The grace of Murayama

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The grace of Murayama

A photo of former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt epitomizes how Germans recognize the shameful chapter of their aggression-ridden past. On a rainy December day in Warsaw 44 years ago, he knelt down at the monument to victims of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and repented for what the Nazis had done to them. A German leader’s efforts led to the country’s compensation for the victimized laborers through the Foundation for Remembrance, Responsibility and Future.

A similar moment in which former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama begged former Korean “comfort women” to take care of their health on a visit to the National Assembly Tuesday reflected a deeply conscientious voice from Japan. It would have been much better if a high-ranking official of the Shinzo Abe cabinet had done that. While in office in 1995, Murayama apologized for Japan’s invasion and colonization of Korea through the now-famous Murayama Statement. He also spearheaded the establishment of the Asian Women’s Fund to compensate the victims for their pains. Murayama said Abe’s cabinet members should step down if they ever denounced his own statement, alluding to Abe’s flip-flops despite his pledge to follow up his predecessor’s statement with one of his own.

At a Diet session Wednesday, Abe threatened to counter Korea’s attempt to “enumerate wrongful facts and slander Japan.” The stunning gap in history perception between a former prime minister like Murayama and the man in power now shows the shameful retreat of decency and contrition in Japan and the fetid blossoming of its conservatives. When asked by his peers in the Diet about his intention to supplant the Murayama Statement with one of his own, Abe answered the question by arbitrarily ignoring Japan’s aggressions and colonial rule of Korea. The world’s suspicions of Abe’s “assertive pacifism” primarily stem from such a self-centered, twisted view of all that’s right and all that was wrong in Japan’s past.

The Murayama Statement is one of the pillars of Seoul-Tokyo relations along with the 1993 Kono Statement, which apologized for the mobilization of “comfort women” during World War II. That led to the 1998 Joint Declaration between President Kim Dae-jung and Keizo Obuchi to open a new era of Korea-Japan ties. If Abe had respected the spirit of the two earlier statements, our bilateral ties would not have worsened.

The comfort women issue could be a starting point for resolving the current confrontation. Both sides have already made a compromise on the compensation issue before. We hope Murayama’s trip paves the way for healing the victims’ pain and restoring bilateral ties.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 14, Page 30
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