Watching this controversy, I could not but think that Koreans are at times swept by emotion. When the content of an interview with the writer was posted on the JoongAng Ilbo Web site, some Internet users are said to have protested, asking why this daily newspaper posted her excuses. But even criminals condemned to death should be given a chance to defend themselves.
There is an old saying, “Dry up an entire pond to catch fish,” which emphasizes how important the specific method used is toward achieving something. The same goes for diplomacy toward Japan. If we push ahead depending only on our emotions, there will be huge side effects.
“The Modern and Contemporary History of People” published by the Japanese History Educators Association included our patriot Ahn Jung-geun who assassinated Ito Hirobumi, who led the colonization of Joseon, among 80 famous figures. The book even says that the prison guards were moved by Mr. Ahn’s personality and patriotism.
There may be more than a few Japanese people who have a distorted view of history like Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister who denied the forced mobilization of comfort women. But there are also many learned Japanese intellectuals who respect Mr. Ahn. What if we, swept by emotion, should even lose the hearts of these learned people? Now is the time to exercise cool diplomacy with Japan.
*The writer is the New York correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Nam Jung-ho