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Over Japan's past, Abe should ditch ambiguity for reconciliation

The Japanese can be surprisingly vague when stating their opinions. This can be seen either as a practical way to handle difficult topics without offending the other person or a way of avoiding humiliation.

Questioned on his attitude toward Japan's past, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to be ambiguous by employing “aimai,” literally a doubled-edged approach.

He complains that part of Japan's history has been made a diplomatic issue, willfully ignoring the fact that Japan's militaristic past has become a diplomatic issue because Japan has made it an issue, and claims that Japan's historical baggage has been forced on it by neighboring countries.

While his predecessors, such as Yasuhiro Nakasone and even Junichiro Koizumi, acknowledged Japan's wartime excesses, and former Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama apologized in a statement for Japan's wartime atrocities in 1995, Abe refuses to clarify his position on Japan's past aggression against its Asian neighbors and its colonization of the Korean Peninsula, claiming a definition of aggression has “yet to be established”. He respects the spirit of the war dead who gave their lives for Japan, and feels no compunction about worshipping at the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates Japan's convicted war criminals among the war dead.

In October 1945, Tanzan Ishibashi, the second leader of the Liberal Democratic Party and prime minister from 1965 to 1966, made the visionary proposal to abolish the Yasukuni Shrine. He believed that the difficult international situation Japan was in after its defeat in its so-called Greater East Asia War had made it impossible to worship the war dead as heroes. He warned that worshiping there would cause Japan the ultimate humiliation and damage if it continued.

“Japanese politicians still do not understand the difficult international situation the country is in today,” said Tetsuya Takahashi, professor of philosophy at the University of Tokyo.

As Richard von Weizscker, former president of the Federal Republic of Germany, put it, people need to know how they stand in relation to the past, in order not to be led astray in the present.

Japan and Germany shared similar experiences after World War II as they were subject to the post-war occupation policies of the Allied powers. But the sense of national guilt that was evident in Germany was not experienced in Japan. German citizens collectively acknowledged their responsibilities, while the majority of Japanese tend to think that there were two wars: one among the imperialist powers and the other against Asian-Pacific countries. This has enabled Japanese politicians to adopt “aimai” in their remarks on Japan's actions in the WWII.

At the 50th anniversary of the end of the World War II in 1995, reconciliation between victor and vanquished was intentionally displayed. The top leaders of more than 50 former belligerent countries including the United States, Britain, France, Russia and Germany gathered to attend the official ceremonies that were held in London, Paris, Berlin and Moscow on May 7 to 9, 1995. Former US Vice-President Al Gore praised the “profoundly new relationship between victor and vanquished” that now binds Germany to its neighbors.

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