Countering the rightists, with the Japanese peopleThe Japanese rightists that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe leads want Koreans and Chinese to view Japan through their eyes and to resent Japan as a homogeneous entity. By projecting their xenophobia onto their targets, they aim at gaining a rhetoric that they’re shielding Japan from external hostility, thereby strengthening their internal political stance. Japan evidently is burdened with the yet unresolved humiliation of defeat at a war it started and the shame for the inhumane acts that the world knows it committed in the name of patriotism. Instead of resolutely facing up to the moral issues and bringing them to a closure, the Japanese right has opted to carry out an inconsistent and often absurd program of denial and rationalization featuring distortion of history, territorial disputes and denials of governmental responsibility for recorded wartime misdeeds.
The recent additions to the menu of rightist apologetics are a comparison of the Yasukuni Shrine with the Arlington National Cemetery and an argument that the use of “comfort women” was necessary to support the morale of its military.
Japan is a democracy. The right-wing came to power by vote and can be voted out of power. Its internal and external issues can be resolved only with a democratically reached collective decision.
Independently of the South Korean government’s diplomatic handling of the Japanese provocations, Korean people can contribute to an amelioration of their relationship with the Japanese people by letting them know that Koreans do not believe that Japan is wholly or optimally represented by its politicians on the right; that the Japanese people have a moral issue with their leadership on the right; that they have the support of Korean people in their own struggle for justice and expiation; that they have Japanese heroes of conscience to learn from - Japanese war pacifists like Uchimura Kanzo, Kagawa Toyohiko, Daisetz Suzuki, and Miki Kiyoshi; that Koreans want the two nations to be reconciled in a just and humane way and to commence a belated process of building a friendly and cooperative relationship in political, economic and cultural spheres. As is hoped, concerned civilian groups of the two nations, in academia, culture, religion and business, may launch a program of dialogue focused mutual understanding and resolution of conflicts that have deep roots in history and collective psyche.
* Professor of Philosophy at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio
By Kim Chin-tai