Focusing on the future
In mid-March, a prisoner of war advocacy group issued a statement regarding Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s address before a joint session of U.S. Congress. The American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society, which support the Japanese military’s POWs during the Pacific War, sent a written statement to Congress, demanding an apology from Prime Minister Abe on his nation’s past war crimes.
Eight days later on March 26, the U.S. Department of Defense posted a video related to the Pacific War on YouTube through its official homepage. The contents of the video seem to refute the POW group’s claims. The DoD published the video “Iwo Jima - Once Enemies, Now Friends,” featuring American veterans visiting Iwo Jima, where intense battles were fought during World War II, and reconciling with Japan. An aging veteran said, “We were former enemies, but now we are friends.”
The video was uploaded not long after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey visited Japan and told Prime Minister Abe, “The kizuna between us has never been stronger.”
Kizuna is a Japanese word meaning a bond.
On April 11, U.S. President Barack Obama attended the Organization of American States (OAS) summit in Panama City and met with Raul Castro, the President of the Council of State of Cuba. Before the meeting, Obama said, “The United States will not be imprisoned by the past. We are looking to the future.”
Two days before the meeting, Obama spoke at a university in Kingston, Jamaica, and said, “We will continue to have differences with the Cuban government, but we don’t want to be imprisoned by the past.”
Obama and the Department of Defense video address both Cuba and Japan, but their shared position is to focus on the future, not the past. U.S. Undersecretary of defense Wendy Sherman said, “It’s not hard for a political leader anywhere to earn cheap applause by vilifying a former enemy.” Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter said that the interests of the future are more important than the tensions of the past and the politics of the present.
In general, it may be common sense to prioritize the future over the past. But that common sense is quite uncomfortable for the Korean government when faced with an obstacle such as the Abe government’s denial of history. While we want to move forward to the future, Japan’s attempt to whitewash its wartime past could make Korea look like it is clinging to the past.
Korean foreign policy needs a strategy to break the dichotomy of the future or the past. We need to consistently and sophisticatedly persuade the international community that we are actually working to turn the Japanese government to the future from its return to the past. Korea has enough trouble internally, but the international situation surrounding our nation is just as complicated and worrisome.
*The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 18, Page 30
by CHAE BYUNG-GUN