Monday, July 16, 2007

Warning Flashes between Japan and America: Comfort Women and Atomic Bomb

Currently, Japan reconsiders postwar pacifism, and steps toward more active role in the world. As stated in twice-published Armitage Report, the United States is willing to accommodate Japan’s aspiration for becoming a “normal country”, being able to use power and join collective security arrangements with other US allies. However, recent recommendation on Korean comfort women at US House and a remark on atomic bomb by Japanese Defense Minister Akio Kyuma have outburst hidden sentiment among Japanese people regarding World War Ⅱ. I am afraid trend like this will have some negative impacts on the US-Japanese strategic partnership.

As Japan is exploring self assertive foreign policy, revisionism rises moderately. Generally speaking, Japanese people accept liberal democracy after the war. Actually, prewar Japanese public explored their own freedom during the Taisho Democracy. However, some Japanese, particularly conservatives feel that Japanese behavior during the war is criticized unfairly. They regard it is time that Japan restored its honor in the world. Disputes on wartime history between Japan and Asian neighbors, notably China and both Korea, illustrates this emotion. Now, similar disputes are coming up between Japan and the United States, the most important alliance in the Asia-Pacific region.

The Comfort Women agenda was submitted to the Foreign Relations Committee at the House by Democratic Congressman Mike Honda. As broadly known, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Japanese conservative argued that the Japanese military did not impose Korean women to provide sex service for their soldiers. In the eyes of American, or more broadly, Western policymakers, it appeared as if Japanese leaders had been defending wartime fascism.

Apparently, Japanese leaders were reckless to provoke negative feelings among the American public. It is necessary to re-emphasize that Japan and Germany are the crown jewel of US-led regime change, and this endeavor is in the process of prevailing in the Middle East. Not only American neoconservatives, but also liberals and Europeans are conducting researches for Middle East democracy. Therefore, Japanese leaders should not give misunderstandings to the global community that they believe in fascist ideology.

On the other hand, I regret that the US House did not give sufficient consideration to the consequence of this vote to the state-to-state relationship. Members of the House of Representatives tend to be much closer to the electorate than the executive branch, and there is no doubt that Asian minority lobbies exerted strong influence on them. But whoever says anything, Japan and the United States are not supposed to bicker on World War Ⅱ. The strategic partnership between both countries should focus on post Cold War security, and this is the policy priority.

Japanese public response to Defense Minister Kyuma’s comment on atomic bomb attack to Hiroshima and Nagasaki has illustrated hidden sentiments to the United States. When Kyuma said that the United States could not help dropping the bomb, in order to finish the war quickly and stop Soviet expansion in the Far East, Japanese media and bloggers were outraged. His remark sounded like he thought light of atomic bomb victims, they said. As history disputes with Asians are becoming serious, Japanese grassroots, from conservatives to centrists, are beginning to insist that Allied Forces’ behavior must be questioned severely as much as that of Japanese Forces’.

Certainly, Kyuma was too careless to provoke anti-nuclear public opinion. However, there is no reason for Japanese media and citizens to demand him to resign simply because he made a mistake. In 1950s or 1960s, he could have stayed in the cabinet. During the era of rapid reconstruction, America had been the role model for the Japanese public. It is well-known that quality control system, which contributed to Japan’s postwar economic miracle, was imported from the United States. Japanese learned to become more American than Americans through importing management skills and technologies. But hysteric response to Kyuma’s remark indicates that this sentiment is changing. Interactions between Japan and the United States could turn more delicate than they were in the past.

In my view, two cases are extremely odd. Why does Japan have to quarrel with the United States over World War Ⅱ? The Cold War has gone. We are in the era of new kind of threats. Of course, American lawmakers should focus more on state-to-state strategic interests rather than accommodating requests from Asian minority lobby. However, the most problematic are Japanese revisionists. They do not understand how the history of Japan and the word is evolving. More seriously, their quibble on wartime history undermines Japan’s position in the world. In any case, it is no use to waste much energy for problems in the past. The rise of revisionism in Japan is a serious concern, and I am afraid that this might turn history backward. Americans should not provoke this sentiment by questioning Japan’s wartime policy too much in depth. But more importantly, Japanese rightists must understand that Japan’s pride lies in its status as a role model of regime change. Don’t forget this!