Plunge Pontificates

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Why Japan Should Apologize -- It isn't Apples and Oranges afterall

Apples and Oranges

Not long ago, I was reading a post on the wonderful site, Coming Anarchy. In that posting, Curzon takes the position that comparing Germany and its apologies for actions taken during WWII and Japan and its apologies are like apples and oranges. Outside of the minor glitches in his post, this main question has been on my mind for quite a while. Can we compare the two? My gut was telling me that it is a valid comparison, but Curzon’s posting caused me to doubt what I had taken for granted. After thinking on it for a few days, I decided to put pen to paper and, for myself, decide if the comparison is valid. In a nutshell, I feel Curzon is wrong and the comparison is valid. My reasoning is below.

As normal, feel free to disagree and correct me. Discussion is welcome, attacks are not. Keep things civil and no foul language allowed. Thanks.

People have associated and will continue to associate the atrocities committed by Germany and those by Japan in the same breath. At the same time, they continue to compare and contrast the efforts made by each country to make amends for their past deeds. The question is if this is a valid comparison on both counts.

In looking at this, we can first list the basic similarities and reasons they are associated. First and foremost, the nations were allied together in a world war. When talk of WWII takes place, it is difficult to mention the one nation without mentioning the other.

Next, while allied with each other, both committed unconscionable atrocities. Germany made efforts to exterminate the Jews and the gypsies and the name “Auschwitz” will be forever burned into people’s memories. Japan is remembered for its treatment of POWs, its treatment of citizens, Nanjing, Unit 731, comfort women and forced labor to mention just some.

Both nations are also spoken of in the same breath when discussing the massive numbers of people killed. Untold millions died as a result of the war in Asia and in Europe. Both were aggressor nations, trying to take and rule their part of the world. So, when it comes to apologies for acts of war against other nations, there are good arguments for equal treatment and expectations.

Curzon then mentions Auschwitz and Japan’s colonization of Korea and Taiwan, using them to say comparing the apologies is apples and oranges. Taken like that, it is apples and oranges. But, I feel Curzon is making the wrong comparison at this point. Japan's apologies have never been just about colonialism, but a variety of crimes committed during that time period. Asking for an apology for colonization is lumped together with the rest simply for the reason that it happened during the same timeframe and ended with the end of World War II. But colonization does not take in the whole of what Japan is and should apologize for. Japan committed atrocities on a variety of fronts and when a comparison is made, this entire grouping is what is being compared to Germany's apology for the holocaust. While the number of victims might not be equal, the crimes Japan committed against humanity are abhorrent to any normal human being.

Apologizing for the Colonization of Korea

The stickier issue comes when discussing apologies for colonialism. Whenever the issue of apologies for this arise, people say it is unwarranted because other nations that had colonies have not apologized. My answer for this is that you can not compare Japan’s colonizing of Korea with the colonization efforts of other nations. It is unique. Because of the unique nature of this colony, it is difficult to find a comparable situation. This is not to say that the colonization practices of other nations weren’t horrific in nature as Curzon so clearly showed, just that the comparisons are difficult.

What was the reason for basic colonialism worldwide? It was to obtain access to cheap raw materials, cheap labor and a captive market for manufactured products. That’s it, plain and simple. Let’s look at what has been said by some who know best:

"it was to meet the demands of an increasingly affluent Europe that the trade in ivory, having begun with India, expanded greatly in the 19th century. With the trade in ivory came the trade in slaves and firearms. At the same time Tanzania provided a ready market for Europe's textiles. There can be no question but that the British and German interests were dominated by commercial motives. These interests were encouraged, but not subordinated, to humanitarian and religious concerns. clearly political domination followed traders and missionaries. The 'scramble for Africa', in which Tanzania was one of the prizes, was primarily the consequence of commercial necessity. The need was met by bringing Tanzania and the rest of Africa under the commercial and political dominance of Europe." Spearring

"We must find new lands from which we can easily obtain raw materials and at the same time exploit the cheap slave labor that is available from the natives of the colonies. The colonies would also provide a dumping ground for the surplus goods produced in our factories". Cecil Rhodes

"We have spoken already of the vital necessity of new markets for the old world. It is, therefore, to our very obvious advantage to teach the millions of Africa the wants of civilization, so that whilst supplying them we may receive in return the products of their country and the labor of their hands". Lord Lugard

Yet, when Japan colonized Korea, what were its stated reasons? It was to continue the stabilization of Asia and to ward off western influence. It was also to modernize Korea and bring them into the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” This was all so very noble, nothing like the colonies of Europe. Many Japanese and Japanese apologists continue along these lines in their defense of Japan.

The other phases heard from those defending Japan’s colonial practices go something along the lines of, “Japan’s colonization of Korea wasn’t so bad.” Or, “Japan modernized Korea.” And even sometimes, “Koreans secretly liked Japan colonizing them.” To the absurd, “Koreans openly embraced Japan’s colonization.” They will try to show how Japan educated the Koreans, how Koreans were part of the government and how they were part of the military. They will go to the extremes to try and show that it was a good thing, not a bad thing. Of course, this is all just poppycock. The crimes against the people of Korea are whitewashed, downplayed as insignificant against the greater good.

You also have the unique situation of two people that are so similar, yet having one colonize the other. The closest example I can think of would be if the US colonized Canada. Japan and Korea have a long, involved history. They had interacted for hundreds, if not thousands of years. This close association made enduring colonization a truly bitter pill to swallow.

Next, we have Japan colonizing a country well along the way to being one of the most modern in Asia.

In 1904, an American by the name of Angus Hamilton visited Korea. After doing so, he wrote a book about his experiences. He said of Korea, “The streets of Seoul are magnificent, spacious, clean, admirably made and well-drained. The narrow, dirty lanes have been widened, gutters have been covered, roadways broadened. Seoul is within measurable distance of becoming the highest, most interesting and cleanest city in the East.” He continued on to say, “Seoul was the first city in East Asia to have electricity, trolley cars, water, telephone and telegraph systems all at the same time.”

The oft told fallacy of modern Japan coming to the aid of backwards Korea can pretty well be put to rest.

The next aspect that needs to be considered is the legality of Japan’s colonization of Korea. Because of the unique nature of Korea and the duplicitous manner in which Japan came to control it, the legality of the entire affair is questionable. Article 2 of the Treaty of Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea of 22 June 1965 declares the illegality of the annexation by calling the treaty resulting in colonization null and void. That article reads, and has been affirmed by both nations:

It is confirmed that all treaties or agreements concluded between the Empire of Japan and the Empire of Korea on or before August 22, 1910 are already null and void.

So, whether or not it was considered legal at the time, according to current law and treaty, it was not. This Article of the Treaty of Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea alone should be more than sufficient grounds for Japan making a proper apology.

At this point, arguing that Japan has no need to apologize has lost much of its appeal. Japan is in a unique situation, one that demands a proper apology be made. It is here that we come to the next argument. That argument being that Japan has apologized on numerous occasions and that Japan is tired of apologizing. It is here that I will state unequivocally that Japan, as a nation and as a people has NEVER apologized for the actions and atrocities it committed over the past 100 years. Individuals have apologized, Japan has not. There has only been one attempt at a full apology, that in 1995 and it was an unmitigated disaster.

Let me take a moment more on this. The Emperor of Japan has apologized for the atrocities committed. Since then, he has refused to visit the Yasukuni Shrine. Various Prime Ministers have made apologies for various war crimes and other atrocities. Some have visited the Shrine, some have not. Many will say that since the Prime Minister is the head of the government, and as such, is the head of Japan, he is speaking for all of Japan when he utters an apology. This sounds good, but it is not the case. In a matter such as this, the Prime Minister is only speaking for Japan when he has the full backing of the Diet. When making these apologies, the Prime Minister of Japan has NEVER had the full backing of the Diet. Again, only once has the entire government of Japan tried to make an apology.

In 1994, it was announced that for the 50th anniversary of the end of the war, there would be a resolution passed by the Diet and a statement given on the wrongs that had been committed. This resolution from the Diet was considered essential, especially in Korea, as any resolution not coming from the Diet was not considered to be reflective of the government or the people of Japan. It was hoped that a resolution would receive a unanimous vote of the Diet.

In 1995, Japan’s Prime Minister Murayama Tomiichi proposed wording for the national apology but failed to obtain support in the Diet by a margin of almost 2 to 1. Only 26% of the Diet members supported Murayama’s resolution and 47% were against it. Additionally, the then Education Minister organized a petition against Murayama’s apology and collected 4.5 million signatures. Wording for the resolution could not be agreed upon, so an executive committee came up with the wording to be voted on by the 9th of June. Below is the wording of the official apology, the one asked for specifically by South Korea so as to be representative of the government and the people and which Japan agreed to do.

This Diet, in the fiftieth year since the war, offers its sincere tribute to the memory of the war dead throughout the world and victims who have suffered because of war and other deeds.

Recalling the many instances of colonial rule and acts of aggression in the modern history of the world, we recognize those acts which our country carried out and the unbearable suffering inflicted on the people of other countries, particularly the nations of Asia, and express deep remorse.

Transcending differences in historical view of the past war, we must humbly learn the lessons of history and build a peaceful international community.

This Diet links hands with the countries of the world under the doctrine lasting peace enshrined in the Constitution of Japan and expresses its determination to open up a future of coexistence for humankind.

We affirm the above.

This wording infuriated many members of the Diet. Unfortunately, some were upset because they felt it went too far. Of the Diet, the ENTIRE NFP boycotted the vote. 55 LDP members refused to vote, they felt it went too far. 14 Socialists and 4 Harbingers didn’t vote as well.

So, what were some of the things that went on in the background? Well, only the Socialists in their draft called the actual use of the word, ‘apology.’ They were also the only ones that wanted to specifically mention Korea, comfort women and forced labor. The LDP wanted more focus on those that died on behalf of Japan.

Considering the disaster that was the Diet Apology of 1995, it is easy to understand why countries in Asia are still waiting for an apology. 4.5 million Japanese citizens and over half the Diet seem to feel that an apology for the atrocities committed is unwarranted. Is it so hard to understand why many people in the world get so upset when remembering Japan’s role in WWII and before? Is it so hard to understand why people look at the admirable job Germany has made to atone for their nations atrocities and then feel anger at Japan’s seeming lack of concern?

While Japan has done many good and useful things over the past 50 years the albatross of its militaristic and imperialist past will continue to hang like a lodestone around its neck until it fully recognizes and atones for its past crimes against humanity. A full and unequivocal apology from the nation and people of Japan is not only needed, it is necessary if Japan expects to be accepted as a stalwart leader of the free world.

Japan can do this. It can make the kind of apology that will endear it to most of the free world, especially to most of Asia. The bottleneck is pride and nationalism. What they don’t seem to realize is that through humbling themselves before the rest of Asia and the world, they will gain a status and stature that at the present is only an unobtainable dream. What also doesn’t seem to be understood is that money does not buy forgiveness.

The details of such an apology would have to be left to Japan.(Okay, I have some ideas on how I would want it done.) They should talk with those that were victims to decide on the method and magnitude. My personal belief is that compensation would not need to be a factor, unless done for the few surviving comfort women and other who directly suffered. Other than that, words then actions. Make an apology, have it be sincere, then show that sincerity through your actions and deeds.

Maybe, just maybe, true normalized relations will become a reality.