An article in the December 3rd issue of The New York Times titled, Rewriting War, Japanese Right Attacks a Paper, by Martin Fackler, tells of a Japanese journalist, Takashi Uemura, his being targeted for taking a stand and a campaign of revisionist history abetted by a sitting Prime Minister. In the ’80’s and early nineties, Mr. Takashi Uemura wrote a series of articles in which a former soldier claimed to have been involved in the abduction of Korean women for use as sex slaves. The articles preceded, and no doubt contributed to, the Japanese government issuing an official apology in 1993, for the practice of organizing and pressing into service the so called “Comfort Women.”
The Asahi, a 135 year old paper and bastion of progressive perspective, has been singled out by the Japanese far-right calling for a boycott of the paper to put it out of business. Right wing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has taken the campaign a step further to challenge the internationally recognized truth of Japan’s WWII practice of pressing Korean, and other foreign, women into white slavery.
This is significant for two reasons: first, both North and South Korea have had a history of tension with Japan, North Korea more dramatically so, as exemplified in their refusal to recognize Japan as a country; second, such campaigns to cleanse a nations history are a convenient tool to consolidate power by inciting a people to mass idiocy by pandering to their collective ego.
To tackle the second point first, spontaneous communities, or constituencies, can be conjured by creating a controversy and championing a side. Now, in the realm of politics, if such a controversial issue, at best, has no real bearing on the health of a societies culture and maintenance then suspicion should fall on those taking up the issue. The logic goes like this, at any given moment there are issues that require the attention of those entrusted to govern, such as: economic health, justice, services, foreign relations, etc,. A worthy administrator should be able to acknowledge which issues are of greatest priority to the health of the society and have an idea on how to address the issue. If, on the other hand, a candidate or sitting politician chooses to take up an issue which merely caters to the vanity of his constituency, he not only garners his power with no stated obligation to the administration of the government or his office, but he gains an [unreasonable] support. When you have a constituency that is deliberately unreasonable, they have given up the idea that we all have an obligation to the greater society. Instead, they forge a community which deliberately isolates itself not for the sake of truth but power–to have power through simple agreement amongst themselves.
Which brings us to the first point. To acknowledge a wrong to a former enemy or neighbor is an act of good faith which implies a desire for improved relations. To deny such a wrong is a declaration that one does not care about the committing of that wrong and implies that no such good faith or improved relations are desired–further, that to lie about a crime committed once implies that one would lie about it again, that one is capable of committing the same offence once again. Also, by taking an aggressive stand against a former enemy or neighbor through the denial of past offence, one sets oneself in opposition to that neighbor, making him an enemy. In unjustly creating an enemy, those within the community who would champion truth and take up the cause of the wronged neighbor can they themselves now be called out as being in the same camp as “the enemy” by the community bound by the “unreasonable” assertion. It is that same impetus to garner power by creating an isolated community not hobbled by any obligation to anyone but themselves. If given free reign, such patterns can only lead to war.
Meanwhile, the leaders who amass power in such ways… well, if they must resort to chicanery to gain office, rather than a clear statement of pertinant concerns and strategies, their interest in gaining office is suspect and must be predicated upon some other agenda which is not in the interest of the society. If their priority is not in managing the resources of the society in a reasoned and responsible way, then their agenda is corrupt.
The same pattern can be seen in Greece right now. Greek politicians have gotten themselves elected condemning the country of FYROM for calling themselves Macedonia–hence the moniker, the Former Republic of Macedonia. Who cares what a neighboring country chooses to call itself?! Well, if not all, nearly all Greeks, that’s who. The Greeks say that, historically, Macedonia only partially extended into this former Yugoslavian region and that these southern Slavs are stealing their heritage. This has increased isolation between the borders of these two countries. The kind of isolation which only benefits a small group of its citizens at the expense of everybody else. Thessaloniki suffers from the lack of trade and travel which would otherwise flourish but for this ratcheting tension between these two nations.
When I was in grade-school on the playground there were kids who loved to instigate fights between others when they saw the opportunity to inflame or even create a dispute–some of us would call them out as “instigators.” I suppose it would be paranoid to suggest that such games are played on an international level–or would it be? The one who gains is the one who can play on both sides of the dispute and the ones who lead the factions who champion the polarizing sentiments.
This is important for the US, not only because we can only lose if the world slides into greater and greater instability, but also because we are by no means immune from these very same corrupting agendas. Recently, the US Senate released a report on US use of torture. This could open the way for hearings and, eventually, lawsuits. There has also been speculation that the release of this information could spur acts of revenge from extremists. (I won’t even bother to quote the idiotic comment of a former US president as the logic is beneath response.) But it should suffice to say, that it is proof of our capacity for responsible governance that these reports have been released; it is proof that there are those in our system who still believe in good faith negotiation; it is important not only to set an example to other nations, but to give ourselves a standard by which we may, ourselves, be judged–to draw, properly, the negative attention to not only the wrong actions for which we are culpable, but also to those actors who would put forward such actions in our name.