Pushing back on JapanInternational politics is, in the end, a competition among global powers.
Germany’s repeated and heart-felt apologies for its wartime misdeeds are not because Germans are angels, but because of Germany’s security. During the Cold War, Germany was in a desperate situation. Its western side was surrounded by France, the United Kingdom and United States, while its east was surrounded by the empire of the Soviet Union. In that situation, denying responsibility for starting World War II and the Holocaust would have been suicide.
The realistic Germans made a quick decision. They decided to repent thoroughly and obtain full membership into Europe to allow its economy to thrive. This is the background to how Germany rose from the ashes to become the largest economic power in Europe.
Japan is different. Although it is as guilty of war crimes as Germany, its geopolitical situation was not as tough as that of Germany. Korea was a country with an economy less than one-twentieth of its economy, while China was nothing more than a third-world country behind a wall of bamboo, captured by the madness of Maoism.
The Soviet Union was focused on Europe and had no time to pay attention to Japan. In contrast to Germany, Japan has become a shameless denier of its own past misdeeds, because it can afford to.
The United States is interesting. After punishing the leaders of Germany and Japan through war crime trials, the United States helped develop their economies and made them bastions of the fight against communism.
But it showed different approaches to the two countries’ pasts. It endlessly reminded Germany of the sins of the Nazis. Movies about the German military’s defeat and the Holocaust are favorites of Hollywood producers. Up until a few years ago, there was still a question on the U.S. visa application asking a foreigner if he or she was ever linked to Nazi Germany.
But the United States was not obsessed with the wartime responsibilities of Japan. Other than the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, it is hard to find examples of the United States reminding Japan of its sins. Americans prefer to celebrate the joys of sushi and ramen shops.
Why do these differences exist? Perhaps because the roots of the United States are in Europe and the war against Germany left a stronger memory. But the larger reason is the power of the Jewish-American population in the United States. Their efforts to remind future generations of Nazi Germany’s sins and the Holocaust are far beyond our imagination. An official of a Jewish organization in the United States once flew to Seoul and demanded an author revise a comic book, complaining that it described Jews negatively.
Unfortunately, there is no such warrior fighting against Japan’s lack of contrition and dog-whistle appeals to militarism. Although Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe paid respects at the Yasukuni Shrine, the U.S. State Department expressed disappointment and let it go. Abe’s visit amounted to a German chancellor paying respect to a cathedral in which Hitler is buried — if there was one. But the U.S. response was tepid at best.
Of course, veterans of the Pacific War are opposing Japan’s attempts to revise its history, but they are not as powerful as the Jewish-American lobby, and their influence is inevitably weak. And now, Japan is inviting U.S. President Barack Obama to Hiroshima so that it can play victim, a role it enjoys, in the most exaggerated way. If this situation continues, Japan may say its attack on Pearl Harbor was triggered by the United States and that it is unjust to hold them accountable for the Pacific War.
If this happens, the United States will suffer. By allowing Japan to reverse the postwar order established under the initiative of the United States, it will destroy Pax Americana in Northeast Asia. That would also be a disaster for Korea, which suffered the most under Japan’s imperialism. If Japan manages to deodorize its history with U.S. approval, Japan will act even more shamelessly toward us.
Therefore, we must implore the United States see the Korean, Chinese and Philippine view of Japan’s rising military might. The so-called comfort women issue is important, but bringing up a bilateral matter between Korea and Japan won’t bring an active U.S. response. A person gives priority to an issue that concerns his or her own interests, and so does a country.
It is necessary to highlight how Japan’s efforts to rewrite its past affects the United States. We must show how Abe’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine was an attempt to dodge responsibility for the Pacific War. We must make the United States realize that Japan is directly violating U.S. interests so that the United States will be moved to directly stop Japan’s unreasonable behavior.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 16, Page 28
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.