Apology still a distant dream“During a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations,” said the 1995 statement issued by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.
In October 1998, Korean President Kim Dae-jung and then Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi adopted the joint declaration titled “A New Korea-Japan Partnership Toward the 21st Century.” “Looking back on the relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea during this century, Prime Minister Obuchi regarded in a spirit of humility the fact of history that Japan caused, during a certain period in the past, tremendous damage and suffering to the people of the Republic of Korea through its colonial rule, and expressed his deep remorse and heartfelt apology for this fact,” it said.
Despite the Japanese government’s official apologies in the past, a strange mood has been detected in Japan recently. Fueled by the revisionist historical view of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, some in Japan say Korea and China are making unreasonable demands for remorse and apology, worsening anti-Korea and anti-China sentiments in Japan and making reconciliation more difficult. Even some moderate academics in Japan are agreeing with this position, and it is worrisome.
First, Japanese scholars presented their argument based on a comparative point of view. The Netherlands colonized Indonesia for more than 300 years, Great Britain colonized India for 90 years and France ruled Vietnam for 60 years, but none of them ever expressed remorse, apology and restitution in official documents, they said.
Japan, in contrast, expressed its remorse and apology and paid restitution, but Korea is repeatedly raising the issue and that is unacceptable, they argued. In other words, they ask why Japan is being called to task.
They also repeatedly point to the argument that the situation has already been concluded legally. They said Japan’s legal responsibilities involving the Pacific War were concluded by the San Francisco Peace Treaty, thus it is improper to discuss them any further. Because Japan signed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship with China and the Treaty on Basic Relations with Korea, Japan especially bears no further responsibilities, they argue, pointing to international practices.
Furthermore, Japan also tried to use German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s idea that the moral worth of an action is determined by its motive. Nazi Germany’s war was a planned invasion, but Japan was forced to start a war for the peace and prosperity of East Asia, they contend.
“Indeed, we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to insure Japan’s self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement,” Emperor Hirohito said in his speech announcing the surrender of Japan.
The Japanese seemed to argue that although the consequence of the war and invasion are problematic, the motive can be justified.
There is another argument for pragmatism. From the perspective of the law of the jungle and anarchical international order, Japan’s action was absolutely normal, they argue.
Kanji Nishio argued that Japan, in return for the international approval of annexation of Korea, recognized U.S. rule over the Philippines and France’s rule over Indochina and signed an agreement that it will send troops if the British rule over India is threatened. He said that if the annexation of Korea is a crime, Britain is an accomplice and the United States an accessory. If Japan had not colonized Korea, Korea would have become a Russian territory, he added.
Although those arguments seemed absurd to the ears of Koreans, they often enjoyed public support inside Japan. But in the case of Nazi Germany, it had not colonized its neighbors, although it did invade neighboring European countries. It is difficult to justify the action of colonizing friendly neighbors that had long shared Confucian culture.
The argument on the legal closure is also difficult to accept. Although the annexation was forceful, Japan argued that it was based on an agreement. The issue of the sexual slavery of Korean women was also omitted. The treaty was not based on the whole historical truth, but Japan insists it is the final agreement. The Korean people cannot accept this.
The Japanese people’s argument that its motive was innocent is also a convenient interpretation that only serves its own interest, and its neighbors are not agreeing with it. The argument of the pragmatism is also hard to win the neighbors’ support. Recognizing the international order based on the law of the jungle will indicate that the situation can recur anytime. Only when Japan shows strong disapproval of the ideas and promotes the true peace, then it can earn trust and respect from its neighbors.
It seems like too late to expect Japan’s expression of deep remorse and heartfelt apology over its past aggression and colonial rule of its neighbors. The Japanese people’s sentiment casts an extremely dark shadow over the future of East Asia.
It seems impossible to find a way to get past Japan’s endless efforts at self-justification to improve Korea-Japan relations. Failing to find closure for the 20th century is a tragedy of the 21st.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 16, Page 31
*The author is a political science professor at Yonsei University.
by Moon Chung-in