Japan 'historical insensitivity'
  • To prove I am not insensitive to the delicate question of Japan's alleged 'historical sensitivity' - a crucial factor in Japan's relations with China and South Korea, let me post my recent NBR post on the topic.

    Begins. The apology debate confuses two different issues - legality and brutality. The Japanese cannot be expected to apologise for simply doing what was seen internationally as acceptable at the time. It was simply imitating what the Western colonial powers had been doing in Asia for decades or even centuries previously, and which France, Netherlands and Britain were happy to repeat even after 1945.

    To the extent that it had genuinely felt intimidated by these activities its guilt is even less than ours.

    Even the 'advance' into China can be seen as a response to accidental Marco Polo Bridge 1937 incidents which were allowed foolishly to escalate, not unlike the way many Cold War and other conflicts have developed in more recent years.

    The brutality issue is separate. The Japanese like the Germans maybe, and even the Anglo-societies to some extent, are able to go to extremes of behaviour less seen in other culturally advanced nations - from the totally barbaric against perceived enemies to the genuinely humane in many other situations. I have given my view of the cultural factors involved; if anyone has other ideas I would like to hear them.

    A wartime example (which I like to put before Japanese audiences, and with remarkably little hostile reaction) was the stark difference between the civilised behaviour of the Japanese military in occupied western Papua New Guinea - education, infrastructure - and the brutal killings in the eastern half seen as hostile.

    If Japan could bring itself to admit this schizophrenic penchant for brutality in some situations, China especially, and combine it with genuine apologies / compensation, while pointing out some the more progressive aspects of its colonialism (Taiwan is a favourite example used by Japanese nationalists, though some reservations are even needed here) it would overnight be able to preserve the national dignity its nationalists feel is so important while easing the painful memories still harboured by its former victims.

    Gregory Clark






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