Apr 29, 2015 — In case you missed it, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed US Congress this morning on Hirohito’s birthday. Early in the speech, he reminisced about his time as a student in California, and his rise in politics in Japan—when he was first elected, a colleague said to him “You are so cheeky, Abe.” And well, cheeky he was.
Critics of the Prime Minister (with China and South Korea taking the lead) were waiting for a broad wartime apology and, in particular, a gesture made to the comfort women, whose existence Mr. Abe has denied and whose presence in Japan’s textbooks were taken out altogether in recent government-sanctioned textbook reforms.
But let’s focus first on what he did say: of his visit to the Washington WWII Memorial, he expressed being moved by the “lost dreams” and “lost futures of young Americans”. He also said that history was “harsh” and that a lot that was done “cannot be undone”. He mentioned he felt “deep repentance in his heart” and offered, with “profound respect”, his “eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during WWII.” He typified the post-war feelings of Japan as one of “deep remorse” over the suffering of people in Asian countries during the war from which Japan “should not avert its eyes” (which echoed earlier sentiments expressed by the Japanese Imperial family). Plus, he added that he upheld previous Japanese apologies that were made, including a 1995 landmark statement by Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.
And the comfort women?
Out of the blue, this comment came: “Armed conflicts have always made women suffer the most”, followed by a statement of how the world should be free of human rights abuses, especially when it comes to women. Generic statements are fine and dandy but if they are used to draw attention away from Japan’s responsibility in the recruiting and abuse of these women, a comment like this only reinforces the impression that Abe doesn’t want to take responsibility for this part of the suffering in WWII.
Abe essentially stopped short of an apology: offering condolences, repentance and remorse as well as upholding OTHER apologies rather than his own, makes one wonder why he has to use these veiled terms, especially in the context of the government’s recent textbook reforms and the conservatives’ continued whitewashing and pooh-poohing of the war. Also, if he believes, as he mentioned in the speech, that the spirit of the new Japan is a “spirit of reform” in which it wants to keep its “eye on the road ahead”, one has to question if this means that Japan is indeed tired of looking back, and just wants to move on and away from what hasn’t been fully acknowledged in the first place: 4 million war dead in Southeast Asia, concentration camps, forced labor, forced prostitution, starvation, medical experiments on internees, torture and executions.
When German Prime Minister Willy Brandt visited the Monument of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1970, he made a sudden knee fall to show his respect. Abe’s speech was far from a knee fall. It was a very concealed show of contrition at best.
Wars are indeed harsh and a lot cannot be undone, but what CAN be done was not shared by Mr. Abe on the floor of the US Congress. He still avoided full acknowledgment of the truth: No formal Apology, no Compensation, just a veiled “pooh-poohing” of Japan’s evil behavior in an attempt to win congressional support for a major Asia-Pacific trade deal.
I welcome your comments.
Until next time,