Tripartite talks needed
What can’t Japan just face up squarely to its war crimes? Germany has done it quite commendably. Do the Germans have more conscience than the Japanese? In Nanjing, China, Japanese militarists killed more than 300,000 civilians, raped women and destroyed a third of the ancient city. But the Germans were even more horrible, massacring 6 million Jews without blinking an eye.
After the war, Japanese political scholars were engrossed with the study of fascism - why and what had caused the militarists and politicians to wage a high-stakes war. They also probed why Japan was disappointing in its apology and earning forgiveness from the countries on which it had inflicted unspeakable suffering.
First of all, the Germans had the obvious culprit and scapegoat - the Nazis. The majority of Germans were able to show penitence and implore forgiveness by insisting they had been brainwashed by a fanatic group of Nazi leaders. Nazi leaders indeed had all been pathologically sick. Adolf Hitler had been identified as a neurotic psychopath with multiple psychological and physical problems. Military leader Hermann Goering was a morphine addict and Heinrich Himmler, the military commander most directly responsible for the Holocaust, is said to have had sexuality issues.
Japan was different. Ultranationalism had permeated deeply in the bureaucratic and military communities by the early 20th century. They were top elites, educated and groomed at Tokyo University and Military Academy. They nevertheless planned and carried out ruthless aggression and wars.
Second, the Japanese tend to place a higher priority on communal will than on an individual’s. The war criminals during their trials all said their actions were inevitable. They implied that they had only followed orders and the general mood and opinion of the time. Nazi leaders were horrendous and ruthless, but not cowardly. Goering said he pushed ahead with the merger with Australia defying even Hitler and shouldered the full blame.
Third, Japan militarists were blindly bound to uphold and promulgate the glory of the emperor. They hypnotized themselves with the belief that their utmost purpose in life was to display and glorify the power of their leader. Military guards tried for torturing prisoners offered the same excuses. They insisted they had treated them well. They forgot they had kicked and stepped on them habitually with their heavy boots. They elaborated on how they worked to keep up the facility. They deluded themselves to believe their treatment of prisoners was justified for the cause of demonstrating the emperor’s authority. Iwane Matsui, commander of the Shanghai Expeditionary Army during the trial for his involvement in the Nanjing Massacre, casually said the war with China came from brotherly love to discipline the younger brother to be better and right. It was his excuse for killing innocent civilians.
As long as such self-delusion roosts in the Japanese psychology we cannot expect a sincere and forthright acknowledgment, penitence, and apology. Even after nationalist Prime Minister Shinzo Abe steps down, things won’t be much different. Even conscience-stricken people in Japan say there is no chance of the Japanese government outright and officially apologizing for the enslavement of Asian women in military brothels.
The territorial dispute over the Dokdo islets is no different. Prominent Hong Kong-based Chinese historian Feng Xuerong recently posted a piece on the Internet titled “Five Great Jokes on Chinese history,” lampooning Chinese nationalists.
Joke 1: “I can be anti-imperialist, but you can’t be independent.” Beijing vehemently claims any independent movement by the Mongolian people is illegal; in actuality, Mongolia was never Chinese territory.
Joke 2: “I can fight on your territory, but you can’t fight on mine.” China sent troops to Vietnam and Korea and yet insists it never invaded.
Joke 3: “What’s yours is mine and has been since ancient times.” The scholar reminded us that China had continually been expanding throughout its history and although it claims Taiwan as its own, there is no piece of this planet that has always belonged to any one country.
Joke 4: “I can bully you, but you can’t bully me.” China presents itself as a peace-loving nation, but it had always pursued imperialism and only failed because of internal disorder. It ruled over Korea throughout history. If Japan’s rule over Korea is not right, was the Qing controlling Korea any more right? he asked.
Joke 5: “I’m always right, but I don’t know why.” Ordinary Chinese say they hate the Japanese because they are trying to take the Daioyu islets. But few know why. The scholar advises them to keep their mouths shut if they cannot prove the territory is theirs.
How is Korea any different in the territorial dispute with Japan? How many can cite historical facts to confidently claim sovereignty over the rocky islets in the East Sea? They would all say it doesn’t matter because they are rightfully theirs and therefore need no reasoning. How can Korea win the argument with such naivete? One expert on Japan compares Korea’s disputes with Japan over history and territory to adult chronic diseases. They cannot be entirely cured and need to be watched and fought throughout life. To insist the issues must be settled before any progress in bilateral relations is more or less choosing to stay hostile to Japan forever.
Anti-Japanese sentiment has been aggravated since nationalist leader Abe came to office. China is more vehement. A poll early this year showed 74 percent of Koreans dislike Japanese, while the rate was 83 percent for Chinese in a separate poll. Beijing sought to mend ties through summit talks last month. It could not shun Japan longer due to economic interests.
Korea too should think about two-track policy toward Japan by separating political and economic issues. There are concerns that Korea could be isolated in the realignment of order in East Asia. But there is still a way out. Seoul could initiate tripartite summit talks with Beijing and Tokyo. It would be both a face-saving and practical choice. Otherwise, Korea could face foggy weather on the foreign front.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 6, Page 32
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Nam Jeong-ho
More in Columns
With Lee behind bars
No gray zone anymore
Clues on Biden’s foreign policy
Losing the vaccine race
The problem is internal division