Japan's Prime Minister Junichero Koizumi will face many tests in the months to come: reforming Japan's sclerotic economy, reinvigorating a society fossilized by habit and chafing under the heel of the US occupation. The Japanese people have placed their hopes in him, and his rise has been celebrated here, in this column, as a harbinger of what I call "market nationalism" a benevolent force in the world, and a godsend for Japan. Unfortunately, however, Koizumi has failed his first test in a big way.
After declaring that he would mark the anniversary of Japan's World War II surrender to the Allies by paying his respects at the Yasukuni Shrine, where Japan's war dead are buried, the Prime Minister backed down at the last minute and chose to move his visit up a few days. This satisfied exactly no one. The Reuters headline read: "Japan PM hit from all sides day after shrine visit." If this was an attempt at "statesmanship," it went over like a lead balloon.
All the usual suspects Japan-bashers, both gaijin and homegrown used the occasion to drive home the point that Japan "had not squarely faced its past," as the Washington Post put it. Asahi Shimbun the voice of Japan's liberal internationalist intelligentsia bleated that Koizumi's decision to visit the shrine at all was "not worthy of praise." Beijing declared that the visit was not only an "insult" to the Chinese people, but also evidence of a revival of Japanese "militarism": small demonstrations staged by the Communist Party were given wide (and sympathetic) coverage in the West. In Korea, demonstrators cuts off the tips of their fingers in protest, declaring that they would mail their severed members to Koizumi. How lame. Now, if they had taken themselves really seriously, they would have committed seppuku Japanese ritual suicide for the delectation of the television cameras.
Meanwhile, back in the US, Ted Koppel interviewed four "experts" on Nightline a Korean Japan-hater, a Chinese Japan-hater, an American Japan-hater, and a self-hating Japanese from the Asahi Shimbun (where else?). All concurred that Japan should have marked this anniversary by groveling at the feet of "the international community," and that its failure to do so was evidence of a deep-seated evil. Perhaps, they agreed, instead of being allowed to retain their Emperor, the Japanese should have been subjected to the same single-minded indoctrination and extended period of self-abasement demanded of Germany.
What was nauseating about that Nightline show trial wasn't so much the sheer hatred of all things Japanese exuded by Koppel's guests, but the boring unanimity of the "discussion." As Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten [sic!] Holocaust, reiterated the Chinese Communist Party line that a revived Japanese "militarism" is "denying history" and represents an implied threat to China, I was reminded of the yip-yapping of a slightly deranged dog, slavering and baring its yellow fangs.
The mournful Bonnie Oh chimed in with the canonical narrative of the infamous "comfort women," apparently "millions" of whom were supposedly forced into service for the depraved pleasures of the Japanese Imperial Army, used and abused against their will. Here feminism is married to anti-Japanese sentiment to produce a particularly useful form of political correctness: one that not only reinforces the myth of Japanese war guilt, but also serves as a useful moral bludgeon to keep the Japanese permanently in check. That rural Korean women, and Taiwanese too, should consider prostituting themselves to make a buck in wartime is, according to the Official History, utterly impossible and evidence of a criminal "revisionism." Never mind that such a common sense explanation is self-evidently true: to raise it is to be deemed an apologist not only for Japanese "war crimes" but also for the patriarchal oppression of women!
It was embarrassing for me, an admirer of Japanese culture, to watch Toshiaki Miura, a political correspondent for Asahi Shimbun, try to outdo the others in the vigor and sheer ferocity of his opposition to the alleged "threat" of Japanese nationalism, and he almost succeeded. I say "almost" because it was the American, one Richard Gordon, who exuded hatred from every pore. A survivor of the Bataan death march, Gordon is a member of "the Battling Bastards of Bataan," a veterans' organization dedicated to memorializing their ordeal, and to eternal vengeance. He did not make arguments, but merely frothed at the mouth, his fleshy face exuding sweat and hatred.
That even "news" programs are now being conducted like a court session in The Hague is indicative of the totalitarian political culture enveloping the emerging world order. To include a representative of the view that Japan has no more to apologize for than any of the other combatants in that war and more, that Japan had no choice but to fight or submit either to Western occupation or the Russians might have unsettled Koppel's famous hair. Oh, how I wish Yukio Mishima had not committed suicide in a brash and beautiful protest against the gelding of Japan: he would have known how to answer Ms. Chang with the aphorism of some long-dead Shinto priest, the sharpness of his point muffled with good-natured laughter. Since he is no longer with us and would not have been invited on Ted Koppel's kangaroo court even if he were, in spite of being, roughly, the Japanese equivalent of, Ernest Hemingway and Gore Vidal, in terms of literary renown and critical acclaim it was left to his friend, Tokyo mayor Shintaro Ishihara to reproach Koizumi from the right. Ishihara was clearly embarrassed that the Prime Minister of Japan should have come to such a sacred place so furtively, and shamefully, dashing through the shrine like a thief in the night. He should have come on the day of the anniversary, said Ishihara, who wondered when Japan would be accorded the prerogatives afforded other countries.
The US has been busy celebrating World War II as a great boon, rather than a tragedy, a time when America was at its best, pumping up the image of the heroic FDR to the size of one of those giant pictures of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao that the Commies always carried in their endless parades. The "Pearl Harbor" movie, the endless pontifications of our favorite McHistorians the Doris Kearns Goodwins and Arthur Schlesingers the ceaseless smearing of the so-called "isolationists" who dared to question Roosevelt's relentless drive to war it all rests on the myth of Japanese war guilt. I have covered this topic in past columns: the works of Robert Stinnett and Thomas Fleming represent a powerful challenge to that myth, one that I believe is unanswerable. As Clare Booth Luce put it, FDR "lied us into war," just as he tricked the Japanese into firing the first shot . But even if you don't accept the so-called "revisionist" case for FDR's elaborate plan to get us into the war through the "back door," and dismiss it all out of hand as an unverifiable "conspiracy theory," then there is the diplomatic history. Tokyo's cables to its embassies in the US and Moscow, as well as military communications in the Pacific, were intercepted and decoded by the Americans and the British. FDR knew the Japanese were just as desperate for peace as he was for war, and the record shows that they tried to negotiate access to vital raw materials without going to war right up until the last moment. And the Americans dare speak of Japanese "war guilt"?! They presume to demand endless acts of contrition and self-abasement for having committed the sin of self-defense?
That the Chinese, who killed more of their own people during the Cultural Revolution than ever were massacred at Nanking, have the nerve to say anything, even as they massacre and torture hundreds of thousands in China's gulag, is the kind of grim humor that characterizes our era: an age in which hypocrisy and cant have become high art forms. In a rare, and telling, confluence of opinion between the government of North Korea and Western public opinion, it was the official Korean Central News Agency that captured the spirit of the conventional wisdom:
"The visit to the 'shrine' paid by the Japanese chief executive on the occasion of the day of defeat despite this historical lesson taught by postwar political history is little short of officially stating that the Japanese authorities ideologically and spiritually represent militarism and ultra-nationalism."
This from a completely militarized totalitarian state of Orwellian dimensions, which has killed through purges or famine millions of its own citizens. It's a joke, albeit a grisly one, and one Western opinion-makers are eager to reiterate endlessly. That it is also a complete lie makes it all the easier to disseminate. The US honors a moral midget like Harry Truman, a man who, with a few words, had the inhabitants of two Japanese cities utterly vaporized why isn't the world howling about that?
I'll tell you why: because the lesson we are supposed to be learning is that resistance to the US and its allies is not only futile but criminal. Just ask Slobodan Milosevic. Tojo is repeatedly described as "a Class A war criminal"; but Truman killed many more civilians than Tojo ever dreamed of. Does that make Truman a "Class Triple-A" war criminal? It sure as h*ll does.
Since Tojo is buried at the Yasukuni Shrine, along with others of the "Class A" variety, it is a "shrine to Japanese militarism," as the Japan-haters contend. Never mind that it was built in the 1800s as a shrine to fallen samurai, whose spirits, according to the Shinto belief, are tied to that spot. Shinto itself is politically incorrect, since it is rooted in Japanese history, and is therefore inherently "right-wing," nationalist, and, naturally, dangerous. Of course, all nationalism is anathema according to the new globalist paradigm, but that one of the losers of World War II and especially an aspiring Asiatic power should seek to get up off its knees is utterly impermissible.
Instead of honoring the war dead, and taking the risk that they might be remembered as the victims of Western aggression, the international guardians of political correctness would have Koizumi vilify them. It didn't matter that he visited early, and made a speech that included an unequivocal apology for all the pain and suffering inflicted by Japan during the war years. Instead of satisfying the howling mob of unabashed Japan-bashers, Koizumi's contrition merely emboldened them to demand that he kowtow lower, and yet lower. This is how they would prefer to see the Japanese: on their knees, their faces pressed to the ground in a pose of permanent supplication. That this attitude should be particularly vehement and unappeasable in a nation that chose Bill Clinton as its chief executive should hardly comes as a surprise.
Japan bears no special guilt for the events of World War II: compared to the Caucasian combatants, their role was peripheral and reactive. The Japanese "militarists" were merely reacting to the economic embargo imposed by the US, the British, and the Dutch. Faced with economic strangulation or war, they chose the latter the only honorable choice. The great crime of Hideki Tojo was not fighting for his country but picking the wrong fight. The Japanese "militarists," including Tojo, believed Japan had to break out of its premodern isolation or else become a Western colony. But the question was, which way should they strike: northward, against the Soviet Union through Manchuko, or southward, against the British and the Americans standing behind them? Tojo chose the latter, and the anti-Soviet faction was crushed in a short-lived insurrection (memorialized in Mishima's short story "Patriotism"). That was his real crime, not the act of defending his country against a coordinated Western assault.
The idea that only the victors may honor their war dead is a peculiarly triumphalist conceit, clearly predicated on the idea that might makes right. It is meant to insult and humiliate the Japanese in a way that singles them out as exemplars of evil, inherently incapable of being trusted with the accouterments and privileges afforded to other nations, such as armies, military memorials, and all the rituals of political and cultural sovereignty. Like naughty and even incorrigible children, they are to be kept away from the insignia of national adulthood, forever infantilized and rendered harmless. This is how all nations are to be treated in the emerging world order, but it seems the powers that be would like nothing better than to start with Japan as a kind of test case.
Japanese literature is full of omens. Suddenly a flock of white cranes will appear in the sky,or a rainbow will arc overhead, as the harbinger of some precipitous event, for good or for ill. This stumbling of Koizumi specifically, his failure to appear on the appointed day was strictly symbolic. But in Japan, which everything is symbolism, this misstep could lead to very tangible problems. It is an ill wind that blows for Japan, one that threatens to topple the hopes of its people for renewal and even redemption.
Not just economic reform, not only renewal in the material sense, but a profound spiritual transformation has been the basis of the Koizumi revolution from the very beginning, one that mixes the most hardheaded pragmatism and willingness to face intractable problems head on with the most exalted idealism and optimism. This is the real basis for the adulation of Koizumi that has swept Japan's political landscape clean, driving all before it. Now, for the first time, Koizumi's momentum has been slowed, if not quite stopped: worse yet, this kind of defeat could be fatal. For the spiritual renewal of Japan fuels the political and economic reform movement necessary to the country's survival. If that flags, then the whole thing is off and Koizumi will go down in history as a would-be reformer instead of the savior of Japan.
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