Japan Times

Look for change next year

By GREGORY CLARK Japan Times 2005.10.24
ジャパンタイムズ 2005.10.24

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's determination to visit Tokyo's controversial Yasukuni Shrine needs to be seen in the perspective. The visit was not necessarily, as Beijing and Seoul seem to believe, a final proof of prime-ministerial evil.
As we saw in the recent post office privatization fuss, Koizumi likes to see himself as a man of determined principle, even when the principle is rather dubious. Having pledged at the outset of his administration to visit Yasukuni each year, it was unlikely he would change his mind, even if it was clear he would damage relations with China, South Korea and his Komeito coalition partners in the process.
His 2002 and 2004 visits to North Korea to improve relations with Pyongyang prove he does not belong entirely to the hardline right of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, even if those efforts were derailed by that right. In foreign affairs he could well be under the moderating influence of his faction mentor and former prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, whose efforts to open bridges to Pyongyang and Moscow were never properly appreciated. And don't forget that first choice as foreign minister was the dovish, pro-China Makiko Tanaka.
Besides, for many Japanese, and not just the rabid right, Yasukuni is not quite the symbol of militaristic evil it is for most outsiders. True, it glorifies past wars. But many Japanese genuinely feel that Japan in the past had little choice but to wage many of those wars. A Western cabal had already colonized much of Asia, often brutally. It wanted to keep Japan out of the action. When Japan did try to join the action, Tokyo never resorted to anything quite as grubby as Britain's Opium War against China -- a war that made a much stronger impression on Japan than many realize.
Even Japan's 1937 attack into China proper was more accident than design. Tokyo at the time was determined to attack into Siberia and was diverted when an accidental military clash near Peking escalated into full-scale hostilities -- the so-called Marco Polo Bridge incident.
Where the Japanese go wrong is in failing to realize that while the motives for their wars may not have been entirely blameful, the same cannot be said for the behavior of their soldiers. Some Japanese argue that Western soldiers have behaved with equal barbarity -- the Americans in Vietnam, the French in Algeria, the Russians in Chechnya and so on. Even so there was little to compare with the calculated barbarity of the Japanese. Next time a rightwing nationalist harangues you about exaggerated Chinese estimates for the alleged Nanjing massacre, ask them about Unit 731 using live Chinese prisoners for ghastly germ warfare experiments. You will be impressed by the silence.
More than anything else, it is the way official Japan has consistently skirted these and other deliberate atrocity issues -- gas and germ warfare against China, the mistreatment of war prisoners and of Chinese slave laborers in Japan, the massacres of Chinese in Singapore and Malaya -- that fuels the contempt and hatred of Japan felt by many Asians and quite a few Westerners. Arguments that Japan as a shame society cannot admit past national mistakes make little impression on us foreigners brought up in guilt societies.
But even here it is hard to lay down absolutes. The world is horrified by the atrocities in Darfur. But similar U.S. scorched-earth policies in Vietnam stirred few feelings of guilt in the West, just as similar Moscow policies in Afghanistan and Chechnya failed to upset most Russians. We are all fairly impervious where our own national atrocities are concerned, partly for shame reasons.
The Japanese right likes to insist that since Beijing's anti-Yasukuni angst is fairly recent it must be politically inspired. (They also used to say the same thing about recent anti-Japan demonstrations in China, until it became clear that the Beijing authorities were opposed and had even arrested some of the leaders.)
Beijing has its reasons for its recent angst, since it is only recently that Tokyo's more strongly anti-China policies -- the Senkaku Islands question, quasi support for Taiwan independence, promises to cooperate with the U.S. militarily over Taiwan, for example -- have become obvious. Beijing till recently has tried to put all the war blame on the 14 Japanese wartime leaders convicted of A-class war crimes and whose souls are said to be enshrined at Yasukuni. (It tried to argue that the peace-loving Japanese people were led astray by these leaders.) Koizumi's homage to the souls of those 14 leaders in effect pulls the rug out from under Beijing's feet, and rather rudely.
On the face of things, Japan now seems locked into permanent distrust and hostility with its two main neighbors. But things could change if Koizumi sticks to his promise to stand down toward the end of next year -- something quite likely given his propensity for fulfilling pledges, good or bad.
In the past the China factor was often crucial to LDP leadership elections; even the incorrigibly anti-Beijing, pro-Taiwan Eisaku Sato, had to pretend to be pro-Beijing in his 1970 bid for leadership. If the mild and self-effacing former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda is now being suggested as a successor to Koizumi, that is at least partly because he genuinely does want to put more emphasis on Asia in Japan's diplomacy.
 その上、極端な右派だけでなく、多くの日本人にとって、靖国神社は第三者が考えるような軍国主義的悪のシンボルというのとは一味ちがう。確かにかの戦争を美化している。とはいえ、日本人の多くが、過去の日本はあの一連の戦争をする以外にあまり選択肢がなかったと、本気で考えている。西側列強はすでにアジアを広く植民地化し、そのやり方もしばしば暴力的だった。そしてその企みから日本を締め出そうとしていた。日本も同じことをやろうと乗り出したときでさえ、イギリスの中国に対するアヘン戦争― 多くの人が考える以上に日本に強烈なインパクトを与えた戦争― ほど汚いやり方ではなかった。
 1937年日本の中国への本格的攻撃でさえ、計画的というよりは偶発的だった。当時日本政府はシベリア攻撃の意志を固めていたが、北京近郊の偶発的軍事衝突― いわゆるマルコポーロ橋(盧溝橋)事件― が全面対決へと拡大した結果、道が逸れることになった。
 日本人のまちがいは、戦争の動機については彼が100%悪いとはいえない可能性があるといえても、彼らの兵士の行動についてはそれはいえないということを理解できなかったことから来る。西側の兵士も同じように野蛮にふるまったという日本人もいる― ベトナムにおけるアメリカ人、アルジェリアにおけるフランス人、チェチェンのロシア人、等々―。とはいえ、日本人の計算された野蛮さはあまり他と比較できない。今度もし右派ナショナリストが中国の南京虐殺の数字が誇張されているとあなたをやり込めようとしたら、731部隊(生きたままの中国人捕虜を忌まわしい生体細菌実験に使った)について質問してみるといい。彼らの沈黙は印象深いことだろう。
 他の何にも増して、日本が公式に、731部隊その他の意図的暴虐事件― 中国に対する毒ガス・細菌戦、戦争捕虜や日本における中国人奴隷労働者に対する虐待、シンガポールやマラヤでの中国人虐殺など― について常に避けて通ってきたやり方が、何よりも、多くのアジア人、また相当数の欧米人の日本軽蔑と日本嫌いに拍車をかけている。日本が恥社会だから過去の国家的過ちを認めることはできない、という理屈は、罪社会に育ったわれわれにはあまり意味をなさない。
 中国の最近の憤りには理由がある。というのは、日本がより強い反中国的政策― 例えば尖閣諸島問題、台湾独立に支援同然の態度、台湾をめぐるアメリカと軍事協力の約束など― が顕在化したのは最近だけのことだからである。中国は最近まで、A級戦犯として有罪になり、その霊が靖国神社に祀られているといわれる14人の日本人戦時指導者に、全ての戦争責任を負わせようと努力してきた。(中国は、平和を愛する日本人民がこれらの指導者によって迷わされたという議論で国民を説得しようとしてきた。)14指導者の霊を崇める小泉の参詣は中国政府の立場を足元から絨毯を引き剥がすように、しかもかなり乱暴に、崩すことになってしまった。
 現状では、日本は二大近隣国の恒常的不信と敵意の中にがんじがらめになってしまったように見える。だがもし小泉が来年末に退陣するという約束を守るなら、― よいにつけ悪いにつけ約束にこだわる彼の性格からして大いに可能性があるが― これが変わる余地はある。