Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The Need for Self-Introspection to End the Futile Argument Over Historical Perception
ONO Goro / Professor Emeritus, Saitama University

June 7, 2013
Recently, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's definition of "aggression" and Osaka Mayor Hashimoto Toru's comments on "comfort women" were met with criticism from Japan's neighboring countries as "misguided historical perceptions" of Japan's war record, and provoked alarm in the United States and Europe as well. Indeed, from a third-person perspective it is an undeniable fact that Japan committed acts of aggression against its neighbors before and during WWII, and its disregard for human rights in the employment of "comfort women" should certainly be condemned, regardless of the circumstances at the time.

Why then does the issue crop up repeatedly over time, instead of being put to rest once and for all with a decisive conclusion?

In my previous commentary "The Real Causes for Japa''s Rightward Shift Need to be Addressed," I sought to explain one of the reasons: Japan has continued to evade forming an autonomous, responsible overview of its wartime deeds – by which I mean deeds perpetrated by the entire country including the Imperial Japanese Army as well as its people, choosing instead to accept the judgment passed by postwar trials initiated by the occupying forces. Yet, the trial itself had been held to satisfy the motive of the United States, a victor nation, and in retrospect this caused recognizable distortions. Some who deserved condemnation were let off the hook, while others received unwarranted punishment. And this gave way to the utilitarian logic that it was better to go along with the results of the trial and avoid self-introspection altogether. It also gave breathing space to those who sought to deny responsibility for their very own wartime deeds.

This being the case, Japan must fulfill its obligation if it hopes to go on in the international community with its face up as a "reborn Japan"” First, as a truly autonomous nation it must conclude a fair overall assessment of its past, admitting to its faults as warranted, apologizing where necessary and extending compensation as required. Only then can Japan say what must be said. Conversely, being preoccupied with self-vindication without taking this necessary step is not only far from being “patriotic,” but shows a lack of pride in being an independent, self-disciplined Japanese.

And while what I am about to state is strictly premised on such self-introspection, it must be pointed out that self-introspection by Japan will not be enough to settle this futile argument once and for all. Because those punishable deeds that were overlooked - as mentioned above - naturally include deeds committed by the victor nations themselves. As long as their deeds remain unaccounted for, dissatisfaction will continue to simmer among the Japanese people. Not only that, but it may send the wrong message to countries that are neither WWII victors nor losers that are beginning to join the current trend toward globalization as new players in the international community, and may lead the entire globalization process astray.

Countries that emerged victorious from WWII have been the ones wielding actual power in leading the postwar world. If they seek to behave in a manner befitting their status into the future, they should take globalization as an opportunity to lead the way in self-introspection, instead of becoming complacent with protecting vested interests gained from the "postwar system"” Otherwise, the idea of "might is right" will prevail, making nuclear weapons capability a common requirement for invincibility throughout the world and forcing us all to live in constant fear of nuclear terrorism around the globe.

This issue will never be resolved as long as condemnation is directed solely at the deeds of the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII, while ignoring events that have since transpired, such as the specific example below that I myself witnessed in the postwar era.

In Shinjuku, Tokyo, where I spent my boyhood, there were numerous brothels serving U.S. military personnel, both authorized and unauthorized. I have also observed similar facilities in Southeast Asia, where I traveled as a young man. Whatever their official designation, "comfort stations" have always existed as a sexual outlet for the occupying troops. As long as we overlook this fact, we cannot truly hope to recover the human rights of women who were abused. And since most of the women were sold into prostitution by their parents, including cases where they worked to repay debt, digging deep into their past may actually cause more harm, thus requiring a more comprehensive remedy.

Over the years, various reasons have been offered to justify the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Great Tokyo Air Raids. But even if we put these aside, there is no denying that mass killings and acts of brutality involving collateral damage have been committed in Iraq and elsewhere. If we choose to ignore these incidents, or do no better than to recognize them with an "expression of regret," it will only set off a vicious cycle of “an eye for an eye.”

Whether we call it an "aggression" or not, many of the major powers are weighed down by the historical fact of having colonized vast stretches of land and committed barbaric acts. That is precisely why they are regarded with hostility or with a victim mentality by their neighboring countries and regions as well as the developing countries. While it is true that in many cases efforts have been made to mend such relationships, in reality these also include cases of "betrayal under the guise of obedience." Lack of perception on this aspect may reignite the conflict some day.

Meanwhile, whether victor nations engage in such self-introspection or not has nothing to do with absolving Japan of its own responsibility for self-introspection. Rather, only when Japan sets an example for the victor nations by facing up to that responsibility can it cast off the yoke of a defeated nation and start striding through the international community with its head held high.

Goro Ono is Professor Emeritus at Saitama University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

小野五郎 / 埼玉大学名誉教授

2013年 6月 7日







① 少年期を過ごした東京新宿には公認・非公認米軍向け売春施設が多数存在していたし、青年期以降訪れた東南アジアでも類似施設を見かけており、名目の如何に関わらず駐留軍兵士たちに性のはけ口を提供する慰安所が存在してきたということ。その点を見過ごしていたのでは、真に女性の人権を回復することにはなるまい。なお、女性の大半は親の手で身売り(借金返済のために働くという話も含む)であり、今になって事実を深掘りすることはかえって彼女たちの人権を傷つけかねないから、より包括的な救済手段を講ずることが求められる。

② 何かと理屈づけがされがちな広島・長崎における核投下・東京大空襲はさておいても、イラクその他では一般市民を巻き添えにした大量殺戮行為や残虐行為が行なわれていたこと。これを看過ないし「遺憾の意」程度で済まそうとすれば、それこそ「目には目を」の悪循環を招くことになろう。

③ 「侵略」と呼ぶかどうかは別としても、大国の多くが過去に広大な土地を植民地化し蛮行を働いてきたという歴史的事実は重く、だからこそ周辺国・周辺地域・後発国から敵視・あるいは被害者意識をもって見られていること。もちろん、その中にはすでに何らかの形で関係修復が図られているものも多いが、その実「面従腹背」も混じっており、その辺の認識なしにはいつか紛争が再燃しよう。


一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > The Need for Self-Introspection to End the Futile Argument Over Historical Perception