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

Repenting Our Past Deeds Means Using What We Have Learned to Build a Better Future
ONO Goro / Professor Emeritus, Saitama University

July 22, 2014
“Even a thief has thirty percent of reason on his side.” This is a proverb that is understood to mean there is some amount of reason behind any kind of crime.

That is precisely why in modern society even the most diabolical of criminals are given the right to a fair trial where they can present their side of the story. Then again, “thirty percent of reason” is only just that, and it goes without saying that we must still squarely face up to the “seventy percent” for which we are at fault. And when we search our souls, we must do so by recognizing our past deeds and historic facts as accurately as possible.

These days, Japan finds itself under fire from several countries for “being lax in its recognition of history and showing little remorse.” And thus prompted to look back on our past, we find that indeed it is a historic fact that Japan had “exercised colonial rule,” “invaded the Asian continent” and “launched a pre-emptive attack on Pearl Harbor,” etc., in the period leading to and during the last war, for which we should humbly take the blame.

As for the other deeds for which we have earned criticism, it is a fact that a “massacre” did take place and “comfort women” did exist, and it is also wholly understandable that others would unilaterally seek repentance on Japan’s part, regardless of “how many were massacred” or “whether the military establishment was involved or not.” Citing the “number of victims” or “military involvement” is tantamount to making a mountain out of a molehill. Insisting on having “thirty percent of reason” on our side gives us no excuse for denying the criminal nature of the “massacre” or “comfort women” as seen in the light of modern moral values; Japan should simply acknowledge its fault and offer a genuine apology.

Yet, assuming that Japan did recognizes its past misdeeds and apologizes to the victims, that in itself would not suffice as an exercise in self-reflection because it misses the very point of self-reflection, which is to make good use of the lessons we have learned from our past to build a better future.

From that standpoint, soul searching is due not only from countries on the losing side of a war such as Japan, but from all countries and persons responsible for wrongful acts, including “colonial rule,” “military invasion,” “massacre” and “recruitment of comfort women,” both past and present. The victor countries should stop looking upon the losers with scorn and instead draw a lesson from their follies so as to avoid repeating the same mistakes themselves.

However, in doing so it is essential that they admit to their own history of “colonial rule,” “invasion,” “massacre” and “comfort women.” Yet, they continue to justify colonial rule by claiming to have “brought the light of civilization to a savage land,” seek to expand their borders because “the region in question was once part of our territory,” create collateral casualties out of innocent civilians by launching massive air strikes, dropping an atomic bomb or deploying unmanned bombers on the pretext of “eliminating terrorists” and such, or legalize sexual slavery by insisting that the other country or local inhabitants had “offered their services for a price.” As long as they continue to make these excuses, the “thirty percent of reason” will hold sway.

Moreover, such conceit on the part of the “winners” arouses an impulsive desire urge among loser countries and minority groups, which have long harbored an inferiority complex, that “We ourselves must become stronger”. It would be no exaggeration to say that the world has entered a stage where it could find itself rushing down a road we have treaded before.

Paradoxically for Japan, this may be the moment to take due responsibility, apologize and atone for its past misdeeds without giving any excuses whatsoever. Only then will we be able to remonstrate other countries that appear to be making mistakes that are reminiscent of our own past. I believe this to be Japan’s historic mission as a country that has learned a bitter yet valuable lesson from defeat.

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

2014年 7月 22日








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English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Repenting Our Past Deeds Means Using What We Have Learned to Build a Better Future